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This time, my friend Andy Cole did the interviewing, chatting with Melvin Besbrode, owner of one of the biggest piano stores in the UK- situated in Leeds.
It’s well worth listening to even if you’re not buying a piano- very interesting topics are covered such as the monumental popularity of the piano in China & Asia, and little-known reasons how the piano came to be such an important part of the culture there.

Show Notes
  • An introduction to the business, with a background of how Melvin went from being an unemployed Fine Art degree graduate, to owning such a successful business- via being in a punk band with Alexei Sayle! [0:45]
  • The history and importance of the piano industry-
    in the 19th Century, ladies needed to play (and own!) pianos to attract suitable suitors. [8:50]
  • The Steinway manufacturing process- still all done by hand, vs the Yamaha manufacturing process which is more automated.
    The difference between German and American Steinways. [9:40]
  • Who buys antique pianos? Interior designers, hotels, museums… [13:00]
  • About fitting pianos with silent mechanisms that allows practice with headphones, and also about the DiscPiano system which is the modern equivalent of a player piano. [16:40]
  • New vs old pianos,
    how to look after pianos,
    temperature and moisture,
    how often to tune them [21:20]
  • The business of selling pianos- when do people buy them seasonally? [24:30]
  • Do adverts and popular culture fads affect sales? [27:05]
  • The culture of piano in China,
    99% of all new pianos made in China
    High demand for old pianos imported from the West
    At least 40 million children learning the piano in China! [32:30]
  • Apparently, one of the main reasons the piano is so popular now in China is that during the 2nd World War, many Western pianists taught at Beijing Conservatory to escape the war. [36:45]
  • The trope of the long haired Romantic pianist who gets all the girls in Chinese and Asian film and popular culture [37:45]
  • Demographic of customers-
    at least 40% of visitors to showroom are Chinese.
    Southern Ireland is large customer base because of the musical culture.
    The German model of piano shops- much more integrated into the local community and culture. [40:00]
  • At least 50 Steinways at the Besbrode showroom, cheaper than Steinway Hall in London-
    many visitors come from London, easy train journey, collected from the station. [44:00]
  • About the ‘Let’s Play the Piano’ group that meets at Besbrode, and how Adam Gatehouse, artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition, was impressed with the size and enthusiasm of the group. [45:50]
  • About upcoming impressive concerts in the showroom, and the piano lent to York Minster [48:00]

Extra notes:

At [29:30]- Tokio Myers won Britain’s Got Talent, not The X Factor!

Links:

Besbrode Pianos: http://www.besbrodepianos.co.uk

Some vintage posters featuring ladies attracting suitors!: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-woman-playing-piano-for-guests-harvard-pianos-trade-card-circa-1907-55586638.html
https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-aeolian-company-pianolas-1920s-artist-wilfred-fryer-74089922.html
https://i.etsystatic.com/5693401/r/il/4b1ed7/1323017722/il_570xN.1323017722_adnw.jpg

About silent and PianoDisc systems: http://www.besbrodepianos.co.uk/digitalplayerpianos.htm

Some of the adverts mentioned:
John Lewis advert- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNbSgMEZ_Tw
The Waitrose advert referencing the John Lewis advert- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrCtXSQ3Nf8
The Huawei advert- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWnRFLYQtTc

Tokio Myers on the final of Britain’s Got Talent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgoe2kYFyiQ

About Parsons Music- https://www.pianobuyer.com/Resources/Piano-Brands-Profiles/Detail/ArticleId/92/Brand/Parsons-Music

The piano meetup group held at Besbrode every 2 months: https://www.meetup.com/Lets-Play-The-Piano-Leeds

The podcast where I chat to Ben Richards who organises ‘Let’s Play the Piano’ not only at Besbrode, but all over the UK: https://heartofthepiano.com/e08-interview-with-ben-richards-organiser-of-piano-meetups-across-the-uk

The piano lent by Besbrode to York Minster: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/17209594.in-pictures-new-grand-piano-arrives-at-york-minster

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We discuss how audiation, the ability to clearly hear music just in your head, is the key skill that all of musicality and being able to play the piano well hinges on. How singing is linked to audiation. How to develop the skill of of audiation. Findings from sports psychology that demonstrate how important audiation is as a goal for pianists.  And much more!

