The Piano Bench Mag: The winner is….?

The Piano Bench Mag is the magazine for piano teachers everywhere, and over the last few days we have been holding a little competition here on my blog. Many thanks to all those who took part by leaving a comment at the end of the previous blog post. There could only be one winner and the Magazine’s Editor and Publisher, Karen Gibson, selected (drum roll!)……Charley.

Many congratulations Charley! Perhaps you can contact me via the contact page here on the blog and I will put you in touch with Karen. Enjoy your 6 month FREE subscription.

The Piano Bench Mag offers plenty of interesting and useful information for teachers. It focuses on a specific topic every month. Past subjects have included Practice, Games, Students, and Technique. There are many articles, as well as resources, hopefully providing lots of teaching inspiration. Each monthly issue seems to be fairly substantial, too, so there’s bound to be a topic to interest everyone.

If you’d like to purchase an issue or subscribe to The Piano Bench Mag, it’s available for mobile devices through Apple Newsstand and Google Play (for Android). You can also find The Piano Bench Mag on Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Piano Bench Mag: celebrating its first Anniversary with a competition!

Piano Bench Magazine

One of the great aspects of blogging is to be able to highlight many interesting piano related publications. I met Karen Gibson a few months ago on Facebook. She is a busy piano teacher based in Nashville, Tennessee (US), who also publishes an online Magazine called The Piano Bench Mag, which is specifically for piano teachers.  I asked Karen to tell us a little more about her publication and here’s what she had to say:

A little over a year ago I received several emails about publishing magazines on iTunes. While it sounded like a lot of work, I was also extremely intrigued.

I was going to set the idea aside as unrealistic. And I would have, except for that nagging voice that said to start a magazine for piano teachers. That voice wouldn’t go away and so by the end of the week I was embarking on a new adventure – publishing an online magazine for piano teachers.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted the magazine to be for teachers and by teachers. Over time, more and more teachers have begun participating, just as I had hoped!  I wanted it to be an easy to use resource, one that teachers would return to again and again. To that end, each issue has a theme. The theme of the first issue was Holidays (that is the theme again this month, the first anniversary issue). I look for ideas that are working for teachers. I look for resources – books, music, apps, etc. – that have been created by teachers.  While many of the teachers are well-known, others are not as well-known. I put each issue together thinking about what I would find valuable as a teacher.

I’ve studied online businesses and marketing for years and I know how difficult it can be to get noticed online. I hope to help teachers who are trying to get the word out about their creations. In addition to the monthly magazine articles, last July I published the first edition of the Resource Catalog. I have seen many posts on Facebook piano teacher groups of teachers looking for a particular sort of resource. It can be difficult to search the threads and it is impossible to read everything. My hope is that over time the Resource Catalog will grow to the point where it becomes the place teachers go first when they are looking for music, apps, games, etc.

Future plans include a cruise next April, the inaugural Creatives on the Sea Cruise. Jennifer Eklund, Kristin Yost, Debbie Center and Sara Campbell are going to be presenting some fabulous workshops all while we cruise the western Caribbean. There are still some cabins available.

The Magazine is one year old this month, so we thought it might be fun to run a competition celebrating its first Anniversary.  The prize is a free sixth-month subscription to The Piano Bench Mag. If you fancy taking part, just leave a comment in the comment box at the end of this post and Karen will pick the winner next Saturday October 18th 2014.

The Piano Bench Mag is available on Apple’s Newsstand (iTunes) and Google Play

Single issues are $2.99; monthly subscription price is $1.99; a 6 month subscription is $7.99 and a 12 month subscription is $11.99.  To celebrate the 1 year anniversary of The Piano Bench Mag issues 1 – 12 are available on Apple’s Newsstand for 99 cents each through the month of October.

The Piano Bench Mag’s Facebook Page.

