MUSIC LESSONS

Nelli performing AWhile I was a good pupil my real passion was music. Somehow my parents scraped together enough money to allow me to have after-school tuition and every week I would go to Music School 52 for lessons. Lots of lessons. I had two 45-minute lessons learning to play the piano, one lesson on solfeggio (the theory of music), one lesson on the history of music and one lesson of choir practice. A tough schedule but it was certainly effective.

This is me performing a piano duet by Beethoven in one of the school’s concerts when I was ten (I’m on the left). Good posture!

The piano syllabus concentrated on the music of Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and other classical composers. As I got older we moved on to Chopin and Skriabin and I suspect this is what whetted my appetite for jazz which I took further in my career as a jazz singer when I came to live in the UK (but more of that in a later blog).

One of the things that struck me when comparing piano teaching in the UK and piano teaching in Russia is how little attention is paid in the UK to posture technique. I was taught that for a pianist it is essential that the whole arm be relaxed from the shoulder to the hand so that the whole of the arm’s strength could be focused into the fingertips. When I began to study jazz seriously I was aghast at the technique of Thelonious Monk (boy, did I have some arguments with my band’s pianist about that!). If you want to see impeccable technique watch Gary Oldman playing Beethoven in ‘Immortal Beloved’: he must have had my teacher rapping his knuckles to get that good!

Karen and Ellie AMy progress was such that my parents bought me an upright piano to practice on much to the annoyance of our neighbours (the neighbour bashing the heel of a shoe on the waterpipe to stop Tonia practicing in ‘Ghost Love’ was what I endured). That black ‘Rodina’ piano has moved with me wherever I’ve gone – it’s had seven homes since Rod and I got together – and as it weighs a ton (literally) shifting it around has been a real labour of love. But my two daughters both learned to play on it so its work isn’t done yet. This is a photo of one of my daughters singing at a party Rod and I gave in the early 2000s. She is standing in front of the ‘Rodina’ being accompanied by our friend (and excellent pianist) Karen Chalmers.

Maybe, one day, I’ll have grandchildren tinkling away on it?

When I finished school my thoughts turned to what I would study at university and whether I could make it as a concert pianist but, again, that’s for another blog.

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