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Not only does Susan Tomes have a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician, she also teaches and finds time to write in an engaging way about music and performance. In Speaking the Piano, her fifth book, she focuses on teaching and learning, sharing insights from her own life as a musician and teacher and using examples from the Piano Club, a group she set up for amateur pianists, to illustrate certain points. Her forays into the different genres of jazz and flamenco were also fascinating. She even learnt ‘palmas’, the sophisticated percussive clapping for flamenco dancing.

Indeed, Tomes’ curiosity leads her to some fascinating insights, especially the role of the imagination in music. She tells the story of a Piano Club member who, impressed by Daniil Trifonov, managed to navigate a tricky passage with ease after he was prompted by Tomes to imagine how the young Russian pianist would play it. Indeed, she recommends imagining a musical result as an authentic form of practice. ‘I wish more people would use this method of practising … the musical equivalent of using “clean energy”.’ And she also quotes Liszt on the subject: ‘Think ten times and play only once.’

This is one of the many ‘tricks’ Tomes uses with her pupils to help transform their playing, underlining the magic of music and just how elusive some of its elements are. She also delves into the physical demands of piano playing, such as how to sit, breathe and deal with nerves. She wrestles with how far musicians should make themselves ‘disappear’ from the process of conveying the intentions of the composers to an audience.

Some of the most interesting and self-deprecating passages in the book relate to the golden nuggets of insights Tomes gains from the mainly male-dominated, gladiatorial arena of the masterclass. While some of the experiences were mixed, it was the great Hungarian pianist and teacher György Sebők, whose observations inspired Tomes – especially this piece of advice: ‘When you are playing an instrument, you must make sure that the music is active. Try to notice when it has become extinct.’

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