I’ve just returned from tutoring my yearly weekend piano course at Jackdaws Music Education Trust. It was a full course, with ten students, and it was one of the most enjoyable I have run at this renowned education establishment. We were able to utilise the smart new concert venue, which opened earlier this year, now housing the Steinway model B instrument. And the new build also included some extra practice rooms, which students certainly appreciated.
My course focused on piano technique, and consisted of a mixture of technique ‘workshops’ (four in total) interspersed with two long master class sessions. Jackdaws provides the perfect setting for adult amateur classes. Situated in Great Elm, near Frome, in the South West of the UK, the countryside is beautiful, and we were able to take advantage of the sunny weather and explore the area more fully during our two-hour Saturday afternoon break. Food and drink are amply provided at Jackdaws; we had our own chef for the weekend, and if you like homemade cakes, biscuits and sweet treats, you won’t be disappointed!
The atmosphere on these piano courses is most definitely one of safety and encouragement. Students present themselves at a variety of different levels; from around Grade 3 to diploma level over this past weekend. And by the end of the course, I hope they felt able to play with more confidence, and had garnered a few useful practice ideas, too. What sets Jackdaws apart is the friendly, relaxed, down-to-earth vibe, which I’ve come to relish. I’m looking forward to next year’s course already, and I’ll post the 2021 dates here on the blog as soon as they are available.
Last year I was invited to write a new piece for the Solomon Piano Quintet. This superb chamber group formed in 2018 and have already given many concerts. My brief was to write a 3 – 4 minute piece to complement their substantial 2020 programme, which consisted of Brahms and Dvorak’s piano quintets. It’s always an honour to be featured on a programme with two such luminary composers!
After listening to both the Brahms and Dvorak quintets, I concluded that it was necessary to set this piece in F minor, particularly as it was to be played before the Brahms, which is also in this key. F minor is a favourite key, with its dark, velvety timbre, the four flats sitting so comfortably under a pianist’s hands. As the piece took shape, the name ‘Vortex’ emerged. To me, it feels as though the listener is being lulled into a melancholic whirlwind. But you decide; you can hear ‘Vortex’ by clicking the link below. This performance took place at Toppan Hall in Tokyo, Japan, on January 11th 2020, where it was played to a capacity house.
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.