Play it again: the review

I imagine most writers wait for reviews with bated breath. I certainly do. Writers spend a significant period of time alone. I enjoy the solitude. It offers ample thinking time and space to consider piano practice and performance. But once a book is written and ideas are set in stone, the only option is to hope that it is useful and that the relevant information has been offered in a logical manner so that it can be easily understood.

Play it again: PIANO has been a popular series so far, and Book 1 and 2  have both sold successfully around the world. Adding Book 3 seemed to be the natural progression, however it was a much more complicated book to write than the previous two volumes, mostly due to the complexity of the music and the detail required for advanced learners. You can, therefore, imagine my delight at receiving the following review earlier this week.

Renowned writer and reviewer Andrew Eales runs a successful blog called Pianodao. He regularly features new piano publications on his blog, and has already written a lovely review for the first two books in my series. The following wonderfully positive and detailed article includes information about Book 3, and offers an excellent overview of each book. Over to Andrew…

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.

Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…

Who is it for?

One of the first questions I ask myself whenever looking at a new sheet music product is – “who is this aimed at?”

Popular author, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick makes her target crystal clear from the outset, with a subtitle, ‘The perfect way to rediscover the piano’, and with a back cover description that reads:

“Aimed at ‘returning’ players who have spent some time away from the keyboard, Play it Again: Piano gives you the confidence to revisit this fulfilling pastime and go beyond what you previously thought you could achieve. Each piece in this two-book course is accompanied by constructive and easy-to-understand practice tips to help get your fingers speeding comfortably across the keys once again! The Piano Technique and Theory sections will help secure a fuller understanding of music and technique.
If you often find yourself saying ‘I used to play the piano…’ but wish you still did, then Play it Again: Piano is the resource for you!”

The first two volumes between them cover the full range of the eight grades offered by leading UK exam boards, meaning that the returning player can either recap from the start, developing good new habits while revising well-loved music and encountering new pieces, or else jump straight in at the level that suits them.

Meanwhile, the newly available third book covers post-Grade 8 and Associate Diploma level, making it ideal for those working towards professional qualifications, as well as those who are simply intent on taking their personal piano journey to the next level.

The Publications

The outstanding quality of these books is immediately apparent. The high gloss card covers contain 116 (Book 1), 120 (Book 2) and in the case of the third book 156 pages, printed on high quality paper with a slight sheen to it. The binding is very good, allowing even the third book to lie flat on the music stand, while also remaining durable.

The design itself is simply beautiful (and I mean seriously very good indeed!), and at a first skim through the books it is clear that they include a wealth of nicely engraved sheet music alongside plentiful text.

Just on the notation, I should mention for fellow purists that pieces from the Baroque and Classical Eras sometimes (including at Diploma level) include editorial dynamics and phrasing rather than taking a clean urtext approach.

There are helpful fingering suggestions throughout, again including in the third book.

In More Detail

Each book starts with a technique primer section, offering a few pages of excellent advice supported with clear black-and-white photographs. These sections cover posture, hand positions, flexibility and alignment, and advice is expanded and developed throughout the three books.

The first two books follow this with a section covering general tips about practice, including some positive suggestions for working on scales, arpeggios, finger warm-ups, and sight-reading.

The first two books each ends with a short section about Music Theory. In the first book this covers basic reminders of note values, time signatures, clefs and pitch, and key signatures, while in the second book the reader is treated to clearly explained information about scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, ornaments, chord progressions and cadences.

In place of this, the third book concludes with a short section about practice warm-ups, and although just a brief two pages, this is useful.

Between these various supports, the bulk of each book is taken up with the pieces at each level, always preceded by (at least) two full pages of advice covering such issues as:

  • Preparation (usually incorporating a suitable scale or short exercise)
  • Practice Techniques (offering invaluable and often creative advice)
  • Interpretation (usually a short suggestion or two about creating the right mood)

In the third book, these playing tips extend up to as long as 12 pages, and the wealth of detail and expertise here might be seen as the book’s key selling point. Spanswick has not only provided superb tips for the included repertoire, but illuminates effective strategies which players might equally adopt and apply in other concert repertoire of their own choosing.

A key question is whether this rich resource provides sufficient information for the adult player to work alone, without the help of a teacher. It does not claim to do so, but some adult returners may approach the course with that in mind.

Personally I believe that the three books provide an outstanding source for independent learning, but without replacing the need for a good teacher’s diagnostic expertise, support and guidance.

