Articles tagged with: Music Courses

Sight-reading, Memorisation and Piano Technique

Sight-reading, Memorisation and Piano Technique

Jackdaws Tutor Melanie SpanswickCourses in our new brochure have obviously been very well received – places are filling up rapidly.

Melanie Spanswick’s Sight-reading, Memorisation and Piano Technique looks to be the next course to sell out, joining favourites Graham Fitch and Ameral Gunson.

A regular writer for Pianist Magazine, Melanie has written an introduction to piano courses, such as those we have at Jackdaws, for the uninitiated.

There are courses to suit every level and budget. So whether you are serious about your piano playing, or perhaps just want to enjoy some concentrated time with a group of like-minded individuals working at a much-loved past time, here are five reasons why taking a course can be useful…

More on

Sight-reading, Memorisation and Piano Technique has just one place remaining
with Melanie Spanswick
23 – 25 October 2015
Price: £200
Level: All abilities welcome
Sign up Here

New Season Courses Announced!

New Season Courses Announced!

BrochureLOWAfter the long wait, we are excited to finally be able to present our new season of weekend music courses and the 2015-16 year brochure.

We should introduce a few of our new tutors, such as Melanie Spanswick and Timothy Barratt (both piano) whose biographies glitter as much as their playing. Ralf Dorrell presents our first ever weekend Jazz Course to go alongside his One Day Course, now in it’s third year. Esteemed Irish baritone, Russell Smythe brings vocal health to the fore in his first weekend course.

Regular Clarinet tutor David Campbell has joined forces with sax-traordinaire Andy Tweed and together they will host a single reed feast for Clarinets and Saxophones in March.

Anna Stegmann returns for the second Recorder Weekend in a row, as does Mary Plazas’ Opera Workshop. Sarah Leonard and Stephen Varcoe present, for the second time, their English Song course in February, whilst the first of Philip Fowke’s Piano Workshops this season has a revolutionary new focus.

We are extremely excited about what this new year will bring, the music we’ll hear and the friends we’ll make. We hope to see you in Great Elm soon.

Why not jump straight to the course pages?
Voice, Piano, Strings, Wind, Ensemble, One Day
or Read the new brochure online

Jackdaws Brochure 2015-16

Interview with the Jacobson-Brown Piano Duo

Interview with the Jacobson-Brown Piano Duo

Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown, photo by Roger HarrisIt’s not a Jackdaws-first, but this Summer will certainly be the first time in many years that we welcome a renowned Piano Duo to lead one of our weekend music courses. We managed to get five minutes with Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown, in between performing together at such prestigious venues as London’s Purcell Rooms and across Europe (not to mention their solo performances!)

How did you come to start playing together?

Julian: Around 1999 I was doing a two-piano recording for the BBC in the Maida Vale studios. My page turner was replaced at the last moment by a friendly girl who did it so well that I asked her – Mariko – if she would be interested in turning for further concerts and recordings. This continued for several years until one day – knowing that Mariko was an excellent pianist and that we shared many similar musical tastes – I suggested that it might be nice to play some duets together and, in particular, that she could join me for a performance of Rhapsody in Blue. It was so much fun preparing and playing this that we decided to form our duo and work on it as a significant part of both of our musical lives. And it has now become a passion, from which we both get great satisfaction – and, still, fun!

You are two exceptional musicians but have extremely different experience and backgrounds. How does this influence the way you play together?

Any duo has to operate by give-and-take. At the beginning I was inevitably the more experienced partner, and this may have been a factor in our first concerts, but now it feels very much like an equal partnership. I think we each have different strengths and qualities that complement each other. My early experience as a jazz pianist probably influenced our Gershwin and tango playing! Fundamentally, though, our approach to music-making is the same, and also we have a similar touch, possibly because Mariko’s teacher Joan Havill was a pupil of my last teacher Louis Kentner. It’s difficult to be, literally, together with a duo partner whose touch is too dissimilar to yours – the attack is so direct and you really have to feel it in the same way.

