I spent my first seven years living in Amen Court in the City of London, 100 metres from the northwest corner of St Paul’s Cathedral. I still have vivid memories of this time including recollections of lavish children’s parties given by Dean Inge (the so-called Gloomy Dean) for the cathedral choristers, hearing the call of the cats’ meat man who fed the rat-catching office cats, and the daily round of the lamplighter who tolerated the ‘help’ of a seven year-old assistant.
Then my family moved to Yorkshire where I had my first piano lessons. My teacher was Isobel Purdon who I now realize was a first-rate (if eccentric) musician. She knitted throughout lessons but still managed to hear all my mistakes, and I remember seeing her on her way to the Stranraer ferry (probably 200 miles away) with the neck of her double bass sticking out of the roof of her Austin 7. At music festivals she would conduct the school orchestra with a knitting needle; very embarrassing for the young orchestra members but it didn’t stop us winning more often than not.
On leaving school I studied piano and violin at The Royal Academy of Music. It was war time and buzz bombs were falling regularly over central London. We often had to dive under tables as the air raid warnings sounded–one notable occasion was right in the middle of my first violin exam.
After graduating, I embarked on my teaching career. After a year teaching very young children I felt the lack of inspirational music for this age group and so began to write a piano method which was logical, well-paced, and at the same time attractive and enjoyable. Producing a simple tutor for young children that addresses all these needs is a challenge, but as I was already a teacher I had the opportunity to learn on the job, so to speak, and all the pieces were tried and tested. As a piano teacher, a mother of three, and the wife of a busy doctor, time was scarce and my first drafts were written sitting at the ironing-board. Those initial sketches grew into the Piano Time series, a method used by many thousands of teachers and pupils across the globe today.
Dinosaurs’ Bedtime March
At this point I would like to mention that however dedicated the piano teacher is, and however rewarding their teaching career, there will be times when it can seem like drudgery. The late Philip Cranmer, who had a long and distinguished career as a teacher, once put an interesting proposition. Are you a piano teacher and have you ever taught Für Elise? Here is Philip Cranmer’s proposition:
“Let there be a teacher who has taught the piano for 40 years on an average for 44 weeks in each year. And at any time during that period let there be one of that teacher’s pupils learning Für Elise, playing it through twice at each lesson. Then the teacher will have heard the E/Sharp seesaw 180,000 times. The actual figure arrived at by multiplying out is 179,520, but the extra 480 takes account of all the times the pupil has played one too many because he has miscounted the beat.”
Although there are moments of drudgery, the rewards of introducing young pupils to the infinite joy of music making must make this one of the most satisfying and fulfilling of all careers.