There are key moments in everyone’s lives. We tend to remember the big ones like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and where you were when a major world event happened.
A year ago today (19th March 2020) I was facing a very uncertain future. My world felt, like for many, that it had come crashing down. I am a ‘cup half full’ sort of person though. Life is full of challenges, and the test is how you respond. A year ago today I was contacting students and schools to try and arrange online teaching, and the students at one school in particular reacted very positively – way before learning online was the ‘thing’. They saw me through the first lockdown and by the time we got to September most of my other schools had provision in place should we face a similar scenario, which has meant that I have been able to continue teaching throughout the past few months. The progress my students have made has been wonderful, with many of them being able to take online performance grade exams – 100% pass rate! I am thankful for their support, along with parents, school staff and the schools themselves for making all of this possible.
Some moments rarely get captured, however. We perhaps take them for granted and if the past twelve months has taught me anything it is to not take things for granted. I have had the opportunity to take a step back from the world and take a breath. I rarely get the chance to stop. When we finally come out the other end, I, along with a lot of people I imagine, will not just be jumping in where I left off. I have had time to re-evaluate priorities and focus my mind.
Part of this has led me to write a new album of piano music. I love the piano. It was my first love for a number of years and at the age of 8 I began lessons (3 years before I began playing the flute), winning awards and bursaries as a child. Every single piece on the album captures a ‘moment’ in time from the past year.
The opening piece is called Bethany and was the first piece to be completed. I hadn’t composed any music for a long time. Life had got in the way. Bethany, my daughter, is an amazing, energetic, loving, inquisitive, talented little girl. Every day with her is a delight and she inspired me to sit down at the piano and experiment in a way I had never felt able before. There was no deadline, no commission, I had the freedom to do and create what I wanted. The piece develops her theme throughout, from the simplicity of the opening reflecting Bethany as a baby, through to today, a far more complex character, but just as beautiful and innocent.
The second piece is an Elegy (For Lorna). Lorna was a wonderful lady and friend who died from cancer in October 2020. She had always been a great supporter of the arts, and of myself and my husband. The opening melodic idea spells out her name with notes representing the letters of the alphabet. There is a Beethoven influence to this piece, with the opening sharing some similarities to the Moonlight Sonata, but the piece itself has it’s own character, and concludes with a sense of optimism as it moves into the major key. Lorna was always so positive.
Morning Mist was inspired by an Autumn morning in 2020 as I stood by my back door, watching as the leaves fell from the trees. I had just read the John Keats poem To Autumn to my daughter. The opening line is Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness and that inspired me to write this little piano piece. As I stood there the opening motif just appeared in my head. There is something quite beautiful about the changing seasons and I wanted to reflect that in the piece.
The fourth piece on the album is called Freshwater Fantasie. It is no secret that one of my favourite places on the planet is the Isle of Wight, and the island has been an influence for a number of pieces on the album. Freshwater Bay is the place I like to go and just watch and listen to the sea. Every beach is different, and as you go round the island each has its own sound. I have tried to reflect this in this piece with the 5/8 time signature representing the sound of the waves as they hit the beach. The end section reflects the serenity of the bay. Being on the west side of the island it isn’t as well frequented as Sandown and Shanklin, although still popular. I adore it!
The Moonlit Sea continues the theme. This piece was original going to be called Moonlight over the Solent. A simple little piece describing the moonlight dancing gentle on the water. I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing it, and during a time of madness within the world I wanted this little piece to reflect a sense of calm and peace that is there – you just need to look for it.
Like many people I have had times during the past year when I have struggled to sleep. We often think of The Midnight Hour as a spooky time. Ironically this piece was composed in October 2020, around Halloween. I find that I am actually at my most inspired late at night, and I would happily sit at the piano and play and write until the early hours (but I think my neighbours would have something to say about that). There is a sense of the Baroque about this piece, and I loved putting the melodic line in the left hand.
Back to the Isle of Wight for the next piece. Vectis is the Roman name for the island, and this piece was written there in October 2020. We had rented a beautiful little cottage called Appletree Cottage on the western side of the island – the first time we had ever stayed on that side of the island. The cottage is in a picture box village called Brighstone, and it was one of the most relaxing and wonderful holidays I can remember. I had taken my keyboard with me and sat down one afternoon and composed this little piece. Its simple melody reflects the peacefulness I felt during that week. The piece took less than an hour to write – it wrote itself. Appletree Cottage will always be special to me for that reason, and it wasn’t just me that was inspired by our surroundings. My husband is an artist, and he had his brushes, paints and watercolour pad out too.
The final piece is called A New Hope and was the final piece to be written for the album. This was created just after the announcement that the vaccination trials had gone well, and it wouldn’t be long before they would be licensed for use, giving everyone a new hope for the future. I wanted this piece to convey the optimism that gave me, with the right hand almost bell like and the melody in the left hand.
I can honestly say I have never felt so liberated as a composer as when I was writing these pieces, and when I began there was no thought of an album. They were just little pieces I was composing for myself as my own creative outlet at a time when performing was not an option. Just before Christmas 2020 however I decided to put them all onto an album to share with you all. I am prouder of this album than any other composition work I have completed, despite much of it being performed around the world as part of Educational Musicals. These little piano pieces are me. They bare my soul. They are what touches me, what influences me, what inspires me. So, despite the awfulness of much of the past twelve months, there will always be a part of me that is thankful for this time. A time that the world slowed down enough to allow me to be me!