Your life has taken some twists and turns. Musician, writer, teacher, concert presenter, foodie, (and mom) … how do you juggle it all? Or do you just do one thing at a time?
I suppose the simple answer is that I don’t sit still for long! (except when practising the piano). I am rarely bored and I get a tremendous amount of enjoyment and stimulation from combining my various activities. I think being busy, in a positive way, can be energising and exciting, and I always wake up thinking “what shall I do today?”
In reality, I would not have been able to take on all these activities while my son was a young child. Now that he’s nearly 17 and reasonably independent, I have the time and opportunity to do more, including evening activities such as reviewing and hosting concerts. When he was a born, I took the decision to stay at home to look after him, and I’m glad I did. But when he went to school full time I began to think about new ways to fill my time. I had begun to play the piano again (after a long absence during which I was working in art and academic publishing and bookselling, getting married, settling down) and it was by chance that I became a piano teacher when a friend asked me to teach her daughter. It was appealing because I could do it at home.
In recent years, I’ve hooked up with some great people, mostly through my musical activities, and this had opened up more avenues and opportunities. I remain very open-minded, receptive and excited by what life has to offer.
Do you have a daily routine? I suppose your teaching schedule dictates your day, but are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?
When one works from home (most of the time) I think it’s important to have a routine to give structure to the day. I tend to get up early to do the “mum” activities of making sure the teenage son gets off to college on time and various other “reality tasks”, and then from around 8am I spend about 1.5 hours practising. Then I go for a swim, which I regard as “mental practising” because I use the time to think about the music I’m working on or ponder writing projects. I practise again for about 1.5 hours after lunch and then teach 4 days a week from 4.30pm for a couple of hours each day (I have 12 students, plus various occasional adult students). In between these “fixed”/regular activities, I do a job in central London on a Monday morning, and also may take a morning in town to review an exhibition or attend a seminar or other event connected to my teaching and performing.
I do stay up quite late. Evenings are time with my family, even if it’s just lolling on the sofa watching Netflix (!), and later in the evening I tend to read articles I’ve saved from Twitter or Facebook on my iPad.
I find it fascinating that you are affected by synaesthesia when you play or listen to music. Can you tell us a little more about that? Does it ever interfere with your enjoyment of music?
Far from it! I think the synaesthesia enhances my enjoyment of music. I see colours when I hear and read music and each musical key has
its own distinct colour, which is absolutely unchanging. I’ve been aware of the ‘condition’ (I hesitate to use that word because I don’t regard it as an encumbrance) since I was a young child and it extends beyond music to numbers, letters, days of the week and months of the year. I haven’t met many other musicians who have the same form of synaesthesia as me (“grapheme synaesthesia”) but I know Messiaen, Scriabin and Liszt were all fellow synaesthetes of the same type, and it’s no accident that I adore the piano music of these composers.
You also blog as the Demon Cook. What do you like to cook (or bake) the most?
I find cooking very therapeutic, especially after a day spent practising and teaching. There is something very comforting and relaxing about stirring a risotto or making a curry. I love Middle Eastern food and tend to make something in my tagine each week. I also love Indian, Italian and Spanish food. Lately, my son (who is training to be a chef) and I have been experimenting with sushi and Japanese noodle dishes. I regard food as a very sharing, social thing and I enjoy having people round for supper to talk and eat.
What do you do for relaxation? Do you meditate? Exercise?
I swim and I walk. There is a lovely park close to my house with deer and parakeets, and across the other side of the park is the royal palace of Hampton Court which has beautiful gardens. I don’t meditate – I suspect I am too impatient to sit still long enough! I like to meet up with girlfriends for coffee and chat – that’s good relaxation as it takes my brain away from the music and it’s important to engage with people outside of the musical community to prevent one becoming too self-absorbed. The world of music is wonderful, but being a pianist can be lonely and sometimes one can feel trapped in a gilded cage. We have a regular arrangement with a good friend who comes for supper most weekends. I love cooking for him and my family and I enjoy the conviviality of having people at my dinner table for good food and conversation.
You also write about art? Do you ever draw or paint?
I used to do a lot of drawing and painting when I was at school. My mother is an artist and art historian (http://paulinebullardart.wordpress.com/) and my interest in art developed thanks to her. I enjoy writing about art – it requires a different approach to writing about music, though people have told me that my music reviews are “visual” and my art reviews are “musical”!
What advice would you give someone who feels stuck – someone who’s inspired to do something (anything) creative and doesn’t know where to start?
Get out and get looking. Find something you care passionately about. Meet up with like-minded people, make new friends. Be open-minded and receptive to new ideas and possibilities. Don’t be blinkered or backward-looking. Get on the networks and see what others are doing. Live life to the full.
A good friend of mine, whom I met when I was pregnant with my son, comments on how confident I appear now, and I remind her that I wasn’t always like this, that I used to be quite shy and retiring. Such confidence was hard won and I used to find it quite daunting to rock up at a press event where I didn’t know anyone. But I’ve found that by talking to people, being friendly and interested goes a long way, and now I actively look forward to such events as a chance to meet new people and explore new projects and opportunities.
Lately, I have begun to explore the ideas of mindfulness, and trying to live each day as it comes without looking to far ahead, or going over what has been. A couple of events in my family over the past half year have made me realise that life is fragile and uncertain and that one should not spending too long pondering “what if”, but should simply get up and get on with the day, whatever it may throw at you. I suspect such an attitude develops with growing maturity and life experience (I am approaching 50).
What’s next for you?
I made a conscious decision at the end of 2014 to do less to allow myself more time at the piano. My major focus for the next year or so is preparing for final Fellowship Performance Diploma (the equivalent of a post-grad qualification from conservatoire) and I am really enjoying the challenge of learning new and complex music (Schubert Sonata in A, D959) with the support of a number of mentors and pianist friends. I will continue to work on the concert series (South London Concert Series) and the piano group, and these activities have spawned some new things including a competition for adult amateur pianists and workshops for piano teachers. I find all these activities feed back into my creative and musical life, and enhance my own playing and teaching. Thinking more long term, I have considered working in artist management but whether this will happen remains to be seen. My husband is also trying to set up his own business and I may yet have a change of career and end up working with him, which could be interesting. Whatever happens, the piano and music will remain central in my life.
Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, teacher, writer and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. In addition to running a popular private piano teaching practice, Frances is a keen concert-goer and writes music reviews for her blog, and also for international concert and opera listings site Bachtrack.com and art and exhibition reviews for US-based culture and arts site Culturevulture.net.
A regular columnist for Pianist magazine’s online content, Frances also contributes guest posts to other classical music and music education websites around the world, including Clavier Companion, Making Music magazine and The Sampler, the blog of SoundAndMusic.org, the UK’s national charity for new music.
She is a passionate advocate of amateur pianism and co-hosts, with Lorraine Liyanage, the London Piano Meetup Group, which organises performances and social events for adult amateur pianists in and around London. Another recent initiative is the South London Concert Series, an innovative concert series which promotes young and emerging professional pianists and offers talented amateur musicians the opportunity to perform in the same formal concert setting.