Finchcocks Piano Courses 2019

A weekend spent at the splendid Finchcocks manor house is rather like stepping back into the Eighteenth Century. Situated in Goudhurst, in the South East of England, and set in ample grounds, it’s positioned advantageously for panoramic views of the Kent countryside. This elegant Georgian mansion (see photo above), built in 1725, provides the perfect setting for luxury piano courses. Soft furnishings, tastefully muted colour schemes, original flagstone floors, marble and granite fireplaces, elaborate chandeliers, impossibly high ceilings, and wonderfully creaky staircases, allow a glimpse into what life might have been like nearly 300 years ago.

Accommodation on the third floor of the Finchcocks Mansion.

Last weekend marked my second visit to Finchcocks. On this occasion our accommodation was in the main house, whereas previously, we (myself and course participants) had stayed in the Coach House, a separate building to the right of the manor house. Meals are enjoyed altogether in a palatial dining room, with locally sourced food, all prepared and served by a chef. And for those who like a tipple, there is plenty of wine on offer too!

Courses begin on Friday evening at 7.00pm and end at 3.30 – 4.00pm on Sunday with afternoon tea. And they are fairly intensive affairs, so it really is possible to learn a substantial amount in a short space of time. I tutored an intermediate course; approximately Grade 5 – 7 level of the ABRSM examinations. We began on Friday with a duet session – the ideal ice-breaking introduction. I used my own duets and trios (Snapchats Duets & Trios), which are purposefully simple and tuneful, for a stress-free, friendly, and fun opener.

Duets & trios on two pianos in the crypt.

Saturday started at 9.00am with a two-hour technique session, focusing on straight-forward exercises which are helpful for developing flexibility, and alleviating physical tension. The weekend consisted of several class sessions, with participants playing their prepared repertoire, a memorisation session, a sight-reading session, and individual lessons for each course member. On Saturday evening, before dinner, we enjoyed a piano recital given by pianist Alexander Metcalfe, who played a programme of works by Satie, Chopin, Schubert and Liszt.

Built in 1974, with a powerful sonorous bass and a lyrical mid-range, this model 200 Bosendorfer was manufactured in Vienna, with ivory keys and is used for concerts and recitals in the hall.

A particular highlight at Finchcocks is the tantalizing array of pianos on which to practice. There are ten in total, and the majority are housed in the attractive crypt (see photo, above left); here, the pianos are contained in their own segregated area, allowing for private practice. Finchcocks was a musical instrument museum for forty-five years until it was purchased by current owners Neil and Harriet Nichols. The museum housed a variety of keyboard instruments, and therefore it seems fitting that the current collection also showcases an interesting selection of historical instruments.

The ‘flagship’ Steinway Model B, housed in the recital room.

Alexander gave his recital on a Bosendorfer, which is situated in the main hall on the ground floor (photo above, right). Also on the ground floor, there is a new Steinway Model B (photo, left) in the recital room, and a small Broadwood piano in the entrance hall. This instrument (see photo below) was constructed especially for Bertha Broadwood and it was designed to fit into her living room, therefore it is just 5 feet in length (and it’s nicknamed ‘Bertha’!).

Built in 1900 for Bertha Broadwood, chairman of Broadwood at the time, to fit in a space in her front room.

Most of the remaining instruments are in the crypt, and you can click on the gallery images below for more information about each one.

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Course participants brought a variety of prepared repertoire, including works by J.S. Bach (Prelude No 4 from Six Short Preludes), W. A. Mozart (Sonata in G major K. 283), Friedrich Kuhlau (Sonatina in C major Op. 55 No. 1), C.P.E. Bach (Solfeggietto in C minor H. 220), Frédéric Chopin (Prelude in D flat major ‘Raindrop’ Op. 28 No. 15 and Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6), William Gillock (Holiday in Paris), and Richard Rodney Bennett (Rosemary’s Waltz).

Finchcocks hosts piano courses virtually every weekend, and there is certainly something to suit every level with beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses, alongside those for improvisation and even a course for piano teachers. You can choose from a cohort of expert course tutors including Dave Hall, Graham Fitch, Warren Mailley-Smith, Penelope Roskell, and Lucinda Mackworth-Young.

I will be tutoring two further courses this year; an intermediate course from October 4th – 6th and an advanced course from November 15th – 17th. If you are seeking a majestic weekend retreat to hone your piano skills, or you’re returning to the piano after a break, or you simply wish to connect with new piano friends, you will love Finchcocks.

Click here for the list of new courses.

www.finchcocks.com


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.

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:

BOOK ONE:

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

BOOK TWO:

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

BOOK THREE:

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.

Conclusion

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!

OUTSTANDING

www.pianodao.com

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.