The Repertoire

The diversity of music selected across the three books is superb, and covers so many bases that the supporting writing is able to equally deal with a very broad range of piano playing styles, techniques and piano playing issues.

Here, then, is the full list of included pieces:


Elementary (Grades 1-2)

  • Henry Purcell: Air in D minor
  • Christian Petzold: Minuet in G
  • Henri Bertini: Andantino
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Sick Doll
  • Edward Elgar: Salut d’Amour
  • John Kember: Calypso
  • Elena Cobb: Super Duck

Late Elementary (Grades 2-3):

  • Jeremiah Clarke: King William’s March
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Allegro in B-flat major
  • Robert Schumann: Soldier’s March
  • Cornelius Gurlitt: Allegro non troppo Op.82 No.65
  • Ludvig Schytte: Study Op.108 No.25
  • Scot Joplin (arr. Spanswick): Maple Leaf Rag
  • Tim Richards: Jump Shuffle

Early Intermediate (Grades 3-4):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude in C minor BWV999
  • Henry Lemoine: Study in F major Op.37 No.20
  • Charles Gounod: Les Pifferari (The Italian Pipers)
  • Fryderyk Chopin: Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: The Sailor’s Hornpipe
  • John Kember: Mississippi Rag
  • Bill Readdy: Three ‘Outasight’ Mice

Intermediate (Grades 4-5)

  • Muzio Clementi: Sonatina in G major Op.36 No.2 (first movement)
  • Carl Czerny: Study in C major Op.849 No.29
  • J.F.F. Burgmüller: Ballade Op.100 No.15
  • Mozart, arr. Heumann: A Little Night Music Kv525
  • Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1
  • Jürgen Moser: Fried Chicken
  • Melanie Spanswick: Karma


Late Intermediate (Grades 5-6)

  • C.P.E. Bach: Solfeggietto in C minor H.220
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Für Elise WoO59
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Batholdy: Song Without Words Op.30 No.3
  • Hermann Berens: Study in F major Op.88 No.18
  • Elena Cobb: Lavender Haze
  • Melanie Spanswick: Seahorse Dream

Early Advanced (Grades 6-7):

  • George Frideric Handel: Allegro from Suite in G major HWV441
  • W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata in C major Kv545
  • Beethoven: Adagio Sostenuto from Sonata Op.27/2 “Moonlight”
  • Johann Baptist Cramer: Study in C major Op.50 No.1
  • Johannes Brahms: Waltz in A-flat major Op.39 No.15
  • Sven Hormuth: Sweat Feet Stomp

Advanced (Grades 7-8):

  • Franz Schubert: Impromptu in A flat major D.935 No.2
  • Stephen Heller: Warrior’s Song Op.45 No.15
  • Claude Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair L.117 No.8
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: Londonderry Air
  • Joaquín Turina: Fiesta Op.52 No.7

Late Advanced (Grade 8+):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude & Fugue in C minor BWV847
  • Fryderyk Chopin: ”Raindrop” Prelude Op.28 No.15
  • Scott Joplin: The Entertainer
  • Sergei Rachmaninov: Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.3 No.2


Post Grade 8 Diploma

  • Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major K. 215
  • Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6
  • Claude Debussy: La Puerta del Vino L. 223 No. 3
  • Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No.  6
  • Paul Hindemith: Interludium and Fuga Decima in D flat
  • Melanie Spanswick: Frenzy, Etude for Nimble Fingers

Associate Diploma

  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op 13
  • Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2
  • Edward MacDowall: Wild Jagd from Virtuoso Etudes Op. 46 No. 3
  • Issac Albeniz: Asturias Leyenda Op.  47 No. 5
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12

This is a wonderfully nourishing, enriching and fascinating selection on many counts.

Firstly, the author has made a virtue of selecting contemporary pieces in popular and jazzy styles, as well as pieces equally representing Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century playing and compositional styles. And at almost all levels, there is a technical study.

Secondly, it is refreshing to welcome three of Spanswick’s own compositions here: the minimalistic Karma, more lyrical Seahorse Dream, and the dizzyingly enjoyable Frenzy: Étude for Nimble Fingers. The inclusion of two pieces by Elena Cobb is also most welcome; Lavender Haze has proved hugely popular with my students; it’s a particularly ravishing discovery!

Thirdly, for players looking for a balanced selection of appealing pieces to work on between grades, these are near perfect anthologies, with an ideal mix and juxtaposition of lesser known material and contemporary pieces alongside several of the most evergreen favourites of the traditional repertoire.


There is undoubtedly a significant and growing market of piano players returning to the instrument later in life, having learnt as children, and looking to progress their skills as adults.

