I was enjoying a pint of beer after a day of teaching at London’s City Lit. Joining me in the pub was an old friend. I gave him a copy of an easy single-page piano piece, about Grade 1 standard. “I’m off to spend a penny” I said. “See how much of that you can memorise”.
I was back in around 5 minutes. He handed me back the music, looked thoughtful for a moment, then proceeded to whistle, with perfect accuracy, the right hand part, then the left. If I‘d been given an hour or so, I’d like to think I could have done the same. But 5 minutes? I was astonished. Clearly, I had work to do.
Over the next few years I practised memorising away from the piano. Sometimes I’d give myself a simple piece to memorise on the train to London (about 45 mins in total). It was a great feeling to get to the college and a piano, then slowly stagger through a little piece I’d just managed to get into my head. Grade 1 pieces became quite manageable, but I found it difficult to graduate upwards.
Several years later, during a holiday in the beautiful town of Richmond , Yorkshire, I spent a couple of hours each day sitting in the main square, attempting to commit to memory Bach’s Fugue in A major. It was extremely difficult and after a whole week, I’d managed no more than a couple of bars. I decided I would have to return to my usual way of memorising fugues in my Bach journey, about which, more in the next post. For now, memorising away from the piano had been a fascinating challenge.