What are the benefits of playing duet repertoire?

One learns humility! If things in your own playing are not coming across as you think then your partner won’t find it easy to play with you, and he or she may hear this better than you do yourself. But really there are benefits on so many fronts: rhythmic control and stability, learning to focus on the other person’s part as much as your own (which benefits any other duo and ensemble playing one is doing), tonal balance, the importance of sticking to what you have rehearsed and capturing it in performance, super-accurate pedalling which requires close listening as it has to work for the whole texture, not just your own part. In a nutshell, concentration, flexibility, discipline and reliability.

Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown lead their Piano Duets Weekend at Jackdaws from Friday 3 July – Sunday 5 July 2015.

What can people expect from your Jackdaws course? Will they need to sightread?

No sight-reading is expected. We are hoping to attract teams who already play together and so will bring their own, prepared repertoire. However pianists can also apply as “singles” and we will team you up with another single based on your experience, level and also location so that you can hopefully get together for a few rehearsals before the course. Or one of us will play the other part with you. We can recommend appropriate repertoire if this would be a help. In the course you will be coached as a duo by one or both of us, but there will also be the opportunity for help on your individual parts. It will be be a busy course and we hope it will be a lot of fun! There will as usual be a concert at the end with all the pieces that are ready for performance.

Julian Jacobson Mariko Brown Piano DuoIsn’t the four hand repertoire a bit limited – just some Mozart pieces and Schubert’s F minor Fantasie?

The Schubert Fantasie is a sublime masterpiece and one of our favourites – but the duet repertoire is enormous and contains every kind of music! The first known keyboard duet is by Thomas Tomkins, “Fancy For Two To Play” (c.1650), and very fine it is too. In addition to Schubert’s treasure trove, most of the major piano composers have written fine duets – Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninov – and the French composers have absolutely excelled in four-hands music: we can mention Fauré’s “Dolly” Suite, Debussy’s Petite Suite, Ravel’s “Mother Goose” and Poulenc’s Sonata for starters, fabulous pieces and not too difficult. In addition there is the whole world of arrangements, from György Kurtág’s beautiful Bach transcriptions to Henry Levine’s classic transcription of “Rhapsody in Blue”. And simpler pieces in jazz style such as Richard Rodney Bennett’s delightful “Suite for Skip and Sadie” (his two cats)… the list goes on and on. You can click on our repertoire page for some ideas.

What about the logistics of piano duets – do you fight over who gets the pedals? How do you decide who takes the treble and who takes the bass? And do you knock elbows?

No fighting, or rarely! Normally the Secondo takes the pedals, though exceptionally we will change over – there is no point in the Secondo pedalling for a lengthy solo passage in the Primo part. Some duos always keep the same position but we switch freely – usually we just instinctively feel what will work best. Having decided, we then of course stick with the same part, though occasionally we might change over in rehearsal to get to know the piece better. Yes one knocks elbows, brushes hands and constantly gets in the way of the other! But a significant part of rehearsing duets is working out “where to go”, whether one’s hand goes above or below the other’s when there is a clash, sometimes changing one’s fingering for one that gets less in the way. In other words – negotiating territorial claims!

Can you share one tip for rehearsing a piano duet?

Decide who’s going to turn the page in rehearsal! Every page turn will work better with one player or the other and this will help the continuity. We mark our copies with “T” for turn at the appropriate point.

Do you have plans to release any commercial recordings?

Our first recording has already been released on Naxos – this is a CD of music by Julian’s father Maurice Jacobson who many pianists of a certain age remember as a prominent festival adjudicator but who was also a serious composer. There are two duet pieces including “Theme and Variations”, by far the longest and most substantial work on the CD. But we are very keen to get on with recording some of our main repertoire, especially Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Debussy, Gershwin and our contemporary pieces (some written especially for us – including by ourselves!), and we have a number of possible avenues for this.

Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown come to Jackdaws to lead their Piano Duets Weekend from Friday 3 July – Sunday 5 July 2015.