Play it Again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for Spanswick and for Schott Music.

From retracing the earliest steps in learning, right through to preparation for a professional diploma, Play it Again: Piano furnishes the adult pianist with a wealth of insight, information and inspiration. It is a genuinely useful, groundbreaking and to the best of my knowledge unique course, certainly deserving of a place in every pianist and teacher’s library.

It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of thought, work and expertise has gone into each and every element of these superb books, and it’s all paid off handsomely: Play it Again: Piano is simply one of the most brilliantly conceived and stunningly produced sheet music publications of recent years.

Writing reviews can at times necessitate an element of speculation, but this inspiring series has already passed the ultimate test: my own adult students love and are truly inspired by the first two books; the arrival of the third is welcome news indeed!


You can read the original review,  here. And you find out more, watch my videos, and purchase the series from Schott’s website, here. You can also purchase on Amazon, here.

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Merry Christmas!

As another year draws to a close, I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog and, if you are a piano student or teacher, have found it beneficial and of interest. Here are my top six blog posts of the year – several are perennially popular and have appeared on my Christmas ‘favourites’ list many times.

  1. 10 tips to seriously improve your piano playing in 2016!
  2. 10 reasons to play the piano
  3. A few thoughts on Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor
  4. Resolving tension in piano playing
  5. Scales – six reasons why you need to practice them
  6. 9 top tips for practising octaves

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading my blog, and for your kind messages and continued support.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Jackdaws Piano Course 2019

The Jackdaws Music Educational Trust instrumental and vocal courses are open for booking today! The 2018/19 programme offers more variety than ever, so there is sure to be something for everyone.

The course venue, an attractive house in Somerset (pictured to the left), near Frome, contains excellent facilities, including a Steinway Model B piano, and several practice rooms. If you decide to take the plunge and book a course, you’ll enjoy the most beautiful countryside, scrumptious home cooked food, and plenty of opportunity to hone your piano skills whilst meeting new like-minded friends.

This is the fourth year that I have run a weekend course at Jackdaws, and I’m always delighted to be working amongst such an illustrious cohort of course tutors. This year, I’ll be focusing on piano technique. Throughout this weekend, I hope to illustrate the possibility of improving your skills irrespective of age or ability. Students often complain of tension, pain, and discomfort when they play, which probably stems from moving around the instrument in a less than ideal manner, resulting in many technical issues. During the course, I’ll consider the reasons for tension and examine useful ways of alleviating it, by focusing on establishing freedom and relaxation whilst playing.

Each course member will be given ample opportunity to hone and improve their technique; we will work at rotational wrist motion, strengthening fingers, and developing completely free arm movement; encouraging the use of arm weight, with the aim of producing a warm, pleasing tone.  Technique will also be evaluated and assessed in the context of each student’s chosen repertoire, therefore participants are advised to bring two to three contrasting pieces to the workshops, although these do not have to be performance ready.

Course Name: Polishing Your Piano Technique

Course Dates: 18th – 20th January 2019

I really look forward to meeting you.

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Noriko Ogawa in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

My sixth interview in the Classical Conversations Series features the wonderful Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa.

Noriko won third prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1987 and has since worked with leading orchestras and conductors, such as Dutoit, Vanska, Slatkin and Otaka. She is also renowned as a recitalist and chamber musician, performing with artists such as Evelyn Glennie. In 2001 Ogawa established a piano duo with Kathryn Stott and they regularly commission new works performing premieres of pieces by Fujikura and Kanno.

Ogawa was appointed Artist in Residence to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester where she was Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy festival, hosted by the BBC Philharmonic and Bridgewater Hall from January-June 2012.

Ogawa is an exclusive recording artist for BIS Records. Her discography includes Takemitsu Riverrun (Editor’s Choice – Gramophone Magazine) and Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (Critics’ Choice – BBC Music Magazine). She has recently concluded a complete series of Debussy recordings which has won considerable critical acclaim and has also recorded a new Mozart disc for BIS Records.

Noriko has received the Japanese Ministry of Education’s Art Prize in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the global cultural profile of Japan. Since 2004 she has acted as artistic advisor for the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall. As a writer, Ogawa has completed her first book (published in Japan) and is currently working on a Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook.

Noriko is passionate about charity work, particularly after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan in early 2011. Since the earthquake she has raised over £20,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund and is keen to keep fundraising, also working with the Japan Society through 2012. Ogawa also founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents.

