PIANO WEEK: What happens on a piano course?

Piano courses are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s not hard to see why. They afford students the opportunity to meet like-minded new friends, enjoy excellent tuition, fine food, and a mini ‘holiday’. If the course happens to be situated in a beautiful place, so much the better.

For the last two weeks I have been on the faculty at PIANO WEEK, an international piano school and music festival all rolled into one. It was my first experience at this event. Pianist Samantha Ward is the Artistic Director and Founder of PIANO WEEK, and her husband (also a pianist), Maciej Raginia, is the Creative Director. Since its inception around five years ago, this course has gone from strength to strength, and is attracting ever larger groups of pianists from all around the world; we were joined by pupils from Taiwan, China, Switzerland, Italy, France, the USA, and the UK.

PIANO WEEK is just that; one week of highly intense piano study punctuated with concerts and lectures. During the first week, participants were predominantly children, and in week two, mostly adults. I was the only faculty member who stayed for both weeks (other than Samantha and Maciej). The course took place at Moreton Hall (pictured below), a large boarding school in Shropshire, just a few miles from the Welsh border. This school is a great place for such an event, being fairly remote and resplendent with wonderful country scenery. The food, which was served in the school canteen, was, rather surprisingly, delicious with plenty of choice. A selection of practice rooms were available for students, with many pianos brought in especially, and the faculty were assigned their own teaching room for the duration of the week.

PIANO WEEK is produced in collaboration with Steinway & Sons, and therefore the concert hall (the Musgrave Theatre) was equipped with the most beautiful Steinway Model D instrument, which complemented the smaller Yamaha grand owned by the school. Two pianos are a great asset, allowing for two piano recitals for students and teachers alike.

Course structure is such that pupils are occupied for most of the day. My timetable was packed, the second week being particularly busy, and I was generally teaching from 9.00am to 6.00pm. The variety of lessons on offer was impressive. I gave many one-to-one and duet lessons as might be expected, but there were also sight-reading and memorization classes, stage presentation classes, as well as theory and listening lessons (Aural), and I gave a lecture for adults on fingering too.

Most enjoyable (for me) were the composition lessons; teaching a small group how to write their own piano piece, with the aim of performing it in a concert at the end of the week. I thought this a tad unrealistic, but several students were really excited about the prospect, and did play their piece in concert by the end of the course.

PIANO WEEK 1 Faculty: from left to right, Yuki Negishi-Friel, Olivia Sham, myself, Annabelle Lawson, Nico de Villiers, Samantha Ward and Maciej Raginia.

Every evening there was a faculty recital. We enjoyed an electic mix of repertoire and superb performances; these concerts were clearly a highlight for the participants. Samantha and Maciej treated us to a two-piano and duet recital during each week, and they kindly performed a movement of one of my compositions as an encore (see the YouTube link below). The ‘star’ performer at the end of week one, was American pianist Stephen Kovacevich, who played as a soloist as well as with Samantha on two-pianos (featuring works by Schubert and Debussy).

One element which marks PIANO WEEK from many other courses are the copious opportunities to perform. There are concerts on most days (with faculty attendance), providing students with several chances to play on the Steinway model D in the theatre, as well as a big recital at the end of the week. Samantha had teamed up with publisher Schott Music (who sponsor PIANO WEEK), to provide ‘Schott Showcases’, where students played pieces from various Schott publications, and Samantha and I gave books presentations afterwards (we are both Schott authors).

PIANO WEEK 2 Faculty: from left to right, Aisa Ijiri, Grace Yeo, Maiko Mori, myself, Warren Mailley-Smith, Niel Du Preez, Mark Nixon, (as well as Samantha Ward and Maciej Raginia).

Students could play their pieces in concerts as many times as they wanted, and it was great to witness their improvement. Performance practice is an important topic for pianists, and the best way to gain confidence is to play the same piece several times to an audience. The standard of playing was varied; several students were almost beginners, yet there were also those who played to an extremely advanced level, including two second year undergraduates from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. All rubbed shoulders happily, and there was a genuine sense of camaraderie, with a large cohort of repeat participants each year.

PIANO WEEK is held in several countries including Italy, Germany, Japan and China, as well as the UK. There will be a total of eight residencies from which to choose in 2019. I’m looking forward to returning next year (at Moreton Hall and Rugby School over the Summer). You can find out much more about the course, here.

