Saturday, 11 March 2017


Sunday 12th. March, 2017.

After finishing my studies in Sydney I left for Paris in 1965. Yehudi Menuhin suggested I study with the great Marcel Ciampi in Paris. He taught Hepzibah Menuhin and a list of well known musicians and Concert Pianists.
I left Sydney by ship, arrived in Genoa, Italy and then caught the train to Paris. I couldn't believe I had arrived!!! I knew no one in Paris so went straight to the Splendid Hotel. The whole time in the taxi I was thinking of all the great musicians and artists, the poets, the architects, the politicians and soldiers who have travelled on these cobbled roadways. Maybe not in the same well kept condition but they were here, maybe sloshing through mud at times. Images ran through my mind of the French Revolution but mainly it was an image of Chopin that was at the forefront of my imagination and this image kept out the more macabre thoughts.
The next day I contacted Marcel Ciampi and arranged a date and time for my audition. It was a big risk coming to Paris as I may not have been accepted as a student and I had no fall back plan. Naturally I was nervous but at the same time optimistic. I had won a lot in Australia and considered to be a pianist to keep an eye on!! Little did I know the difference in standards.
There was nowhere to practice before the audition so simply went along with youthful fingers and enthusiasm. I played some Brahms, Bach, Chopin and a part of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto. After playing there was silence before I was told that I must go back to basics; exercises for 12 months, including Czerny Studies, then another 12 months of Bach's Preludes and Fugues; only then could we go onto bigger repertoire. I was over the moon. I had been accepted by the great master. He did add after the audition that my musicality was commendable and the potential immense. That lifted my spirits. And of course I was very excited about starting lessons. I knew I had technical issues that needed repairing and I knew I was not as good as everyone back home thought I was--so this was a dream come true for me.
For my first year in Paris I found a flat in a suburb, La Vesinet and I was able to put a piano in the garage. I bought an electric blanket for the piano as the winters were very cold and I also bought a small silent key-board to practice on in the evening. I was disciplined with the exercises and over time noticed how the shape of my hand changed and how easy the technical delivery became. I did become lonely as I had no friends and just stayed in and practiced--there was no composing aloud, that was a condition of lessons. That was fine as I was determined to excel as a pianist and composing is very time consuming, causing many sleepless nights.
During the warmer months I would stay in Paris after my lessons and sit at a café and watch the passing parade. I loved it. I loved the atmosphere, the sophistication, the beauty; you were surrounded by beauty. And I loved the confidence of the French people. They have such flair. And they know how to dress with style.
I soon realized that my views on life, manners and what matters were changing. I think time in Paris can do this to one. Sydney back in the 1960's was a long way away and possibly behind compared to how it is today. How things have changed. But when it comes to music students must still leave and embrace a world of history and musical excellence.
Marcel Ciampi and Paris allowed me to grow and flourish. I will always be grateful. There are so many stories I could tell about experiences and adventures in this most colourful of cities where I spent 7 wonderful years. But it would take to long. My art and my artistic nature grew to wonderful heights and this is what is important.
Next week I will talk about London and my experience with the theatre world and with Robert Helpmann.

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