Long read guest post by Dr Michael Low, in part in response to this article by Zach Manzi

For as long as I can remember, Classical music has touched me in a way no other musical genre was able to. This, coupled with my love for playing the piano, made it inevitable that I would dedicate my life to these two overlapping fields.

‘Musicians must be the luckiest people alive!’ I recall saying to my father as a wide-eyed teenager, ‘They travel the world and play beautiful music. Imagine the joy of sharing something that is so personal to you with thousands and thousands of people; I want to be a musician one day.’ My father was an amateur French horn player who went into finance and business to support his family, but, despite his career change, he never lost his love for music, and was supportive of my decision to dedicate my life to music.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of everyone to whom I pitched my dream career, though hindsight shows that rejection and setbacks are just part of the journey in all walks of life. One extended family member was dismissive of my career choice and told me that I would end up ‘cleaning tables in restaurants for money’ (a derogatory statement itself aimed at those in the hospitality industry). Needless to say, I have not seen or been in touch with this particular person since I left England for South Africa.

My piano teacher at the time, Richard Frostick, also expressed his reservations about my choice of career. Richard told me that the views expressed by this particular member of my extended family were done out of care rather than cruelty, and that a reality check was needed on my part. However, it was the words of Graham Fitch, my teacher during my studies at London’s Centre for Young Musicians, that gave me the greatest hope: ‘If this is your dream, then I would like to believe that anything is possible.’ Graham warned that the competitive nature of Classical music grows in inverse relation to the ever-decreasing career opportunities, but added, ‘there will always be a place for someone who is talented and works hard.’

Because I was a late starter, a lot of catching up was needed on a technical and musical level. And I was willing to forsake my academic subjects for the purpose of pianistic and musical developments. Unfortunately, in my desire to be ‘on par’ with my pianistic contemporaries, many short cuts were taken and numerous corners slashed. I hadn’t taken time to learn the true value of rhythmic discipline and develop my sense of internal rhythm, which meant that everything was very approximate (in other words, I would play what I thought the music should be, as opposed to what is actually written). But I got away with it (at least for the time being) thanks to my musical temperament, as well as the uncanny Chinese ability to (more or less) replicate my favourite recordings. It was not until a few years later when I read Artur Rubenstein’s biography that I understood the following quote: ‘To Hell with the Germans and their exact fingers! TEMPERAMENT!!!’).

Failed auditions and disappointing performances mark every musician’s journey, but I kept my eyes firmly on the prize. The summer of 1996 was to be a watershed moment. I met an eminent piano professor at a summer school who expressed an interest in my playing. He openly told everyone during a masterclass that I had ‘a marvellous musical temperament, but very little else.’ At the same time he assured me that when all the aspects of my playing had developed, that I will be ‘some’ player. I was encouraged by these words and further lessons were arranged. Sadly, our last meeting was not a positive one. He reduced me to tears by laughing and ridiculing my playing. A few years ago I found out that the same professor has passed on. I sometimes wondered what he would make of my playing if he were to hear me now.

My university years proved to be some of the most productive in my life. I threw myself into learning some of the most challenging piano repertoire and listening to many of the 20th century’s greatest pianists. What is so special about their playing? What is their ‘X factor’? These were some of the questions that I often asked myself when I was in the listening library. Unfortunately, many of my contemporaries didn’t understand my obsession. One of them called me ‘a sad f**k’ when we crossed paths for the second day in a row. A final year student asked me, ‘Why do you insist on learning all these difficult pieces when you will never get the opportunity to perform them?’ I responded with just a smile, as I didn’t want to come across as rude, always reminding myself that I could spend the rest of my musical life ‘polishing,’ but the structural labour on the musical sculptures had to be done right now.

