When I was four my seven-year-old sister Pauline started violin lessons, and I used to pick out her tunes on the piano.I was having ballet lessons but my Mum said “You can’t have both ballet and piano lessons, so choose”So I chose piano lessons.
We found a teacher who asked if I could play anything and with the confidence of youth I knocked out “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line” to my Mum’s great embarrassment.
From the age of ten I had a strong ambition to be a concert pianist and nothing got in my way.I had already given many concerts, performing with my family (Pauline eventually became a professional violinist, playing for over forty years in the Zurich Kunsthalle Orchestra), and my Dad played violin and cello.My mother originally played violin in an orchestra (her only lessons had been as a schoolgirl, taught by a classmate for 6d a time) but she then
Sister Pauline took up the challenge of learning the viola so we could play quartetsThis became quintets when our young brother Martin began to show outstanding promise on the cello, promise which led to him becoming principal cellist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.In time I also started to play the cello, and Pauline and Martin the piano.
We were very hard up but Mum and Dad scraped together enough to pay for lessons and instruments.I well remember us all practising in different rooms – Dad’s favourite was the bathroom, with music propped behind the taps, as there was a nice echo.
My first radio broadcast was in Children’s Hour when I was twelve, and I played Schubert's Impromptu in Eb and Haydn's Sonata in C.I met Uncle Mac and all the Aunties who ran the programme.I was terrified.
While at school I used to practice for two hours a day and wasn’t allowed out to play with my friends until I had done this.My Mum was a wonderful ogre!I went to WatfordGirlsGrammar School and began my teaching career at 15 when I was asked to take on some cello pupils at WatfordBoysGrammar School.One of my earliest piano pupils, a little girl of 8, was Penny Lazenby who until her recent retirement was Head of Music at WGGS.
At the age of twelve I was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music (Junior Section) and spent inspiring Saturday mornings having aural and harmony lessons as well as piano, cello, orchestra and chamber music until, four years later, I became a full-time student.I achieved the performer’s LRAM at 15 and later the teacher’s ARCM.I didn’t have time for A levels as I was desperate to leave school and get on with my career.
When I was fifteen I entered a national newspaper competition ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ and won the first prize of £50.I also met and had tea with the glamorous and gifted concert pianist Eileen Joyce (there was a photo of us together in the newspaper).Blow me down when I received another £50 from a lady well-wisher (whom I thereafter met every holiday for many years for tea and a matinee in London).With this immense amount of money I was able to buy my first grand piano, a Lipp 5’1” baby grand.
From age 16 to 20 I studied at the RAM and won many prizes for solo work and accompanying, finishing with a scholarship of £200 which together with other bits and pieces enabled me to study in Vienna for three years with a most inspiring teacher, Bruno Seidelhofer, with whom we all fell in love.He married lots of his students but not me as I had an Austrian boyfriend. I also had lessons in Italy from Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. After three years at the Vienna Akademie I was awarded the Reifeprufung degree.
In Vienna I earned money by various means – teaching of course, selling my blood to a local hospital, playing characters on radio, piano broadcasts, and escort work.I should make it clear that in those far-off decorous days, an ‘escort’ was employed to accompany a man (in town alone for a couple of days) to the theatre and for a meal, and was then sent home in a taxi!
Vienna was a dream.My pals and I would buy standing room at the opera and concert halls, going 3 or 4 times a week, to listen to all the greats – Schwartzkopf, Di Stefano, Irmgard Seefried, Michelangeli etc.Since coming back to the UK I’ve spent my life teaching and performing in many countries – on radio and TV, in educational establishments and on the concert platform.I have appeared with various ensembles, accompanied many eminent musicians, performed concerti and given solo recitals around the world
I currently have a large teaching practice.Many of my former students are now teachers and/or professional performers.I teach people of all ages and all stages, and each year arrange several concerts for my pupils, in one of which the more advanced play concerto movements with an orchestra, the Letchworth Sinfonia, conducted each year by Kerry Camden until his sad death recently. Like many others, we miss him.
Concerto Bonanza Pupil’s concert
I met my gentle giant in 1990, when we both advertised for a partner in the ‘Singles’ magazine. Together we’ve been to the Far East many times.Bob tells stories in schools and libraries while I help students with examination preparation, as I was an Associated Board examiner for many years.At UK music festivals I frequently give a master class, and over the years have given many in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and China. Last year (2010) I adjudicated at the Hong Kong Music Festival and spent three weeks in the Swiss Alps, giving master classes and accompanying string players at the Goppisberg Music Festival. I'm looking forward to three more weeks at Goppisberg this summer. Please see under 'Courses' for Goppisberg details.
I love performing, and have played widely with one-armed pianist John Railton (Three Hands at One Piano) and as one half of Ball and Chain (the other half being my baritone husband) presenting Tiptoe Through The Minefield, a hilarious cabaret show which gives me the chance to let my hair down and be really crazy.I have performed with Bob for the British Council in China and Sri Lanka, and taught piano students at the Shanghai Conservatoire.
Kate and John RailtonKate and Bob
Magic Carpet Concerts
I’m one half of the Cantilena piano and cello duo (with Catherine Wilmers), visiting UK schools to introduce children to the classics with our educational and entertaining Magic Carpet programme.
In 2001 Bob and I founded Vivace, an SATB choir which performs three or four concerts a year, some of the music for which is supplied by Vivace Strings and Wind, a fluctuating amorphous ensemble made up of my piano students playing their second (and sometimes first) instrument, and of a growing number of friends.Plans for Vivace’s future include appearances at UK festivals, exchanges with overseas choirs, and the promotion of music in schools.
In 2002 we moved to a Victorian house in Mid-Bedfordshire, to which we have added an eighty seat concert hall, for the use of Vivace and other local groups.
In 1999 I was awarded the Associateship of the Royal Academy of Music but (despite playing Ratty in Wind in the Willows on Austrian Radio, and getting a distinction in my latest tap dancing exam last year – 100%!), I consider the pinnacle of my career to have been first prize in a yodelling competition in the Austrian Tyrol.Austria has held a strange fascination for me ever since, as mentioned above, I sold my blood in Vienna to buy food.
In my spare time I care about wildlife, walk my Black Labrador Penny, cuddle the cat, plan the decoration and improvement of the house and garden, and read detective fiction.Bob and I share an exciting life pursuing our mutual interests and facing stimulating challenges, and as long as I don’t have to cook or shop (except for clothes and shoes) the arrangement works very well.
My pupils and friends will remember Emily, our lovely black lab who died a year ago at the age of fifteen and a half.She’d recovered from three strokes but then the fourth left her staggering when she tried to walk, so we had to take the dreadful step of saying Goodbye.She now rests under the lawn in the back garden.
Only dog and cat people will appreciate the trauma of losing such a good friend, who’d been part of our family for over thirteen years, after she failed to pass the final test as a guide dog.
Emily has been replaced in our house (but not in our hearts) by Penny, a two year old black lab/golden retriever cross who, like Emily, didn’t quite make the grade.We were told that she couldn’t keep her mind on the job, being more interested in what was going on around her than the needs of the blind person she was guiding.Not really surprising, as she has a sparkling personality and a sense of humour, and needs a wider range of challenges and opportunities than such a restricted life can offer.