Sarah’s thoughts on teaching
I have a great enthusiasm for working with talented musicians. I taught undergraduate and MA level students at York University for many years and have given masterclasses throughout the UK and in Switzerland and the USA.
My primary teaching aim is to enable budding musicians to develop a skill set which allows them to form strong musical personalities of their own. My training has naturally informed the way that I teach and my two main teachers had very different styles.
Denis Matthews’ teaching was revelatory, with significant focus on music outside the piano repertoire. He helped me to understand that in order to be a fine pianist, one needed an appreciation and understanding of a whole variety of music from string quartets to opera. A deep stylistic awareness was at the heart of his teaching, particularly in baroque and classical repertoire, and we spent time working on immaculate phrasing (often facilitated by thinking in terms of vocal lines) achieving a vast range of different textures (frequently imitating orchestral instruments) and clarity of pedalling. Much of his teaching included fascinating cross referencing.
Arrau pupil, Edith Fischer, brought different qualities: a real attention to beauty of sound and how to build chords from the bass; how to achieve a fine legato, paying special attention to the transfer of sound and weight from one note to another, and many other technical ‘tricks’ that have proved invaluable in my playing career. Much of my own teaching centres around these important points.
I am deeply committed to trying to uncover as much as possible about how the composer intended his/her music to be played, so prefer Urtexts as a starting point. (Editors adding phrase marks/dynamics etc which are often incorrect can prove very unhelpful). It is also important to have an informed knowledge of the instruments for which the composers were writing in order to gain an understanding, for example, of when a composer was taking the instrument of the day to the limits of its powers; and also to get a contextualised sense that – for example – a forte in a score by Haydn or Mozart has a totally different weight from a forte in Brahms.
I am, however, unashamedly an advocate of the modern grand piano and the depth and variety of sound that can be produced from it, and so also of exploring, in appropriate repertoire, the subtleties of sound from the smallest pp to the weightiest ff and learning how best to use the body as well as the fingers to create these contrasts. All this is central both to my own playing and to my work with students.
I see myself as a ‘performer teacher’ who has learnt much of what I can valuably pass on by ‘doing’, and feel that aspiring performers can get a particular benefit from learning from teachers who are regularly performing themselves. As a student, it was important to me to work with those who had the experience of a concert career and could offer advice on all the issues related to performance, which are multi-faceted and involve far more than simply being able to play the piano.
I am always interested to give either consultation lessons or groups of lessons to advanced students who have a serious commitment to taking their playing to the next level, either in professional performance or for self-fulfilment.