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"At the same time Chopin did apply himself to a work in the grand style

- a concerto for piano and orchestra. This was probably meant to fall within the category of his practical work for Elsner, but it may also have been prompted by the need to have a substantial composition to show off - pianists were expected to demonstrate their virtuosity through their own works, not by interpreting others'. "

Zamoyski, Adam.Chopin : Prince of the Romantics. London, Harper, 2011, pp. 34–35.

"Books right way up are being read, books facing down to be read."

The last sentence of this quote is key to so much that I find frustrating about teaching today. We teach using the thought processes of other people, we perform using the inspiration of other people, translating it accurately to the point of months of rehearsal. Is this not a form of musical brainwashing?

When the confidence is attained to present it to the audience unhelpful criticisms is aimed (sometimes quite fervently) because the translation being heard is not the same as the interpretation they would play, or the arrangement they have practised. Often this criticism comes from self promotion rather than the desire to benefit the performer.

Examinations which maybe defined as proof of the ability to perform to a certain standard are promoted so much in the modern day that this has become the sole accepted evidence of ability. This is bizarre as all a certificate proves is that on this day this person performed to this standard for one or two people in a room after a lot of preparation. I once had a taxi driver apply for a teaching position who had multiple music diplomas but had not played for forty years, were his diplomas worth anything to him other than memories? An examination certificate, as an EDBS check and a driving license, say nothing other than "on this day". The true measure of ones ability therefore has to be current performance. I do not say this lightly, for I am not a natural performer by any measure, but I am teaching myself to stand up and perform, correction I am a pianist to sit down and perform.

Examinations, on the whole, continue to promote interpretation above individuality, true understanding or natural creativity. The exception is one college that offers the participant the option to include their own composition as one piece.

Pianists were expected to demonstrate their virtuosity through their own works,

not by interpreting others.

By standards of the Romantic period, how many virtuoso pianists do we actually celebrate today? Is not current virtuosity showcased by performing the fastest, the loudest, the most subtly, the most (insert verb here). Perhaps we should have a word for which the definition is the most accurate translation of someone else's composition. This would perhaps be more accurate than the fluid meaning of virtuosity.

Virtuosity: great skill in music or another artistic pursuit. "a performance of considerable virtuosity"

Does a virtuoso only know how to translate other peoples musical words? While I admit this is a great skill should this be considered to be the best of our generation? When was personal composition removed from virtuosity? Surely one is like reading an article aloud and the other is like reading an article you wrote?

I do not speak from perfection, my compositions are completed when my practice, and work, are completed. So that would be Christmas, and the twelfth of never. This is about to change.

Teaching is often defined as the use of a pathway composed to introduce learners to music that was composed in a different time period, and place. Learners still want to learn the music for their instrument, the content of established music courses have not altered. It cannot be said the together these concepts do not work. The learner content relationship has not changed. What are your ideas and how would you introduce the concepts of music to a learner today?

Learners and content have not changed but access to an increasing range and variety of learning material has. The need for extrinsic motivation has also increased due to the constant barrage of hobbies or activities conflicting for use of a learners time, particularly with piano, socio-economic and caste perception factors are often brought into consideration when selecting an instrument for a musical child to play.

An educator needs to keep up with the current developments and improvements and balance the learning objectives with lesson components. Use technology and modern ideas to your advantage alongside classic learning materials. The most efficient way to do this is to compose the material you use in lessons. This includes what pieces are presented, when they are included in the lesson plan, why they are selected and how long they will need to practice these skills until they have attained the required standard.

Pieces of great masters are re published over and over again, every accomplished pianist has many copies of the greatest, myself included. Use these, learn them, dissect them and use them as a springboard to write your own version. Perform your own, and then the original, then reflect on the differences and similarities and compose the next in your own style.

One of my teachers once said to me; read six books on a subject and write the seventh.

  • Play six sonatinas, write the seventh.

  • Play six inventions, write the seventh.

  • Play six sonatas, write the seventh.

  • Play and use six teaching methods, write your own.

  • Play six arrangements of a folk song, write your own.

When I state 'play' I mean analyse, dissect, understand, critique, then use the form of the music and start by writing in the style of, then write in your style. Start somewhere, start today.

These musings form the pathway ahead, I acknowledge that I require the academic certifications to prove I understand my craft deeply, if only for one day. I acknowledge that musical academia and societal perception requires that I prove my ability before I can move forward. I acknowledge things need to change and hope that I will be part of the movement to improve musical education. The future involves the past, we need to bring forward elements that we have lost to build a new normal from the present incorporating the past for the future; just like Chopin did.


Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

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