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Sleeping in Temples

Sleeping in Temples

Susan Tomes
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 263
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  • Book Info
    Sleeping in Temples
    Book Description:

    In several decades as a distinguished classical pianist, Susan Tomes has found that there are some issues which never go away. Here she takes up various topics of perennial interest: how music awakens and even creates memories, what "interpretation" really means, what effect daily practice has on the character, whether playing from memory is a burden or a liberation, and why the piano is the right tool for the job. She pays homage to the influence of remarkable teachers, asks what it takes for long-term chamber groups to survive the strains of professional life, and explores the link between music and health. Once again, her aim is to provide insight into the motives and experiences of classical performers. In this fourth book she also describes some of the challenges facing classical musicians in today's society, and considers why this kind of long-form music means so much to those who love it. SUSAN TOMES has won a number of international awards as a performer and recording artist, and in 2013 was awarded the Cobbett Medal for distinguished services to chamber music. For fifteen years she was the pianist of Domus, and for seventeen years she was the pianist of the Florestan Trio, one of the world's leading piano trios. She is the author of three previous books: Beyond the Notes (2004) and Out of Silence (2010), both published by Boydell, and A Musician's Alphabet (2006). She gives masterclasses, writes and presents radio programmes on music, and sits on international competition juries. Her blog on has a loyal following.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-424-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prelude
    (pp. ix-xii)

    This is the fourth book I’ve written about the music I love. With every passing year the task seems to become more important as the world in which we live seems to have less and less time for anything that demands patience, perseverance and long-term thinking.

    These are at the heart of what ‘classical’ music is all about. Ever since I took up the piano as a child, I’ve found that this kind of music is not only beautiful and entertaining, but is a serious mental resource. It tries to do something which cannot be done by the three-minute song....

  5. Giving people memories
    (pp. 1-16)

    I recently came across the torn and battered copy of Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto from which I learned the piece as a young teenager in Edinburgh. It contains the pencilled remarks of my then piano teacher, Michael Gough Matthews. It’s always interesting to be reminded of the advice your teacher gave you years ago, and chastening to discover that sometimes it makes more sense to you now than it did then. Or perhaps it did then too, but you didn’t yet know quite how to pick up that particular ball and run with it.

    In the middle of the...

  6. The right tool for the job
    (pp. 17-34)

    My dad was a keen gardener, proud of his flower borders bursting with colour and his pristine, weed-free lawn, which he mowed himself every week in the summer with a heavy old hand-pushed lawnmower without benefit of either petrol or electricity. Dandelions sometimes had the nerve to appear in the lawn, and on his way out to work, Dad would whisk a screwdriver out of his jacket pocket and use it to lever the villain out of the grass. The sight of him bending down to make a surgical strike on a dandelion with his trusty screwdriver stuck in everyone’s...

  7. Play the contents, not the container
    (pp. 35-54)

    This enigmatic piece of advice was given by the Hungarian professor György Sebök, whose masterclasses I attended in Switzerland, Canada and Holland in the 1980s. Like many of his aphorisms it was casually delivered with a wry smile, a curl of cigarette smoke and a look that said, ‘If you think about this for as long as I have, it may make sense to you.’

    I used it as the title of a talk I gave not long ago at King’s College, London, where my academic audience was vexed by Sebök’s words. For them, the division into ‘container’ and ‘contents’...

  8. Temps perdu
    (pp. 55-76)

    In the last year or two I have started to notice concert reviews which mention that the performer brought an iPad or other electronic gadget on stage, put it on the music stand or on the music desk of the piano, and read from it during the performance. Because this possibility is so new it still seems to carry the cachet of technological novelty; people are fascinated by the fact that it can be done at all. I haven’t detected a note of disapproval in the way such events are written about – rather the reverse. It’s ‘cool’ to read...

  9. Raw materials
    (pp. 77-82)

    Earlier this year our house was burgled. We had been at a funeral and came home late at night to find the kitchen window smashed and the contents of drawers and cupboards in piles on various floors, the thief having conducted what police later termed ‘an untidy search’. It was a search of a kind they were familiar with, a search for cash and jewellery which could be quickly sold on for a few quid or melted down to be sold for ‘gold weight’. We were told that the rocketing price of gold in recent years has inspired a lot...

  10. ʹInteresting things happen when you deny people the consolation of technical excellenceʹ
    (pp. 83-88)

    Last year, my friend Greg and I went to the Turner Prize Exhibition at Tate Britain in London. The Turner art prize always attracts attention and controversy because its shortlist generally focuses on artists who, in many cases, work with ‘ideas’ rather than traditional materials like paint or marble.

    A while ago I took part in a festival where I was given accommodation in the same house as a young art historian doing research on conceptual art. She and I met at breakfast one day, and I must have said something ‘old-fashioned’ about an exhibition of paintings I had enjoyed....

  11. Plugged in
    (pp. 89-94)

    Like everyone else, I’ve wondered what it’s doing to us all to be plugged in for so much of the time to our iPods, smartphones and other electronic gadgets. As a musician I can’t help being aware that this is an awfully big change. Hearing music was, until quite recently, an unusual event in everyday life. Unless you sang or played music yourself, or someone made music in your presence, you wouldn’t hear music; this was particularly true with instrumental music, obviously more unusual to come across than someone humming in your vicinity. The opportunity to attend a performance was...