About Karen:

After receiving her first 6 chord Magnus organ for Christmas at the age of 8, Karen Gibson started taking organ lessons at the age of 9. Over the years she has spent time raising Arabian horses, teaching adults in various settings and working as a paralegal. But teaching has always been her passion. Early childhood music and piano have been the main focus in her life for the last 14 years or so. Although she has had as many at 70 piano students, she currently is comfortable teaching about 55 students each week in addition to 8 preschool music classes. In her free time she writes for and publishes The Piano Bench Mag, creates and publishes courses on, dabbles in writing music for her students and has recently taken up photography.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Hampshire Piano Meetup: A new performance practice piano group

Amateur and semi-professional piano groups are becoming increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why; good amateur pianists practice assiduously and are keen to perform, sharing their music with friends, students and fellow pianists. Whether preparing for an exam, festival or any type of concert, all pianists (and all musicians!) require performance practice and a piano Meetup event provides the perfect opportunity, so it’s always a pleasure highlighting such groups.

Hampshire based piano teacher Karen Housby has formed this latest piano Meetup. Karen is an enthusiastic teacher who has been playing the piano for many years and wants to keep active as a pianist. She says of her new group:

“Hampshire Piano Meetup (based in Allbrook between Winchester and Chandlers Ford) is a new, informal group for amateur pianists. We aim to meet once a month and spend a couple of hours chatting over tea/coffee and nibbles, whilst members play solos or duets in the adjoining room. The group is open to anyone, regardless of age or standard and is a great opportunity to share in each others’ enjoyment of the piano, whilst providing a valuable opportunity to play in front of a small, friendly audience. For pianists preparing for an examination or festival, it’s the ideal way to painlessly conquer those performance nerves! So why not come along to our first get-together in October and meet the group.

The group will also provide the opportunity to attend concerts with like-minded people. For example, we are lucky enough to have one of the best concert venues in the country, Turner Sims in Southampton, where this year, we can be inspired by such greats as Paul Lewis, John Lill and Radu Lupu. What could be better than that!”

You can find out more about the Hampshire Piano Meetup by visiting the website or alternatively contacting Karen (pictured below) via her e-mail:

Karen Housby 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Trip to the Schimmel Piano Factory in Germany

Selection room

Peregrine’s Pianos have been in business for a relatively short period of time (four years), yet they have already established themselves as one of the leading piano dealers in the UK. Their premises in Grays Inn Road (in central London) offers superb practice facilities, piano hire and servicing, as well as housing a large showroom of fine pianos. They are the exclusive dealer in London for Schimmel pianos; a company who are the largest volume piano manufacturer in Germany, building quality instruments for discerning musicians.

Germany is a long way to travel for a mere few hours, but when I was invited by the owner of Peregrine’s Pianos, Dawn Elizabeth Howells, to spend some time at the Schimmel Piano Factory near Hanover, I couldn’t resist a peek behind the scenes at this major European piano makers. Our tour began at the headquarters in Brunswick (Braunschweig), where we were able to explore a whole collection of instruments on display in the large yet informal concert room (pictured below), positioned at the front of the sprawling factory. Gleaming uprights merged with two beautiful concert grands, bestowing a golden opportunity for our party (an assortment of pianists, piano tuners and technicians), many of whom immediately began sampling the instruments! After admiring the selection room (pictured above), we were treated to an enlightening lecture given by Lothar Kiesche, the company’s Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, who afforded a potted history laced with copious technical details and interesting anecdotes.

Concert hall

Schimmel Pianos was founded in 1885 by Wilhelm Schimmel in Leipzig, moving to Brunswick in the 1930’s. Wilhelm Schimmel (originally both a furniture and instrument maker), constructed his instruments from scratch, starting with upright pianos, moving later onto the concert grand. By the 1950s, Schimmel had become the biggest German piano manufacturer. Always concerned with quality as opposed to volume, the company has focussed on innovation and evolution. In 1952 they produced the first glass piano (a model of which is resplendent in the entrance hall at the headquarters) built for the world’s largest music fair in Hanover (now based in Frankfurt), and in 1985, they began work on a hand-built piano. This series of highly refined instruments, which appeared from 2000 onwards, are collectively known as the Schimmel Konzert Grand range, and they utilise the latest technology, or ‘computer aided piano engineering’, setting them apart from those made by other European piano makers.