The next residency will be held at Moreton Hall from the 21st – 28th October 2018, and for those interested in applying, click here.

www.pianoweek.com


My Publications:

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.


The Inception and Development of PIANO WEEK

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


My Publications:

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.


 

PIANO WEEK 2018

For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of observing the inception and subsequent development  of various piano courses, both at home and abroad. There are many such courses available, catering for pianists of all levels and abilities. PIANO WEEK has been at the forefront of these developments, having metamorphosed from a week’s course held in North Wales, to an international festival with an impressive series of international residencies, all within the space of five years. I’m delighted to be joining the PIANO WEEK faculty this year, and am looking forward to participating in two courses at Moreton Hall (in Shropshire, UK), as well as further afield.

For those interested in finding out more about this continually expanding festival and summer school, here are some details.


International Festival & Summer School PIANO WEEK expands further afield in 2018 and welcomes new renowned members of the faculty to cater for the growing demand for piano tuition amongst professional and amateur pianists.

The festival directors are thrilled to announce that the PIANO WEEK team will be joined by Melanie Spanswick (UK), Grace Yeo (South Korea), Olivia Sham (Australia), Madalina Rusu (Romania), Gemma Beeson (UK), Annabelle Lawson (UK) and Nico de Villiers (South Africa). Headed by British concert pianist Samantha Ward (founder and artistic director) and Polish concert pianist Maciej Raginia (creative director), the festival offers high calibre performances from the in-house team of concert artists. It runs alongside the summer course, which is open to participants of any age and ability. In 2018, the festivals travel three times to Weston Rhyn (UK), twice to Beijing (China), as well as courses in Bangkok (Thailand), Sankt Goar (Germany) and Foligno (Italy).

PIANO WEEK’s Summer school forms an intensive programme of master classes, performances and one-to-one lessons, offering participants an opportunity to study with a distinguished international faculty of concert pianists, pedagogues and educators who hail from around the world. PIANO WEEK’s unique locations across Europe and Asia, world-renowned guest artists and inspiring faculty, make it one of the most exciting touring piano festivals today.

SANKT GOAR | GERMANY

5th – 12th August 2018

Taking place in a beautiful 1892 villa on the bank of the Rhine river (pictured to the left), this PIANO WEEK residency offers participants an intimate, boutique summer school experience. Surrounded by vineyards, woods and picturesque vistas, the property creates a spectacular backdrop to an intensive week of music making. You can enjoy the town and its surrounding area, part of the Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site, either as a residential or non-residential PIANO WEEK participant.

FOLIGNO | ITALY

15th – 22nd July 2018

PIANO WEEK returns to the scenic town of Foligno in Umbria (image to the right) for the second time in 2018 and is open to non-residential participants only. Based at Scuola Comunale di Musica Alessandro Biagini, a beautiful building right in the heart of the old town, this location offers PIANO WEEK participants a chance to immerse themselves in the town’s ancient history alongside intensive coaching, master classes and performances. Foligno is a bustling town filled with restaurants, bars and historical sites, hosting several of the most important festivals in the whole of Italy.

WESTON RHYN | UK

25th March – 1st April 2018
22nd – 29th July 2018
29th July – 5th August 2018

Moreton Hall School (pictured to the left), PIANO WEEK’s UK base of the festival caters for both residential and non-residential participants in rural, peaceful Shropshire. Located near the Welsh border and not far from historic towns such as Shrewsbury and Chester, it is the perfect place to relax and work intensively for a week on your piano playing. Those who stay on campus during the festival can enjoy over 100 acres of beautiful green and safe grounds, a 9-hole golf course, an indoor 25-metre swimming pool, tennis courts and a fitness suite among many other of the School amenities (subject to availability).

BANGKOK | THAILAND

15th – 22nd April 2018

If attending a piano course in Europe is not adventurous enough for you,  this particular location might be the answer. PIANO WEEK visits the Thai capital for the first time in April 2018 and in the run up to the 4th Thailand Steinway Competition. Taking place during Songkran, one of the most colourful and festive times of the year to be experienced in Bangkok, this PIANO WEEK residency promises to be as exotic as it sounds!

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My Publications:

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.