August 2018

I’m just back from Australia and dealing with ‘jet-lag brain’ but still determined that this newsletter goes out today and just squeezes itself into what’s left of August!

Australia: Sydney Conservatorium

August has been dominated by my trip to Australia and that has been fun, eventful, fascinating and stressful. I spent the week of August 13th in Sydney working at the Sydney Conservatorium giving my two talks and masterclasses to students from there and also fellows from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I really enjoyed working there: the facilities are wonderful, it is right in the centre of the most beautiful part of Sydney and the students were wonderful to work with. They asked some very penetrating questions that got some excellent discussions going.

Unfortunately, my time in Sydney was also marred by visa issues. I had been misinformed about one key clause in the visa application which meant that I discovered the day I arrived that I wasn’t able to do all the free-lance work that had been organised for me. I had had 15 hours of individual sessions booked with students and they all had to be cancelled; I wasn’t even able to do the work without being paid. It was disappointing not working with the students and of course, disappointing to have lost (or rather, not earned) a fair amount of income, but hearing ghastly stories of musicians being deported in the middle of the night, I decided it wasn’t worth taking the risk. The Dean fortunately stepped in and organised another class for me which I really enjoyed, so that did a bit to ease it all.

My Tension, Aches and Pains talk and masterclass really flagged up the need to discuss the use of the body among musicians in conservatoires in general. Teachers will teach technique, the music and how to interpret the music, but I find it puzzling that there is so little discussion about the overall use of the body. For example, a clarinettist had tendonitis in her right forearm, specifically about six inches above her thumb on the right-hand side. She had been told to rest it, to do some exercises but nobody (including the physio she’d seen) had actually found out why it was happening in the first place. It was because she was tensing her thumb disproportionately in order to carry the weight of the instrument and with that she was tensing up her hand whenever she played. It was a case of showing her she could learn to carry that weight without tensing up her thumb and her whole hand. An understanding of these basic principles could save so much pain and anguish.

On a brighter note, I had a very brief but illuminating coffee with Howard Penny from ANAM (Australian National Academy of Music) in Melbourne after I left Sydney and was gratified to hear that this whole-body approach was considered totally normal for them. But sadly, it’s still rare.

Leeds International Piano Competition

Next up, it is a talk at the Leeds International Piano Competition on Sunday September 9th: The Psychology of Performance and Competition. I feel very honoured to be taking part in such a prestigious event and I am looking forward to hearing some of the semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday evenings. If anyone lives in the area, please do come along – and say hello afterwards!  ​​​​​​​

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