I meet many piano teachers, at courses, workshops and masterclasses. It is always good to meet other piano teachers, to exchange ideas and discuss aspects of our work. Many of the teachers whom I meet are also performing musicians, professional or otherwise, and many regard performing as a necessary, indeed crucial, part of the job as a teacher.

I also meet many teachers who do not perform, for one reason or another. Some cite lack of time, others anxiety or lack of confidence. I actually met one teacher who claimed she was “too afraid” to perform for her students in case she made a mistake.

As teachers, performing is, in my opinion, a necessary part of the job. An exam is a performance, and we need to be able to guide and advise our students on how to present themselves in a “performance situation” (exam, festival, competition, audition), and to prepare them physically and emotionally for the experience. A whole new and different range of skills are required as a performer, and it is important to stress to students the difference between practising and performing. We also need to be able to offer support for issues such as nerves and performance anxiety, and to offer coping strategies to counteract the negative thoughts and feelings that can arise from anxiety. How can you train others to perform if you have never done it yourself?

A successful performance demonstrates that you have practised correctly, deeply and thoughtfully, instead of simply note-bashing. Preparing music for performance teaches us how to complete a real task and to understand what is meant by “music making”. It encourages us to “play through”, glossing over errors rather than being thrown off course by them, and eradicates “stop-start” playing which prevents proper flow. You never really demonstrate your technique properly until you can demonstrate it in a performance. Performing also teaches us how to communicate a sense of the music, to “tell the story”, and to understand what the composer is trying to say. It adds to our credibility and artistic integrity as musicians. And if you haven’t performed a piece, how can you say it is truly “finished”?

I always perform in my student concerts, not to show off, but to demonstrate to my students (and their parents, who pay my bills!) that I can actually do it, that I too am continuing my piano studies by preparing repertoire for performance, and that I have managed my performance anxiety properly. I also feel that by performing with my students, we transform our concerts into a shared music-making experience.

I hope that by hearing and watching me playing, my students can better grasp aspects of technique or interpretation we might have discussed in lessons, as well as enjoying the sheer pleasure of listening to piano music, and perhaps drawing inspiration from it. I also get ideas when I am performing which inform my teaching.

For the teacher who is nervous about performing, one can start in a very low-key way by hosting an informal concert at home, or by joining a piano group, which provides a supportive and friendly environment where people can perform for one another. Choose repertoire with which you feel comfortable, and practise performing it a few times (at least three) to friends, family and pets before putting it before an audience. I guarantee your students will be dead impressed by anything you can play as a teacher!

Resources

Music from the Inside Out by Charlotte Tomlinson. A clear and well-written book on coping with performance anxiety, with tried and trusted techniques for dealing with nerves and improving self-confidence.

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending and performing in a student concert organised by pianist and piano teacher Helen Burford. It’s always interesting to hear the students of another teacher perform, and is a great way of exploring new repertoire and celebrating the pleasures of playing the piano.

Held in the Quaker Friends Meeting House, a simple eighteenth-century building nestled in the heart of Brighton’s famous Lanes, with a medium-sized Yamaha grand piano and a good acoustic, the concert was informal while showcasing some very talented pianists, both children and adults. I was particularly impressed by one young man, Sam, who played one of his own compositions, a minimalist-inspired piece which contained echoes of John Adams’ ‘China Gates’, and the subtly shifting harmonies of Philip Glass. Later, Sam played a piece by Turina (‘Conchita Reve’ – ABRSM Grade 7), which was atmospheric and sensuous. I also enjoyed performances by some of the younger players, including JoJo, who played ‘Island in the Sea’, the waves lapping at the shoreline suggested by glissandi. Saskia’s ‘Gnossienne No. 1’ by Satie was measured and elegant, while Charlotte gave a very committed and convincing performance of Grieg’s Nocturne, Op 54, No. 4.

It is always a pleasure to hear my friend and colleague Helen play, not least because her choice of repertoire is often unusual and unexpected, and always beautifully played. She closed the concert with the contrasting ‘Three Improvisations’ by Chick Corea.

I was honoured to be billed as “special guest performer”, and it was very good to have the opportunity to put some of my Diploma repertoire before a friendly audience. Afterwards, we retired to a wine bar called 10 Green Bottles, which seemed a perfect way to end a really lovely afternoon of piano music.

Helen is performing in the Brighton Festival Fringe on Sunday 5th May in a programme featuring works by Bach, Messiaen, Ginastera and Corea. Further information here

www.helenburford.com