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Are you able to help?

Click on this image to download the poster

Just back from a pleasant afternoon playing for a local club where many members have (or know a family member who has) a visual impairment. I was telling them about the free on-line music lessons we now offer for those who want to learn to play keyboard, especially designed for those who are losing or have lost their sight. One of the audience suggested I produce some posters about it, and she would take them to the local blind clubs, doctors surgeries, libraries and so on. What a great idea!

These lessons grew out of a series of courses Tony and I ran with the RNIB, when we were teaching people who had just lost their sight to take up the wonderful new hobby of keyboard playing. When the RNIB were financially forced to close their hotels, the courses had to end. We decided to turn the idea into a series of CDs under the title "A Keyboard at your Fingertips". Now modern technology means we can distribute the courses more widely by these free on-line lessons, which can be used at the computer, downloaded to mp3 players or burned to CDs for convenience.

I funded the project by giving mini concerts and selling CDs to local groups such as WIs, Probus Clubs etc. A lot of people have made it possible by their kindness and generosiity. Would you be able to help by printing off a poster or two and spreading the word in your area? It will be wonderful if you can. If you're using a PC, please right-click on the picture of the poster above, select "save picture as" and store it in your chosen location on your computer, ready to print off. If you're using another device, I'm not so sure what you do, but I can try to find out if you're stuck! Thank you.

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House concerts

Our house

This doesn't look much like a concert hall, does it? That's because it's the front of our house. And last week it was the venue for our first experimental house concert.  House Concerts have been extremely popular in America for some time now. But they are something of a rarity in the UK. Audience numbers have been dropping world-wide across most types of music in recent years, for reasons which are not clearly apparent. It may be the availability of home entertainment, it may be a reluctance to go out in the dark, it may be the expense, it may be people’s busy life styles. But one sector which is thriving is the US House Concert.

I invited 14 friends to come and listen to me play to help with my research into whether House Concerts would work equally well here, and especially whether they may help the little-known orchestral keyboard concert scene, as well as other small ensembles and soloists. So how do House Concerts work?

Rather than performing in a concert hall to a large audience (with all the organisation, publicity, red tape and travel that involves), the musicians perform in a private house.  The home owner(s) host the concert, inviting friends (who can in turn invite their friends), until all seats are filled – usually between 15 and 20, but more if space allows. Invites are handed out personally by the homeowner, with email and/or phone number for reserving seats. This avoids unexpected folk turning up. The home owner provides a space for the musicians to perform, as many chairs as possible, and some light refreshments. Visitors are encouraged, where necessary, to bring a small folding chair or (for the nimble) a cushion. Each visitor is invited to donate for the evening, towards the cost of the musicians and the refreshments. The concert is usually of two 45-minute halves with 30 minutes for refreshment and socialising at half time. The atmosphere at these events is warm, intimate and relaxing. They require minimal preparation, and work well for all concerned. In an age when large events are proving problematic, they may well be the way ahead.

What does the home owner get from the experience? Well, it’s a great way to host a gathering without too much organisation. They will enjoy the music along with their guests. And the musicians often give one of their albums as a thank you. At the same time, the hosts will be supporting performers in what is currently a difficult climate for the arts.

So what do you think? Have you ever been to one? Would you fancy attending one or even hosting an evening for your friends to come and listen to some local musicians? How much would you expect to pay for an evening like this? Do let me know! And next time I shall let you know what our guests put on their anonymous questionnaires at the end of the evening!

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Daytime concerts?

Ancient and Modern: Compton meets Yamaha

Yesterday I was playing in East Devon. The organ club there have, for the winter season, held their meetings during the afternoon rather than the cold dark evenings. I asked if it had affected their attendance one way or another, and the answer was 'no'. The artists must have enjoyed it though, being able to play a concert and get home again on the same day. We made the round trip in 13 hours, and had the pleasure of sleeping in our own house for a change.

Another music club I have been talking with has been running additional teatime concerts (complete with naughty but nice cakes). They tell me these food-centred events have attracted larger audiences, and quite a lot of new faces. Do you have a view on the best time of day for a concert? And do you think having food combined with music makes a big difference? Please do use the contact link on this site to share your opinions.

Today's photo shows the 'jelly mould' illuminated sides from an old Compton organ (probably 70+ years old) which the East Devon club sandwiched round my instrument (just 6 months old). The words 'Ancient & Modern' spring to mind. It was a very colourful addition to my usual stage set-up!

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Weedon Music is launched!

Welcome to my first article since the launch of Weedon Music.

What’s on the site so far?

As a musician, I’m obviously including two things which are the bread and butter of my working life – concerts and recordings.

I’m delighted to have returned to performing after a long break, following my stupid accident (yep, I got whiplash after I ran into the back of a car – not whilst driving my car, but on my two feet whilst practising for a quarter marathon!) I already have 26 engagements for the coming year. You can see the list if you click here. I really hope you will be able to get along to one which is near you – it would be lovely to see you.

And what do performing musicians mention at their concerts as the interval draws near? Why, their recordings of course. These are their icing on the cake, the bit that fills the tank for those long trips to and from the venues. But we also hope they serve as a happy reminder of a concert you’ve enjoyed. And now you can download mine on your computer in addition to the tried and tested mail order. To coincide with the launch of this site, I have issued my new album, Walking Back to Happiness! Just click here to listen to the samples. If you’ve never done this before and need a bit of help, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

          

Are lessons as good as they were?

So, I'm showing my age here, but when I sat for my music 'O' level I felt I had really learned something in the previous two years. I had a good working knowledge of music theory, a rounded idea of music history (at least for the prescribed period anyway), and a love of the pieces we had been asked to study - Verdi's Requiem, Corelli's Christmas Concerto and some of the piano works of John Ireland. We weren't asked to perform or compose anything, which was a pity, but if that had been a requirement I think we'd have possessed the basic tool kit to do it.

My pupils who are studying for GCSE music seem to have a potentially more exciting syllabus, with far-reaching aims (including that performance and composition I lacked). But they tell me that they are in a fog about (a) what is required of them, (b) when it's required by and (c) how they are meant to achieve it. The continuous assessment element of the course means that they are taken by surprise when 'deadlines' are announced, often just a few hours away. And although they are handed factsheets about music theory it seems they have not actually heard any of these theoretical points as sound. How can you understand a rhythm if no-one has ever played it to you? How can you understand the pitching of notes on the stave if you've never been shown how to sing it? How can you perform when the school has no facilities for instrumental teaching? And how can you compose when the only tool you are given is a baffling and expensive computer programme and no actual coaching?

I'd love to hear from you about your experiences. If you're a teacher or student, can you reveal to me the answers to my worries?

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