Graham Fitch at the London Piano Meetup Group

8 Sep

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Picture a rugby second row forward and you have some idea of the imposing physical presence of Graham Fitch, piano teacher of repute, author and star turn at yesterday’s gathering of the London Piano Meetup Group. The event was hosted by the indefatigable teacher and writer Fran Wilson, whose Crosseyed Pianist blog is one of the richest sources for London-based concert reviews and all things piano-related. Fran and colleague, teacher and harpsichordist Lorraine Liyanage organise regular meetings for the Group including yesterday’s excellent session.

One of Graham’s areas of expertise is the theory and practicalities of music practising. Sometimes neglected by teachers, the principles of effective practise are absolutely crucial for successful playing. This was an opportunity for several amateurs, some dozen souls gathered yesterday at Peregrine’s Pianos in Grays Inn Road, collectively to benefit from Graham’s skills and knowledge.

The intended format was not that of a masterclass although at times that is what it became. Three students played extracts from pieces they are preparing and shared with Graham and the audience their particular practice issues. Our first brave participant was a young lady preparing Chopin’s Etude Op 25 No. 9. She played it through very well and with an attractive lightness. Graham then sat at the piano to demonstrate his approach and quickly dispelled any doubts we may have had about his performance abilities as he confidently and from memory played through the opening bars, bringing another, maturer level of interpretation to the piece. One of the student’s difficulties was maintaining the leggierissimo bass line in the closing bars. Graham demonstrated how to achieve a marvellous effect using a half pedal, that maintained the staccato articulation Chopin specified, whilst creating an attractive corona of sound to round off the piece.

Our second student played a beautiful (if slightly long) extract from Debussy’s Estampes ‘Pagodes’. I was moved close to tears by this exquisite creation of the French master. Graham’s enthusiasm for his subject is boundless. One technique he presented for practising around big leaps in the left hand, is to focus on the central notes of the chords that are closer together and thus geographically less challenging than the ‘outer’ notes, which will take care of themselves. For the approach to performance and coping with nerves Graham had much to contribute. He described how performing can be seen as analogous to tightrope walking. At home or with friends, the tightrope is close to the ground, so falls have little negative consequence. In front of an audience the height of the rope is much greater and the fallout from losing one’s footing is potentially devastating. To help with this Graham advocates meditative visualising of the performance environment in advance, seeing hearing and even smelling each feature of the venue and the performance as if one were already there. Psychologists have shown how this can improve performance and help conquer nerves not only for musicians but athletes and indeed anyone facing a daunting task.

1024px-Piano_practice_handsShort of time, our last performer could not present fully but Graham showed his skill and empathy as a teacher by putting her at ease, praising her and pointing to various things she could do to make practise more effective. Of course the benefits of slow practice were extolled, Graham remarking, to some personal embarrassment as it hit home to me, that often students just don’t practise slowly for long enough, his recommendation being to practise a phrase or piece slowly for at least a week to start getting the benefit.

Thoroughly impressed with the lessons learnt and elevated by some beautiful piano music, we repaired to the pub. On the way I managed to corner Graham about a practise issue I have – balancing the volume and quality of sound in the left hand in Chopin’s Nocturne Op 62 No.2. In this piece, the lower bass notes are single, the higher ones being chords; a combination found everywhere in piano music but in the quiet, reflective modes of the Polish master, sounding awful if done wrongly. Graham’s advice, that I am keen to try this coming week, was to play only the top note of each tri-chord in practice, to familiarize the mind and body with the quality of sound needed, then to add the other notes later. One of Graham’s areas of work that I am fascinated with is the psycho-physical process of learning music. Understanding this better would be a worthy goal for any student because how we learn to play well is influenced not just by the exercise of mental or physical faculties in isolation but by a symbiotic process that involves many aspects of our being acting in coordination.

Altogether a brilliant event of real value and a great chance to meet other amateurs. Contact London Piano Meetup Group for details of future events.

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One Response to “Graham Fitch at the London Piano Meetup Group”

  1. john October 18, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    I played the Emajor fugue from book 1 to Graham at session in Derby and his guidance brought a real security to the trickiest area and in the prelude he helped me see how tortured one of those chromatic lines was and thus not to gloss over it.

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