There are four Schimmel designs or ranges; Wilhelm Schimmel, Schimmel International, Schimmel Classic and the Schimmel Konzert Grand (see photo below for a glimpse at the workmanship inside a piano from the Konzert Grand range). Within this framework exist many permutations and variations on both the grand and upright models. The largest instrument in the Konzert series is 2.8 metres in length (the K280), and every piano in this series has a patented design, such is the advanced innovation and expertise that has gone into the production, making this a unique product family.

Inside the piano

After the lecture, we toured the factory inspecting every stage of the construction, which demonstrated just how Schimmel Pianos, the Konzert grands particularly, differ from other instruments.  The soundboard and bridges are constructed from very high quality materials, which boosts the timbre and resonance considerably. On average, the Schimmel Konzert Grand’s soundboard is 15% larger than a standard piano, producing greater volume of sound. The soundboard is also equipped with a resilient ‘bar’, an extra, shaped length of wood positioned in a certain manner across the soundboard, which apparently affects the clarity and brightness, and is particularly effective for playing pianissimo (very soft) dynamics. We were also shown a variety of timbers (including Spruce and Oak), and it was fascinating observing the curve of the soundboard, although the exact information regarding how much and by what means it was curved was strictly off-limits, as this is a trade secret!

Construction of the piano keys occupied a whole area in the factory. Determined to find a solution to the ivory dilemma, Schimmel have found a way to produce keys which feel comfortable to play and are eerily similar to those made entirely from ivory. Yet they are made with ‘mineral material’ (again, another trade secret!). It was interesting to visit the voicing room, where each piano comes to receive its final ‘sound’. The technician worked at shaping each hammer-head in order to refine the tone and sound quality; a painstaking job requiring much skill and expertise.

The pianos are sprayed in the colossal polyester room, and here we could examine the wide variety of models on display; from the traditional black polyester (or shiny) finish, to white glass, black and clear glass with gold trimmings, and the famed ‘Pegasus’ piano which would suit only the most avant-garde (or adventurous) buyers! Most Schimmel pianos take between nine months to a year to build, and this dedication to evolution has enabled them to become the most ‘awarded’ German piano maker.

After appreciating all Schimmel has to offer, we were treated to a mini recital by the owner of Peregrine’s, Dawn (pictured mid-concert below), who was, for many years, a concert pianist. She played two short works by Russian composers, Lyadov and Rachmaninov, and she was introduced by the fourth generation of Schimmels, the Company’s President, Hannes Schimmel-Vogel. A hearty, jovial meal at a picturesque German restaurant in the town centre concluded our brief but thoroughly enjoyable visit.

Dawn Playing

There is no doubt that Schimmel pianos are quality instruments. I tried a few in one of the selection rooms; a couple of uprights and one of the Konzert grands. The upright was incredibly responsive, with a fulsome bass and sonorous, bell-like treble. The Konzert grand had a favourable, resistant, heavy action; it was possible to sink fully into the key bed, commanding plenty of sound. If you would like to try these instruments, take a trip to Peregrine’s Pianos who have a whole range in their showrooms.

Image link

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Simultaneous Learning: The Definitive Guide by Paul Harris

Simultaneous Learning is published today!!! Off to Faber HQ for a little celebration...

Paul Harris is a highly respected and revered music teacher, author and educationalist, who is single-handedly changing the delivery of instrumental and vocal teaching. With over 600 publications to his name, Paul is in great demand as an examiner, adjudicator, workshop and seminar leader, all around the world.