I was proud that all my efforts were not in vain, and there was validation amongst my lecturers and peers in regards to my hard work. One of the highlights of my student years was making my concerto debut performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. But all of this came at a cost: one of my closest friends wrote me a letter when she was going through a particular difficult period during her final year, asking, ‘Where were you when I most needed you, Michael?’ I replied with, ‘I am sad to say that I was nowhere’. I was willing to sacrifice everything for an ideal while neglecting the more important aspects of life, such as the relationship between friends. I consoled myself with the excuse that some of the most creative personalities have never been ‘people’s people’, and how wrong was I? It was only years later that I came to the realisation that piano playing has always been a reflection of life, whereas life has never been just about playing the piano.

In spite of my enormous desire to make huge musical and pianistic strides, my playing was riddled with idiosyncrasies and plagued with physical tension. In hindsight, I can only thank my lucky stars that I didn’t pick up some form of physical injury, especially when I was practising up to six hours daily. I was told that I had ‘massive technical problems,’ but the reality was that my lack of rhythmic discipline and internal pulse finally caught up with me. The big musical structures of works such as Liszt’s ballades and Beethoven’s sonatas fragmented into intimate miniatures, and there was little awareness of the longer melodic line especially in the musical direction of the composition. ‘Moments of brilliance are often followed by moments of incompetence,’ was one lecturer’s assessment of my playing. I was also a ‘nightmare’ student to mark, according to the hierarchy, because I was so inconsistent. Though my lecturers may have had a point, one part of me didn’t take their criticism too seriously as another part of me strongly felt that their words had more to do with my inability to negotiate departmental politics. I reassured myself with the thought that the musicians who made the greatest impression on me were often some of the most controversial. Who on earth wants to play a mediocre 75 per cent in a performance anyway? At least I could hit the 90s, even though at times I was wide of the mark. ‘Just keep going and one day everything will fall into place,’ I told myself.

VIDEO (Michael Low plays Beethoven/Alkan)

South Africa gave me a chance to press the reset button, but the stakes were too high. I told myself that being an international scholarship student meant that I had to be close to ‘perfect’ every time I performed, when this was far from the truth. I yielded to my musical neurosis by spending hours on end polishing my repertoire when I should have taken advantage of the considerable performing opportunities available. And because I raised the performance bar to near impossibility, it only meant that I had that much further to fall when things didn’t go as planned. Every time I walked off stage, I was haunted by wrong notes, memory lapses as well as other interpretive discrepancies. That is not to say that there weren’t moments where I made an impression, but the consistency that I so desperately craved never materialised, and it often felt like the harder I worked, the further away I was straying from my musical goal. ‘If it doesn’t happen for you now, maybe you have to accept the fact that it will never happen,’ was one professor’s assessment of my progress. Another told me that while he found my playing ‘very sensitive and very musical,’  he also wondered if I had what it takes to ‘stomach my nerves.’ The same person also assured me that, ‘There is no shame in this, I know a lot of wonderful musicians who cannot quite make things happen on stage.’ These words may sound harsh, but they were nothing like the brutal assessment given by a visiting professor, who told me, ‘Sort out your rhythm, or stop playing the piano entirely.’ I was desolate because I knew that was the truth. I looked on as my musical peers gained scholarships to study with some of the industry’s most prolific performers in Europe and America. Although I feel a sense of happiness and pride for them, I now knew the inevitable: I would never have a career as a concert pianist.

When I started teaching in my late twenties, I was determined that none of my students would be as rhythmically undisciplined as I was. Hence, I started formulating my own teaching method and in doing so found some form of closure with regard to my inability to become a performer. The fabled stories of Adele Marcus and some of the 20th century’s greatest pedagogues gave me hope: ‘The greatest performers don’t necessarily make the greatest teachers,’ I said to myself. I was determined to be the best educator I could be. Even though I still perform in the occasional soirees and private functions, the fire within me that longs for the stage no longer burns with the same intensity. I then found Christianity, which affirmed my ability as a mere mortal. ‘There are those who are chosen by God to be performers,’ I recall saying to a colleague, ‘and then there are people like myself who chose to do music as a career, and that is the difference.’ The elders in my congregation praised me for my insightfulness, while my Christian friends commended me for entrusting my life in the hands of the Almighty. ‘Everything seems to make sense now’, I said to myself. Little was I to know that in the years to come, the one person who would challenge both my spiritual and musical beliefs turned out to become the most important person of my life.