 

Finchcocks: A Piano Course with a Difference

Last Friday evening I disembarked from my train at Paddock Wood station in Kent (UK), and enjoyed a meandering car journey through what appeared to be a never-ending warren of country lanes. Eventually, we turned  on to a long, narrow private road, which peregrinated around various fields before revealing, in the distance, a large, palatial mansion. The house was beautifully set, classically formed (to my eye, at least), and effectively lit. Next to the house was a much smaller building, a coach house, and this was to be my home for the next two days. My room (pictured below) was of ample proportions, tastefully decorated in rich dark colours with luxurious fabrics and an impressive fireplace; had I inadvertently stepped into a romantic Eighteenth century novel? I fully expected Mr. Darcy to sweep in and take me to dinner.

This was my introduction to Finchcocks Music. Finchcocks is an early Georgian manor house (pictured at the top). For 45 years it housed a large collection of historical keyboard instruments which was open to the public. Recently, Finchcocks was sold and has now started a new chapter, reopening as a retreat to study the piano. Piano courses are a feature most weekends throughout the year, and they are largely frequented by adult amateur pianists and piano teachers who are keen to improve their skills and meet other musically minded souls.

As piano course director it was my job to ensure participants savoured the whole experience. My course began on Friday evening and concluded at 4.00pm on Sunday, it was advertised for intermediate players (around Grade 4 – 7 of the ABRSM exam system), but most of the seven attendees were beyond this level. From all walks of life, my students clearly shared a common love for the instrument and a tremendous capacity to learn.

The course was conducted in the main house; the basement had been converted from cellars into a most attractive and unusual performance and practice space (see photo to the left, where I am coaching Finchcocks owner, Neil Nichols). There were five designated sections for solo practice; within the cellars, rooms had been created with sound proof glass doors, each one resplendent with mostly historic grand pianos. There were seven grand pianos in total, available for student use. The main space contained a concert sized historic instrument, with plenty of room for participants to sit, walk and spread out during the course. And there was even a comfortable ‘coffee area’ with several sofas, designed as a much-needed respite from the intensity of the course.

I love teaching, talking about, and writing about piano technique, and Friday evening’s class was a basic introduction, surveying wrist flexibility and motility during practice and performance. This was well received, and it certainly got participants thinking about the importance of cultivating a relaxed posture. This is the first step to overall improvement. ‘Technique chat’ continued on to dinner. The meals were enjoyed back at the coach house, and they  took place around a lavishly set table (pictured above), and consisted of a three-course meal with delicious food and copious wine, all prepared by a chef employed for the weekend.

Saturday was a full day, commencing with memorisation techniques, moving onto master classes, which continued after lunch. Course members were generally quite anxious whilst performing, but (hopefully) due to the relaxed nature of the weekend and the constantly evolving friendships forming between them, these open classes gradually became more light-hearted.

One aspect of the course that I particularly enjoyed and appreciated was the opportunity to give one-to-one lessons. Neil Nichols, who now owns Finchcocks and hosts the courses, was keen for students to have time with me on their own, rather like a private lesson. This works extremely well, and it offers the chance to address issues in a more private domain. I gave private lessons on both Saturday and Sunday during the course.

After a feast on Saturday evening, Sunday began with a morning of sight-reading; ordinarily this is seen as a dull, perfunctory element of piano playing. But I’m always keen to show that it can be fun. After waltzing through my sight-reading notes (I aim to give course members practice notes), we embarked on solo sight-reading, and, after coffee, this was followed by duets, and finally, trios or three pianists at one keyboard. The trios were definitely a highlight (see photo above), and due to the plethora of instruments, we were able to double up and have six pianists at two pianos (photo below). I find this one of the best and most engaging concepts for those wanting to improve their reading. It also encourages students to really become acquainted with the fellow course members.

After all the classes and private lessons, the course ended with a final performance of a trio by composer Mike Cornick. Coffee and a rather indulgent slice of cake closed a delightful weekend. I had made wonderful new friends and worked with some talented pianists.

Piano courses are a great way to improve many facets of music study. They seek to inspire, address technical and musical issues, consolidate learning skills and endeavour to suggest new practice ideas. My thanks to Neil and his wife, Harriet, for their superb hospitality. If you would like to study the piano in luxury at a country retreat, do check out Finchcocks. Next year’s tutors include Graham Fitch, David Hall, Andrew Dunlop, and Warren Mailley-Smith.

If you would like to attend one of my courses in 2019, the dates are as follows:

June 14th – 16th

September 6th – 8th

November 15th – 17th

I look forward to meeting you!

For a more thorough review from course participants and Jenny Maslin, who helps to run the piano courses held at Finchcocks, please click here.

www.finchcocks.com


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.