Articles tagged with: piano

Christmas Ideas from Jackdaws

Christmas Ideas from Jackdaws

As musicians ourselves, we appreciate that it can be difficult at this time of the year, to find a unique and meaningful present for the musicians in your life (more meaningful than musical socks!)

To help you give something unique to the musician in your life, we have created Jackdaws Gift Vouchers to help you give the gift of music this year.

Jackdaws Gift Vouchers are

  • Available in any amount
  • Redeemable against any future course, either in the current brochure of in years to come
  • A useful gift for any musician
  • Have no expiry date!

With a Jackdaws Gift Voucher you give the invaluable gifts of knowledge, enjoyment and an experience to be cherished for years. To buy a gift voucher for your loved one, call Jackdaws on 01373 812383

Jackdaws voted Second in UK Piano Course Rankings

Popular piano blogger Frances Wilson – the Cross-Eyed Pianist – asked her readers to rate their favourite Piano courses and Jackdaws came second place on the competitive list.

We were delighted to read this news as Jackdaws courses are a unique resource for musicians of abilities.

Philip Fowke at JackdawsThe survey also revealed the reasons people come on courses like ours. At the top of the list was the the opportunity to work with leading teachers, something Jackdaws offers at every weekend course, and to gain “useful, critical feedback”.

Survey answers concluded that people enjoyed the social element of meeting other pianists, as well as the opportunity to play in front of others in a non-competitive environment. A further bonus was the chance to focus on their piano playing “without having to deal with cooking or family matters”.

Jackdaws piano courses run on weekends throughout the year and are taught by leading pianists such as Mark Tanner, Philip Fowke, Graham Fitch, Margaret Fingerhut and Melanie Spanswick. Courses are limited to ten participants to ensure all musicians get a fair share of the tutor’s time, with all meals provided on site by our renowned cooks Alex and Loo.

Read the full article on The Cross-Eyed Pianist.

Jackdaws Tutor Julian Jacobson

What you think is how you play!

Tutor and Alexander Technique mentor, Ann Hetherington, encourages us to consider A Kinesthetic Approach to Performing on Sunday 29 November. Ann helps musicians and singers to make discoveries on how to employ technique and communicate the music using a kinesthetic approach to reducing muscular and mental tension. The method will reference Alexander Technique, which Ann has taught for many years.

A thoroughly enjoyable and useful day. Ann proved to be a very good teacher, bright and communicating with us all the time. I could have taken more of it! I learned what the technique was about and the way in which it can improve our movement and our posture at the piano.

Ann HetheringtonAnn Hetherington attended the Royal College of Music, as a singer and pianist. She took Alexander Technique lessons with Marjory Barlow (Alexander’s niece), and joined Marjory’s training course 3 years later and qualified as a teacher herself. She subsequently taught AT one to one for the next thirty years.

Ann teaches piano and cello, and has a special interest in introducing new skills in such a way as to prevent stress in the mind which can convert into muscular tension. Ann has given taster days on the Alexander Technique for county peripatetic music teachers and also at a music conference for the blind, and as a resident AT teacher on a music camp.

Ann clearly knows her subject well and I picked up lots of useful tips. Helen 

Ann’s course is open to singers and musicians of all abilities and will take place at Jackdaws in Great Elm, just 3 miles from Frome. The course starts at 10.30am with complimentary tea and coffee, and a chance to meet your fellow participants. Tutor sessions take place from 11am to 3pm, with a break for a delicious home cooked lunch, included in the course fee of £45.

Jackdaws Autumn 2015A Kinesthetic Approach to Performing
Ann Hetherington
Sunday 29 November 2015
Level: Singers & Musicians of Any Ability
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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…

Music by Women Composers

Music by Women Composers

Jackdaws Tutor Lauretta BloomerA new course on the Jackdaws calendar in 2015 is “Women Composers for Piano” by Lauretta Bloomer.

The weekend will draw attention to music written by female composers throughout history. Join us now for a whistle-stop tour of five major female composers spanning the last two hundred years to highlight some of the wonderful music you might not be familiar with.

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 – 1847)
Like her younger brother, Fanny Hensel (nee Mendelssohn) wrote many short character pieces for piano as was to become typical of Romanic piano repertoire. She was inventive (her own Lieder ohne Wörte likely pre-date Felix’s) and prolific, with a flowing stream of music from the age of 14 until her early death less than 30 years later. Her inspiration drew from many contemporary sources including Goethe. She wrote in the major compositional forms for chamber including Piano Sonata, Trio, Song, Piano Suite (The impressive Das Jahr) and String Quartet with the notable exception of any large scale Symphonies or Concerti.

Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896)
14 years younger than Fanny Hensel, Clara was raised on a diet of daily one hour music lessons. As a pianist, many of the finest works of the early Romantic era were written for her, and as a composer, she began early with a piano concerto at 14(!) and later concentrated on shorter forms such as her numerous Romances and the wonderful Soirees Musicales, Op 6. Lauretta will play Clara’s “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” to open the course. She is probably the most widely known female composer.

Amy Beach (1867 – 1944)

Amy Beach

Amy Beach, image George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

The American composer Amy Beach is truly a stand alone figure in American muscial history, just as her contemporary Dame Ethel Smyth (1858 – 1944) is in British. Both composed in every major form – with Concerti, Symphonies, Choral music, Songs, Masses and even opera. Beach’s large number of piano pieces are in the late Romantic style of her contemporaries and range from the miniature Children’s Album op. 36, via song transcriptions up to the challenging Variations on Balkan Themes. Her music is confident and has the craftsmanship expected of a composer of the highest order. Smyth’s piano music equally rewards investigation, which although more conservative than Beach’s, spans a double disk set and features three sonatas and the wondefully titled “Variations on an Original Theme (of an Exceedingly Dismal nature) in Db Major”!

Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931)
A composer between eras, Gubaidulina’s music uses traditional forms (Toccata, Suite, Sonata and Chaconne) but she presents them with a refreshing modern approach. She often writes for unusual instruments or combinations, including saxophone quartet, 12 celli, music with tape and the waterphone. She makes use of new sonorities with occasional extended techniques to a musical, rather than gimmicky, effect. Her most well known work for piano, Musical Toys is a suite of 14 charming pieces imitating at various times a musical sleigh, a mechanical organ, a woodpecker and musicians in the forest. A vast quantity of her music is still unrecorded, but there are several wonderful CDs of her complete piano music available.

Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)

Kaija Saariaho, Image

Kaija Saariaho, Image

Still active Kaija Saariaho has written three operas to date, as well as numerous large scale works for orchestra. Her piano concerto includes a tape of recorded birdsong and the wonderful Piano Sonata employs Debussy-like textures and beautiful sweeping arpeggios, far from the aggressive and hostile modern sonorities one might expect of a post-war composer. Her output for piano also includes her Prelude and Ballade, both written within the past 10 years, which make delightful contemporary additions to any pianist’s repertoire.

Lauretta has been to Jackdaws before, and received this wonderful, warm write up from one participant…

“We were a small group, so we each received a lot of attention. Lauretta was generous, caring and detailed in her teaching, and now that I have has a week to assimilate the work into my practice, I think it has made a genuine difference to my pieces. I think Lauretta managed the different needs and standards of the participants well, giving equal time to each person. The group session on warm up exercises was also very helpful. I understand that this was a new course, so I very much hope that it was a positive experience for Lauretta too! With best wishes, and thanks to Lauretta.”

Friday 20 – Sunday 22 March
Women Composers for Piano
Lauretta Bloomer
Level: All
Fee: £190
View the Course Page

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?

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

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

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