Piano and Classical music took a further ‘back seat’ when I fell in love with the game of golf. I saw a lot of parallels between this strange yet beautiful game and playing the piano. I traded the practice room for the driving range, and I signed up to become a member of one of South Africa’s top golf clubs. For the next three years I learned only one piece of piano music – Scott Joplin’s Bethena Waltz – which haunted me for weeks after I watch David Fincher’s movie adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Any spare time I had was spent forging a repeatable golf swing or inputting musical scores into Sibelius as I looked to finish my PhD in Music. Playing the piano was now a distant memory, and the truth is that I had not given myself a timeline as to when I would reconnect with my black and white friend again.

In Part 2, Michael Low describes how he reconnected with the piano.

As a teenager, Michael Low studied piano under the guidance of Richard Frostick before enrolling in London’s prestigious Centre for Young Musicians, where he studied composition with the English composer Julian Grant, and piano with the internationally acclaimed pedagogue Graham Fitch. During his studies at Surrey University in England, Michael made his debut playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in the 1999 Guildford International Music Festival, before graduating with Honours under the tutelage of Clive Williamson. In 2000, Michael obtained his Masters in Music (also from Surrey University), specialising in music criticism, studio production and solo performance under Nils Franke.

An international scholarship brought Michael to the University of Cape Town, where he resumed his studies with Graham Fitch. During this time, Michael was invited to perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto for The Penang Governer’s Birthday Celebration Gala Concert. In 2009, Michael obtained his Doctorate in Music from the University of Cape Town under the supervision of South Africa greatest living composer, Hendrik Hofmeyr. His thesis set out to explore the Influence of Romanticism on the Evolution of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes.

In 2013, Michael started a project in Singapore collaborating with The Kawai School Elite in a series of masterclasses and workshops for teachers and students. Having grown up in the East and lived his life in the West, Michael believes that both cultures has much to offer and envisage an exchange between Singapore and Cape Town in the future.

Michael is also the co-founder of the Elvira Ensemble – a Classical Chamber Orchestra specialising in the Piano Concertos of Mozart and Beethoven as well as Soundtracks from Blockbuster Hollywood Movies. The Ensemble have given performances at several high-profile events such as the wedding of Justin Snaith, South Africa’s leading race-horse trainer. In January 2020, the ensemble was engaged to perform at the wedding of the former Miss Universe and Miss South Africa, Miss Demi-Leigh Nel Peters.

Michael has also worked with numerous eminent teachers and pianists, including Nina Svetlanova, Niel Immelman, Frank Heneghan, James Gibb, Phillip Fowke, Renna Kellaway, Carolina Oltsmann, Florian Uhlig, Gordon Fergus Thompson, Francois du Toit and Helena van Heerden.

Michael currently holds teaching positions in two of Cape Town’s exclusive education centres: Western Province Preparatory School and Herschel School for Girls. He is very much sought after as a passionate educator of young children.

Michael has also served as a jury member in the 2nd WPTA Singapore International Piano Competition in 2020. He has been engaged for a series of talks and masterclasses with the WPTA Indonesia in September of 2021.

Michael Low’s website

Video credits:

Director: Bill Chen https://vimeo.com/billagechen

Sound Engineer: Liam Pitcher https//www.liampitcher.com

Guest post by Katrina Fox

The pandemic has been a huge challenge for piano teachers, not least in the inherent isolation of learning the piano being exacerbated by the lack of opportunities for group work, duets in lessons, and of course live performance. However, necessity being the mother of invention, many of us have latched onto live digital performances and performance recordings as a way of creating performing opportunities and encouraging performance. This has become a permanent part of most teachers’ offerings.

Digital exams – love them or loathe them – are here to stay, and have incontrovertible benefits such as being accessible to all pupils, including nervous adults, those living in remote areas without easy access to an exam centre, and those who simply don’t ever want to endure a live examination experience but nonetheless value the feedback. Digital festivals and events have also provided pupils with a greater breadth of musical experiences from the awesome Compose Yourself! created by Alison Matthews and Lindsey Berwin, to June Armstrong’s Play for the Composer.

