Arriving at Chethamís School of Music in Manchester, England after five flights and a good nightís sleep was a magical moment for me. I was part scared, exhilarated and excited all at once. The setting itself is remarkable with brick buildings that span centuries alongside a modern building which has only been open a short time. There is security at the gate as you come in, and you have to sign yourself in and out every time you leave the school. Outside is the magnificent Football Museum, a very odd-shaped glass building that looks rather like a bird, right in front of the school is a water feature, and alongside is the very large Victoria Train Station. The setting is a mish-mash of old and new that somehow seems to work. Inside Chethamís is a very different experience. For two weeks you are closeted in the most wonderfully friendly and stimulating environment. You eat, drink and live music from the time you wake till the time you finally get to bed after two concerts each evening. If you are really keen you can go to a third student recital at ten p.m. or a jazz concert. I chose to go to Chethamís after hearing Murray McLachlan speak and perform in Dunedin about two years ago. I also wondered about its suitability for my advanced piano students. I was not disappointed!
Chethamís (or Chetís to insiders) is the most p o s i t i v e and com p r e h e n s i v e m u s i c a l experience/education I have ever had. My daily program included breakfast in the dining room (the food was really nice!) followed by a workshop put on by my piano teacher. I had a different teacher each week and had three hours of individual lessons with them over the course. The workshop I went to covered posture, musicianís injuries, and performance. The lecturers were all people who are highly specialized in their fields. I also chose Composition in the first week and Improvisation in the second week and I had lectures/workshops on these subjects most days as well. There was a lecture most days at five p.m. The topics included coping with performance anxiety, the importance of mental practice and how to go about it, a lecture about Steinway pianos and their history, one on the performer Van Cliburn and a lecture about a drama that was written about Messiaen. We had concerts every night that included Murray McLachlan, Elinar Steen-Nokleberg, Noriko Ogawa, Carlo Grante (who was superb playing Chopin), Mathias Kirschnereit, Peter Donohoe, Robert Finley (winner of 2012 Amateur Piano Competition), Philip Fowke, Jonathon Plowright, Graham Caskie, Artur Pizarro (my favourite) and Leslie Howard.
However the highlight of performances was most definitely the final night of the Concerto Competition where three outstanding competitors competed to win the Under 16 and Over 16 age group. A young Asian girl of nine won the Under 16 with a rousing per- formance with the orchestra that would have been considered outstanding anywhere. The standard of teaching and performance is very high at Chethamís. The teachers and lecturers are world class performers in their own right. My composition teacher is a well known composer. The standard of playing from the young children who attended Chethamís (usually over the age of ten) was phenomenally high. It has left me thinking how I can raise the bar in both my own playing and that of my students.
I purchased a number of books on offer from a music shop which had a stall in the new building at Chethamís. From the book The Craft of Piano Playing: A New Approach to Piano Technique by Allan Fraser, is a quote that sums it up for me (pp. 7-8): ďWhen I came to Yugoslavia I expressed to Kemal Gekich the desire to become a really great teacher. His response was to tell me to first become a great player.Ē This is what I have learnt at Chethamís: never ever think you have arrived! Always seek to play more musically, more beautifully, memorize, but not just the music, memorize each hand separately, know the music inside out, make it part of you, own it! Chethamís also offered the experience of an Alexander Technique lesson. The Alexander Technique is taught at most of the major music and drama colleges throughout the United Kingdom and also many in America as well. My lessons taught me a lot about posture and perception and how to use this in every day life, but particularly with playing the piano. I could tell you many things about Chethamís but essentially it has made me love music even more. I want to push the boundaries of what is possible with my music and in my life.
Murray McLachlanís approach to learning music is holistic: he says everything we 11 do is either contributing to our musical life or taking away from it. Everything from the food we eat, the exercise we do or donít do, the music we listen to and the experiences we have all contribute to our ability to play and perform music. I am already planning to attend again in 2015 and to take any interested students or teachers with me. If you have the opportunity to participate at Chethamís, even as an observer, you will find it a life-changing experience. I went to learn, and I was not disappointed! For more information, visit www.pianosummerschool.com