As many will know, the Jackdaws Music Education Trust is a very popular destination for music students of all ages. Set in Great Elm, just outside Frome in Somerset (U.K.), Jackdaws offers an exciting array of instrumental and vocal courses every year, and, as the saying goes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. I host many piano courses throughout the year, but Jackdaws is definitely one of my favourites.
The 2020/21 piano courses will no doubt be as popular as ever, and there’s a lot to offer the adult pianist. This will be my sixth year directing a course for the Trust, and in that time there has been a few changes. The small, bespoke class lessons, usually held on the upper floor of the main house have been moved to the splendid new concert hall, which was completed last year (see image above). It houses a Steinway model B, and the light and airy hall offers much more space, providing a bona fide ‘performing’ experience to participants. When I chat to course members, asking what draws them to return to Jackdaws each year, there are, of course, many different reasons apart from the tutor; from the picturesque setting (the main house is set at the bottom of a fairly steep hill, next to a lake) and the camaraderie between course members, to the food, which is all home cooked by a chef, with emphasis on fresh, healthy fayre – and there’s wine for those who are brave enough!
I will be offering two courses at Jackdaws over the forthcoming year. Most courses take place over a weekend, and the first one will be held from Friday October 23rd to Sunday October 25th. This course will be online, and it’s the first ever programmed online piano course to be featured at Jackdaws. The Online Piano Technique course will begin, as usual, on the Friday night, and finish on Sunday afternoon. Focusing on piano technique, we will be working on developing a relaxed, flexible approach to piano playing. I’ve asked students to bring two to three piano pieces, so that we can work on improving and developing technique within their chosen repertoire, too. And the beauty of this course is that it will be held in the comfort of the participant’s own home, and, therefore, it’s possible to join in wherever you are based around the world.
My second course will take place from April 16th – 18th at Jackdaws. Polishing Your Piano Technique has been popular over the last couple of years, and so we are offering it once again. My aim, and teaching philosophy, is to help students develop a workable technique and one which eliminates and alleviates tension and stiffness, keeping the fingers firm whilst producing a sonorous tone. Tightness in the upper body can cause many problems when playing the piano, and we will work through a series of simple exercises, focusing on assimilating the necessary flexible, relaxed movement, with the intention of avoiding injury and pain. This course implements four substantial technique workshops, for which I provide workshop notes for each participant, along with the opportunity to play two or three pieces in a master class setting.
I look forward to meeting you.
‘Thank you so much for your technique workshops and the masterclasses. Your handouts are very helpful in understanding how to practise that deep touch feel at home. It was clear that your students were able to feel the contact with the key more readily than others and (perhaps because of that) there was a confidence in their playing that was quite admirable.’
Janet Gilman: Participant on the 2020 Jackdaws Music Education Trust Piano Course (U.K.)
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.
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