So what are the benefits to pupils and teachers of a carefully thought out programme of performance opportunities throughout the year?

  • Motivation to practise FOR something – and for something perhaps more meaningful than an exam. These experiences allow pupils greater choice in what they play, but still provide a goal to work towards. The fact that this goal is not a summative assessment – a pass/merit/distinction that despite being a mere snapshot can come to be worn as a proverbial badge of honour or dunce hat – makes it all the more valuable. Constructive criticism without a numerical mark or grading is perhaps more likely to be received without invoking defensive feelings and therefore internalised and acted upon.
  • A feeling of community. Within most teaching studios most pupils never or rarely meet each other. Everyone taking part in the same event – be it digital or live – can build a sense of community and common enterprise. During the lockdowns I hosted monthly Zoom concerts. Whilst the quality was not always ideal, there was a clear motivational and social benefit. Themed sessions such as “bring your pet”, “wear your PJs” etc, built a sense of fun and allowed pupils to see each other, albeit on screen.
  • A sense of shared responsibility. This year will be my second year doing an Advent “virtual busk”. Everyone records a Christmas song which we post every day of Advent to raise money for the local homeless hostel. (Last year we raised over £1500.) All pupils know they are expected to perform well for this; there is a sense of responsibility for everyone playing their part in this event. Yes, it is a small amount of pressure, but everyone is given plenty of time, and I feel a small amount of responsibility for ensuring they are all up to scratch is a positive thing and engenders a sense of responsibility.

So if all these benefits can be drawn from digital events, which are probably more easily accessible to teachers and pupils, then why bother with live events? One important benefit of live performance springs to mind:

Taking risks. With live performance, more so in front of an audience than in front of an examiner, the sense of personal risk is an important part of the experience. My personal experience is that pupils have become increasingly risk-averse over the last few years. The reasons are probably outside the scope of this article, but perhaps reside in our education system and its focus on testing, results and “success”. I find many pupils are inclined to avoid trying rather than to risk making a mistake, especially in public. This affects their ability to communicate through their music and invest it with their own personal involvement. I’m sure we can all agree that this is not a healthy or happy mindset. Live performance in festivals seems to be a varied experience with some finding the atmosphere friendly, while others find it very competitive – perhaps not the ideal place for nervous, or dare I say it “average” performers?

It is this last point that has been bothered me sufficiently to galvanise me into action. Certainly, where I live on the south coast of England there is not a wealth of local, accessible music festivals and performance events for pupils to participate in. There is also a real lack of suitable venues with decent instruments that are affordable and available at appropriate times. All my pupil “concerts” thus far have been very tiny occasions hosted in my home for a small handful of pupils at a time. Larger, less local occasions tend not to appeal to any but the most serious students.

Hence the creation of Play Piano South – one of a handful of local piano groups that has sprung up in recent months, each with its own character, aims and events that are suited to its local profile. My vision for Play Piano South is local informal live events that pupils can participate in regularly such that performing becomes a natural and non-threatening part of their piano education. Removing any form of competition, grading and adjudication makes everything easier to administrate. It also removes the threat of judgement, allowing young pianists the freedom to focus purely on the performance experience itself, without any formal “outcome”. Mistakes due to nerves, or any other reason, can be left behind without consequence and processed appropriately and proportionately with a view to improving the experience, without the pressure to improve a grading or mark.

The Play Piano South Facebook group acts as a meeting place for teachers in the region to share their events – either for other teacher’s pupils to attend, or just to showcase their events for others to learn from. Collaborative events allow teachers to share the burden of organising and hosting an event and can make a decent venue with a good instrument more feasible as more pupils can attend and share the cost of hire. Such a model also allows a regular performance schedule to grow that is very local and easy for pupils to attend. I believe this regularity and sense of community will make performing become a natural and integral part of learning the piano for all pupils – not just the most gifted or well-resourced.

