More About Me

So who am I? You probably think I’m a highly trained musician. But I’m not at all. My only music qualification is Grade 3—and that’s just in music theory! I have no music degree and no qualification for playing the piano. I didn’t even do music at secondary school. The only music education I have had is three years of piano lessons as a child—and that’s it!

So what’s my story then? What am I doing playing the piano for a school and teaching kids about music?

Here goes. I was born in New Zealand. When I was just six, my father started taking me to classical music concerts. If this is unusual in the UK, it was even more unusual in New Zealand. But I sat there without saying a word. I thought it was so exciting! Unfortunately my father stopped going to concerts a couple of years later, so I stopped as well.

I began to learn the piano when I was nine. To tell the truth, I didn’t like it that much. It was difficult and I didn’t want to practice. I could never play a piece without mistakes. And as for rhythm… I just couldn’t get it. So I gave up after only two years of lessons and a Grade 3 theory exam.

A Piano Accordian

But I didn’t give up playing the piano completely. I continued to play on and off as I felt like it.

Then when I was 15, something happened. A friend of mine played one of my favourite pieces of music at the time (on a piano accordion, not a piano!—see the picture for an example). It was a piece made famous by Richard Clayderman called Ballad pour Adeline. When I saw my friend play this piece. I was excited. I can play that too, I thought—with a little bit of work. So I practiced and practiced (and my family got sick of hearing the piece). But I got there in the end! I could finally play something that sounded really good.

There was no turning back. I soon took up piano lessons again. And my teacher got me playing Beethoven piano sonatas straight away, starting with number 5. Here is a video of the beginning of this piece played by someone about the same age as I was:

First movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5

That was certainly a step up for me! I wasn’t even sure I liked the music at first (I now love it!).

But it was a boost of confidence. I knew then that I could play anything if I really wanted to. So I played and played and played. Sometimes I drove my family up the wall, but I couldn’t stop. I still couldn’t stick at lessons though. It all seemed like too much hard work to play like the teacher wanted me to. So I gave up after only a year.

Actually what happened was that school work got in the way. I was growing up and had to do big and serious exams. I decided they were more important. Music was just a hobby…

So I worked hard at school. All went well. So I went on to study at the University of Auckland (in New Zealand). I did a four-year degree in mathematics. All went well there too. When I finished this I was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge, U.K. By the way, one of the main reasons I chose to go to Cambridge was because of all the wonderful music there!

In 1989 I left my home and travelled all the way round the world to what seemed like a very strange country. Again I worked hard at Cambridge. I got my PhD (that’s where the ‘Dr’ comes from!) and became a college fellow (don) for three years. (If you’ve seen Harry Potter films, I was like one of the teachers at Hogwarts—I wore a funny gown and sat on a special table for dinner.) After this I became a lecturer in mathematics at a university in Leicestershire.

All this time I never stopped playing the piano. When I arrived in Cambridge I hired a piano straight-away and had it delivered to my college room. This was on the second floor up a narrow staircase. It was fun getting the piano up there! I kept this same piano the whole time I was in Cambridge. When I moved to Leicestershire it was time to make a life-long dream come true. I bought a grand piano (see the picture on the side)! It cost a lot of money and takes up a lot of space, but it was worth it.

So there I was. I had my grand piano and I had my job that I had worked hard for. But then something happened. I became very ill (M.E. if you want to know). In the end I had to leave work. I wasn’t well and I wasn’t happy. It’s not much fun being ill is it?

But do you know what helped me feel better? It wasn’t all the things I had learnt at university and worked hard for. It was my hobby—MUSIC!!! I was in great need of comfort, and it was music that gave that comfort. Music came to the rescue! (See the Why is Music Important? page to find out more about how and why music often comes to the rescue in difficult times).

Well I’m a lot better now (although I still get tired easily). I also do lots of things—reading, writing, looking after my kids… and music of course. My piano playing continues to improve (I still struggle with rhythm, although this has got better by learning to play jazz!). And I go to concerts and operas many times a year, especially in Birmingham and London.

So that’s my story. It’s the story of how music came to be central to my life. And it all began with a single adult pointing me in the right direction—my father.

Now you know why I take my music to school.

Picture credits:
  1. This is my grand piano. It was made in 1915! This is my own picture.
  2. A Piano Accordion. This is in the public domain. Click here for the original image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Beethoven, Piano Sonata no. 5 in C Minor, Allegro con brio. First movement of Sonata no. 5, Op. 10 no. 1 , played by Anthony Feldman.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Siva Rajah 20th May 2011

Hello!

Just been surfing around your website and it’s wonderful. I really get how much you love music and how much you want to share that passion with youngsters. It makes me really sad when I think how much music is not in the curriculum. Siva

2 Beck Tute 13th September 2012

Hi! What a superb story – just goes to show that ANYONE can play an instrument, whatever their background, ability or experience. I love the site – it’ll be a great resource for the musicianship classes a friend and I teach to children from the age of 3 upwards – we’re starting them off young to give them a taste of what the musical world is like and as preparation for instrumental tuition later on. Thank you!

3 Malcolm Pullan 13th September 2012

Thanks Beck! What a lovely comment 🙂

4 Kimberly 22nd November 2012

Hi, what’s M.E.? Thanks for a wonderful website! I homeschool my five children. I was a piano major, but no longer even have a piano.

5 Malcolm Pullan 22nd November 2012

Thank you Kimberly for your comments. I’m glad you like the website. M.E. is also known as chronic fatigue. It can happen after a virus. Glandular fever is one sort of M.E., but most people with M.E. would be ill for much longer than those with glandular fever. The main symptom of M.E. is extreme weakness and tiredness. People with M.E. can be bed-ridden for months.

6 potyrrtty 26th November 2012

hi, my name is pearl i like the way you play the piano

7 Malcolm Pullan 26th November 2012

Thanks for the comment. That’s not me playing the piano though!

8 Judy 30th May 2014

Thank you for the hard work you put into developing this website. I have never studied music, but really enjoy listening to many kinds of music. I always wanted to learn more about it. Thank you for making this accessible to adults as well as children. I tried the link above for “Why is music important.” but it didn’t work.

Thank you for sharing how music got you through a difficult time in your life. I think that can inspire others to seek comfort in music. I am trying to find comforting classical pieces of music for my sons who struggle with stress and anxiety. That is how I found your website. Thanks again!! I hope you are feeling better.

9 Malcolm Pullan 30th May 2014

Thank you for your comment. I was about to give you a list of relaxing classical music but then I remembered that there are a lot of CDs around with the title “Relaxing Classics”, so I looked them up. Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe seems to be particularly good. It has a large number of the pieces that I was about to recommend!

10 Belinda 6th March 2015

I am going to share your story with my 4th graders and see if a seed of a dream and passion grows in them. thanks for sharing.

11 erin 28th October 2015

That is a very good peace of music and how can he play it,it must have taken a not so long or maby a little wille

12 Hope white 9th February 2016

Hy. Thanks for sharing your life experience about music. I was searching for an answer about music which was given to me as an assignment in school when I found your website.

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