And the transcript for those who prefer to read my interviews……

 MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Japanese concert pianist, Noriko Ogawa, came to the public’s attention when she won the third prize at the International Leeds piano competition in 1987. And since then she played all around the world and developed a very impressive career. She enjoys playing contemporary music and has a real interest in charity work and music education. So I’m delighted that she has joined me here today at the Fazioli room at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London. Thank you very much for joining me here.

 NORIKO OGAWA:   Well thank you.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   It’s great talking to you.

NORIKO OGAWA:   You too.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   And I would just like to start by talking to you about your music education. How did you started playing piano? How old were you and what was the catalyst? Do you come from a musical family?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, yes and no. My father is not musical at all whereas my mother is a piano teacher so well since before I was born she was teaching so I- I must have been listening to her teach when I was in her stomach.


NORIKO OGAWA:   But in any case when I was a baby she would- she used to teach an upright piano and my mother tells me that when I was a toddler, I used to sit at the-at the corner of this upright piano listening to all the piano lessons. So… When I was about two already, I was very very enthusiastic about it. And umm… If dinner time I say “Mummy piano.” Both my parents would say “Oh dear, not again”.


NORIKO OGAWA:  So they had to hold my back because I could fall of the piano stool. So I was really that keen then.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   That’s really wonderful isn’t it? Yeah.

NORIKO OGAWA:  Yes, I started umm… proper piano lessons when I was four and a half? My aunt saw me playing at the keyboard, at the piano all the time. And my mother was busy because I had a younger sister. And uhhhm… But then my aunt says “Come on sister. You sh-you have to take your daughter to the piano lessons.”


NORIKO OGAWA:  And that’s how it all started.

 MELANIE SPANSWICK:   So which teacher do you think was the most crucial in your development as a pianist? Which one kind of influenced you the most, do you think?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, Well right from the beginning everybody was very very important. Of course my mother was such a- an influence- big influence for me really.


NORIKO OGAWA: I mean she was always making sure I practiced every day. So in a way I had a tutor at home. And uhh.. Of course Mrs. Kruda who really taught me how to use each finger. She was very important. All the teachers, yes. And then I started with Madame Yecuchi was, you know, one of the best known piano teachers in Japan. But probably I would say the biggest influence, I would say now, that I had is from Benjamin Kaplan who is in London. He, very unfortunately, he passed away recently. But he was the biggest influence. He was the teacher that I found by myself and umm… For me, I have not been yet in London without him. So I would say really…

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   So how old were you when you came to London to study then?

NORIKO OGAWA:  I was already fully grown.


NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, I was a junior student when I came across Benjamin Kaplan and he was visiting New York and I was a very difficult, frustrated student then.


NORIKO OGAWA:  Rather cynical, because I would go to competitions and I would always do okay but never really really well because I was a very frustrated student, not getting what I wanted so I was not able to have any kind of magical click with anybody at the Juilliard.


NORIKO OGAWA:   Because music education was a very personal thing.


NORIKO OGAWA:  And I needed to have someone that I could fully trust musically. And a friend of mine in New York said “Why don’t you play for Ben Kaplan who is visiting New York? Not for a very long time but you know, he might be able to spare an hour or two for you”. So I went along to a flat where he was staying and then I played to him and I have to say it was musical love at first sight and then I knew I found somebody I was looking for and it was really well worth it for me to go all the way to New York spending years being a frustrated student just to meet this piano teacher. He was- he was the right from- one for me. And umm… So he found me some scholarship in London and I came here absolutely penniless. And ummm… I had lessons as many times as I wanted. And ummm… Suddenly, all the doors opened and starting from the Leeds.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, yeah. What do you think then is the difference between learning the piano in Japan compared to learning it here in the UK? Do you think that there’s a tremendous difference or do you think it’s quite similar in the approach?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, Umm… I have to say that ummm… The stages of my life were so different. I was a child and I was- I was a teenager when I was in- in- in- Japan and then when I came into London, I was a grown up person. So I cannot actually compare in a very simple way. But, what I would say is that in Japan, we are, we are always- well it is actually a basic thing in Japanese society. You do what you are told to do and in here you have to find what you have to do and both easy and not easy, both good and bad. I mean I shouldn’t say good or bad  but umm… For Japanese children could be very demanding to be given too many opportunities to think right from the beginning because we are born in to a society where you do what you are told and suddenly if you are free then it could be too much pressure in a very strange way.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, I see what you’re saying.

NORIKO OGAWA:  Yes ummm… For Japanese children like I- I was, it is good to have some kind of frame up to some- I don’t know, during formative years, I would say.


