It was such a pleasure travelling up to Derby last Saturday. I had been initially invited to give a talk about my book, So You Want To Play The Piano? but this eventually escalated into a BBC radio interview, talk and a master class, held in conjunction with EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association). The events were held at Foulds Music Shop in Derby; a beautiful old, family-run store which dates back to 1893.
Composer and piano teacher Elena Cobb was the host for this special afternoon and she also gave a very interesting presentation about her superb series of books entitled Higgledy Piggledy Jazz which introduce youngsters to jazz and improvisation (you can read my review of this series here). Elena explained how she came to write the books and called on a group of willing volunteers to play some of the pieces, demonstrating basic jazz and improvisation techniques with plenty of audience participation! Two of Elena’s students played live during the radio interview, where I spoke about my book, and you can hear them by clicking on the YouTube link below. A highlight of the talk came at the end when six little pianists gave an impromptu performance of ‘Super Duck’, one of Elena’s most popular compositions.
After my talk (which focuses on many important issues dealt with in my book), I gave a master class to three local students, all of whom were advanced players. The first pupil presented the Praeambulum from Partita No. 5 in G major by J.S. Bach. We worked on many aspects in this demanding piece including articulation, clarity, tone and especially gradation of colour and sound. Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude in C minor (Op. 10 No. 12) was next on the menu, and it was played with plenty of dexterity and speed. One issue which often arises from working at studies such as this piece, is the use of flexible wrists particularly with regard to the ceaseless left hand semi-quaver patterns. So we tackled this by breaking up the many figurations and working on finger power in small sections, releasing the wrist at the end of each designated ‘group’ of semi-quavers. Although we really only concentrated on the first half page, the student quickly adjusted and by the end of the session, was definitely much freer and produced a richer, fuller sound too.
The last work performed was Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch 11, which provided a completely contrasting sound world. When working on contemporary works such as this, it can be a good idea to examine each musical line or strand separately. In this work, the thematic material is clearly stated at the beginning, so we worked on each line, voicing the ‘layers’ of sound, focussing on tonal colour and depth. It’s always enjoyable teaching in workshops such as this and many thanks to Elena, Beate Wilmshurst (Regional Co-ordinator, EPTA Derby) and Foulds Music for arranging such a wonderful event.