Show Notes
  • Andy’s initial thoughts on audiation [1:00],
    Audiating after a concert,
    Audiation helping the memorisation of music
  • Mental practice away from the piano [7:35],
    Importance of being able to clearly imagine the sound as you imagine practising on your instrument
  • Findings from sports psychology [10:00],
    The importance of focusing on the goal rather than the mechanics,
    The goal in music is to imagine the sound
  • Studies show that good pianists practise by first building a strong internal idea of the sound of their ideal performance [13:30],
    This can be done two ways- in more experienced pianists by building up the sound from the score, and in less experienced pianists by listening to recordings,
    Listening to recordings in general is a vastly underestimated activity that boosts musicality,
    Importance of having pleasure when listening & practising,
    Pleasure and enjoyment of unfamiliar music can be cultivated
  • Different ways of listening to music [22:30],
    Appreciating structure of music requires audiation
  • Audiation is a skill that can be learnt, developed & practised [26:50]
  • Mental practice as a way of removing bad habits [32:00],
    Practising in imagination pretty much as effective as practising on the piano,
    Mental practice is great way of really memorising music
  • I’ve changed my mind from my earlier podcast- actually the #1 mistake of amateur pianists is to not audiate while playing, instead focusing on mechanical movement of the fingers, etc [34:30],
    The importance of hearing what you’re going to play in your imagination before you start performing
  • How audiation is a key skill that makes sight-reading possible and pleasurable (notational audiation) [37:30]
  • The importance of allowing ourselves to feel like a beginner at something without a fear of feeling incompetent, so we can enjoy it more [42:00]
  • The importance of singing to develop audiation [43:25]
  • If you can sing it, you can usually play it. If you can’t play it, this is usually because you’re not able to sing it [45:20],
    How singing depends on audiation,
    How to develop audiation
  • How audiation helps developing aural skills [51:10],
    Audiation in conjunction with kinaesthetic imagination,
    Embodied cognition
  • Efficient way to develop musicality- play one hand while singing the other [1:02:50]
Links:

How the Body Knows Its Mind- ‘The human body is not just a passive device carrying out messages sent by the brain, but rather an integral part of how we think and make decisions’- https://www.amazon.com/How-Body-Knows-Its-Mind/dp/145162669X

An External Focus of Attention Enhances Golf Shot Accuracy (the most cited piece of research on this general topic)- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5903149_An_External_Focus_of_Attention_Enhances_Golf_Shot_Accuracy_in_Beginners_and_Experts

Adopting an External Focus of Attention Enhances Musical Performance- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328106947_Adopting_an_External_Focus_of_Attention_Enhances_Musical_Performance

Developing a mental representation of a piece- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325018718_Creative_Processes_in_the_Shaping_of_a_Musical_Interpretation_A_Study_of_Nine_Professional_Musicians

Mental Rehearsal & Visualisation- https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/mental/visualization.html

The Mental Representation of Music Notation: Notational Audiation- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5475827_The_Mental_Representation_of_Music_Notation_Notational_Audiation

Studying the brains of pianists- https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00636/full

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Benjamin Frith is a British classical pianist with strong links to the Leeds International Piano Competition- having been a competitor at ‘The Leeds’ twice, and a student with Dame Fanny Waterman since an early age. He won several big awards early in his career, and his recordings are highly regarded- five of his discs are represented in the Gramophone Best CD Guide and his disc of Schumann’s Davidsbundlertänze was chosen as the top recommendation on the Radio 3 “Building a Library” programme.
Ben also happens to have been my piano teacher when I was doing my music degree, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be inspired and guided by such an incredible musician. In these two podcasts, we talk about the Leeds Piano Competition, his teacher Dame Fanny Waterman and generally chat and catch up!

Show Notes
  • Ben’s history with the Leeds International Piano Competition and experiences with Dame Fanny Waterman as a teacher [2:30]
  • Ben’s successes with the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition and Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Israel [10:30]
  • The start of Ben’s recording career [16:00],
    Recording with the BBC,
    Live and studio recording,
    Solo career and chamber music with the Gould Piano Trio
  • Chopin- Ben’s first love [25:00],
    Time taken to learn new repertoire,
    Humour in Beethoven
  • Ben’s experience as a competitor at the Leeds Piano Competition [32:50],
    The need to be unique as an artist,
    Core repertoire and less well-known repertoire
  • Dame Fanny Waterman as a teacher [42:50]
Links:

Information about Ben: http://www.mbam.co.uk/pianists/benjamin-frith.html

Information about Dame Fanny Waterman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Waterman