NORIKO OGAWA:  And then up to umm… After maybe teenager time it would be fantastic to have a kind of education that ummm.. British music world can offer. Free to think, choose what you want to play repertoire. Go and find what you like to do and uhhh… Explore all kinds of possibilities. It’s really too much for Japanese children, I would think. I- I don’t want to sound a bit too chauvinistic about it. But it’s- it’s just a reality, I think because I am one of them but this kind of freedom and umm… endless opportunity that we’ve got in this British music world is really absolutely fantastic. It’s like a honey pot really, for every musician.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   That’s good. How did you develop your technique?

NORIKO OGAWA: Ummm… I started piano lessons with rather Japanese old school, very very strict and you have to be aware of each finger of your both hands and ummm… Making sure that they are very independent. So that sort of thing I developed in Japan, definitely. But ummm… When I was about twelve- thirteen I remember my friends and my friends’ mothers used to say Noriko’s sound is very pretty but it sounds like it’s very muted as if she has got the una corda down all the time!

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Hahaha, go on.

NORIKO OGAWA: And- and uhh… but then when I was a child I didn’t really worry about that. I was, in a way, chuffed that they thought that I made nice sound. That’s- that’s what I wanted to hear really. But then when I was thirteen- fourteen I started to notice maybe it might not be enough. Maybe I should project that a little bit more. Then I came across a- a- a pianist who was very active performing at that time, Mr. Hironaka, and he taught me how to relax the body and arms and how to use this kind of power from here to there using the weight of the arms and I remember when I was about sixteen, I think. I was practising and then suddenly a pain dropped really and I thought, this is the right to use my body and then suddenly I started to project a lot. So I had all this kind of guidance by different teachers but suddenly when I was about sixteen, it all added up and it suddenly came to my body. It was like a magical moment very difficult to explain because it’s a very physical thing.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, and a personal thing as well in a way. And you won this third prize from the Leeds, How did it change your career? It must’ve changed it tremendously.

NORIKO OGAWA:  Oh, yes. Over night. Over night.

NORIKO OGAWA:   I wouldn’t be here without it.


NORIKO OGAWA: Umm… I had lessons with Ben almost every other day up until the Leeds and then I went there and when I went there I just wanted to play to a British audience. That’s all I wanted to do and I just went further and further and I thought, my goodness. What am I going to do now? And uhh… I then was in the finals and I- I didn’t even tell my parents then because I- it was really so much for me and then I came third and I was absolutely over the moon. Then, over night, I had an agent in Japan and then ummm… I made some phone calls to British agents and at that time the Leeds was so exposed.


NORIKO OGAWA: That ummm… I had an agent in the UK, overnight as well. So the day before I was a student pianist and the day after I was a professional pianist and the changes were very big, yeah.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   So do you feel competitions are still very important. There’s a lot of debate amongst pianists whether they can still launch you in the way that you were launched. Do you think they are still very powerful?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, for pianists without any connection, important connection, useful connections, yes it is. I- yeah- I come from Japan. I went to Juilliard’s and I was a frustrated student and then I came here just as a student competitor studying with Ben Kaplan and very very personal. I was not exposed to any agent, promoters, conductors, orchestras, nothing. All I wanted to do is to play well each round.


NORIKO OGAWA:  Then I needed to get some kind of prize or I needed to have some kind of connection through the competition so I needed it. Umm. the young pianists who are exposed to a lot more things, for example, born in this country, if they know the BBC since they are children, if the know right producers, right piano teachers who knows a lot about agencies then those pianists may not need them. But I did.



MELANIE SPANSWICK:   And you really impressed in contemporary music. How did this come about?

NORIKO OGAWA: Well ummm… When I was a child, umm… I read biographies about Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. Those three books, my parents gave me at one Christmas and I read from cover to cover so many times and yet I thought they were mythological, coming from Japan. Completely different-


NORIKO OGAWA: Society. I just did not think they existed. So for me, still a part of me tells me that those people may not have existed, some kind of gift from somewhere. So ummm.. for me, it is very important to meet composers in flesh that actually human being who only has got one heart, two eyes, two hands and actually write that kind of music and for us to materialize or realize that these pieces it’s still for me is something beyond comprehendible. I cannot quite- still today I cannot quite come to terms with it. So it is important for me to keep doing it. It is a good fun and it is- I’m sure you know, Melanie. It is the most scary moment to play. To a composer…..


NORIKO OGAWA: Yes, and then I can only play about 50% of what I practiced.


