Articles tagged with: piano

Summer at the Keys

Summer at the Keys

Summer is a wonderful time for music. What better time to enjoy a classical music retreat at Jackdaws, where you can focus entirely on your music.


Jackdaws Tutor Elena RiuThe Pianist Within
with Elena Riu

“Its lovely to have a weekend away, share music, make new friends and have lovely meals cooked..bliss.”

Elena Riu’s weekends in Great Elm are something a little different to your average piano course. Elena, who trained in El Sistema, the revolutionary music education system in Venezuela which also produced Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bólivar Symphony Orchestra, begins with a revised timetable and introduces simple stretches and relaxation exercises to help you calm those pre-performance nerves.

As Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, her credentials are in no doubt, and her continued success as a specialist performer of South American and Spanish music gives an exciting twist to this unique weekend. In 2016, a significant anniversary for two of Spain’s most renowned composers – Manuel da Falla and Enrique Granados, there is no better time to explore this wonderful music and try a new approach to the piano.

The Pianist Within
Friday 17 – 19 June 2016
Deposit: £50
B&B: Available
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Jackdaws Tutor Julian JacobsonSharpen Up Your Chopin
with Julian Jacobson

“There is something fundamentally personal and at the same time so very masterly in his playing that he may be called a really perfect virtuoso.” – Felix Mendelssohn on Chopin

Julian Jacobson, whose own playing “reveals the known repertoire of sonatas by Haydn and Chopin in a clearer, penetrating and often revelatory light” (The Oxford Times), leads another composer focused weekend at Jackdaws. Previous weekends, highlighting composers such as Beethoven and Liszt, have been received enthusiastically by pianists wanting to explore the music of these composers who are so dominating in the central repertoire.

More than 260 years on, Chopin’s music still glitters, shining a light directly onto the deepest of human emotions with unrivaled power and delicacy. To understand Chopin’s music is to understand expression at the piano.

Sharpen Up Your Chopin
Friday 1 – Sunday 3 July 2016
Depost: £50
B&B: Available
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Dutch Piano Pedagogue Caecilia Andriessen returns to the UK for the final time

Dutch Piano Pedagogue Caecilia Andriessen returns to the UK for the final time

Caecilia AndriessenIn 1995, Dutch pianist Caecilia Andriessen came to Jackdaws in Somerset with a new idea for a music course. A piano ensemble course. Maureen Lehane, Jackdaws founder and then Artistic Director, was intrigued to find out exactly what she meant.

Caecilia Andriessen is known in her native Netherlands for her unusual brand of piano ensembles – that is, multiple people at multiple pianos playing together in the same way that string or wind players might. She didn’t invent the genre – with composers such as Liszt also writing for groups of pianists – but Caecilia Andriessen is known worldwide for being one of the largest advocates of this type of pianism. Her arrangements and publications, not to mention performances, are praised for their style, charm and individual ambition; one book of arrangements Spelen met Liszt “Playing with Liszt” is for 5 pianos played by 15 pianists (or multiples thereof)!

Back in 1995, Caecilia Andriessen arrived at Jackdaws, bringing a few Dutch friends and pupils with her, with the remainder of the course places taken by musicians from the local area. They played music by Bach, Mendelssohn and others… all with the little twist that she had arranged all the music herself for multiple pianos playing simultaneously.

Piano Ensembles at Jackdaws with Caecilia AndriessenThe course sees pianists playing in ensembles just like string or wind players might. This does not mean four players at one piano, it means four players at four pianos – each pianist with their own full part. They play music from the 17th to the 21st centuries, either composed or arranged for piano ensemble by the tutor. The course in 1995 was a huge success and Maureen Lehane had invited the new tutor back the following year before she had even left.

Jackdaws has developed a great deal since 1995; it now approaches its 25th anniversary and is under the direction of Saffron van Zwanenberg, but the Piano Ensemble course still runs every year.

On Friday 27 May, Caecilia Andriessen will begin her Pianos for All weekend for the 21st and final time. Starting the course with her will be one particular participant, her student Paul Kocken, who has made the trip over from The Hague to Great Elm with her every year since 1995. He says,

Pianos for All weekend course with Caecilia Andriessen at Jackdaws“Caecilia is a wonderful teacher with a lot of experience teaching groups of twelve people playing four pianos together. You can imagine that this asks a lot of her teaching skills to have four pianists playing one piece. She arranges existing music for pianos or even string quartets for a combination of two or three pianos. We practice mostly at home a modern piece and an older one that Caecilia has arranged that year. For example, a piece of Lutosławski and Bach. By doing so we can play difficult pieces.

“She likes to tell little anecdotes and stories she has experienced in her musical life. All course members like the relaxed atmosphere of Jackdaws; the hospitality of the Great Elm community that gives the music students a warm welcome every year is heart warming.”

