Lottie agreed to be interviewed for this blog, and allowed me to include a video of her playing La cathédrale engloutie, which was recorded when she was preparing for her audition for the Junior department at Trinity Laban where she has been studying since September 2019. She started her lessons with me at the age of 6, in 2009. She was already learning the violin, but the temptation of a piano that was ‘out all the time’ at home (her mother is also a gifted pianist) was too great and she arrived for that first lesson having already begun to teach herself from a book. During the last ten years she has performed regularly at the Piano Party and more formal recitals, won the recital class at Blackheath Festival and achieved Distinction for Grade 8 which she took the day after her mock GCSEs.
I wanted to hear her thoughts on practising:
Lottie: I can’t remember in so much detail about primary school time – I think then it was more being told by my mum! Mum told me that it wasn’t a chore and I appreciated that… in the past few years I’ve been playing a lot more willingly. It’s something I can do that isn’t just academic, and I can do it at home. It’s also just fun I guess!
Nicki: How have you managed to fit it in the practice, with everything else you do – a lot of music, playing the violin as well, schoolwork, plus you do other things. How do you find the time?
Lottie: Not really sure to be honest! It’s something you can change to fit your schedule; if you only have a short time to practise you can do something for that short time or if you do have free time that’s when you can play the whole piece, put things together. I guess I had to pick and choose what to prioritise: with piano and violin, if I had a grade coming up for one or the other I’d devote more time to that, and explain to you or my violin teacher that I wouldn’t be able to practise as much because of the exam. With sports, that was more routine and at the weekend, orchestra was in the holidays so didn’t interfere with the normal schedule. I do love sports so weekends can be pretty busy!
Nicki: Now, scales and arpeggios: a necessary evil or fun to learn and play?
Lottie: I’d be lying if I said they were fun! They were definitely helpful in the process of learning a lot of pieces, especially Beethoven and the classical repertoire. I sometimes go back and play the Rondo I played for Grade 8, and if I hadn’t practised the scales, I wouldn’t have been able to play it the way I do now. I didn’t like the process of playing them for the Grade – it’s different to just learning them and there’s more pressure but it does actually get you learning them well for the exam.
Nicki: Now likes and dislikes about your piano lessons?
Lottie: I don’t really know! I think maybe the dislikes would be less freedom in practice; it depends what level of discipline someone has. When I was younger I would feel like it was a lot more work and you would direct me what to do, which is obviously helpful, but when you want to play everything and you have to just play over this section more times, and play the bits you don’t like because you can’t play them as well, which is what happens! The girl I used to help out last year, she would always avoid it as well and I had to help her learn how to play something over and over again.
Nicki: What did you like about your piano lessons?
Lottie: When you’ve practised something and you know it’s improved, and then playing to you and you notice the improvement, and being able to complete something. You don’t always realise just how far you’ve come, you forget that it was hard to start off with.
Nicki: I think you’ve already got to that magic point when you see why you practise: you think, two days ago I couldn’t do this and now I can.
Lottie: Yes, I noticed it with the Ravel, and the Chopin – there were bits that just magically came in quite a short time. Probably the way I was practising it helped! Sometimes it’s not even that gradual – you do it and it just works.
This is an edited version of our interview which included quite a lot of chat about playing, practising, the learning process and music in general.