New Year greetings

31st December 2011 | Inspirations, Musings | 9 comments

On the last day of the year, I find myself pondering the things that gave me most satisfaction during 2011. To my surprise, I realise that some of my happiest working moments were to do with teaching masterclasses. I say ‘to my surprise’ because I fended off teaching for a long while, thinking it was not for me. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I didn’t believe I could ever live up to some of the examples I had when I was a student myself. In particular, the piano guru György Sebök set a standard which terrified me for ages afterwards. (There are some wonderful YouTube clips of Sebök teaching, which show his skill with words.) Whenever I was asked to teach, I always thought, ‘What’s the point? He could say it so much better.’

Gradually, however, as I acquired more and more performing experience, there came a point when I couldn’t help realising that I did actually know a lot more about certain pieces than my students did. I also discovered how to put certain things into words, or more to the point, I gained the confidence to say them. I’m still inspired by  Sebök’s dazzling powers of observation, but in the meantime I’ve also found that young musicians’ hunger for new ideas can be inspiring in itself.

So I’d like to thank everyone who took the trouble to get in touch over Christmas and say that they’d enjoyed working with me. I enjoyed it too. A very Happy New Year!


  1. James

    A Happy New Year to you too!
    I hope you’re enjoying a lovely holiday.
    I’m on holiday at the moment too and there is a lovely old grand piano in my hotel. I happened to have some of my music with me and was playing the beautiful Mozart adagio in b minor today, and I noticed that both halves are marked with repeats. I’ve been wondering all day, do you play the repeats in this piece? The first half seems to need repetition, it makes the second half more heartbreaking! But it also makes the piece very long, especially if both repeats are observed. Lovely for a performer, but what about for an audience?!

  2. Susan Tomes

    James, I agree with you about those repeats. It’s very rare that I can see the point of the second repeat in any piece where the whole development has been worked through, and the resolution found. I think there’s some evidence that certain composers felt the repeats were only necessary until people got to know ‘how the music went’. I don’t know about Mozart in this respect, but I feel pretty sure he wouldn’t have had hard and fast rules about repeats and when to observe them. You must be in a nice hotel if you can peacefully play the Adagio in B minor on a grand piano!

  3. violinist

    So glad to see your celebration of the satisfactions of teaching. As someone who teaches at a women’s college associated with a large (formerly all-male) institution, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the different (often gendered) models of teaching. Your earlier post about teachers made me (and other readers of your blog) want to put in a word for the Dorothy Delay model, which still deserves a pedestal, but not the kind that discourages others from feeling up to the Herculean challenges. There are many ways to be a great, even immortal (!) teacher. We’re willing to bet that you’ve achieved that status. So three new year cheers for your new year reflections!

  4. Susan Tomes

    Thank you, ‘violinist’, for your lovely comments. You’re right about the gendered models of teaching! I wish I knew what you meant about Dorothy Delay, but apart from knowing her name as a much-loved teacher, I know very little about her methods. I imagine she was of the ‘kind and gentle’ school?

  5. James

    Well, it’s a hidden gem of a hotel actually- The ‘Windsor Palace Hotel’ in Alexandria, Egypt. It probably hasn’t changed much since 1950, certainly the breakfast silver is all the same because nobody makes cutlery that heavy these days! I feel like King Farouk in my gilt room and it’s got a gorgeous feeling of timelessness! What’s more, it isn’t at all expensive compared to hotels in Europe.
    I discovered the beautiful Alexandria Opera House today, it’s like going back in time!

  6. Susan Tomes

    How fascinating to hear about the Windsor Palace Hotel, James! I am currently reading Robert Byron’s wonderful travel diary, ‘The Road to Oxiana’, and your comments reminded me of some of his.

  7. James

    Back home again now! Coincidentally, I was listening to your recording of the first movement of Mendelssohn’s d minor trio as I read your comment. I find it amazing that someone can play with such ruthless, searing intensity and yet write such lovely things! Not quite Robert Byron I fear, but there is definitely something about North Africa which makes one want to be creative! Enjoy ‘The Road to Oxiana’!

  8. Rob4

    There’s something about being taught an instrument that often inspires the pupil to believe they have some kind of a ‘bond’ with the teacher. Realising that, in fact, from the teacher’s perspective you are just another pupil, is nothing short of being told Father Christmas doesn’t exist!

    • Susan Tomes

      I don’t agree, Rob, that from the teacher’s perspective anyone is ‘just another pupil’. I think pupils are quite right to feel that they have some sort of a bond with the teacher. That’s my perspective, anyway.


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