BoathouseFlower KarolynPiano Duets Weekend
Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown
Friday 3 – Sunday 5 July 2015
Level: Advanced
Fee: £200
B&B: Available on Request
Read more…

Handel at Jackdaws

Handel at Jackdaws

Jackdaws has always had a special relationship with the music of Handel. Our founder, Maureen Lehane, was a renowned Handel interpreter whose performances were legendary and the relationship continues this March, when Handelian soprano Rosa Mannion returns to Jackdaws to lead her course on the arias of the great composer. We have been getting in the mood for the weekend with a selection of our favourite videos…

[youtube id=”HvhyIFhIKGE” width=”620″ height=”360″]
Falsa imagine” is sung by Teofane in the first act of Ottone, when she is deceived by Adelberto at their first meeting into thinking he is Ottone, the man she is to marry. Film clip from “A Night with Handel” on Channel 4 DVD.


[youtube id=”tBV0o3TW_n4″ width=”620″ height=”360″]
In the second act of Orlando, Dorinda sings “Se Mi Rivolgo al Prato” to the title character of how she sees the face of Medoro everywhere, the warrior with whom she is in love. From the recording with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie.

Spring into Action!

Spring into Action!

Flowers in the Jackdaws Rose GardenFresh from our winter break, we’re springing into action at Jackdaws with a full schedule of weekend courses, a major Education project in schools and our ongoing weekly groups for young musicians.

There are plenty of courses this season for singers of all abilities and interests. Distinguished singers, Sarah Leonard and Stephen Varcoe, are leading their first course at Jackdaws ‘English Song Weekend’; they will share their expertise of the area, focusing particularly on songs written around the time of the Great War by Gurney, Ireland and others. Accompanist Nigel Foster will be on hand throughout the weekend, and Richard Carder, Chair of English Poetry and Song Society, will give a talk on the subject on Saturday afternoon.

Handel specialist, Rosa Mannion, returns to Jackdaws in March with her popular ‘Singing Handel’ weekend course. Participants have the opportunity to explore and celebrate some of Handel’s wonderful arias with an aficionado of his music. His operas and oratorios exemplify his most important consideration when writing for voice: depiction of character and expression of feeling. Rosa will encourage singers to explore the dramatic intention behind them as well as experiment with decoration, style and deal with the technical issues they highlight.

Singers of all abilities are invited to enjoy a weekend of German, French and Italian art-songs with Richard Jackson, an expert in European vocal music on ‘A Song By Any Other Name’. Ably assisted by accompanist Richard Shaw, the course will focus on how composers blend words and music. Can a foreign language be made ‘less foreign’ by exploring the meaning of the text itself by considering how the words and music interact? Guaranteed enlightenment – guaranteed fun!

You can view all of our Singing Courses in One Place – here

April2014lowPianists have the opportunity to work with two talented tutors over the next few months. Firstly we are delighted to welcome Penelope Roskell to Jackdaws for her first course here ‘Towards Effortless Piano Playing’. Penelope’s approach to preparation for concerts, competitions and auditions should help any for whom confidence is a consideration. Discussion and the exchange of ideas will be positively encouraged!

Lauretta Bloomer encourages pianists to consider the wide variety of repertoire by “Women Composers for Piano”. While standard repertoire will be used for interpretation and technique, the course will draw attention to the wide variety of pieces written by women, a genre which, undeservedly, is often neglected and seldom performed. Participants are encouraged to bring at least one piece by a female composer to play during the workshop, perhaps something by the wonderfully talented Clara Schumann, maybe Mendelssohn’s beloved sister, Fanny Hensel whom he greatly admired or even someone else?

You can view all of our Piano Courses in One Place – here

If Clarinets are your passion, you could join David Campbell at Jackdaws in March for a weekend of clarinet celebration! David is the Chair of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society GB, and plans a full weekend; the Friday session is dedicated to clarinet choir, and quartets will be the focus on the Saturday morning. You will be joined on Saturday afternoon by an accompanist for a masterclass session, and Sunday will comprise of another choir session and more solos before ending with an informal concert.

