Indonesian Charm

Over the past nine days I have been touring in the Far East. It’s always a pleasure to work with students and teachers in different parts of the world, and fascinating to note the various similarities in teaching styles, despite the cultural differences. I began my trip in Indonesia, a country I visited briefly last year as part of a larger joint Schott Music and G. Henle Verlag book tour.

Indonesia consists of thousands of volcanic islands and is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking a variety of different languages (apparently over 700), from Javanese, Malay, Chinese, Arab to Indian and European. The capital city, Jakarta, is situated on the northwest coast of the island of Java: over 10 million residents inhabit this sprawling place. It’s noisy, bustling, humid, vibrant, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. A government health warning should perhaps be issued when sampling some of the food; if hot and spicy isn’t your ‘thing’, you may struggle here. Public transport is limited to say the least, which results in serious daily traffic jams, and a substantial health hazard in the form of pollution. But none of this affected my stay, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my hosts and all those with whom I came into contact.

I had been invited to work as one of this year’s ‘Grand Mentors’ for the Cantata for Youth Scheme at the Sekolah Musik Cantata (Cantata Music School) in Kelapa Gading Square, North Jakarta. This school has several large premises across the city, of which the Kelapa Gading branch hosts over 600 weekly students. A range of instruments can be studied alongside music theory, and there are even options to study subjects like classical ballet dancing. Such learning establishments in Indonesia are generally arts based as opposed to solely music.

My task for the week was to work alongside the school’s piano teachers, helping to prepare students for the Sunday concert (see image to the left), and generally suggesting alternative practice ideas as well as offering methods for honing teaching concepts within the school. The Cantata Music School is a Trinity College Examination Centre and a growing number of pupils take these exams every year. Whilst traditional instruments, such as the gamelan, remain popular, there is increasing interest in Western music and Western culture, and, as in the case of other Far Eastern countries, the instant achievement found in certification drives many.

I spent three and a half days working with a complete cross section of diverse students; from elementary through to the associate diploma level. It matters little about where I go to teach in the world, the same elements frequently appear problematic. This may be due to lack of student interest or practice, but, more often than not, it’s sadly due to poor teaching. Becoming a piano teacher in Indonesia is no easy feat. Teachers don’t always have the required opportunities; most haven’t studied to Bachelor degree level, and there seems to be little provision to study Western music at a higher level. Therefore, prospective piano teachers rely on acquiring ABRSM or Trinity College London Grade 8 or diploma exams. Perhaps this may be resolved in coming years, but until that time, it remains for visiting teachers to implement a different approach. And that was my intention.

Students had mostly learned their prepared pieces sufficiently well, but were not always fluent at note-reading or keeping time. These issues were particularly highlighted during the duet playing.

One of the clever concepts of this school, is that they are keen to pair pupils together for duets and also, for trios (6 hands at one keyboard). The Sunday concert featured mostly duet and trio ensembles, and it was heartening that my book of elementary duets and trios, Snapchats (80 days publishing), was used for this purpose.

Snapchats are very short pieces, mostly between 8 and 16 bars in length, for two and three pianists at one piano; they take students from late beginner level to around Grade 4. And they are really beneficial for those just starting to play duets. Several more advanced students also played solo pieces from my new volume, No Words Necessary (Schott Music).

12 Intermediate Piano Pieces for Students from Grade 3 – 6 level, published by Schott Music

Encouraging ensemble work is a marvellous vehicle for overall improvement. I worked with each group (and their teacher), on such aspects as quick note learning, fingering and finger positions, general ensemble, and the importance of rhythm and pulse.

The pulse had been largely side-stepped by the majority of students, which rendered ensemble playing a real challenge. But after some stringent ‘pulse keeping’ in the form of counting out loud (where I found myself either conducting or stamping my foot!), pupils started to place beats more carefully, and were clearly happy to be playing in almost perfect unison alongside their fellow pianists. As a result, the Sunday concert was a resounding success, with some impressive playing (click on the videos below to hear some of the performances, and keep in mind that these children had never played a duet or trio before).

