Pianist friends Alison Bestow and Claire Vane have set up a brand new adult piano course. I caught up with them to find out more about their new venture….
Why did you decide to establish a new piano course?
Claire: We wanted to have the opportunity to attend more piano courses, and we were looking for a course in the Easter holidays, but there were very few available. We decided to run our own course, with all our favourite ideas from the other courses that we have enjoyed. We love big, exciting projects, and this is our latest joint enterprise.
How did you go about finding the venue?
Alison: We approached many venues in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire that we thought would have the facilities that we were looking for, including the right number of pianos, a concert hall and comfortable residential accommodation on site. Initially, we had huge difficulties finding a venue because most schools and Cambridge colleges are booked several years in advance, often to bigger courses. We were really lucky to find the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, which ticks all the boxes. We have been given full run of their state of the art music block, and the staff there have been very helpful.
Claire: The location is really beautiful, on the side of the river Orwell with spectacular views, so the environment should be inspiring as well.
Who are the tutors and how did you go about finding them?
Claire: Warren Mailley-Smith has been my teacher for the last 3 years and he is very keen on master classes and teaching adults. Penelope Roskell has been a friend of mine since I was a young teenager and we were both Saturday morning exhibitioners at the Royal Northern College of Music. Penelope has subsequently pursued a professional career in music as a concert pianist and later Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Penelope is particularly interested in posture and tension-free playing and is a great exponent of yoga too.
Are there any other tutors at the course?
Alison: I currently have yoga lessons with Izzy Ixer and I was talking to her about the course and she thought it was a great idea and had lots of ideas for using yoga to help with relaxation and performance nerves. Another friend of mine, Claire Weston, was a principal soprano at ENO and she offered to come along to teach about being an accompanist as this is a skill that lots of pianists don’t get chance to practise. They are both highly experienced teachers and I know that their lessons will be great fun.
What are you going to be doing on the course?
Claire: Well, apart from masterclasses and individual lessons in piano, accompanying and yoga, there will be a lot of socialising, eating, drinking, practising and some relaxation. The facilities at The Royal Hospital School in Ipswich are amazing so we’ll have the opportunity to walk in the grounds and even the chance to swim if there is any space between master classes and having fun.
Alison: I am hoping to meet lots of other piano-mad people, make some new friends and play some piano duets. I’m looking forward to playing one of the grand pianos in the beautiful recital hall at the school.
I am very intrigued by the name ‘Pianissimi’ – how did you arrive at that name?
Claire: We wanted a name that conveyed the piano, and as music notation is largely in Italian, we wanted something with an Italian element. We thought that as this was a group event, we’d go for Pianissimi, signifying the plural rather than Pianissimo, and thought it was a bit different and the Italianates amongst the pianists would smile. It also conveys a sense of gentleness and softness, which is the atmosphere we’d like to convey – one of informality and security rather than loud and brash.
Is this a profit making venture?
Alison: We are doing this just for fun, and we have decided that any surplus made will go to Cancer Research so no, this is not a profit-making enterprise.
Who is this course aimed at?
Alison: We want the course to be very inclusive for anyone who loves the piano as much as we do, so we are suggesting that attendees are grade 7 onwards and including diploma level and post-diploma. The levels of experience and performance will be varied, but we want to ensure that everybody feels comfortable and confident playing in a group. The course is also ideal for those with a specific aim, such as preparing for a graded or diploma exam, or getting ready for a particular performance. There will be lots of performance opportunities for those who want them. But there won’t be any pressure on people to perform if they don’t want to.
Where can we find out more?
Claire: All the information about the course is on our website:
Our contact details are also on the site, so I hope people will get in touch if they want to participate and if they have any other questions. If you, like us, are a piano nut, do come and join us at Pianissimi during the Easter holidays in 2017.
Course dates: 5.30 pm on Thursday, 20th April 2017 to 4 pm on Sunday, 23rd April 2017.
Location: Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk IP9 2RX. There are good rail connections from London
Cost: £450 per person to include all tuition, full board and accommodation in the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk.