If you’ve been following my social media sites, you’ll know I’ve been working in Singapore and Johor Bahru (in Malaysia) over the past week. I aim to organise several overseas book tours per year as I love to travel, and I also enjoy meeting teachers and students from different parts of the world. I’m extremely grateful to my publisher, Schott Music, for their continued support; without them arranging such trips would indeed be challenging, particularly with regard to book distribution which can be tricky in some Far Eastern countries.
I have visited Singapore on a few occasions during the past couple of years; their hospitality is legendary as is their hunger to learn, and the same is true in Malaysia, too. I name these trips ‘book tours’, but they are actually much more than that. A book tour might describe an author who visits a country offering a brief presentation focusing on their book with, perhaps, a Q&A at the end. I generally offer workshops, public and private lessons, lectures or presentations, and adjudicating. Such elements are all connected to my piano course, Play it again: PIANO, but these workshops and classes are not merely presentations about the books. My teaching generally centres around piano technique, and during the workshops I touch on many technical aspects, and crucially, how to keep loose and relaxed whilst developing a solid technique.
In Singapore I gave a six-hour workshop for piano teachers employed by Cristofori. Cristofori is the largest piano company and music school in Singapore with a network of over 30 centres island-wide. Over 400 instrumental teachers are affiliated to the music school, and I was delighted that over 100 piano teachers came to my first workshop (see photo to the left). I offer four half-hour piano technique workshops in total, and after each one I encourage teachers to come to the piano to try out various ideas and exercises. Teachers can be a fairly reserved bunch in Singapore, but it didn’t take too long to coax them to the piano. And once one or two came up, there was no stopping them!
The following day I took a trip over the border to Malaysia. The second workshop (which was also for piano teachers) was shorter, and differed slightly from the first, still mainly featuring piano technique, but I also spoke about my compositions, played some of them, and then answered questions about incorporating composition into piano lessons. This took place at the Forte Academy of Music in Johor Bahru. Around 50 piano teachers attended the event and I appreciated their dedication and interest. They had no qualms about coming up to the piano to try my suggestions, and I endeavoured to answer the numerous questions about technique, piano teaching, and, of course, that perennial subject, piano exams.
Piano exams feature heavily in piano study in the Far East. ABRSM are the preferred exam board, and, again, copious questions ensued about various aspects of examinations, and particularly the diplomas, of which there are many candidates in this part of the world.
The final engagement on this short trip was adjudicating. It’s a privilege to listen to young pianists, and adjudicating (or jury judging) involves hours of listening and writing.
The invitation to adjudicate at the 3rd Overseas Performer’s Festival came from my friends and colleagues, piano teachers Angelyn Aw and Winnie Tay who run The Musique Loft. This organisation hosts piano competitions, master classes and other events for piano teachers and their students. The festival consisted of a two-day event held at the Chinese Cultural Centre in the urban financial district of Singapore.
I was fortunate to adjudicate alongside fellow British pianist, artistic director, and professor of piano at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Anthony Hewitt. Tony and I have previously worked together on several occasions and it was wonderful to work in conjunction with another judge, otherwise this job can seem a hefty responsibility on one’s own.
We heard over 200 performances, and many were superb. An extremely high standard of playing was coupled with an interesting selection of diverse repertoire. Every performer played from memory (even the duets and trios), and students ranged from four- or five- year-old Grade one or Grade two students to twenty-five-year-old conservatoire graduates. All participants received trophies and lengthy written adjudications (it’s fair to say that my index finger didn’t work properly for a day or two afterwards!).
I’m not going to discuss whether competitions are ethical or not, but irrespective of this, such displays of piano playing can surely only help to secure a healthy interest in piano music, classical music, and music education in general. I’ve grown tired of making comparisons to the UK, but unfortunately it seems as though we are trailing far behind.
My trip ended with a further day of master classes for The Musique Loft and some private teaching. It was a full week in terms of engagements, but I felt inspired, energised and heartened by this outpouring of love for the piano and its music. I’m looking forward to returning to this part of the world in October to visit Jakarta (Indonesia), Singapore and Johor Bahru.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.