Can you firstly tell us a bit more about Composify and what inspired you to start this new venture?
I studied composition at GSMD as well as piano, but in my career, I mainly focused on being the best pianist I could be. When lockdown came along there were no concerts to practice for, so I turned back to composition and specifically (of course!) focused on piano music that I could play and record myself. I wrote a piece for one of my lovely students who I had taught from incredibly early on, who was leaving lessons with me and going on to study music full time at university. I used the letters of her name to create the melody by turning each letter into a note and composing around that. I enjoyed it so much that I also created music for her three siblings using the letters of their names, too. I thought it was something that people who could not make gifts like that themselves, might like to be able to commission, and give to someone they love as a special gift. So, I came up with Composify (Compose-ify if that is not obvious!) It has been great fun doing it and Composify music is free to listen to on all music streaming platforms.
What was the Guildhall School of Music and Drama like?
Extremely intense and one of the hardest experiences of my life. As a sociable person, and not coming from a particularly musical family, or from music school, I got into the Guildhall with quite a raw talent and had a lot of work to do. From being a talented musician at a normal school, to suddenly locking myself in a practice room for 6 plus hours a day just to catch up my technique, was extremely difficult emotionally. Not to mention performing from memory and being criticised in front of all my peers on a regular basis! But I felt incredibly lucky to be there and gave myself to it so fully. I was very inspired by the people around me, mainly my teacher Joan Havill but also all the other wonderful students themselves, who I had and still have immense respect for. I learned so much just from listening to them play. I would say every single student at that place had something extraordinary about them; perhaps it was just that level of focus and determination, but in any case, there were a lot of interesting people to study alongside.
Where would you suggest people buy a piano from?
That is quite a loaded question and depends on many things, but I would say the best you can do is to try them out for real and take a reputable piano technician with you when you do so. Do not buy based on how shiny it is because it might be a mess inside! Try and get an acoustic piano if possible, rather than digital.
What age do you recommend learning the piano?
It completely depends on the person. If they can pay attention to instructions and carry them out, then any age really. I would not recommend learning very young (before 6) unless it is with an early years specialist (which I am not!) For most people probably around 6 is a good age to begin.
So, what are you like as a teacher?
Extremely loyal, truthful, and quite demanding, because I only take students who do a set minimum of practice per week! I like to provide value for money, so I try to cover quite a few different things in the lesson and we always practice them together in the lesson, to check that each task is understood. If trust is built up, then high expectations can work, but only because I do not take on very casual students. You do not have to want to work in music or want to play to a very high level to learn with me, but I do expect my advice to be taken seriously and acted upon. It is intense, but I am also very fond of all my students, and I have the greatest respect for those who can put up with me always changing the goalposts as soon as one task is accomplished there is another taking its place! I always compliment success because it is important to know when you are doing something right. But I do also tell the truth and do not pander! I say things differently to children than to adults and I try to make the atmosphere very much a team effort. But I give a lot of energy and I expect a lot of energy from the student in return.
What has been your career highlight to date?
It is extremely affirming and lovely to win a prize because it is quite validating for all the work put in, but my fondest memory of a performance I have given was the one at St James’ Piccadilly in 2018, it was just a lunchtime concert, but I was playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 22 with a lovely string ensemble. I was 7 months pregnant and probably looked the least glamorous I have ever looked on the concert platform, but that music genuinely fills me with joy, and I was so happy playing it. It was recorded too, and it is on Youtube; I love being able to tell my son that he was there
What pieces would you recommend people listen to, to inspire them to take up piano lessons?
So hard to choose… most of Mozart, Rachmaninoff 2nd concerto, Chopin Ballade no 4, but also little pieces like Schumann Romance no 2; in the right hands most of the piano repertoire is magical. Rather than individual pieces (there are just too many!) – I would say listen to great pianists who can make most music glow with their special touch and a beautifully tuned and maintained piano (this is an art form!). I love Murray Perahia, Alfred Brendel and Mitsuko Uchida, but there are so many amazing pianists and we are so lucky in this age to have access to lots of great recordings.