Today’s guest blog post has been written by British pianist Samantha Ward. Samantha is director and founder of PIANO WEEK, the popular piano Summer school and festival which is now offering students of all ages and abilities the chance to study the piano in various locations around the world. I was keen to ask her how she had developed this concept and why it had become the focal point of her musical activities. Over to Samantha….
When Melanie asked me to write a short article about my experiences with International Festival & Summer School PIANO WEEK since its inception in 2013, I very much enjoyed looking back over the last five years of my professional life. The fast-paced life of forging a career as a concert pianist, author, self-taught entrepreneur, promoter, fund-raiser and strategist, all of which I had to either develop upon or become in order to make this enterprise work, didn’t allow me to reflect much on the past until now. Since the very first day of the festival, when it poured with rain one Welsh summer’s day of 2013, my mind has been geared towards the future and to how much I can push PIANO WEEK forward. So why did I do it?!
The idea of creating my own piano festival and summer course by combining top-notch performances from world-renowned artists alongside the younger generation of concert pianists with exceptional, all-round music education accessible to players of any age and ability was born with the realisation that I was really going to have to become my own agent if I was going to form any kind of career as a concert pianist. Rather than fighting for the same spot on the stage, already too small to hold the big names and the new arrivals, I ventured to create a new concert platform elsewhere. Five years on, the results are overwhelming. PIANO WEEK has transformed into a multicultural and hugely diverse community of music lovers, professional and amateur pianists, world-renowned guest artists, outstanding concert pianists, educators and steadily growing international audiences in the UK, Italy, Germany, China, Thailand and Japan.
The buzz of PIANO WEEK is something which you need to experience first hand as no written word can offer a meaningful substitute. It’s not just a piano course; some of our returning participants dubbed it a ‘holistic affair’ with music. Our performance-based programme of master classes, one-to-one and duet lessons, composition, sight reading, memorisation, listening and harmony and theory classes interconnects throughout the week with the expert advice given by all faculty members. As a participant, you can choose whether to visit our UK base in the English countryside in Shropshire (Weston Rhyn) or to travel further afield to the picturesque Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany, sunny Umbria, or jump on a long-haul flight to Thailand and celebrate Songkran, or China.
I like to think that the development of PIANO WEEK reflects the very essence of music, with no boundaries of age, ability, country or language. As I am sure every entrepreneur has, I have long dreamed of taking my enterprise global. With overseas expansion not being the easiest of tasks, it took a lot of determination as well as finding the right partners abroad to make it a reality. My pianist husband Maciej Raginia came on board as the festival’s creative director when no amount of self-induced lack of sleep was enough to keep things moving! Today, we share responsibility for every aspect of the festival from creating the syllabuses and concert planning to setting up new PIANO WEEK residences abroad. It’s very much a ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic born out of the decision to forge our own futures as performing artists.
It is wonderful that PIANO WEEK is extremely popular amongst participants. The high rate of those returning every year (or sometimes even twice or three times a year!) is a true testament to the quality of the tuition offered, our expanding faculty of concert pianists and pedagogues as well as concerts given by world-renowned guest artists. In the last five years, the festival has welcomed Stephen Kovacevich, Leon McCawley, Chenyin Li and David Fung as our guest artists alongside an impressive list of international concert pianists and educators: Alexander Karpeyev (Russia), Annabelle Lawson (UK), Diana Ionescu (Romania), Grace Yeo (South Korea), Madalina Rusu (Romania), Maiko Mori (Japan), Mark Nixon (South Africa), Melanie Spanswick (UK), Nico de Villiers (South Africa), Niel du Preez (South Africa), Olivia Sham (Australia), Roberto Russo (Italy), Sachika Taniyama (Japan), Sam Armstrong (UK), Warren Mailley-Smith (UK), Yuki Negishi (Japan) and Vesselina Tchakarova (Bulgaria).
You can find out much more about PIANO WEEK, here; www.pianoweek.com
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.