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.
- This is my grand piano. It was made in 1915! This is my own picture.
- A Piano Accordion. This is in the public domain. Click here for the original image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- 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.