As a pianist and teacher, I have admired and ingested a whole collection of Paul’s extremely helpful and erudite books; some of which are devised for students, such as the wonderful Improve Your Sight-reading series, whilst others are designed specifically for teachers, such as The Virtuoso Teacher and equally essential   Improve Your Teaching. Faber Music are renowned for their dedication and commitment to music education. They have published Paul Harris’ books for over 20 years, so it was a privilege to attend the launch of Paul’s latest book at their head office in London last week.

Simultaneous Learning: The definitive guide is the culmination of Paul’s approach to instrumental and vocal music teaching. It’s a philosophy which empowers students, enabling them to become confident, individual, creative musicians. It focuses on positive, imaginative teaching where all the elements or ‘ingredients’ of music are connected, giving rise to lessons which are full of joy, enjoyment, cultivation of a love for music,  and the introduction of a thorough musical understanding. This organic, holistic path aims to banish frustrated teaching (and teachers!), by providing specific tools so that pupils will flourish. Paul believes that every student (irrespective of their standard or ability) can and will make progress via the Simultaneous Learning method, and every instrumental tutor can easily convert to becoming a Simultaneous Learning teacher. As someone who has integrated this concept already, I can confirm this to be true; it has definitely transformed my teaching and the way I present lessons.

The book is succinct, easy to read and full of innovative ideas to engage pupils, using every minute of lesson time productively. Paul insists we must move away from the misguided ‘reacting to mistakes’ style of teaching. The myth of ‘difficult’ is brushed to one side and replaced with more fruitful ways of teaching pro-actively, in a non-judgemental, inclusive, friendly manner. Each lesson activity is carefully set up so that it feels ‘natural, inevitable and sequential’, making connections through various elements such as investigating rhythm, scales, theory, improvisation, aural and musical detail in interesting and inventive learning patterns, often before any instrumental playing or singing commences. It employs a Simultaneous Learning Map to base these elements around pieces and songs, entrusting students to become complete musicians as opposed to teaching a few random pieces and a couple of scales, in the all too popular trend of ‘old-fashioned’ teaching, where moving from one exam to the next is frequently de-rigueur.

Each chapter takes us through the various processes necessary to become a Simultaneous Learning teacher, meticulously plotting our journey by suggesting practice and teaching methods and ideas. I particularly like the ‘Points to Ponder’ and ‘Practical Exercises’ which conclude every chapter. Also useful are lesson plans (from beginners through to advanced pupils). This book is very practically based employing clear language, using plenty of learning ‘maps’ highlighting and reinforcing Paul’s concepts.

It’s relatively simple to adjust our teaching by using this philosophy, and conversion does not have to occur overnight.  Neither is it a rigid, inflexible idea; teachers can select what they wish to include in lessons, gradually increasing the Simultaneous Learning theories.

This important publication can be regarded as an instrumental or vocal teaching ‘bible’, suitable for all those connected with music education, it could even be successfully applied to other subjects or genres too. Paul sums up Simultaneous Learning in one phrase: ‘its essence is that learning happens through making and embedding meaningful connections in a positive environment’ (chapter 6, page 35). If we can change our approach to music teaching, then we can make a significant difference to a pupil’s whole musical experience.

You can order your copy here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Improvisation on a Bach Chorale for Two Pianos by Ferruccio Busoni

Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni (1886 – 1924) was a fine pianist, composer, conductor, writer, editor and educator. His compositions were largely neglected after his death until around the 1980s. A master piano teacher (his pupils included Egon Petri and Stanley Gardner), Busoni was regarded as an intellectual; a philosopher who was accustomed to thinking outside the box.

Amongst his large compositional output, the most fabled pieces are the gigantic Piano Concerto (1904) and the Fantasia Contrappuntistica (published in 1910). Also known for an impressive collection of transcriptions,  Busoni produced some of the most sympathetic piano arrangements of J S Bach’s compositions ever written. Particularly popular is the transcription of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita for solo violin No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, and the Chorale Preludes, which are arranged using the full sonority of the piano, with a lush, full bloodied, Romantic semblance.