So, why not join us on a Jackdaws course this Spring and see where you could leap?

Sing ‘The Magic Flute’ at Jackdaws!

Sing ‘The Magic Flute’ at Jackdaws!

Have you always wanted to sing an aria, duet or chorus from Mozart’s most famous opera?

Will CarslakeThe Magic Flute has enchanted music and theatre lovers of all ages for hundreds of years. With charm and wit, it tells the story of a terrifying and joyful journey in pursuit of love, wisdom and happiness as Prince Tamino tries to rescue the Princess Pamina from the evil Sarastro. From the stratospheric arias of the Queen of the Night, through the jolly folk tunes of Papageno the Birdcatcher, to the profound music of Sarastro, leader of the enlightened ones, it is a full expression of Mozart’s musical and dramatic genius.

At the Come and Sing Opera Day, William Carslake will guide you through Mozart’s magical masterpiece. You will sing some of the most rousing choruses and tackle the solos and ensembles. William says, “we will sing in English, and can send out in music advance if wished. Please let us know if you would like to sing a certain part!”

‘Often referred to by many as Mozart’s only pantomime, The Magic Flute is a riot of life, lust and ludicrous plot that somehow belies its portentous position in Mozart’s output’ – Classic FM

The course runs from 11am to 3pm on Sunday 14 December and is open to singers of all abilities. The £35 fee includes the delicious home cooked lunch and all music needed for the workshop.

Jackdaws is in Great Elm, just 3 miles from Frome. Visit the course page to book or call 01373 812383 to ask any questions.

Come and Sing: Mozart’s Magic Flute
Sunday 14 December
William Carslake
11am – 3pm
Fee: £35 including lunch and music

One Day Taster Courses

One Day Taster Courses

JackdawsWe have officially reached autumn and we’re looking forward to the next few months of courses at Jackdaws because our One Day Courses will enter their fourth season.

One Day Courses are the perfect introduction to making music at Jackdaws. In 2011 we decided to swap our usual programme of weekend courses in November and December for a series of one day singing taster sessions. It turned out to be a success – three years later, we are running day courses on topics from Playing Jazz to using Alexander Technique.

With top quality tuition and a famous Jackdaws lunch provided, taster days are open to musicians of all levels and give you the opportunity to try something new. Perhaps that’s playing a new genre of music at “Jazz Day”, or singing as part of your first opera chorus in “Come and Sing the Magic Flute”.

What’s happening this year?

Jackdaws Day CoursesAlexander Technique for Musicians
Ann Hetherington
Saturday 15 November

Singing for the over 50s
Penny Jenkins
Sunday 30 November

Jazz Day
Ralf Dorrell
Saturday 6 December

Singing with Confidence
Jessica Walker
Sunday 7 December

Come and Sing Mozart’s Magic Flute
William Carslake
Sunday 14 December

Singing in French

Singing in French

Flowers in the Jackdaws Rose GardenThe French chanson and mélodie repertoire contains some of the most beautiful songs ever written, by the greatest composers in history. Fauré, Berlioz, Poulenc, Duparc, Debussy, Ravel, Chausson…

Robin Bowman is an expert in French song. For 30 years he was French consultant to the National Opera Studio, London, and from 1997 to 2008 was Head of Vocal Studies at the Guildhall School of Music. For 25 years he taught at the Académie Internationale Maurice Ravel, and spent a further 11 at the Académie Internationale d’Eté de Nice. He played for the classes of Pierre Bernac, the singer for whom Poulenc wrote more than half of his songs, during the last ten years of Bernac’s life in the 1970s. Robin was delighted to be on the adjudication panel for the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2013.

To learn French song is to learn French culture, custom, ideas, history and traditions.

When taught and coached well, French is a healthy and rewarding language for singing. This course is open to singers of all abilities and will enable each participant to study and perform three or four French songs of their own choice, further preparing their favourite for an intimate Sunday afternoon concert at the end of the course.

