A New Year wish for musicians everywhere

Posted by Susan Tomes on 31 December 2018 under Inspirations, Musings  •  Leave a comment

The last live music I heard in 2018, outside my home, was some excellent jazz in a city bar (pianist Brian Kellock and bassist Kenny Ellis). The bar was buzzing with people enjoying long lunches and toasting the end of the year. Crockery clattered and the coffee machine hissed. The music was merrily applauded, but naturally not everyone was there for the music.

The musicians were on great form. It struck me that if I’d had some high-quality recording equipment about my person, I could have captured something that would please jazz fans anywhere.

In classical music, when you play in public you’re usually on a stage with a good piano and an audience trained to listen. Everything’s arranged so that music is paramount and the performer is seen and heard.

By contrast, for a serious musician it is no easy matter to play in a dark corner, keeping your spirits high while people troop in and out, letting in a blast of cold air with each swing of the door. Some pay attention, others sit with their back to you and tell jokes. The players could simply coast along, making musical small-talk.

But week after week these musicians, and others like them in other bars, create a bubble of concentration and give the music their all. I don’t mean they play loudly; I mean they think creatively and intensively. There’s a risk that their most glorious phrases may be lost in the hubbub, but they keep the faith. And with luck there are usually people in the crowd who are keenly aware of what’s going on and grateful that it is.

So here’s to all musicians who, no matter what the surroundings  are, find a way to keep making real music. Happy New Year.

Limelight review of Speaking the Piano

Posted by Susan Tomes on 21 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

Australia’s leading arts magazine, Limelight, carries a review of my book Speaking the Piano

‘Tomes offers warm, thoughtful insights into the art of teaching’

‘Speaking the Piano explores more than simply the nuts and bolts of mastering an instrument – it tries to harness the ineffable magic of making music, and the ways in which that magic can be transmitted or made accessible to others.

This is Tomes’s fifth book. Her previous publications all explored the life and work of a professional musician, but here she tackles the more egalitarian issues of teaching and learning, whether for an aspiring concert pianist or an amateur musician playing for the pleasure of it. … In warm, elegant prose, Tomes contemplates topics from how to inspire musical imagination to how to get a handle on the subtleties of different musical styles, taking a conversational tone with plenty of demonstrative anecdotes thrown in.

… Tomes’s wide-ranging book is thoughtfully written, with a lot of heart. It doesn’t provide definitive answers to many of the questions it (and indeed the art and craft of learning to play music) throws up – in many ways it’s more memoir than methodology. But what it does offer is plenty of food for thought, new ways in, and different angles born of experience and careful observation. A worthwhile read for music teachers, students and anyone looking for ways to enrich their own musical journey.’

Angus McPherson, Limelight magazine, Australia



Scotsman review of Bob’s book

Posted by Susan Tomes on 16 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

Rave review of Bob’s book today in The Scotsman. I can’t find it online yet, so here it is:

Stocking filler of musical scholarship is far more inspiring than a Google search

‘These days it’s as easy as pie, when listening to a random piece of music on the radio or attending a live performance, to look up background information online. Somewhere on Google there will be a dizzying array of programme-note-style analyses of even the most obscure examples of classical music repertoire. However, the accuracy and quality of that information is not a given.

Far better, then, to consult a publication like Robert Philip’s 900-page The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music, one of the most comprehensive, intellectually sound publications of its type I have seen for some time.

Philip, a former lecturer and BBC music broadcaster who lives in Edinburgh, has previous form as an assiduous researcher and writer. His earlier book, Early Recordings and Musical Style, is fascinating in its assessment of instrumental performance in early 20th century recordings and how important they are as documents that preserve the evolving performance styles of the early gramophone age.

In this new book, painstakingly prepared over a number of years, Philip turns his attention to more than 300 orchestral works dating from late 17th century Corelli and Vivaldi to 20th century Britten and Tippett. The scale is breathtaking, the choice both comprehensive and representative, but most importantly the scholarship is profound, perceptive and concise, with a directness of language that completely avoids pomposity. That applies to the obvious contenders for inclusion – the Mozarts and Beethovens of the musical firmament – and to the less well known, so the language explaining the ear-teasing complexities of Webern’s 12-note technique in his 1928 Variations, for instance, is every bit as friendly and familiar as that bringing fresh insight to the symphonies and concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Rachmaninov. Philip’s wide-ranging enthusiasms draw the reader in; they never frighten with pointless jargon.

This volume, then, is an invitation to every music aficionado to explore familiar and new territory with equal ease. Mainstream enthusiasts will relish Philip’s refreshing thoughts on the core orchestral classics, but they’ll also find such exciting new avenues to investigate as the multi-layered cacophony of Charles Ives’s Symphony no 4, the café culture influencing Darius Milhaud’s gauche delights, or the psychedelic excesses of Alexander Scriabin.

It’s not a book that demands to be read from cover to cover. Best to keep it handy and dip in whenever the fancy takes you. Set out alphabetically by composer, anything from Bach to Webern is easy to locate. If I didn’t already have a copy, I’d definitely put this treasure of a tome on my Christmas list.’

Ken Walton, The Scotsman (Scotland on Sunday), Arts and Books, 16.12.18

American Music Teacher review

Posted by Susan Tomes on 10 December 2018 under Musings  •  Leave a comment

My first American review of Speaking the Piano has just appeared in American Music Teacher (December 2018/Jan 2019). It’s a relief to me to have the approval of professional teachers, for as I explain in the book my own experience of teaching has evolved slowly and organically out of my activities as a performer. I haven’t been trained as a teacher, though in all honesty I feel I have received and witnessed so much good teaching over so many years that it functioned as a kind of training course in itself. I could even say that I’ve witnessed plenty of not-so-good, or at any rate non-recommendable styles of teaching which have taught me a lot as well!

Excerpt from Pamela Mullins’ review in American Music Teacher:

‘Speaking the Piano is the perfect book to read in preparation for another year of music lessons. Susan Tomes is an inspirational and transparent author who writes clearly and beautifully about her passions for music, education and lifelong learning. … Reading this book will be a catalyst for the generational transfer.’

San Francisco Chronicle recommends Robert’s book

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

This website continues to be a bulletin board for news about my husband Robert Philip’s book, ‘The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music‘.

[Yes, I know – the author could have his own website. But, having seen how much work it takes to feed a hungry website with titbits,  he would rather do something else. And he’d probably never have written a 1000-page book if he’d been attending to a website.]

The mighty San Franciso Chronicle has recommended Robert’s book as a holiday season gift:

The Classical Music Lovers’ Companion to Orchestral Music, by Robert Philip (Yale University Press; 949 pages; $50). 
‘A treasure for both neophytes and classical music aficionados, this mammoth compendium by Philip — a presenter on BBC Radio — promises to be an invaluable, get-passed-around-the-house resource. More than 400 works by 68 composers are highlighted, accompanied by short biographies of the composers.’
SFChronicle, Datebook, December 5, 2018

In other news: on Saturday 15 December, Robert will be talking about his book to Tom Service on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, broadcast at 12.15pm (midday) and available thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.