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A Concerted Effort

A transcript of some thoughts which we shared with the audiences at the end of our final pupils’ concerts. A playlist from the concerts is included at the end.

After our first pupils’ concerts over 30 years ago, I remember saying to Archie how well they had turned out and how we mustn’t hold them too often or they would stop feeling special. Yet, somehow, we found ourselves having at least two, if not three, concert days a year and holding at least two, if not three, concerts on each of those days. On the occasions when we ran three concerts in a day, we always told ourselves afterwards to remember that three is quite ridiculous and that we must never ever do that again. It took a few years of needing a week in the sun after concert days for us to write that reminder down and learn to confine ourselves to the more manageable goal of two concerts on two days in the year.

Talking of writing things down, it took quite a few years of turning up without the essentials to realise that we needed a checklist to ensure the smooth running of the day. As well as piano stools, footstools, programmes, money for the float … that list includes the vital Sharpie to write the performers’ names on the programmes, a hairbrush, the music for our own contribution, nowadays music reading glasses, and most importantly, a duster to put over the pedal to avoid the sound of squeaky trainers on a wet day. Bitter experience dictated that list.

Yes, we’ve learnt a lot since our first concerts. In those days when we still felt able conquer the world in an afternoon, we provided refreshments. In fact, in the audience today is an adult pupil of mine who dispensed tea at our very first concert and who still comes for piano lessons. Before you ask, she is improving.

But the strangest thing about these concerts is the thing that never happened. Pupils’ concerts have never stopped feeling special. We might not have the sleepless nights we had before our first few concerts but the thrill we get in seeing and hearing our pupils get up and play a piece in front of an audience is as great as ever. And it’s not over when the concert finishes. That evening is usually an evening of pure decadence with lots of special food and drink, and a lot of lounging about frequently interspersed with ‘how did you think Rodney played’… and, ‘didn’t Gladys do well?’… or, ‘Bruno started so fast I thought he’d never hold it together’ … and on and on till we’ve discussed every performance and every detail of it.

Of course, there have been less than perfect performances and there have been point blank refusals on the day. I remember one little girl who regularly had to be unearthed from the cupboard under the stairs and bribed with mint chocolate ice cream to turn up and play. I particularly remember one of her performances when she played her whole piece with her mouth screwed up as if she was sucking a lemon. When I asked her afterwards why the face, she explained that her tooth had fallen out just as she started to play so she had to hold it in her mouth. Could this be linked to the diet of mint chocolate ice cream?

But our most lasting memory of concert days will be of occasions when children and teenagers gave of their very best, bringing pleasure and pride to their families and becoming part of a tradition of music-making which spans centuries. And it’s not about our part in their achievement. It is the satisfaction of seeing that children take learning piano seriously, that they put their whole beings into preparing a piece and are willing to take the risk of playing in front of an audience because they care so much.

Talking of audiences, over the years, we’ve discovered that the way to ensure a good turnout is to include lots of young children. Generally, the smaller the child, the larger the entourage. Grannies, aunties, cousins, Uncle Tom Cobley and all troop in and applaud with gusto. It doesn’t matter that the piece was only 30 seconds long.

And the converse can also be true. Some quite splendid performances of advanced repertoire by our teenage pupils are heard by the one single family member permitted to come by the ‘cool’ performer who grudgingly grunts at his mum ‘oh come if you must’.

We want to thank you all for coming and for your encouragement to both us and to the young people. We know very well that the enthusiasm and delight with which you greet each performer is what gives them the confidence they need.

And we want to thank all today’s performers for giving us yet another layer of wonderful concert memories. We hope that your memories of these occasions will bring you all as much delight as they do to us.

Esther Cohen, Archie McLellan

Below is a playlist of some performances from the concerts on 18 March 2017. Click at top left of the image to see what’s in the playlist.