  12. Fashion parade
    (pp. 95-108)

    What to wear for concerts is a constant challenge, especially if you are not bound by the consensus which dictates what members of an orchestra must wear. In the days with my chamber group Domus, we generally made a point ofnotwearing black, to prove we were independent thinkers and to scotch any notion that a chamber group is nothing more than a mini-orchestra. Nobody ever told us what to wear, so we could make up our own ‘look’, as colourful and unblack as we liked. Having said that, it was always hard to know exactly what clothes we...

  13. Enigma variations
    (pp. 109-144)

    A friend of mine, a member of a successful string quartet, once remarked to me that classical music’s best-kept secret is how often the members of a chamber group grow to hate one another.

    Over the years I’ve repeated this remark to a number of non-musicians and they’ve all been shocked. They’ve seen films and read novels based on the notion that chamber music is one big group hug – or if not exactly a group hug, then at any rate an opportunity to put forward your best self. Isn’t chamber music a metaphor for an ideal society, everyone listening...

  14. Old people
    (pp. 145-158)

    I sometimes teach at ChamberStudio, a London scheme set up to provide high-level coaching for chamber groups who have finished their formal education and have therefore lost their automatic access to teachers. Typically they are in their twenties, and individually they are advanced instrumentalists. But often these chamber groups, who may not have started working together seriously until their post-graduate years or even later, haven’t actually had much time to develop an authentic approach of their own. While they are doing so, they are glad to have coaching from people who’ve been there before and performed the repertoire the younger...

  15. What is interpretation?
    (pp. 159-180)

    ‘I think you should write about what interpretation is,’ said a musician friend of mine, an orchestral player, ‘because lots of people wonder. I wonder myself,’ he added.

    ‘But you do it all day long!’ I said. ‘You spend your life carrying out different conductors’ interpretations! You know more about it than most musicians.’ ‘No, I don’t,’ he said. ‘Different conductors just come along and stand in front of us and say “Louder here”, or “Make it drier”, or “More from the brass”. Or even, “Just listen to one another! This should feel like chamber music.” Sometimes conductors don’t say...

  16. Bullfrogs
    (pp. 181-190)

    In the programme of Scottish National Orchestra concerts to which my Mum and I used to go on Friday nights, there was a courteous announcement about coughing. It explained that an ‘unmuffled’ cough in the concert hall had been found to be about as loud as a note played mezzo-forte on the French horn. Audiences were politely requested to use a handkerchief to muffle the sound of a cough. The sucking of boiled sweets was recommended as a way to avoid coughing in the concert.

    I remember reading research from the Common Cold Centre some years later which measured a...

  17. The iceberg
    (pp. 191-196)

    Sometimes, when I’m playing the piano at home, it occurs to me that the vast majority of my playing has not been done for listeners. Obviously some of my practising has been heard by family members, whether or not they wanted to listen. Our late lamented tortoiseshell cat is the only creature who has actually sat in on my practice sessions for longish periods of time, and even she had a discouraging way of getting up with a sigh, going to sit by the door and scratching forlornly at the paintwork until I let her out. But although I have...

  18. Starting and beginning
    (pp. 197-198)

    Last summer I was teaching on a European Chamber Music Academy course along with ECMA’s artistic director, Austrian violist Hatto Beyerle, co-founder of the Alban Berg Quartet. One lunch-break, I wandered down to his teaching room to see how he was getting on. His students had gone for lunch and he was sitting alone in the hall, ruminating on the morning’s class. ‘I constantly find myself thinking’, he said to me sadly in English, ‘that so many musicians today don’t know how to begin. They start, but they don’tbegin.’

    I particularly love these kinds of observations which might, or...

  19. Light and heavy
    (pp. 199-216)

    I was recently inspired by reading that scientists have shown it’s possible for sound waves to counteract the effects of gravity. Yes, they did mean something very specific under experimental conditions, but why ignore a wonderful opportunity for an analogy? I took the opportunity to imagine sound waves counteracting gravity, making light music.

    Light music has always been an important part of my musical life. My family was keen on light music of the dance band variety (Victor Sylvester), the American crooners (Bing Crosby) or the Saturday night light-entertainment television programmes (Russ Conway, Mrs Mills, Billy Cotton, the Black and...

  20. Music hath charms
    (pp. 217-240)

    A few years ago I became intrigued by the number of people coming up to me after concerts and telling me that listening to the music had helped them to feel better. Sometimes they were quite specific. They mentioned having felt unwell at work, feeling unsure if they ought to go to the concert or just go straight home instead and rest. They said that they took their seats in a pessimistic frame of mind, were drawn in by the music, caught up by the interaction between the musicians, somehow soothed by the effect of the music and gradually realised...

  21. Coda
    (pp. 241-244)

    I read recently that the ancient Greeks used sometimes to sleep in temples in the hope that the powerful atmosphere would help them to ‘incubate dreams’. Such dreams would provide imagery and symbols to help them interpret whatever it was that was puzzling them. I sometimes feel that my life as a classical musician has been a similar kind of ‘sleeping in temples’, the temples in my case being the works of great music which have occupied me and my fellow musicians. When I say ‘sleeping’, it is not meant to sound like a retreat from the world, rather a...

  22. Index
    (pp. 245-251)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)