My guest post today has been written by David Jones who is Head of Keyboard Studies at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Earlier this year, David inaugurated a new piano course held at Cheltenham Ladies College; The Thinking Pianist. After an extremely successful pilot course in July 2021, The Thinking Pianist, will now offer a more expansive 2022 programme, and, in this article, David explains the many enticing and interesting elements that this course has to offer.
The Thinking Pianist is a new type of summer course for pianists age 18+ which is now in its second year, following a highly successful pilot course in 2021. It takes place in the beautiful Victorian Gothic surroundings of Cheltenham Ladies’ College in Gloucestershire, where there is an impressively large collection of excellent pianos housed in multiple performing and teaching venues. Intended to be an immersive week-long experience featuring a wide variety of activities, we feel that anyone for whom the piano is a vital part of their daily wellbeing (and, ideally, who has reached the suggested playing standard) will find this course hugely fulfilling.
There are several different strands of activity involved in The Thinking Pianist and these are open to all. Studying, playing, and performing piano music naturally takes centre stage, including plenty of opportunity for duets and 2-pianos, but, as the course title suggests, there is a lot more on offer. There are talks and seminars on a wide-variety of piano-related topics, as well as a separate Piano Pedagogy strand which caters for experienced teachers needing a refresher as well as those at the start of their teaching careers. Nurturing every pianist’s physical and mental health is the reason for the integrated daily wellbeing activities, coached by specialists, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method. There are also optional external activities in afternoon free time: hill walks in the Cotswolds, guided tours of Regency Cheltenham or making use of your complementary membership of the CLC Health and Fitness Centre with its large pool, gym and other state-of-the art facilities.
We know from our first course that The Thinking Pianist appeals to a wide variety of people who love playing and thinking about the piano. These range from the dedicated adult player who might do something else for a living, to the equally dedicated piano teacher, at whatever level of experience, through to the aspiring conservatoire or university piano student who would like to broaden their horizons outside term-time. We do not intend to exclude on the basis of playing standard, but you would be likely to get the most out of the course if you are approximately Grade 6 or above.
During the week of the course, you will have at least three individual one-hour lessons with one of our distinguished Faculty. In 2021 these were Mengyang Pan, Tim Horton, Ashley Wass, John Thwaites and myself. The core full-time Faculty of Mengyang, Tim and myself return for 2022; Visiting Faculty will include Melanie Spanswick and Andrew Eales, with other names to be announced in due course.
As well as individual lessons we offer ensemble coaching, talks and seminars, staff concerts and open rehearsals.The Pedagogy strand is run by Mengyang Pan, though all staff contribute to these sessions. In 2022 Melanie Spanswick will offer a special contribution with dedicated workshops on teaching all aspects of technique. Also new for 2022 will be a linked series of workshops with the theme ‘Teaching is Learning’ which will explore the hugely important links between these two activities and is designed to be relevant even to those who do not see themselves as teachers!
The 2021 course was particularly notable for the success we had in tailoring participants’ schedules to their personal preferences. Those who wished for more lesson time, or performing opportunities in concerts or masterclasses, were able to have them; others preferred to spend more time reading duets or two-piano works, or having extra individual Yoga or other wellbeing classes. There were even opportunities to play 8 hands at two pianos or rehearse Steve Reich’s classic minimalist “Six Pianos”! The atmosphere of mutual co-operation and learning, embracing course students and staff equally, was also a strong feature; the productive exchange of ideas during seminars and workshops, as well as the inclusion of open rehearsals of ensemble works, encouraged this sense of a community of listening and learning.
Our wellbeing Faculty is led by Yoga instructor Katie Maughfling, a full-time presence on the course, who was also available for individual wellbeing coaching or discussion sessions. She was ably supported by specialist visiting Tai Chi and Alexander Technique instructors, who gave daily group introductory classes available to all, as well as individual sessions which could be booked during the course at no extra charge. The integrated wellbeing strand also featured in the presentations by the Piano Faculty, such as Tim Horton’s on dealing with nerves and performance anxiety, and my own on nurturing the pianist’s mind.
I hope the above has whetted your appetite for more information about the course, which can be found at the links below. Please feel free to contact me directly with any queries (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I hope we can look forward to welcoming you at The Thinking Pianist in 2022.
Course Director, The Thinking Pianist and Head of Keyboard Studies, Cheltenham Ladies’ College
Here’s The Thinking Pianist’s Website and link to the booking form, including detailed information about course facilities, residential accommodation etc:
Please feel free to join The Thinking Pianist’s Facebook group, which includes photos, posts and comments from TTP 2021 attendees:
The Thinking Pianist Summer Course
Sat 16 – Sat 23 July 2022
Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Cheltenham, GLOS
Full-time residential places, including all meals, course activities and membership of CLC Health & Fitness Centre: £1200
(Part time places are likely to be made available at a later date)
Photo Credits: Inna Tideswell, Dave Stokes and David Jones.
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.