NORIKO OGAWA: Usually the first time. You know I- You know I just trip over everywhere and then I say “Oh, I’m so sorry I could play a bit better in my studio.” I always say. But uhhh.. It is a nerve-racking phase and it is a fantastic thing at the same time. And then also, not only the ummm… They ask us- what we- you know- they want us to do as composers, also they discover what we can do.


NORIKO OGAWA:  And what we cannot do realistically speaking, piano only has got this much keyboard and our hands are this size and uhh… It is fantastic umm… moment to walk towards each other. So although it is uhhh… Hard thing to do, it is a good thing to do.


NORIKO OGAWA: So that’s why I keep doing it.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   And you play a lot of Takemitsu to critical acclaim. You’ve been really ummm…

NORIKO OGAWA: Well, thank you.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Really praised for your wonderful performances. What is it then  that draws you to his style?

NORIKO OGAWA: Well, I was- well simple, really. When I started going for international piano competitions, umm… It says in the semi-finals, play a piece from your own country.


NORIKO OGAWA:  Contemporary blah blah, written in blah blah so and so. Ummm… It started that way. I needed to find some kind of repertoire for my country and I was talking to a friend who was a composer student and he said that “Well, why don’t you play Takemitsu. He is- he’s pieces are very very pretty, very musical, very beautiful, dadadada.” But then when I started playing I thought, woah, actually because Takemitsu wrote a lot of film music, I felt quite close to him I might have heard his pieces without knowing it was by Takemitsu and then I really so enjoyed it but then ummm… Until I actually met Takemitsu I wasn’t looking for his music that much because I was so busy with all these other Beethoven and Chopin to go to competitions and then I met Takemitsu and what a lovely man and so una-unassuming but then dreamy at the same time, I thought I would really like to play more pieces by him. So I did. And then, there was a moment which was so magical and so heavenly it really touched my heart so I wrote him a fan letter and then he wrote me back and that encouraged me even further so this kind of personal touch gave me very extra enthusiasm to get into his music.


NORIKO OGAWA: To this music, yes. So that’s now it came about, different stages.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   I heard you recently playing with your duo partner, Kathryn Stott at a BBC Radio Three broadcast and you played ummm…  Circuit by Graham Fitkin and it was absolutely thrilling.

NORIKO OGAWA: Thank you.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   It was magical. So do you enjoy playing chamber music or would you rather be a soloist or do you like both?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Well, I do. I do enjoy playing chamber music but it is a lot of responsibility. I find chamber music most demanding. So I do enjoy it but I am not a full-time chamber musician. It’s really too much responsibility to carry.


NORIKO OGAWA:  And I find soloist artists- of course in one way it is difficult because I have to present what I am and who I am. On the other hand, if it goes well, fantastic but if it doesn’t go well in some places, it is okay I take all the blame to myself and- and that’s fine. But ummm… If I cause a problem in chamber music concert, I cannot quite recover from it-

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Hahaha. I know what you mean. Yes, yes.

NORIKO OGAWA: Quickly. So but then working with Kathy is a fantastic umm… thing. She’s a wonderful musician and such generous personality. She’s got such a big heart and I have learned so much from her about being a pianist, about being a musician, traveling musician, how to work with other musicians, a lot of things. So ummm… She’s so busy and so am I so we don’t meet as often as we want it.


NORIKO OGAWA:  But every time we work together, we have a great time, yes.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   And you produce a beautiful tone range, tonal palette. How did you- How’d you come about producing this sound? Is it something that’s developed over the years or have you always been aware that you can make these wonderful sounds with piano?

NORIKO OGAWA: Well, I am a strong believer of beautiful sounds at the piano. If we had not worried about the quality of the sound, why do we worry about playing on big concert ground or you know- big maker brand of the piano? Why are we so worked up about the quality? It’s because we want to make good sound so I am a strong believer of that ummm… So I must have developed because of that that I have some kind of sound somewhere in my mind that I am always looking for it that I am always looking for that kind of sound so I am trying to- to- to produce that kind of sound at the keyboard when I do it and also ummm… Not only in just hearing it but physically, I want to get a lot of pleasure out of playing the piano when we- when our hands are really into the keyboard, we know it.


NORIKO OGAWA: Yes, and- and I’m always looking for that kind of moment and this is the kind of absolute meeting point between the piano and the pianist. So umm… because we have to perform a different instrument all the time ummm.. So it’s like a first meeting and we say hello and I sit down and I start playing and the piano says, “Oh really?”