With students and teachers after the concert in Jakarta
With teachers participating in the Play it again workshop, held in Jakarta

My final day in Jakarta was spent working with teachers. I usually offer a teacher’s workshop during my travels. It lasts most of the day and focuses on disparate technical facets. The workshop features a selection of piano exercises, allowing teachers to form a basis for flexible movement with their students; an issue which I perpetually work on with my own students. Teachers responded well to this session, and were asking for more detailed information about flexible, relaxed movement around the keyboard, and therefore a further trip probably beckons at a later date. Many of these exercises are also featured in my course, Play it again (Schott Music).

The final two days of my tour were spent in Johor Bahru (Malaysia), where I gave private lessons at the Forte Academy of Music, and at the Cristofori Academy in Singapore, with a three-hour master class at Bechstein Music World.

At the start of my class at Cristofori held at Bechstein Music World in Singapore

Fearless explorers would relish a trip to Indonesia. I learnt much about the traditional music, responses to Western classical music, and the constantly evolving opportunities for Western musicians to perform on the Indonesian stage. I hope music education continues to thrive and, if so, it will be due to the admirable work done by schools like the Sekolah Musik Cantata.

The following videos were recorded at the Tea for Two (or Three) Concert and feature students from the Sekolah Musik Cantata.


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.


 

A Far Eastern Book Tour

Book tours are fun. They could be referred to as the ‘pinnacle’ of the whole writing journey; by this time the books are safely published, usually after countless rewrites and corrections, and the writer is free to speak about the process through those rose-tinted glasses. This week I leave for my third book tour over the past year; retracing my steps in the Far East as well as visiting pastures new. I’ll be touring for my publisher, Schott Music, with my piano course Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2.

The tour will take me to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. In each place, I will be giving a series of workshops and master classes (and also private lessons in Singapore and Hong Kong). I’m extremely excited about this prospect; travelling has always been a way of life for me, and yet I still crave the buzz of excitement it offers, irrespective of the destination.

The tour begins in Singapore with a piano teacher’s workshop (details above), focusing on many elements mentioned in my books. The Kawai Music School in Katong has already been using Play it again: PIANO with many of their students. In my workshops, I enjoy involving teachers and students as much as possible with plenty of hands on participation and discussion. These workshops predominantly highlight various aspects of piano technique, an important element for teachers in particular, as without such knowledge, helping students achieve their potential is challenging.

After a few days, Malaysia beckons, and I’ll be moving to Malacca, which is to the south of Kuala Lumpur. Here, there will be a two-day workshop (including seven different presentations) and a student master class, all purely for piano teachers. Encore Music Centre is a popular school in this region, and the teachers have also been using Play it again: PIANO as their course of choice over the past few months. I can’t wait to see how they are getting on with it, and I’ll be hopefully able to answer questions and make suggestions regarding the content.

Kuala Lumpur is a buzzing metropolis, and is where I join Dr. Sigrun Jantzen, from Henle Verlag, and fellow Schott author, Samantha Ward. British pianist and artistic director of PIANO WEEK Samantha Ward, has her own series published by Schott (Relax with), but on this occasion, she will be presenting Piano Junior, the new beginner’s method written by German composer and writer Hans-Günter Heumann. Dr. Jantzen will present Henle’s extensive range of publications.

Together, we will embark on three large piano teacher seminars in three different cities. After Kuala Lumpur (see flyer above for details of the Kuala Lumpur seminars), we fly to Jakarta (Indonesia), and then on to Surabaya, to the East of Jakarta and the capital of East Java, (see image to the right for more details).

Finally, I fly to Hong Kong on my own for a special series of Play it again: PIANO workshops, master class and private lessons for piano teachers and students (see below for details). Tom Lee is one of the leading music retailers in Hong Kong, and as an adjudicator and examiner, I have worked many times at their various centres which are peppered across Hong Kong. Our venue is at the Megabox in Kowloon Bay; a large concert hall situated on the tenth floor.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, teachers, and colleagues, and experiencing many aspects of music and music education in this region.  If you live in this part of the world and are relatively near any of the venues, please do come along; it would be lovely to meet you.

Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2 will be on sale throughout all the classes and workshops, but you can find out more about them, watch my videos, and purchase them by clicking, here. They can also be purchased on Amazon.


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.