Busoni wrote copious piano works, many employing a distinctly contrapuntal style, which is perhaps inevitable considering his engagement and reverence to the music of the past, and particularly that of J S Bach. In 1907 he wrote a manifesto, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, which unlocks some of the keys to his ideas surrounding composition, including his three major aesthetic beliefs: essence, oneness and junge Klassizität (literally ‘young classicism’).

Works for two pianos include a couple of arrangements of compositions by W.A. Mozart: The Duettino Concertante (after the Finale of Piano Concerto No. 19  K.459), KiV B88, and the Fantasy for the Barrel-Organ in F minor (after K.608), KiV B91. Both works retain Mozart’s elegant textures and sparkling clarity whilst utilizing the piano fully.

An arrangement of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica  for two pianos was completed in 1921 (and published in 1922), and this mighty piece is undoubtedly Busoni’s most ambitious work, which serves as a ‘homage’ to  J S Bach’s Art of Fugue.

The other two piano piece inspired by and based on J S Bach is the Improvisation on the Bach Chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seele” (BWV 517). Originally conceived as a set of variations which the composer had intended to be the last movement of his second violin sonata in 1900. However, when he came to arrange the work for two pianos, he felt it necessary to create a virtually new composition, partly due to the restrictions of turning the violin part into a second piano part. The Improvisation, which was completed in 1916, meanders chromatically around the Chorale theme, employing various impressive piano techniques and endless dynamic colour.

The following recording of the Improvisation on the Bach Chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seele” (BWV 517), was made in 1996 (using a rather primitive home video recorder!) at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly in London at the Primavera Musicale Italiana Festival. The work is played by myself and my duo partner, Olga Balakleets, who is the founder and director of Ensemble Productions. Olga and I gave many recitals both on two pianos and four hands on one piano. We explored a varied repertoire from familiar compositions by Schubert and Mozart, to those by Busoni and Berio.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Artur Pizarro plays Rachmaninoff at St John’s Smith Square

Internationally celebrated concert pianist Artur Pizarro returns to St. John’s, Smith Square (London) on Wednesday 24th September 2014 at 7.30pm, to continue his survey of the complete Rachmaninoff works for solo piano. Six concerts have been scheduled throughout 2014 and there are three remaining (the other two will take place on Wednesday 19th November and Wednesday 10th December).

Having attended two of the earlier recitals in this series, I can confirm these concerts feature piano playing of the very highest calibre and musical integrity, and they  also represent a fascinating journey, illuminating the works of one of the greatest pianist/composers to have ever lived.

Rachmaninoff’s piano works are ever popular, but most well-known are those for piano and orchestra. The solo works are generally less familiar, with many infrequently played. So it’s a wonderful treat to hear them in all their glory, from very early pieces, such as the 5  Morceaux de fantaisie Op. 3, to the later Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42 and marvellous collections of Etude-Tableaux (Op. 33 and 39). Rachmaninoff’s wonderfully complex, rich, and sumptuous piano writing is heard throughout each and every piece; his style is clearly identifiable.

Artur (pictured above) says of his series: “Playing the complete solo piano works of Rachmaninoff is a task worthy of many sleepless nights! As a pianist you have to accept the sheer physical and technical demands that such an undertaking represents. The sheer beauty of Rachmaninoff’s musical invention more than justifies the commitment to performing the complete solo cycle. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of immersing myself in that world for however long the preparation of this project would take. I am so excited at the opportunity to share all that beauty, both musical and emotional, with an audience”.

The programme on Wednesday features: 10 Preludes Op. 23, Song without words in D minor (1886-7), 2 Pieces Op. 2, 4 Improvisations in collaboration with Arensku, Taneyer and Glasunor (c.1896-7), Canon in E minor (c.1889-92) and the 5  Morceaux de fantaisie Op. 3.  Artur can also be heard on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune this afternoon between 17.45 pm and 18.15 pm.

You can find out more about all the concerts in this series here.

Enjoy my recent interview with Artur here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment