New Year’s resolution

1st January 2021 | Musings | 7 comments

I was complaining to a fellow musician recently about how hard it is to make myself practise the piano every day, even though there are no concerts to prepare for.

Until the recent Tier 4 lockdowns, I had been hoping that concerts for live audiences could resume around Easter 2021, when most people should have been vaccinated. But the ‘new variant’ of the virus, plus the complexity of rolling out the vaccine, has blurred the focus on Easter as a return to normality. I was rather shocked when a couple of friends with insider knowledge of the NHS suggested I shouldn’t pin my hopes on those summer festivals happening in person. I confess I had, indeed, been pinning my hopes on that.

My musician friend said that, as there are no immediate prospects of live performance, we might as well approach our daily practice in a different way – not as the sprint towards a particular concert, but as an opportunity to re-engage with the learning process itself.

I suppose there was actually a long period in my life when I practised the piano every day without knowing when the next concert would be, or indeed whether there would ever be a concert at all. That period was my childhood, when little concert opportunities arose maybe once or twice a year. The scarcity of concerts didn’t deter me from practising – in fact I had hardly conceived of a time when practice would be directed at a particular performance. I was content just to learn more pieces and get better at playing the piano.

Later, when I had turned professional, the need to be in good form with a particular programme on a certain date became the driving force of my practising. There’s always an element of learning, of course, but the imminence of a concert was the paramount driver. But this cannot be the main reason to practice at the moment.  My diary is currently empty, or at any rate consists of nothing more than light pencillings decorated with question marks.

In the quiet months to come it would be good to re-engage with the spirit of learning as I used to when I was a child – travelling hopefully, rather than experiencing my musical life as a series of arrivals. This at any rate is my new year’s resolution.

Wishing everyone a good start to the New Year – surely there is light at the end of the tunnel.


  1. Gordon Lawrie

    I think your NHS friend might either be a little cyncical, or else (wisely) trying to get everyone to be patient. It’s logical to expect infection rates to fall quite quickly once a significant body (several million) of the population has been vaccinated.

    Regarding your practice, I’d have thought that this would be a good time for a musician at any level to head for new horizons. You said you’d started to explore jazz, for instance: announce a jazz online concert on your website for a given date and that would force you into some tructured practice. Or something slightly off the wall, like Keith Emerson’s Piano Concerto. And I have a request/question – when was the last time you played the Goldberg Variations?

    Oddly enough, I received a newsletter from Ralph McTell yesterday saying that guitarists’ fingertips go soft if they don’t have concerts to rehearse for. At least playing the piano won’t be painful.

    All the best for 2021, by the way.

  2. Gordon Lawrie

    …or you could do some composing, or write fiction for a change, or even combine the two:


    In COVID-19, Simon saw opportunity: master Chopin’s D flat “Minute” Waltz.

    Even for concert pianists, the Minute Waltz requires nearly two minutes’ performance. No virtuoso, Simon’s record was over five. Now, trapped in lockdown, he set about practising non-stop each day from morning till night.

    Two weeks later, he could play the entire piece in under four minutes; by week six, in just three. During week twelve, Simon smashed the two minute barrier. Then… silence.

    Days later, police discovered Simon’s decaying body slumped over the keys. No one had noticed: his neighbours had long ago self-isolated from his piano playing.

    (You provide the sound track) 🙂

    • Susan Tomes

      These are interesting ideas, Gordon – though perhaps that short story should be written by you!

  3. Guy Johnston

    Beautiful- thank you for sharing, Susan, and Happy New Year to you too!
    All best wishes from near one of your concert spots in Cerne Abbas,

  4. Susan Tomes

    Thank you Guy. Ah, Cerne Abbas – such a favourite concert spot! Still hoping that some sort of music festival might be possible there this summer, but as time goes by it seems less and less likely.

  5. James

    Dear Susan, if I were you I’d give practicing the piano a 6 month hiatus and use my energies to campaigning for a Scottish independence!!

  6. Jen Gilchrist

    I have been thinking about this since you posted it, and was recently reminded by my daughter of something my father used to say which was that if something was worth doing it was worth doing badly. His example for this was that as a music lover he knew he was not good at the cello but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t practice it, as in his eyes music was the greatest gift of all.

    I think the reason for practising the piano, ( or the spoons) or anything else you make a living from is always going to be slightly different to the reason you practice as an amateur. However the love of music is far wider than the people who can perform it exquisitely, as I know you can.

    I have practised regularly and systematically throughout 2020. I am no longer making my living through music but it grounds me in the day. I feel satisfaction when I master a new piece, and if I was called upon to play to anyone else I have a repertoire at my fingertips.

    Because it was so sad not being able to sing carols ( or anything else) during Advent and Christmas I took my harp out one day and played carols in the park with my daughter. We did not advertise but seized the moment of a sunny, not too bitterly cold afternoon and just did it. People walked past us, some stopped, some applauded but no- one ‘ mingled’ until someone approached us with tears in their eyes and begged us to come to play for a neighbour in their block on the following Saturday when they met up in their garden for a socially distanced drink as she had been really miserable the previous Saturday, and the thing she had missed most was live music and the ability to go to concerts.

    There was nothing else in the calendar(!) so we agreed, and spent half an hour playing to an audience we could not see because it was so dark and we were being warmed by a chiminea. But we could hear the applause, and the gratitude of the said neighbours, and it was a really lovely experience.

    Having seen you are now playing the spoons on the doorstep, I am sure opportunities will come your way to give great pleasure to passing strangers, even if it does not ultimately put food on the table. Music is, after all the greatest gift.


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