How to cope with the new epidemic?

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

Following numerous distraught conversations with my colleagues, students and friends about this rather sad issue, the new virus, here are my thoughts on how we can cope with this latest world-tragedy and try to ‘make lemonade out of lemons’.

The world is shuttered right now, due to the exponential spread of the Coronavirus.

We all feel physiological pressure, whilst trying to continue living our lives in a healthy and happy manner.

For pianists, there is additional stress, as apart from normal activities, like travelling on public transport and going out to work and on social engagements, we play pianos. This means that we touch instruments which have previously been touched by others, and will be touched again afterwards, too. Hence we should be even more mindful!

What do I suggest?

Apart from washing your hands just before you play (with warm water and soup, for minimum of 20 seconds), I also use a hand sanitiser just before I touch the keys.

I would also use this sanitiser, to spray small quantities onto a thin tissue, and then apply it to every piano key. It is important to make sure that the liquid from the spray does not leak down into the key-bed, as it can damage the instrument. All you need to is to make sure that the surface of every key is cleaned.

Personally I would also go as far as to apply it to the area around the keyboard and to the music stand, as people use pencils and pens which they pick up and then replace on either side of the keyboard, and on the music desk. However, for this, you possibly need the permission of the piano owner, to make sure that the product which you are using is not going to damage the instrument.

As I live in the UK, I found two amazing products:

Dr. Bronner's Organic Hand Sanitizer, Lavender 60ml

This product not only sanitizes your hands, but gives you an immediate sense of calm and relaxation, as it has a strong lavender smell. These days, before each session, I offer it to students and masterclasses participants, as it immediately makes them feel more relaxed and receptive (as well as sanitising the hands).

Bentley Organic Moisturising Hand Sanitizer 50ml

This product does not have any smell and is alcohol free, so will suit everyone who does not like the smell of lavender! It also has an excellent quality, as it moisturises the skin almost as well a hand cream, without leaving the hands greasy, which is so important for pianists, as any extra layer of oil on the skin can lead to slipping, and therefore many wrong notes!

What else can we do?

As many of my students come to London from all over the world especially for their lessons, with the current spread of the virus and resulting fears, many travel plans have been affected as people prefer to spend more time staying indoors or, at least, avoiding public events, such as concerts and masterclasses.

What we found useful in these situations, instead of losing time, is to use it to our advantage. More and more, I now give 1 - 2 - 1 lessons via FaceTime and Skype, as well as in small group classes via our website.

The benefits of working online is that every technical matter, from the techniques of trills, to the performance of octaves and chords, can be assessed, explained and viewed even more effectively, as we use the camera to bring the image very close to our hands (or even to a specific finger). This allows us to demonstrate techniques in even more microscopic detail than in 1 - 2 - 1 settings.

Apart from that, the time we save on travel can be used either for more practice (and at least here, we pianists, have an advantage, compared to string or wind players, who often work with orchestras and ensembles and cannot self-isolate for long periods of time).

We can also use this time to extend our piano playing knowledge, by using excellent online educational resources.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Pianist Magazine: Offering all sorts of resources for pianists, from piano lessons from the top experts, to useful articles which contain advice, interviews, stories and reviews, as well as advice on buying a Steinway piano, if you fancy one! The whole world of piano, all in one!

Tonebase: This looks like a very good resource for learning piano pieces from the recognised piano repertoire (the pieces include works by Chopin: Nocturne Op.27 no.2, Schumann: Arabesque in C, and Rachmaninoff: C sharp minor prelude, to name just a few) offered by renowned artists. The list includes such famous pedagogues as professors Arie Vardi and Jerome Loventhal, as well as a younger generation of artists like Simone Dinnerstein and Louis Schwizgebel.

Music Gurus: Partnered with The Masterclass Media Foundation Archives, Music Gurus bring you classical & chamber music masterclasses from modern maestros such as Steven Kovacevich, Andras Schiff, Maxim Vengerov, Chenn Reiss, Rachel Podger, Frank Helmerson, Kurt Masur or even Emmanuel Pahud.