Sleeping in Temples (hardback edition)

Sleeping in Temples

Hardback edition, The Boydell Press, 2014, 263 pages, £19.99 RRP
ISBN-13: 9781843839750

In several decades as a distinguished classical pianist, Susan Tomes has found that there are some issues which never go away. Here she takes up various topics of perennial interest: how music awakens and even creates memories, what “interpretation” really means, what effect daily practice has on the character, whether playing from memory is a burden or a liberation, and why the piano is the right tool for the job. She pays homage to the influence of remarkable teachers, asks what it takes for long-term chamber groups to survive the strains of professional life, and explores the link between music and health. Once again, her aim is to provide insight into the motives and experiences of classical performers. In this fourth book she also describes some of the challenges facing classical musicians in today’s society, and considers why this kind of long-form music means so much to those who love it.

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Beyond the Notes by Susan Tomes

Beyond the Notes

Hardback edition, The Boydell Press, 2004, 210 pages
ISBN-10: 1843830450, ISBN-13: 978-184383045
Paperback edition, The Boydell Press, 2005, 216 pages, £14.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 1843831600, ISBN-13: 978-1843831600

‘Beyond the Notes’ is a collection of writings which started as my private diary about the life of the chamber group Domus in the early 1980s. Domus was named after the portable concert hall, in the form of a geodesic dome, which a group of young idealistic musicians took around and put up in places where it was not usually possible to hear concerts. For several years we travelled with our dome to fields, hilltops, parks and city squares in Europe and Australia. Later we moved into the traditional concert hall, where we continued to develop our thoughts and expertise about the chamber music we loved. Part One of the book gives an insight into our difficulties and achievements when traveling with our dome. Part Two is a collection of my later essays about other aspects of performing and preparing for concerts.

A Musician's Alphabet by Susan Tomes

A Musician’s Alphabet

Hardback edition, Faber and Faber 2006, 149 pages, £12.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 0571228836, ISBN-13: 978-057122883

‘A Musician’s Alphabet’ is a series of 26 little meditations about performing. From ‘A is for Audience’ through ‘G is for Grace’, ‘J is for Job – not a proper’ and ‘U is for Unhelpful Thoughts’ to ‘Z is for Zen’, it introduces the arts-loving reader to some of the topics that preoccupy a performing musician. The book was inspired by some of the questions that people asked me after hearing concerts. They made me realize that the working life of a classical musician is a slightly closed book, even to concert-goers, and I wanted to try and throw some light on it.

Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook

Chosen by ‘Chopin’ magazine in Japan as one of the five best books of 2012 (in the translation by Noriko Ogawa)

Hardback edition, Boydell Press 2010, 276 pages, £19.99 RRP
ISBN-10: 1843835576, ISBN-13: 978-1843835578

‘Out of Silence’ is my diary of a year as a performer. It aims to show something of how everyday life provides ideas for the task of understanding music, and vice versa. You can read excerpts, listen to a sound clip of me playing the piano, look at pictures, connect to social networks, and order the book via this widget:


Excerpts from the book were published in the Guardian on Sat 20 March 2010.

Out of Silence Japanese editionJapanese Edition of ‘Out of Silence’

‘Out of Silence’ was translated into Japanese in 2012 by the distinguished pianist Noriko Ogawa and is published by Shunju-sha. It was chosen by ‘Chopin’ magazine as one of the five best books of 2012.





Speaking the Piano – Reflections on Learning and Teaching

Published: June 2018
277 pages, 21.6×13.8 cm, ISBN: 9781783273256
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press

In Speaking the Piano, renowned pianist Susan Tomes turns her attention to teaching and learning. Teaching music encompasses everything from putting a drum in a child’s hands to helping an accomplished musician unlock the meaning and spirit of the classics. At every stage, some fundamental issues keep surfacing. In this wide-ranging book, Susan Tomes reflects on how her own experience as a learner, in different genres from classical to jazz, has influenced her approach to teaching. She tells us how her performing career has given her insight into what young performers need to know, and how discussions with students have fed into her own practice. She describes the brilliant and intriguing teachers whose masterclasses opened her ears to the many ways in which music can be brought alive and communicated. This is a book to appeal to a wide range of readers – pianists of every level from beginner to professional, piano teachers, musicians of all kinds, and the broader community of music-lovers. In a passionate contribution to the ongoing debate about the place of music in education, Susan Tomes argues that this most inspiring of arts can play a unique role in personal development.

‘This is a lovely, wise, elegantly written book, filled with tips and anecdotes which could be helpful and encouraging for any pianist, whether a beginner or a professional. Above all it is a book in which one senses constantly the deep love the author has for music itself, for its ability to inspire, touch and, indeed, change lives.’ STEPHEN HOUGH

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The Piano – A History in 100 Pieces

Published in July 2021 by Yale University Press

A personal selection of a hundred influential, important, popular and cherished pieces which illustrate a timeline of piano music from across 200+ years.

‘A fascinating survey … and what an interesting, entertaining and enthusiastic guide she is ….wonderfully eloquent and descriptive writing. A book that should appear on every pianophile’s wishlist.’ Pianist, July 2021


The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces was a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and The Spectator, winner of a Presto Music Award for book of the year, a Book of 2021 in The Scotsman, and a ‘Notable Book of 2021’ as chosen by the Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago


Books to which I’ve contributed:

The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music, Cambridge University Press 2009 (author of Personal Take:  ‘Learning to live with recording’): ISBN 978-0-521-86582-1 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-521-68461-3 (paperback)

Life in the Real World: how to make music graduates employable, edited by Dawn Bennett, with a foreword by Susan Tomes, published by The Arts in Society, Australia, 2013

Other writings

Archives of articles by Susan Tomes for The Guardian:

My reviews of other authors’ books:

Other publications for which I’ve written articles include:

  • Financial Times Arts page
  • Financial Times Economics page
  • Financial Times Weekend section
  • Financial Times Travel section
  • BBC Music Magazine
  • Gramophone Magazine
  • Piano Magazine
  • Pianist Magazine
  • CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine)
  • Cambridge (the magazine of the Cambridge Society)
  • The Scotsman