A day at the Purcell School

31 May 2016
IMG_9210-52751.jpg View onto the Junior dormitory
Editor Erica Worth takes a day out to visit this famous school for young musicians based in Bushey near Watford
A day at the Purcell School Images

Erica Worth takes a day out the office to visit this famous school for young musicians


It’s a glorious day at the end of May, and it’s my first visit to the famous Purcell School in Bushey.


Firstly, I am taken on a tour by Ruth Blake, Director of Development, and Aideen McNamara, Bursar. The New Music Centre is impressive, full of light and airy teaching rooms, some overlooking grassy fields. A couple of the teaching rooms have colourful sound-proofing panels on the wall which I’m told have been painted by the students. This certainly seems to be a thriving environment for creativity.  


There are some 180 students at the School, 30% of which are from overseas. Aideen points out little Magdelena, who is playing on the grass below the practice room I am standing in. Magdelena was born in California and her parents are at present living in Malaysia. She boards, of course. There are many like her, with families living far away, but they are well taken care of. The school is indeed international. 


We enter a teaching room to watch student Francesca Lauri taking a lesson from Andrew Ball. Francesca is from Kent, but her mum is Italian, her dad Maltese. She’s doing her GCSEs at the moment, so things are very busy for her. We linger for a while and watch the lesson – Andrew giving his words of wisdom on the Chopin C minor Nocturne. Francesca has two one-hour private lessons with Andrew each week. In fact, they fall on the same day (no doubt furious practising in-between!). Andrew is talking to her about the phrasing and keeping the momentum going. There’s a pleasant understanding and respect between the two of them.


Francesca will be performing at Milton Court in December this year, as part of the Purcell School concert. The School gives its students many performance opportunities outside of the campus – at prestigious venues as well. They perform at Milton Court, Wigmore Hall, Royal Festival Hall, King’s Place, and they are always looking to try new venues. Students get to do other exciting things outside of the School too, such as visit the Fazioli factory in Sacile, Italy. In fact, when they were there in 2012, they were so impressed with the pianos, that they ended up buying one! The Purcell School houses four Faziolis in total – two concert grands (one of which is totally new) and two model B size grands. The Purcell School is proud to carry the ‘Fazioli Centre of Excellence’ name. Talking of pianos, there are some 78 pianos in the school that cater to the current 48 piano students. That sounds impressive. Oh, and each sixth form student has an upright in their room (no excuse for not practicing, then).


Later on I chat with William Fong, Head of Keyboard. He is keen to mention the positive camaraderie between students. He says there is very little competitiveness and that students really support each other (I notice that for myself later, when I speak to three bubbly sixth formers). William feels blessed to have such highly talented piano students and such a strong piano faculty.


Before heading off to today’s masterclasses – given by Erik Tawatstjerna of the Sibelius Academy in Finland – I catch up with the three sixth form students:


Jenny Clarke comes from Ealing (UK) and is half English, half Chinese. She came to the Purcell when she was age 9. She studies with Tatiana Sarkissova. She loves to take lessons in Alexander Technique – oh and she loves to play basketball, too. Jenny says she wants to be a chamber musician. She’s been accepted to Oxford.

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Alim Beisembayev is from Kazakhstan, and arrived at the Purcell age 12. He had been studying in Moscow, but felt it wasn’t right, so he came here. Alim studies with Tessa Nicholson and he’ll be going to the Royal Academy of Music, London, to continue his studies with her. He tells me he’d love to be a concert pianist!


Liya Li is from Uzbekistan and came to the Purcell age 15. She had been studying with a teacher in Uzbekistan who had heard of the Purcell. Like Jenny, she studies with Tatiana Sarkissova. She loves the Russian teaching approach whereby you’re told to ‘go off and do it for yourself’. Liya says it makes you independent. Liya will be going to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She doesn’t want to be a concert pianist – she wants to do something a bit more ‘creative’, she says, that involves all forms of arts. Liya is about to take part in the masterclass that I’m on my way to attend. I ask her whether she’s nervous, to which she replies, ‘Yes, I am actually’, as if rather surprised!


Full story to appear inside issue 93 (December/January issue).