I stopped having piano lessons at home a year ago, once Covid got into its stride. Online music tutoring didn’t appeal to me but now that Josh and I have had both our vaccines it seems safe enough to have a personal tutor again. The lively young Greek woman recommended by the Fireworks Music School is a Music Therapist and therefore fully vaccinated. I specified a tutor who was not only vaccinated but willing – like me – to wear a mask indoors.
I was eight years old and evacuated to a children’s hostel in Dawlish, South Devon, when I started to learn the piano with Mr Lawson, a brilliant teacher who was the organist at the local church. He instilled in me a love of music that has stayed with me for the 80-odd years since.
When I came back to London in 1942, I had lessons at Toynbee Hall and then with Miss Singer at my school, Central Foundation School for Girls in Spital Square. I gave up the piano while studying Dentistry and then Medicine, but started playing again when our four children were old enough to play a musical instrument. Our ensemble consisted of two guitarists, a clarinettist, a flautist and me playing the piano with one or two of them singing along.
Once they got involved in O and A levels and I went back to Medicine and became a Pathologist, I gave up playing again and we sold the piano.
On my retirement age 60, after a tussle with Breast Cancer, I started going to classes at CityLit College. I’d lost some of my manual dexterity but was delighted to find I was still able to sight read with ease. For various reasons I later changed to having private lessons at home and continued until Covid.
I was tempted to call this post ‘Tinkling on the Ivories’, but then thought about how many expressions, that were in common usage when I was a child in the 1930s, are now clearly racist, sexist and/or downright disgusting. To think that all those magnificent animals were slaughtered for tusks to be made into white piano keys so that all those Victorians could have pianos in their parlours!
My tutor suggested that I start with Mozart’s variations on the nursery rhyme Ah! Dirai-je vous maman – a lovely piece with enough different moods and techniques for me not to need Czerny’s exercises as well.
If you have a library card – certainly in Westminster – you can access Naxos and listen to a variety of interpretations by virtuosos.
Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free.
‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.
Woman in a White Coat is an enticing mix of the personal and professional. Social and cultural history merge in a lively, pre-war East End of London, populated by a constant stream of colourful characters. Following evacuation and the end of war, Abby embarked on her academic career, and a post war struggle to be recognised in a profession with a limited quota for women. And no quota at all when the woman becomes a mother of four children.
In its poignant story telling of success and failure, love and loss, ambition and defeat, this book holds the reader’s attention from the first page in a perceptive and heartfelt mix of anecdotes about the characters, patients, autopsies, family and colleagues who have populated a long and uncommon life.