Updated: Mar 8
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:
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).
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.
It has a mixture of a great resources consisting of articles, video content on any possible piano topic, and many other worksheets written and contributed to by renowned British piano educators: firstly Graham Fitch himself, well- known British educator Lucinda Mackworth-Young, an holistic piano playing expert Professor Penelope Roskell and educator Sally Cathcart, who is involved in many aspects and levels of music education.
Melanie Spanswick, who is in demand as a writer, teacher and composer. Melanie frequently directs piano courses and workshops worldwide, adjudicates and judges piano competitions and festivals, and has written, amongst many other publications, a popular piano course called Play it again: PIANO, which is published by Schott Music. Apart from being fantastic at what she does, Melanie is also a personal friend with whom I have hosted a number of educational events. You will find boundless amounts of information there!
Medici TV: An incredible website where you can watch all sorts of concerts, operas, ballets, masterclasses and documentaries. With its astounding catalogue, you will not regret your decision, instead of travelling to a concert, staying indoors watching it! Hours and hours of the most incredible video recordings can inspire you for many years to come, so staying at home for a few weeks or months, will not seem so gloomy.
Apart from all the above measure, I would also encourage us to train our mind to think positively. Many situations in life have both negative and positive sides. Hence we know that concentrating on the positive is going to improve our well-being, and also our mood, productivity and learning. Thinking negatively (especially if we do not have control over a situation) encourages us to experience negative emotions, and leads to self-destruction and, therefore weaker health, at least on a mental level, and low productivity.
Hence in this situation, we know that Coronavirus is not good news, and any time spent reading about it is likely to generate negative emotions; we will be giving our energy to something sad, and, as our energy is limited, it means that we will not be giving it, or at least some part of it, towards something positive, as it will be occupied by these negative thoughts and emotions. My view on this is that, unless there is some useful update regarding this issue (about which it certainly is good to be informed), there is no point, in my opinion, to keep reading about it and continuously focussing our mental energy on it.
And remember, time saved on travel, and on many of our social activities, gives us more time for learning, listening to wonderful music, and self-improvement. Enjoy this time!
I am always happy to hear from you, so you are welcome to contact me with your thoughts and suggestions on the above!
PS. By the time I finished writing this article, all the above-mentioned sanitizer products have become ‘out of stock’, however I have spoken with a few shops, and they are hoping for the products to be back in stock soon.
Described by The Times as 'an outstanding musician', the Russian concert pianist and composer GéNIA is a founder of the Piano-Yoga® method, which promotes a contemporary holistic approach to piano education. Featured in many music publications ( 'It really does work!' by Piano Professional Magazine and 'The first entirely new piano technique to emerge in over 50 years’ by Yoga & Health Magazine, to quote just a few), GéNIA runs Piano-Yoga® Studio at Schott Music in Soho, Central London, where she offers 1-2-1 training. She also gives lectures, workshops, masterclasses and retreats word-wide. GéNIA’s Piano-Yoga® Book ‘Transform Your Hands’ is available on Amazon UK as well as from her piano-yoga website.
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