Play On – and Be Part of the Picture! Summer School for Pianists goes Virtual in 2020

It’s official – the Summer School for Pianists will be online in 2020!

Since early in March,  we at  the Summer School  have been exploring ways to deliver this year’s course  amidst the current pandemic. With concerns re hand hygiene on pianos, travel restrictions, social distancing, large gatherings cancelled, National Trust properties and schools closed, vulnerable people being advised to stay in and the financial implications of closed  businesses, there has been a lot to consider. In May last year we wrote to you with information about local accommodation in Buckingham and details of how to travel to Stowe, confident of our first visit to that wonderful venue. This year, the only certainty is uncertainty.

We are also delighted that, after contacting many course members  individually, we have had overwhelming support for a move to a digital platform for this year’s course. Here’s how we plan to do it.

Many of us have learnt over the past weeks how to video-conference using Skype and Zoom, and it is Zoom we will be using. For those of us who would appreciate a refresher course on Zoom, a series of 6 videos made by our tutors and Brian, and sent out to all course members between now and the course,  will demonstrate how to get the best out of Zoom for music. And in the first of them, here is Karl to introduce the course –


Bearing in mind that unknown future Public Health restrictions may still make demands on our time and space, Summer School classes will run at two fixed points each day from Saturday 15 August to Thursday 20th August: at 10 -11.30am and from 2-3.30 pm. You will be timetabled as usual for three slots during the week in a Zoom masterclass, to which you will be invited in an email from your tutor. If your connectivity is likely to be unreliable – and we all have those issues at times – you can pre-record your piece to be submitted to the tutor, who will play it during the class via a ‘shared screen’ and then comment. Come and go as you wish – and we will include the opportunity to observe different classes and tutors.


Each day you will receive an email from Brian giving you the link to both a tutor Recital and a tutor Piano Matters presentation, available exclusively to Summer School members via our private YouTube channel. The tutors and Brian have planned a fantastic feast of music by composers including Scarlatti, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert/Liszt, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, Scriabin, Ravel, Poulenc, Mompou … and many more.  include presentations about the Music of Ravel, Beethoven’s harmonic language, Graded Examinations, Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, and Practice Makes Perfect – or Does It? Click on the links at a time of your choosing to enjoy the recital and the presentation. There are opportunities for course membersto give a Platform Recital for a modest charge – pianists are welcome to pre-record/film their recitals, which we will circulate, and which can be enjoyed in the same way. For the Accompanists’ Class, Brian and Daniel Hill are planning ways to present the suggested repertoire.


Fancy a coffee? Join us for a virtual coffee at 11.30 each day, for a chat and a catch-up. And maybe we can meet for a drink later in the evening … We’re also thinking about moving last year’s hugely popular Quiz to an online format .


The climax of our week is the class members’ concerts. Again, we invite you to film or record your piece well in advance, perhaps on Soundcloud or on your phone (Ann Martin-Davis is preparing a video showing how to do that), submit it to Brian, and the recordings/videos will be circulated on Wednesday and Thursday of the week for us all to enjoy when we have the opportunity. On Friday we’ll meet for the 2021 briefing.


So what does it cost? Without having to cover Stowe’s charges for catering and accommodation, we are able to reduce our fees to a total of £250 per class member – that’s a balance of £70 on top of the deposit. For Observers, who may attend any class during the week without performing, and who will have access to the tutor recitals, the Accompanists’ Class, the Piano Matters presentations, the student concert items, the platforms and to all the social events online, there is no extra charge; the price remains at £180, the deposit.


The situation we all find ourselves in is not of our making, and not of our choosing. We long for the opportunity to be together again, but in the meantime, we have worked hard towards finding the best solution in the current circumstances. In Zoom experiments among the trustees, tutors and Brian, and with some of the course members, it has been heartening to hear each other playing the piano, and to see each other in our homes in the ‘gallery view’ on the screen.


We now invite all of you to play on – and to be a part of the picture.

With best wishes,

Christine and Karl


PS For an introduction to Zoom, there are many YouTube videos available.


Here’s a short, basic one –


And for a simple guide to Zoom music lessons from harpist/pianist Ann Crosby Gaudet –