In my own studio, my pupils will continue to benefit from the many new and wonderful digital performance initiatives that have developed during the pandemic. These will be complemented by a regular programme of informal concerts which will be open to the pupils of any other teachers who wish to participate.

Do check out the Play Piano South Facebook group and get involved!

Katrina Fox is a piano teacher in Bournemouth (bhpiano.co.uk), and the founder of Piano Hub South

Acclaimed pianist and pedagogue Penelope Roskell announces the launch of her new digital course ‘Teaching healthy, expressive piano technique’.

Following on from the success of her award-winning book, The Complete Pianist: from healthy technique to natural artistry (publ. Peters Edition in 2020), Penelope has teamed up with publisher Informance to produce a nine-hour series of videos which gives teachers, both new and experienced, an in-depth understanding of how to teach all aspects of technique to students of all levels.

The course offers thirty-one high-quality videos complemented with copious notes and musical examples to illustrate a healthy, sustainable approach to technique. Each aspect of technique is presented in a practical step-by-step approach, starting with simple exercises which are then developed into more complex intermediate and advanced examples. Concepts are demonstrated in numerous repertoire examples from all levels, including several pieces written by Penelope for this purpose.

Key features:

  • Thirty-one videos (total approx. nine hours) on all aspects of teaching technique with very clear multiple camera angles.
  • The videos are supplemented with detailed notes and numerous musical examples which will help you put the exercises into practice immediately in your teaching.
  • Excellent navigation options will enable you to follow the course sequentially at your own pace, at times convenient to yourself (especially beneficial for those in other time-zones), and to try out exercises immediately at your own instrument.  You will also be able to reference specific topics easily as and when needed.  

The course is suited to all teachers, both new and experienced, who wish to improve their teaching and learn how to teach all aspects of technique to students of all levels. This is a very comprehensive conservatoire-level course, which already forms the core of Penelope Roskell’s new Piano Pedagogy course at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. 

A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury but also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress. This comprehensive course will help teachers to resolve common problems and instil a well-coordinated, confident approach to technique in their students, paving the way for a lifetime of fruitful, expressive and injury-free playing.

Students of the new course will also be able to access feedback from Penelope and former students via follow-up Q&A sessions and the dedicated Roskell Academy support group on Facebook. They will also have the opportunity to work towards accreditation in the Roskell Method if they wish.  

As part of the launch, Informance are offering readers and followers of The Cross-Eyed Pianist the opportunity to pre-order the course at a 20% discount off the normal price of £125. Order via this link or use code 67EHW6XPU47U at the checkout.

Workshops on November 6th

As part of the launch celebrations, Penelope is offering two live online workshops on November 6th. Both workshops are interactive so do be near your keyboard so you can try out all the exercises as they are demonstrated. 

6th November 13.30-15.00 GMT: Play Scales and Arpeggios evenly, fluently and expressively

In this workshop, Penelope will discuss her approach to fingering and demonstrate new techniques for evenness, fluency and speed.  Click here for more information.  

6th November 15.30-17.00 GMT: Improve your chord technique

Here Penelope will demonstrate how to use different types of chord technique to produce rich arm-weight chords, fast repetitive chords and powerful, vibrant fortissimo.  Click here for more information

Penelope Roskell is a renowned international performer, inspirational teacher and professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a visiting professor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is the author of The Complete Pianist and the leading UK specialist in healthy piano playing. 


I have been rather disturbed to learn from a couple of teaching colleagues, in discussions in response to “that” tweet from the ABRSM, that music examiners are actively discouraged from saying “well done” to a candidate after their exam performance or writing similarly positive comments on the exam mark sheet. Personally, I can’t see the harm in offering such praise; in fact, I see it as a force for good, something which can help students, especially young children or more anxious players, to find the exam experience more positive. And it’s far more friendly than a rather curt “thank you” from the examiner at the end of the session.

