Hearing my father playing the Mozart clarinet concerto to Music Minus One in the living room
Where do you live?
SW London [UK]
When, why did you start learning to play the piano?
I was around 5 or 6 when I started to learn the piano. I think I probably expressed an interest and my parents organised lessons with a local teacher. I don't recall being forced to learn
Performing, Teaching, Reviewing, Promoting; Which order did you start doing them in?
Teaching 2008, performing from 2010, reviewing 2011, promoting 2013
How do these roles/activities inform each other?
I see all my musical activities as part of a continuous circle with each informing the other. More specifically, hearing a lot of live music in my capacity as a concert reviewer informs my own playing and gives me ideas about how to approach certain repertoire and aspects of piano playing with my students. Observing how others organise and promote concerts has undoubtedly given me food for thought (good and bad!) when organising and promoting concerts myself. My reviewing, blogging and promoting has also put me in touch with a wide range of musicians and musical people and has provided a supportive community of like-minded people.
Could you tell us something about how your experience as a learner impacted your desire to become a teacher?
Actually it was the other way round - and I never intended to become a piano teacher: it happened by accident when a friend asked me to teach her daughter. I took on an adult student soon after and became interested in the psychology of teaching and being taught. I wanted to be the one on the piano bench. My studies with my current teacher and other master teachers has a huge impact on my approach to teaching
How did you prepare for / What do you remember about the first few lessons you gave?
I bought a tutor book (Piano Time by Pauline Hall) and went from there. I didn't really have much of an idea except I knew I could communicate well and I was determined to make lessons fun and stimulating (I endured 5 years of generally very dull lessons with my first piano teacher a child). I found the first few lessons hard but gradually developed my own way of doing things.
Are there many piano teachers in SW London? How do you find and retain students? Which group / kind / age of students do you enjoy teaching the most?
There seem to be plenty of piano teachers in SW London - and no shortage of potential pupils! I know two who live close to me and have become friends. Most of my students have come to me through word of mouth or personal recommendations which I feel is the best way to find students. I teach children from (currently) 10-15 and a few adults on an intermittent basis. I lie, teaching teenagers and adults - there are more opportunities for interesting interactions and discussions about the music. I don't teach beginners of very young children though I used to. In terms of retaining students, I guess it's about providing a good service, keeping them interested, encouraging them and helping them achieve achieve noticeable and tangible progress, including through exam success (most of my students achieve a Merit or Distinction in their grade exams).
What was the first concert you organised - who performed, what was the music? How many people came? What did you learn?
The first concert in the South London Concert Series was in November 2013 and featured Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford. There were four "supporting artists" (members of my piano group) and the programme included music by Szymanowski, Heller, Martin Butler, Peter Feuchtwanger, and Somei Satoh. It was a crazy and eclectic programme but it worked really well. We had 50 guests. It was a steep but useful learning curve, the most important lesson being that it's important to treat our artists properly.
What problems did you have when you started organising / promoting concerts?
The main problem was selling enough tickets to cover venue and other costs.
How did you make sure you sold enough tickets? How did you decide on ticket prices, venue(s)? How long (i.e how many concerts) did it take to get to the point of being able to cover your costs?
Every concert we organise has to break-even and preferably go into profit so that we can plough funds into the next event. It's rather hand-to-mouth but it works for us. We have a readymade audience via our piano group and supporting artists are encouraged to bring friends and family. This creates a very congenial atmosphere at the concerts. We selected a venue I'd visited for salon concerts (1901 Arts Club, Waterloo, London). I'm not involved in setting the ticket prices so,I can't comment on that in detail but we do offer special ticket prices to attract people to the event.
What did you think/hope to bring that other promoters don't?
The South London Concert Series is unique as it provides performance opportunities to talented amateur and semi-professional musicians who might not otherwise have those opportunities. Myself and my colleague are both advanced pianists and we feel we have a good understanding of the stresses and difficulties musicians undergo to prepare for concerts. And because we have deliberately kept the series and format small-scale, we can offer a personal, bespoke service.
How do you promote concerts?
Via a dedicated website and social media. https://twitter.com/SLConcerts
What differences do you think there are between organising/promoting classical music and pop music?
The only differences in my view are the audience and the music itself. Beyond that, classical and pop promoters and concert organisers face exactly the same challenges.
How do you decide which pianists to feature in your concerts / reviews / blogs
Concerts - most of the artists are friends and members of my piano group (London Piano Network - formerly London Piano Meetup Group).
Reviews - most of my reviewing is for Bachtrack.com and they allow me to choose which concerts I'd like to review. I tend to make choices based on repertoire rather than performer
Blogging - Twitter has been an excellent source of candidates for the Meet the Artist interview series on my blog. Sometimes people write to ask if they can be featured. I tend to select young and emerging and lesser-known artists for inclusion rather than "big name" artists.