Robin Bowman and accompanist Edwige HerchenroderSinging in French Course Details
Friday 19 – Sunday 21 September 2014
Course No. 3107
Level: All
Fee: £190
B&B available from £30 per night
Click here to book

Jackdaws Season 2014-15

Jackdaws Season 2014-15


Anna Stegmann Photo: Marco Borggreve

New Tutor for 2014-15, Anna Stegmann

Jackdaws Music Education Trust is delighted to present its latest programme of weekend music courses.

The season commences in October 2014 and sees residential courses offered with tutors such as Graham Fitch and Philip Fowke on piano, Evelyn Tubb and Rosa Mannnion on voice as well as ensemble courses and much more. Jackdaws’ series of taster Day Courses also return offering a wonderful introduction to new areas of music making as well as a famous Jackdaws lunch.

Jackdaws is also delighted to welcome some new tutors: Anna Stegmann, contemporary recorder Professor at the Royal Academy is taking a joint course with resident recorder tutor Pamela Thorby; celebrated soprano, Mary Plazas leads the Opera Workshop for singers of all ability; renowned singers Sarah Leonard and Stephen Varcoe are leading an English Song weekend and the extraordinary piano teacher Penelope Roskell is coming to Jackdaws for the first time.

“I am so delighted that such eminent professional musicians continue to support the work we do to include musicians from all backgrounds in accessing the best teaching and being inspired by discovering new repertoire and techniques. Often being a musician can be a solitary experience, so we are thrilled to be able to enable our tutors and our participants in coming together to bring music to life whilst spending time in our picturesque and inspiring location.” – Saffron van Zwanenberg, Jackdaws Artistic Director

Alongside all of these wonderful opportunities Jackdaws will also be continuing to be at the forefront of music education for children and young people in Somerset, championing classical music and musicians and promoting a classical method of teaching and learning to support and enable young people to fulfil their musical aspirations.

To view all Jackdaws courses visit the Calendar

Piano Summer School at Jackdaws Riverside Retreat

Piano Summer School at Jackdaws Riverside Retreat

Mark TannerOffering the opportunity to use the longer time of three days, this hugely popular course provides you with the time and space to get a better understanding of the sprawling piano repertoire. This lively course will concentrate on repertoire, style, technique and practice methods. How to choose music for diploma, grade exams and skeleton score study, improvisation, duets and more will all be discussed. Mark is an experienced examiner and will provide support for those taking grade and diploma exams as well as those who just want to play for pleasure.

As in previous years, the course will have a maximum of 12 participants, which has proved to be an optimum figure – the perfect compromise between the needs of the individuals, repertoire already worked up for the purposes of scrutiny by Mark, and spontaneous group discussions, which are always as entertaining as they are enlightening.

Aim to bring along two or more pieces that show your playing in a good light – this can, having said that, constitute ‘work in progress’ – but consider carefully how your thirty-minute sessions might best be profitable to you.

Mark Tanner specialises in teaching advanced level pianists and is one of the West Country’s most revered teachers. Students wishing to take diploma or higher-grade examinations, or perhaps prepare for a recital etc., would benefit from joining his Piano Summer School at the peaceful riverside location of Jackdaws.

In recent times, Mark’s students have gained first and second prizes in national competitions. Several have gained their DIPABRSM, LRSM, LTCL and LLCM diplomas (indeed Mark is an international examiner of these diplomas for ABRSM) and have progressed to study at conservatoires and universities at home and abroad.

Since 2011 Mark has been a lecturer in piano and composition at University College Falmouth. His students tackle a variety of different programmes and enjoy a diverse range of musical styles. For many years he taught adult music appreciation courses and Piano Summer School at Jackdaws has become one of the landmarks of the year.

Jackdaws by the RiverPiano Summer School Course Details
Thursday 24 – Sunday 27 July 2014
Course No. 3101
Level: Advanced
Fee: £260
B&B available from £30 per night
Click here to book

View Mark’s Website
Mark on Twitter

Search for a Course