A review of the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition with some information about its history: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/leeds-international-piano-competition-review-town-hall-winners-a8539946.html

Videos of all performances from the first round onwards of the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition: https://leedspiano2018.medici.tv/

The website for Champs Hill Records as discussed in the podcast: https://www.champshillrecords.co.uk/

Recordings Played:

Intro: Schumann- Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 7 Traumeswirren- https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.550493

[22:20] Field- Nocturne No. 7 in C Major, H. 45A- https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.550761

[23:40] Field- Piano Concerto No. 6 in C Major, H. 49A- https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.554221

[41:55] Weber- Piano Concertos No. 2, III. Rondo- https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.550959

[42:40] Hummel- Piano Trio No. 6 in Eb Major, II. Un poco larghetto- http://www.gouldpianotrio.com/albums/hummel-piano-trios-vol-1-nos-2-3-6-and-7/

[51:20] Schumann- Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 VIII. Frisch- https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.550493

Other Recordings Discussed:

Fou Ts’ong- Chopin Mazurkas: https://open.spotify.com/album/5U0shyOsb2qRcCLAv9wJFJ?si=YkNtrhB3Tmuugty3bXgwBQ

Sergio Fiorentino- Chopin Preludes: https://open.spotify.com/album/1LxVSnVrqk2gTdIhxGOFmH?si=Tu9k_dOBRQGGTrDTa3lMwg

Sergio Fiorentino- Chopin Walzes: https://open.spotify.com/album/0JQWRmFkP6V7a5U34q2CjF?si=AtP7nf9uQFKyLbZEO-Lh6Q

Benjamin Frith- Beethoven- Diabelli Variations (I’ve mislaid my copy so couldn’t put any clips in I’m afraid!): https://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-12514/

Alfred Cortot- Chopin- Etudes: https://open.spotify.com/album/0BPBVqsSju6mKjofZTojzB?si=pztNLJfKQe2JfCmcYr787g

Mitsuko Uchida- Chopin- Etude Op.10 No.2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCmUEqN-wTw

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A free guided visualisation to help people get passionate and motivated to practise their piano and achieve their goals!
You don’t need to be sat at the piano for this meditation, and you can use headphones if you’d like.
The meditation starts at 4:45 if you want to listen to it after the first time without the introduction.
Risks: people with unresolved trauma, psychotic disorders, major depression or severe personality disorders should get advice from medical practitioners and meditation teachers before starting any form of meditation.

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A free guided audio meditation to use while practising the piano- this meditation uses a slightly more selective selection of techniques from the previous meditation, ‘Further Down the Road’. However, the plan is to make many guided meditations that will guide people over a longer period of time to gradually and gently build up these techniques, and go into more depth on each one.
You should have a chosen bar ready to practise with fingerings already worked out to make the most of this meditation.
It’s better to use speakers (or just use the speaker on your phone or computer) and not use headphones for this meditation so you can hear your piano clearly.
The meditation starts at 1:30 if you want to listen to it after the first time without the introduction.
Risks: people with unresolved trauma, psychotic disorders, major depression or severe personality disorders should get advice from medical practitioners and meditation teachers before starting any form of meditation.

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A free guided audio meditation to use while practising the piano- this meditation gives a taster of many different techniques that can be used to deepen piano practice. However, the plan is to make many guided meditations that will guide people over a longer period of time to gradually and gently build up these techniques, and go into more depth on each one.
You should have a chosen bar ready to practise with fingerings already worked out to make the most of this meditation.
It’s better to use speakers (or just use the speaker on your phone or computer) and not use headphones for this meditation so you can hear your piano clearly.
The meditation starts at 5:00 if you want to listen to it after the first time without the introduction.
Risks: people with unresolved trauma, psychotic disorders, major depression or severe personality disorders should get advice from medical practitioners and meditation teachers before starting any form of meditation.

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In the second episode, we start to look at the common mistakes and pitfalls made by amateur & beginner pianists, with advice and suggestions on how to avoid them!
This episode starts with a look at the world of informal gatherings of pianists where we can play to each other in non-judgemental safety, and goes on to a discussion of how changing the quality of focus and attention can make deep and profound changes in learning and performing.