Exam mark sheets are problematic too. Not only does one have to decipher the examiner’s handwriting (which can be as impenetrable as a doctor’s!) but the language can be opaque, full of special “examiner-speak” which is not always easily comprehendible to students and their parents. The often rather brusque comments may seem negative even when intended to be positive. When I taught regularly, I would highlight the good comments for my students and would also go through the mark sheets with them to help them get the best out of the comments and to understand how the more negative feedback could be used to inform their practicing in future.

Within the teaching studio, we should always provide a supportive environment to encourage learning, motivation and confidence. Sadly, some of us will remember dragon-like piano teachers from our childhood who highlighted errors but rarely praised; a few even resorted to physical abuse such as rapping a student’s knuckles with a ruler. Fortunately such abusive practices are rare today and should always be called out.

Negative feedback, such as continually picking up a student over small slips and errors, or constantly asking them to play a section again to “get it right” rather than allowing the student to play through the whole piece before offering critique, will dent a student’s confidence and erode their ability to trust their ability and their musical self. It will also make them more dependent on a teacher’s feedback, anxious for praise and the “credentialisation” that comes from it. This approach is not conducive to encouraging self-critique and independent learning.

How to critique well

Be respectful and kind

Teaching is about respect, between teacher and student and vice versa, regardless of the age or ability of the student.

Be collaborative

Use language which focuses on the playing rather than the person and make the critique collaborative. For example:

DON’T SAY: “You played some wrong notes in Bar 12.”

DO SAY: “Let’s take a look at Bar 12 together and see if we can work out what happened there.”

By involving the student in a problem-solving exercise, we hand them greater autonomy and encourage them to find their own solutions.

Accentuate the positive

In my experience, most students, regardless of the level at which they play, are alert to errors and will be quick to point these out if asked to comment on their own performance. When I taught regularly, I always asked my students to self-critique after they had played and would preface this by asking them to “find three things you liked about your playing today”.  (It says something about our education system, and an undue focus on “getting it right”, that it took some coaxing to steer students away from highlighting mistakes first and to instead focus on “the good bits”.) These needn’t be complicated or expansive, especially for younger/less advanced students – good use of dynamics or articulation, a well-shaped phrase, observing expression marks etc. When it came to my turn to comment, I would also begin with some positive comments and praise. This sets up a supportive and encouraging atmosphere between teacher and student which leads to a better environment for learning and progress.

Be humble and open-minded

The teacher isn’t always right, and even the most junior students has something fresh and insightful to about the music they are learning. Be willing to listen to students’ ideas and help them put them into practice, if applicable, or guide them to understand why something may not be appropriate in the context of the music.

The best teachers want to become ‘redundant’ by giving their students the tools to become confident, independent learners. Giving critique and feedback in positive terms is an important part of this process.

Further reading:

The Perfect Wrong NoteWilliam Westney

The Inner Game of MusicBarry Green

The Art of PractisingMadeline Bruser

Dame Fanny Waterman, 22 March 1920 – 20 December 2020

It is with great sadness that The Leeds International Piano Competition announces the death of its founder and President Emeritus Dame Fanny Waterman at the age of 100

Dame Fanny died peacefully this morning in her residential care home in Ilkley, Yorkshire. She is survived by her two sons, Robert and Paul, and six granddaughters.

Adam Gatehouse, Artistic Director of The Leeds, said:

“Dame Fanny was a force of nature, a one-off, a unique figure in our cultural firmament who infused everyone with whom she came into contact with a passion and enthusiasm and sheer love of music, particularly piano music, that was totally impossible to resist. From nothing she created the world’s most prestigious piano competition and chose to do so not in London but in Leeds, at the time a dark, industrial but incredibly lively and vibrant town in the North of England. From small beginnings it swiftly grew as word spread that here was a competition where music and the musicians came first. The lives she has touched, both through the Competition, but also through her teaching and piano books, are too numerous to mention. She was quite simply irreplaceable, and to have had the chance to work with her and eventually succeed her as Artistic Director of The Leeds has been one of the greatest privileges and joys of my life.”