Over the 20 years, Caecilia Andriessen and Jackdaws have got the course just right. It has become an institution and the attendees have become friends outside the course as well.  In 2015, when regular participant Tanya had to break the sad news that Irene Hessel – another of the regulars who made the annual trip to Somerset from The Hague – had passed away from cancer at the age of 45, the news affected everyone. Tanya and Caecilia were at the funeral and said their farewell by playing four-hand piano music just as they had done with Irene.

On Pianos for All this year, we plan a celebration to mark over 20 years of joyous music making at Jackdaws. An occasion to reflect on the power of the music, and the friendships which have developed as a result.
Hard at work

Julian Jacobson sharpens up your Chopin

Julian Jacobson sharpens up your Chopin

The magic of Chopin’s music is still as potent as ever, even more than 260 years after his death. No notes feel so grateful under the pianist’s fingers yet require such great subtlety, delicacy, fire and virtuosity to make their full effect. Sharpen up your Chopin offers the opportunity for pianists to explore this unique composer through his music, under the expert guidance of Royal College of Music professor Julian Jacobson.

Frederic ChopinSimplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.

– Frederic Chopin

His is music has such immediacy, with the delicate interplay of melody and accompaniment so carefully arranged. The titles, descriptive rather than poetic, reveal nothing of the glorious music they contain. Jackdaws Artistic Director Saffron van Zwanenberg, said “Chopin’s music is so powerful and worthy of further exploration that a weekend devoted to it is long over due“.

Choosing Your Repertoire

Julian has led courses at Jackdaws for a most of its history. He suggests each participant bring two of their favourite pieces from Chopin’s huge ouvre. Of course, he is happy to assist with selection of repertoire at a suitable level of difficulty, and has written a one page guide giving approximate difficulties of Chopin’s most popular pieces.

Regarding what “stage” the pieces should be at, Julian says, ‘it’s nice if one of them represents what the participant feels is a fairly finished performance; maybe something they will have already played in public or performed for friends, and the other is more “work in progress” that the participant feels I can help with.’

We understand that each participant is different and if your two pieces are both further along the road that’s also fine; it’s best if the music is reasonably well prepared and this is more significant than the overall difficulty of the piece. Julian adds ‘The main thing is not to stress about how “good” the pieces will be, while hopefully doing one’s best to get them into reasonable shape for working on in the class!’

Finally, consider the size and length of the pieces. If you bring short pieces, Preludes for instance, we might find time to work on three or even four. Compare this with the complexity of a major work such as the 4th Ballade; this piece alone would be enough for an entire course. Assuming they will be short, but not too short pieces, two is perfect.

Julian was Head of Keyboard Studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and is now a professor at the Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire, and a Guest Professor at Xiamen University China. He gives masterclasses internationally and is a Diploma Examiner for ABRSM.

Sharpen Up Your Chopin
with Julian Jacobson
Friday 1 – Sunday 3 July 2016
Level: Advanced
Fee: £200
B&B: Available
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Caecilia Andriessen announces final Jackdaws course

Caecilia Andriessen announces final Jackdaws course

Last year, we celebrated 20 years of Caecilia Andriessen‘s unique piano ensemble weekend course, Pianos for All, at Jackdaws. We are deeply sorry to say Caecilia has announced that her Pianos for All’ weekend this May will be her last course in Great Elm.

Jackdaws Tutor Caecilia AndriessenDutch Pianist Caecilia Andriessen, 85, started playing duets with her brother Louis and has gone on to make music with more and more hands at the piano. Her annual course, Pianos for All, has been running since the early days of Jackdaws when she was personally invited by founder Maureen Lehane to bring her unusual brand of piano course to Great Elm.

Each year, her course brings new and old favourite melodies arranged for two, three and four pianists on the same number of pianos. Using her own arrangements of repertoire from Bach to Schumann to contemporary composers, she was one of the first teachers to develop a method for teaching music for multiple pianists.

Caecilia studied piano at the Royal Conservatorium at The Hague and then in Italy with a scholarship from the Italian government. She taught at the Institute of Musical Education at Rotterdam and is much sought after as a lecturer on group-teaching (four pupils on four pianos) and other musical subjects. Her compositions and arrangements for two and three pianos have been published by Uitgeverij Harmonia, Loosdrecht.

Her 21st course, will be her final Jackdaws weekend. We want to say thank you and invite you to be a part of the farewell.

Caecilia Andriessen at JackdawsPianos for All
27 – 29 May 2016
Level: Intermediate
Fee: £200
B&B available
Book now

Pianos for All runs for the final time in May 2016. There are just a few places remaining.

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
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