Autumn Piano School: 17-21 April 2024

During the first week of the April holidays, 78 students from around Australia took part in the inaugural Autumn Piano School, held at the Armidale Teachers’ College. The School was a collaboration between Piano+ (organizers of the prestigious Sydney International Piano Competition) and the New England Conservatorium of Music.

The exceptional team of eighteen tutors included senior teachers from both tertiary and regional conservatoriums, including Queensland University, Australian National University, Sydney Conservatorium, Melbourne University, Riverina Conservatorium, and New England Conservatorium.

On Wednesday, the event began with three welcome activities, including (for the adults) a delicious High Afternoon Tea on the balcony of the Armidale Teachers’ College, generously provided by the Friends of the Old Teachers’ College. While the weather was a bit nippy, everyone enjoyed the stunning view of Armidale in gorgeous Autumn colours. FOTC President, Graham Wilson gave an entertaining and informative speech on the history of the ATC; then Hamish Tait (Director, Riverina Conservatorium) got everyone talking with an intentionally provocative address on current issues facing teachers and students in the piano community.

The School started in earnest on Thursday morning. Younger students participated in the morning Round Robin activities, with Orff Schulwerk (Susanne Hughes), Movement (Katy Haselwood), Theory (Joanne Burrows), Kodaly (James Cuskelly), and daily mini Piano Classes with the visiting piano faculty. Judging from the laughter and excitement I heard around the corridors (combined with some serious concentration and learning going on in the classrooms), children loved the variety of activities while getting to know new friends. On the final day, tutors Hamish Tait and Rebecca Stewart coached the students in stage craft in two dress rehearsals, before all students in the Beginner, Junior, and Intermediate streams performed in public concerts and received participation certificates.

Those in the Advanced and Adult Amateur streams participated in daily masterclasses and lessons with several of Australia’s finest pianists: Anna Grinberg, Bernadette Harvey, Clemens Leske, Edward Neeman, Stephanie Neeman, Konstantin Shamray, and Liam Viney. Regional students were able to have lessons with several tertiary teachers of their choice without having to travel to four capital cities, making APS an invaluable opportunity for those thinking about studying piano at tertiary level. Students could also choose to perform in the informal Blackboard Soirées; the final soirée concluded with a thrilling performance of Ravel’s La Valse by Konstantin Shamray, who unexpectedly dropped by.

Other highlights included:

  • three magnificent evening concerts, performed by international concert pianists Konstantin Shamray, Bernadette Harvey, and the Neeman Piano Duo.
  • three lunchtime Pedagogy Postcards, short lecture-recitals where a tutor could discuss a topic of special interest to them.
  • a free seminar for parents with Samantha Coates (Blitz Books) on supporting your child’s practice at home.
  • eight specialist Pedagogy seminars on tips, techniques, and resources for teaching beginner, intermediate, and advanced students, including a session by music therapist Bonnie Nilsson on teaching neurodivergent students.
  • six Jazz piano workshops with Sharny Russell.
  • six Kodaly workshops for adults with James Cuskelly.
  • 12 hours of performance workshops for those in the Adult Amateur stream.
  • 58 masterclass performances, including classes on the Chopin études, American repertoire, French and Spanish composers, J. S. Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart.
  • 82 one-to-one lessons.

As a special collaboration between the APS and the Youth Orchestral Camp (held at The Armidale School during the same week), Julee Andrews’ student Maxwell Buckland gave a stunning performance of the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Sydney Youth Orchestra.

By 1pm on Sunday, everyone was both exhausted and exhilarated! While some tweaks will be made after this pilot event, the overwhelmingly positive response was that both students and tutors can’t wait for the 2025 Autumn Piano School, with everyone enjoying the high standard of tuition and friendly, supportive atmosphere.

I’d like to offer my profound thanks to Piano+ for generously initiating and sponsoring this event, and applaud their hard-working team (especially Marcus, Jen, and Jay). APS also reminded me how lucky we are in Armidale to be able to stage these kinds of events through the New England Conservatorium. My warm thanks to Corinne, Sophie, Nicky, and all the NECOM admin staff for helping to make this wonderful event possible!

Sheila Guymer
Head of Keyboard, NECOM