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Silence in music. Silence and music.

I used to teach piano in schools. At the start of each new school year, I would speak to a class, or all the classes in a school year, or perhaps a whole school, to tell them about the piano and piano lessons. The idea was to recruit new pupils. Usually, I took the opportunity to tell the children something about music in general, and how music worked on the piano in particular.

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Tablet – a Scottish recipe

  • Butter (slightly salted) – 100gms
  • Milk – 250ml
  • Condensed milk (sweetened) – 1 tin (397gms)
  • Golden syrup – 20gms
  • White granulated sugar – 1 kg (cane sugar rather than beet though both make excellent tablet)
  • Vanilla extract or essence – 5-10ml (1-2 teaspoons)

I have made tablet all my life, although I have to concede that my mother (I should say ‘our’; there were a lot of us!) helped me at least until I started school.

Some tablet recipes are ultra-simple. Something like this: Combine the ingredients and bring to the boil. Continue boiling till the mixture looks medium brown. Remove from the heat, beat for a few minutes, and pour into a greased tray. And, in a sense, that’s all there is to it. But if you look at some of the comments on YouTube or cookery websites, brief instructions like that sometimes produce inedible results. But so do longer, more detailed instructions!
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Christmas message 2016

Goodness! What a year of momentous change in the world! While some welcome the chance for new voices to be heard and new paths to be followed, others despair of the direction the world seems to be taking. The message of Christmas embraces the idea of light in the world and hope for the future; though many do not align themselves with the tenets of Christianity, the importance that people place on being with family and loved ones at this time suggests where the hope for the future lies. Our world and our lives are lit up by the connection we make and experience with those around us. The hope for the future does not rest with world statesmen or the media who tell us about them, but with all of us and how we manage our dealings with those we encounter.

I’d like to share a unique concert given just before Christmas in 1985 by the pianist/composer Ronald Stevenson who died in 2015. Ronald was our friend for many years and, though a musician and intellectual of huge standing, a more humble, charming man would be hard to find.
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I wish it could be Christmas every day (Roy Wood)

For most children, the real proof that you can play the piano is that you can play tunes that other people recognise. Each week, one of my young pupils used to say to me ‘This is just made up music. When can I play real music?’

And you know what they mean. The spark of recognition and enthusiasm to have a go when children reach the tunes, Twinkle Twinkle, Row Row the boat and This Old Man in our course makes me plumb my mental music library for how to devise a course which consists largely of tunes that everybody knows. But that’s the problem. Everybody doesn’t know the same tunes. Those tunes, which we imagine we imbibed with the mashed carrot and apple of our first taste of solid food, keep changing for each generation. You can no longer assume that every child will recognise Yankee Doodle, O when the Saints and Kum by ya. And when faced with their quizzical gazes as you sing the tunes to them, you can see why…

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Comin round the mountain

One of our former students, now at university, wrote recently to tell us that he had started to do a bit of piano teaching himself. He told us that he was enjoying it, but was struggling to keep the lessons captivating. Did we have any tips?

Tips on teaching are a bit like tips for a happy marriage or long life. It seems that the successful aspirant thinks up the most unlikely habit of a lifetime and attributes their success to that. ‘I never argue with my spouse’, says one happily married octogenarian, while another insists that a ‘bit of strife helps keep the wife’. A daily glass of red wine for the last 80 years is one centenarian’s recipe for long life while another swears by never touching a drop.
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Performance is special…

Saturday 12 November 2016 was a Pupils’ Concerts day. As usual, there were two concerts with a full range of ages and stages in both concerts. Also, as usual, everyone rose to the occasion. It is remarkable how it is in the nature of performance to make a special occasion of each and every performance no matter how simple or complex the music, no matter how old or young the performer.

Here is a YouTube playlist for many of the items from both concerts.

Enjoy! Esther Cohen, Archie McLellan

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A bit of a sing-along

My mother told me that, when she was twelve years old, she took part in a school show. By then she had grown to her full height of 4 foot 11½ inches and, for a brief time, was almost as round as she was tall. Having a fine singing voice, it was obvious that she should be given a solo part. Sadly the powers-that-were decided that she sounded very much better than she looked. She was cast as ‘The Moon’ and made to sing behind a screen.

In my school, it was also the custom for the Primary Seven classes to prepare a show for the delight of their parents and the rest of the school. It was performed in the drill-hall, half of which became the stage. The rest of the school watched the performance sitting cross-legged on the floor.
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How much to practise

Everybody has to decide for themselves how much practice can be fitted into their lives and family routine, but the mastery of any skill involves constant repetition. It follows that the more frequent reinforcement there is, the quicker the development of the skill will be. The important thing is to make practice a matter of daily routine, not an optional extra. In an ideal world, children would practise frequently and spontaneously. But even with the best will in the world, not to mention swimming, dancing and what-not to be fitted in, it sometimes happens that the day is over, it’s long past bedtime, and no practice has been done. Agreeing a routine helps make a habit of practice, so that it is done with a minimum of fuss and is fitted into the gaps of the busy after-school schedule of many of today’s children.
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