NORIKO OGAWA: And- and then I say, “Yes, it’s really”. And then- So I have got some kind of image in my mind what kind of sound I want with my head and my hands are looking for this physical pleasure from this particular instrument so my hands want to convince the instrument so when the sound and the piano, this physical- I don’t know what this is- click happen then the piano shakes hands with me and- and i love that moment so that- that probably is the way that I work and that gives me a lot of ummm.. How can I say this- this kind of sound world. Yeah, that I want to swim around.


NORIKO OGAWA: Yes, so the piano tells me the capacity of that instrument while I’m rehearsing and then with the- with the acoustic of the hall and then I know how far I can go in the concert I go even further and if the piano is a good piano and- and uhhh.. If- if this piano can take what I want to do, then it travels with me as far as I want so that’s- that’s the kind of image that I have- I have. It’s a kind of map that I have but it’s always- it’s blank when I go to a concert hall and it, actually, it could work much smaller piano sometimes. Ummm… Th-that goes without reaching things like that, you know it- it- because if I go somewhere then the piano is inevitably smaller than the concert ground.


NORIKO OGAWA: But I can still swim around in that kind of world. But if the piano is big and full-sized with the concert ground is really huge and the acoustic is good then I think I have this sound image and map that I start drawing.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   And is this why you enjoy playing Debussy so much because you recorded- you’ve done a huge recording of Debussy’s works recently and is this what attracts you to his music and all the tonal possibilities?

NORIKO OGAWA: Exactly, exactly.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes umm.. Debussy’s sound actually a lot of people think that Debussy’s sound is wish-washy. It’s not. And ummm… uhhh… He- it’s not all the time but he’s got really great, big forte fortissimo fortisissimo as well as very quiet sounds that sometimes I have to take so much risk and actually playing quietly is more difficult.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, hahahaha. Especially on instruments you don’t know.

NORIKO OGAWA: Exactly, and sometimes the bumper sounds louder than the piano sort of, you know, the- the notes. Then it’s a very difficult moment isn’t it?


NORIKO OGAWA: So ummm… Debussy challenges in both ways and ummm.. When it works it’s fantastic and also the colours that he demands, it’s- it’s wonderful when it works. So yes that’s- that’s probably why I love Debussy.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   So I know you are very interested in outreach work, charity work. You’ve done a lot of this. How did- How did this come about?

NORIKO OGAWA:Well, since I was a child I was always interested in this sort of thing and ummm… Ummm… First of all, I visit primary schools-


NORIKO OGAWA:  Mainly, when it comes to schools. And then I ask to go to students’ halls and I- I insist on playing on the instrument which lives there even it’s an upright uhhh… And because I want to show the children when I play it, when a professional pianist plays on it it sounds different and they love it umm… So that’s one thing and then uhhh… I always insist on showing my hands so if children are too many I- I tell them to change the seats or I ask the piano to go around so that I can show how my fingers are working.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   So is this in Japan or do you also go to England as well?

NORIKO OGAWA: Well, both.


NORIKO OGAWA: but ummm… It is easier for me to range when I am in Japan.


NORIKO OGAWA: Yes and uhhh… But anyway so that’s that and uhhh… I play something they know so that they can hear the difference and it’s amazing when I do students’ concerts or primary school concerts, children’s’ concerts, they always come up with amazing questions, very musical.


 ORIKO OGAWA: Yes, quite threatening.


NORIKO OGAWA: Somewhat almost professional level of questions. They always amaze me so it’s uhhh.. it’s a very ummm.. stimulating for me.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   I can imagine.

NORIKO OGAWA: Yes. I’m sure I already met future pianists, future musicians and future audience. I am sure I have met them already. So that’s one thing and another outreach I do really passionately is ummm… It’s called Jamie’s Concerts. That’s my creation kind of thing and when I was- when I first started uhhh… Playing professionally in UK, I was a lodger with an English family- musicians family and uhhh.. There was a- a disabled child in that family and I realized how it was like to- to live with ummm… Those children because for- for- for the parents it’s very very demanding so I started this thing called Jamie’s concert and the Jamie is the- the name of this boy and it’s designed for mainly for the carers so that they can go to concerts during the day while children are in school and they can go home before the children get home and- but the concert is really like professional level concert, nothing different. We always put the dress on  and- and we play in a formal concert hall and uhhh… It’s going really very well and I’ve already done ten concerts- ten concerts in Japan and ummm… I’ve already done two in the UK and I’m about to do the next one in the Liverpool area next February so ummm.. I would really like to continue that.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, I bet. I was going to say in the next question, what are your plans for 2013?

