Ian Hiscock writes:
I am so grateful to my mother wanting me to have piano lessons and being prepared each week to take me across to the neighbouring village for lessons. Several years later I was grateful for my father’s patience in taking me in the other direction in order to practise the organ in Winkleigh Church, North Devon. Their support of my obsession with music started a lifetime’s enjoyment of teaching, playing and conducting.
I have had the good fortune to be taught by several very inspirational teachers. No one person has all the answers and you gain different insights depending on the enthusiasms and expertise of the teacher. When I was at Shebbear College in North Devon I was taught both Piano and Organ by Michael Richardson and I am profoundly grateful to him for the great love of music he inspired in me and gave me the grounding I needed to take my studies in Music further at University. I worked on piano diplomas with Stella Searson and John Railton and greatly developed my keyboard technique and intellectual understanding of the pieces that I was playing. At university I studied organ with Douglas Hawkridge and David Sanger, and harpsichord with Jane Clarke. Their invaluable lessons made me consider the importance of understanding how to practise effectively and economically as well as initiating my love of Baroque music and historical performance styles. Learning other instruments also provides more insight into how to interpret a piece of music. I now have more joy of controlling the different lines of music in a piece by Byrd because I have played one of the lines in a recorder group. I thought it was difficult enough trying to get my line correct alongside three other players. You enter a different world of excitement and challenge when you need to make musical sense of them all on a keyboard.
I have taught piano through to diploma level as well as recorder and singing on a more modest level. I believe it is always important to enable students and to encourage an enjoyment from their own technical development and what it enables them to play. Good control of the hand and fingers is important, so we work with a range of exercises to develop muscle tone and to help the brain understand the patterns of small movements. Another aspect of my approach is to build up a mental map of ‘Keyboard Geography’: in other words knowing how far to reach to find the notes on the keyboard. One of my frequent sayings is ‘The piano isn’t going to move, so you don’t have to keep looking at it.’ I am waiting for the disaster when the instrument does move – then I’ll get ‘I told you so’ from some delighted student.
Part of my role as a music teacher has been to support students preparing for grade exams. This has given me a wonderfully varied diet of accompanying different instruments from Grade 1 through to Grade 8. I am keen to give students support but encourage confidence in them so that there is a security in performance, believing that the role of the teacher is to enable the student rather than make them dependent on you. This involvement with instrumental exams has also meant that I have frequently supported students through the aural tests. It’s amazing the number of times I have heard ‘Sir, the aural tests always go wrong, can you help?’ – and actually aural skills are no mystery and completely teachable.
Being an enthusiastic teacher I am also an enthusiastic learner and just find that learning goes on throughout life and is exciting. They have been odd moments where an examiner has seen the same two people walk into the room but then found the grade 6 oboe candidate sitting down and accompanying me for a recorder exam. Similarly students at school have been used to me sitting A level History or GCSE French or Italian alongside them. Although my motivation for learning new things is the excitement of acquiring a new skill or insight, it also is a constant reminder to me about how people learn and what it means to be on the ‘receiving end’ of teaching.
Grantham Piano Services – piano showroom (including digital pianos), piano restoration and piano tuning, based in Yelverton
Music Unlimited – digital organ and electronic keyboard showroom in Exeter
Colin Booth – harpsichordist, harpsichord maker and harpsichord hire