What is your first memory of the piano?
My maternal grandmother was a professional pianist and teacher, so my mother and her sisters played a bit and my parents loved classical music in particular, so I grew up surrounded by music. I started playing the piano at around aged 6 and I have a very vivid memory of my piano teacher, her house and her beautiful grand piano.
This first teacher was incredibly strict and rather scary, but I loved my piano lessons despite her rather formidable demeanour, and I loved practising. I never had to be reminded to practice, but my siblings often begged my mother to ‘please make her stop now!’ My first piano was a battered old upright but I loved it and just wanted to play constantly so as a result I progressed very quickly, but I think my siblings were relieved when my parents decided to create a downstairs bedroom for me so that my piano could be moved in there and I could play until my heart was content without disturbing everyone else!
Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?
I have been incredibly lucky to study with some wonderful pianists and teachers, both in regular lessons and in masterclasses and workshops, including Graham Fitch, Artur Pizarro, Noriko Ogawa, Leslie Howard, Phillip Fowke, to name just a few. I have learned so much from each one and am fascinated by their individual approaches to the piano. I have often found it a good idea to take different works to different pianists, especially if they are renowned for recording and performing the works of that particular composer.
I think that world renowned pianist and teacher Graham Fitch is a truly wonderful teacher and his approach to effective practice and endless suggestions for ways of working through tricky phrases and passages is invaluable. There is no one quite like Graham in the world of piano teaching, he really is an inspiration both as a pianist and a teacher.
Who or what inspired you to start teaching?
I always knew that I wanted to be a musician, right from the very first time I touched the piano, and I think that my inspiration to teach came from the many wonderful teachers I have had and their gift for sharing the music in such an inspirational way.
The piano is such a huge part of my life and of me, it is something which has brought me much joy and which has also helped me through some very difficult times. The piano feels like a gift that needs to be shared with others and teaching always felt like a natural progression to me. I was very keen from a reasonably young age to pursue qualifications which would enable me to understand how to teach others to play this wonderful instrument.
Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?
Interestingly, I think this has changed over the years as I have gone through various stages on my musical journey. I have always loved to continue to learn alongside my teaching and I would say that Graham Fitch is perhaps one of the greatest influences of my later teaching career. As well as the wealth of knowledge that Graham possesses, his lessons are delivered in a most respectful and generous way, he is sharing not ‘telling’, he is also a consummate professional and I really admire and love everything about his teaching style.
Your most memorable or significant teaching experiences?
Over my 40 year teaching career I have had many memorable and significant experiences, some are as simple as a student having a lightbulb moment when you explain or demonstrate articulation or phrasing in a certain way, or the look on their face when they are finally able to play the piece that has challenged them, musically and fluently, others are the big moments when a student passes an audition for a place at music college, plays a wonderful concert, passes a diploma or wins a class in a festival. I increasingly find that the simple moments are as significant and as much of a privilege to be part of as the big moments, after all it is the small steps on a student’s musical journey which will lead to the bigger achievements.
I do feel very privileged to be able to teach some wonderful students and to watch them progress over the years, some have gone on to have careers in music and for others music and the piano have become embedded into their lives in such an important way that I can honestly say that all my teaching experiences have felt memorable and significant.
What are the most interesting or challenging aspects of teaching adults?
I really do enjoy teaching adults, I find that most adults usually come to lessons well prepared and enthusiastic, ready to learn. However, adults can sometimes be very impatient with themselves, and a little self-critical particularly if they are juggling busy careers and home lives with trying to fit in time to practice. I often find that those with high flying careers can find it quite hard if progress is slow as they are used to a high level of success in their careers.
I particularly enjoy teaching advanced adult amateurs, I find that they tend to work very hard and are extremely dedicated to their practice and progress.
What do you expect from your students?
I do expect my students to practice and I am rather unbending on this! I realise that there are weeks when due to school or work commitments it can be really challenging to find time, but in all honesty, without effective practice, there will be no, or very minimal progress, and I am really clear about this with my students from the outset.
Effective practice can happen even when time is tight, and my lessons do focus on showing students how to practice effectively so that they can get the most of the practice time they have and progress well.
I also expect students to listen to music, to attend concerts and to turn up to their lessons ready to play and to learn.
What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?
Exams, festivals and competitions need to work for the student, by that I mean that they can be a very important part of a student’s musical journey, but we have to use them in an appropriate manner and at an appropriate time, they are not the end goal, they are steps along the way, sometimes very helpful ones should the student wish to study for exams, perform in a festival or enter a competition. Equally, they do not suit everyone.
If a student is aiming for a career in music, then exams, festivals and competitions will likely need to be part of their journey. I believe that it is very much our job as teachers to know what our students may be capable of and to advise them accordingly, a student needs to be more than a really good performer to enter competitions, they need to be ready for them emotionally and mentally, as teachers, being as sure as we can be that this is the case is vital, as it can make the difference between a student enjoying a wonderful performance opportunity, or having their confidence damaged if they are not ready or do not have the emotional resilience.
If a student is ready for exams, festivals and competitions then these can be wonderful opportunities and a great experience for the student, however we really need to know our students and how they may cope with the pressure.
One of my huge bugbears in piano teaching is when an exam syllabus is used as a curriculum and a student goes merrily from one exam to another, I find that using exams in this way is soul destroying and totally unmusical, the piano has such extensive repertoire and we should be introducing our students to that rather than sticking rigidly to a graded exam syllabus, we do our students a huge disservice if we do this, quite honestly I find it to be an incredibly lazy way of teaching.
What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?
I think that it is really important for piano teachers to be able to perform, even if this is no longer a regular part of their career, it is important that they understand how to
perform, after all, how can we teach our students to do something which we cannot or have never done ourselves. I realise that not all piano teachers perform regularly, quite often because the teaching aspect of their career leaves little time for the demands of performance, but to have done so is important. Performance is an art and one which we need to have knowledge and experience of to be able to advise our students on all the complexities it entails.
Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers?
Most of my favourite pianists and pianist-teachers have been mentioned in earlier questions, most are people I have been lucky enough to study in some way with, Graham Fitch, Artur Pizarro, Leslie Howard, Noriko Ogawa, Phillip Fowke, Chenyin Li for example.
Murray Perahia is one of my all-time favourite pianists too, I especially love his Bach. Steven Kovacevich’s Schubert too is a must for me. Piers Lane is another favourite as are Marta Argerich and Daniel Barenboim.
I also love listening to Horowitz, Artur Rubinstein, Cortot and Arrau.
I could probably go on…
What’s the one thing we’re not talking about in the piano teaching world which you really think we should be?
The fact that anyone with even the most minimal knowledge of piano playing and perhaps none of teaching, can set up as a piano teacher is one thing that we really need to talk about. I wrote about this recently in one of my blog posts and it really did cause quite a stir, many were not happy to discuss this and some were offended by my raising the subject, however, I do feel that it needs to be discussed, and widely so, as there are far too many students who are having their technique and understanding of piano playing damaged by people who really should not be able to call themselves piano teachers.
Guildhall School alumni Lorraine Augustine is the granddaughter of a professional pianist and grew up surrounded by music, beginning formal piano lessons at a young age and knowing from the very first lesson that playing the piano was the only thing she really wanted to do.
Lorraine went on to achieve Diplomas in Performance and Teaching and to study with Pianists such as Graham Fitch, Noriko Ogawa, Artur Pizarro and Leslie Howard and holds a Post Graduate Certificate in Performance Teaching from Guildhall School.
Lorraine is a regular Adjudicator for Piano Festivals and competitions including the annual Junior Clementi Competition.