NORIKO OGAWA:  Oh. Well, Ummm… It’s just really carrying on playing.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes, of course.

NORIKO OGAWA: And recently I recorded Mozart sonatas and uhhh… It’s going to be released so I would like to play some of those sonatas and see how far I can go. This is a real real test as a pianist.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   That is. Specially playing all of them well. Wow.

NORIKO OGAWA:Yes, it’s- that’s going to be ummm… A big challenge for me and uhhh… Well carry on learning new pieces. Well, this year I’ve done this big Debussy festival and I celebrated year of Debussy’s birthday so next year it’s a little bit quieter in that respect. I don’t have any kind of “big project” but ummm… I’ve got a lot of concerts coming in and people are now finding out that I’ve recorded Mozart, so I am getting some Mozart Concerto dates. So ummm… That’s going to be very interesting to-

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Yes. So what does playing the piano mean to you?

NORIKO OGAWA: Oh dear. Hahaha. It is something which speaks for me. It takes a lot of training and discipline but at the end of the day when I’m at the piano ummm… I cannot really cover it up myself. It just shows what I am and uhhh… I think that’s- that’s what it is. Things that I cannot say when I am a little bit too shy or too happy or too sad, the piano will say it for me.

MELANIE SPANSWICK:   Thank you so much for joining me.

NORIKO OGAWA: Thank you very much Melanie.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Genuine Joyce Hatto Recordings

Just before Christmas I published a post about pianist Joyce Hatto which focused on the drama documentary broadcast on BBC 1, Loving Miss Hatto. You can read my post here.

The whole Joyce Hatto episode is such a sad one. For those who haven’t been following her story, Joyce was a concert pianist whose husband constructed many of her late recordings by using those of other pianists. This was supposedly done without Joyce’s knowledge however, this is now proving to be not the case as Joyce was probably aware of what was going on.

I thought it might be a good idea to listen to some ‘real’ Hatto recordings proving that she did in fact have some credibility and was a concert pianist who had a career before she became ill. So here are a few apparently genuine Joyce clips – enjoy!

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Liza Lehmann

For quite some time now I have been interested in all female pianists and composers. Some say here in the 21st century, we finally have equality although it seems to me that classical music has always been a male dominated profession. Women composers seem particularly thin on the ground. There are more around today but during the 19th and 20th centuries this wasn’t the case at all. Women struggled to get their works performed and published.

In 1911 the Society of Women Musicians was founded to address this problem. It survived until the early 1970s – I think it a great pity that it has ceased and I would be very interested in reforming this organization.

The first president of the SWM was the British composer Liza Lehmann (1862 -1918). You may notice that her dates are identical to those of Claude Debussy but her music couldn’t be more different. Lehmann represents a wonderfully romantic late Victorian style; she wasn’t a ground breaking, cutting edge composer but her music is so expressive and beautiful its difficult not to be moved by the rich harmonic progressions found in her many songs.

Lehmann was born in London and ‘grew up in an intellectual and artistic atmosphere’. She studied singing with Alberto Randegger and Jenny Lind, and composition with Hamish MacCunn, Niels Raunkilde and Wilhelm Freudenberg. After making her singing debut at a Monday Popular Concert at St James’s Hall, she spent almost ten years performing concerts all around England and Europe, receiving much encouragement from Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann.

She married composer and painter, Herbert Bedford in 1984 and stopped performing completely turning to composition. Lehmann is known for her song cycles, the most famous of which is In a Persian Garden (for vocal quartet and piano). The Daisy Chain and In Memoriam (based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem) have also remained popular and demonstrate the breadth and variety of Lehmann’s settings. Other compositions include parlour songs, an edwardian musical comedy (Sergeant Brue), a comic opera (The Vicar of Wakefield) and the opera, Everyman.

Lehmann toured the US successfully in 1910 (accompanying herself at the piano!), she was singing professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and she completed a vocal manual; Practical Hints for Students of Singing.

Liza Lehmann was England’s foremost female song composer at the beginning of the 20th century. She excelled at lighter material but was able to set serious texts with the utmost profundity. I discovered her music quite by chance when I was asked to play one of her magnificent recitations (The Selfish Giant), at a music festival in Hamilton, Ontario. I was bowled over by the beauty of the music and also by the fact that I had (to my shame!) never heard of her.

Meanwhile have a listen to some Lehmann: I thought it fitting to include this song because it is sung by the wonderful Elizabeth Connell, who sadly died yesterday; it’s called There are fairies at the bottom of our garden.

Sarah-Jane Brandon performs one of my favourites, Evensong.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.