Show Notes
  • Piano meetup groups in the UK [1:30], including:
    -The importance and fun of playing in public at all levels from beginner to advanced
    -Being non-judgemental when attending amateur piano groups
  • How the biggest mistake of not listening to the piano while performing is caused by the wrong type of focus/effort/attention [16:20], including:
    -Wide vs narrow focus
    -Cultural differences in the way we use our attention & focus
    -How posture is linked to attention & focus
    -Practical ways to improve attention & focus
    -Brainwaves and neurofeedback
  • Using attention & focus to correct a common problem that usually afflicts performances of Chopin the most! [53:30]
Links:

Some of the great piano meetup groups in the UK run by the fantastic Ben Richards:
https://www.meetup.com/Lets-Play-The-Piano-Leeds/
https://www.meetup.com/Lets-Play-The-Piano-Liverpool/
https://www.meetup.com/Lets-Play-The-Piano-Manchester/
https://www.meetup.com/Lets-Play-The-Piano-Cambridge/

The Open-Focus Brain- https://www.amazon.com/Open-Focus-Brain-Harnessing-Power-Attention/dp/1590306120

How the Body Knows Its Mind- ‘The human body is not just a passive device carrying out messages sent by the brain, but rather an integral part of how we think and make decisions’- https://www.amazon.com/How-Body-Knows-Its-Mind/dp/145162669X

East and West: Seeing the world through different lenses- https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/health/04iht-6sncult.1.10695876.html and https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7882-westerners-and-easterners-see-the-world-differently/

Neurofeedback on music students- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3091595.stm

Mood influences the type of attention we have- https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/12/7/1159/3778192

‘The oft-quoted statistic that 40 million Chinese children are studying the piano is considered by many to be a spectacular underestimate’- https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/music/classical-music-is-taking-over-the-world-9594034.html

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A free guided audio meditation to use while sat at the piano- this meditation explores the ability to really listen to your piano- one of the most important skills for any pianist.
It’s better to use speakers (or just use the speaker on your phone or computer) and not use headphones for this meditation so you can hear your piano clearly.
The meditation starts at 2:35 if you want to listen to it after the first time without the introduction.
Risks: people with unresolved trauma, psychotic disorders, major depression or severe personality disorders should get advice from medical practitioners and meditation teachers before starting any form of meditation.

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All about the powerful effects of mindfulness and meditation and how we can practise these skills to dramatically improve our piano playing through far more effective practice, dealing with performance anxiety, and finding the right state of mind to learn and make music more effectively and at a much higher level. Also about the guided meditations to use while at the piano that will be accompanying this podcast episode.

Show Notes
  • Andy’s initial thoughts on mindfulness [1:25]
  • How did mindfulness become so popular? [4:05]
  • Evidence-based general benefits of meditation [7:00]
  • What is meditation and mindfulness? [10:00]
    The difference between the terms meditation and mindfulness
  • How meditation can help with performance anxiety [15:45]
  • ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’- how these concepts and meditation can dramatically improve your playing [18:20]
  • Meditation as the practice of directing attention- a crucial skill for musicians [22:25]
  • The dramatic improvement in my piano playing after a week-long silent meditation retreat [24:35]
  • How meditation can speed up learning the piano and make practice far more efficient [26:20],
    Using neurofeedback while practising
  • Being 100% in the moment, one of the goals of meditation [31:35]
  • Making piano practice more efficient with meditation [35:45]
  • Meditation is about skilful use of attention- most of the common amateur & beginner mistakes are ultimately caused by unskillful use of attention [42:00]
  • Practising ‘being’ with meditation, and how this helps with performance anxiety and piano playing in general [50:00]
  • About my guided meditations for pianists to use as they practise- some free recordings will be accompanying this episode [55:30]
  • Common challenges people have when meditating, with advice [59:00]
  • Risks associated with meditation [1:01:40]
  • Andy’s resistance with meditation [1:04:05]
Links:

The Musician’s Way- https://www.amazon.com/Musicians-Way-Practice-Performance-Wellness/dp/0195343131

The Inner Game of Music- https://www.amazon.com/Inner-Game-Music-Barry-Green/dp/0385231261

The page where I quoted benefits of meditation with citations- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ylTXBAAAQBAJ&lpg=PT129&pg=PT13#v=onepage&q&f=false

A comprehensive meta-analysis of the beneficial effects of the MBSR meditation course- https://www.cancerwa.asn.au/resources/2015-07-07-Grossman-2004MBSR-and-health-benefits-meta-analysis.pdf

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