Dame Fanny Waterman founded The Leeds International Piano Competition in 1961 with her late husband Dr Geoffrey de Keyser and Marion Thorpe CBE, then the Countess of Harewood. The first event followed in 1963 and she remained its Chairman & Artistic Director until her retirement in 2015 at the age of 95. As President Emeritus she attended live concerts and events until the beginning of 2020, although ambitious plans to celebrate her 100th Birthday in March 2020 had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to Dame Fanny Waterman’s artistic integrity, passion, charisma and hard work, ‘The Leeds’ became the most coveted prize in the piano world and internationally acclaimed for introducing some of the greatest pianists of our time. Artists including Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Sunwook Kim and most recently Federico Colli and Eric Lu launched their careers by taking first prize; Sir András Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Lars Vogt and Denis Kozhukhin meanwhile, are among the Competition’s illustrious finalists. 

Born in Leeds (22 March, 1920), she studied with Tobias Matthay, and later as a Scholar at the Royal College of Music, London, with Cyril Smith. After a notable performing career, including a performance at the 1942 Proms with Sir Henry Wood, she felt that her real vocation would be as a teacher. Over the years she gave masterclasses on six continents, appeared on television and radio, and compiled a series of publications entitled Piano Lessons with Fanny Waterman/Marion Harewood, which now runs to thirty volumes and has achieved sales of over three million copies.

Among her greatest achievements as a teacher was in the 1950s when she trained four pianists under the age of 11 from Leeds to such a standard that they received invitations to perform piano concertos at London’s Royal Festival Hall. The four pianists were Alan Schiller, Wendy Waterman (her niece), Kathleen Jones and future winner of the first Leeds International Piano Competition, Michael Roll.

In recognition of her services to music, Fanny Waterman was awarded an OBE in 1971, the CBE in 1999 and in 2005 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004 Dame Fanny Waterman received the Freedom of the City of Leeds, the highest honour the City can bestow and, in 2009, was invited to become President of the esteemed Harrogate International Festivals. She was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010.

A full biography of her life and archive images of Dame Fanny are available at https://www.leedspiano.com/dame-fanny-waterman/


Source: press release

As some of my friends, readers and followers know, my son is a professional chef who has been working in fine dining in London for 6 years. He’s been living with us during the UK lockdowns and in addition to enjoying his beautiful, inventive and delicious cooking, I have learnt some useful ‘kitchen tricks’ and shortcuts from him.

Homemade pasta was something that had eluded me for years. It’s not that I couldn’t make it, it’s that I could never make it ‘right’. But with my son’s guidance, I have now learnt to make my own egg pasta – and I don’t even use a machine to roll it, just a long rolling pin and a dash of elbow grease. The other day, inspired by one of the ‘skills tests’ on Masterchef The Professionals, a TV series to which we as a family are all glued at this time of the year, I made tortellini (filled pasta) using my own pasta dough. As I was cutting out the discs of dough to be filled with a mushroom stuffing, it occurred to me that if I can make pasta dough and filled pasta, I can also make Japanese gyoza, Chinese wontons and dim sum, Indian samosas, Polish pierogi, and any number of other small stuffed dumpling.

Musical skills, just like culinary skills, once learnt and practiced, can and should be applied to different situations. No learning should ever be done in a vacuum: a single piece of music is not just that one piece, it is a path to other pieces via accrued technical proficiency and artistry. Early students and less advanced pianists often see the pieces they are learning in terms of stand alone works which have no relevance to other music they are working on, or are going to learn. This is also particularly true of scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises which may be studied in isolation instead of appreciating their relevance not just in understanding keys and key relationships, but also in actual pieces of music. This was something I was not taught when having piano lessons as a child, and it’s the fault of the teacher, not the student, if the usefulness and relevance of technical work is not highlighted.

Everything is connected. Chopin knew this: it is said that he studied Bach’s WTC every day, appreciating this music’s relevance to his own musical development, his composing and his teaching. If you can successfully manage Bach’s ornamentation, for example, you should have little difficulty with Chopin’s trills and fioriture.

If we understand how to adapt specific skills, to make them relevant to the repertoire we are currently working on, we can make the learning process less arduous and more rewarding, while also continuing to build on existing skills and develop new ones.