We’ve all felt the weight of the pandemic over the past 12 months and for many of us, it has been a year of being out of touch with our social groups, our friends and even our families.
For many musicians, a real lifeline to their learning and enjoyment with music is discovering groups of like minded individuals who share a common passion for music. Whether it be through attending live events, online communities or simply listening to music, music has an innate power to bring people together.
Today, in the first of our 'Lockdown Stories' series - we want to focus on one such piano community group who are continuing to innovate and connect musicians and pianists during these difficult times and have managed to expand their reach across the world.
To read our next lockdown story with professional keyboard player Joel Rawlins, click here.
Let’s Play The Piano! are a series of piano collectives that have been encouraging and inspiring new and seasoned musicians to chat, learn and master their craft since 2015. The group has regular monthly meetups all across the country and has been continuing to grow a national network of around 9000 pianists. The groups aim to provide an opportunity for pianists of all abilities and musical tastes to meet and perform in an informal setting. It's a valuable opportunity to gain performance confidence and hear new music whilst being great social opportunity for adults of all ages and backgrounds. Both non-players/audience members are always welcome too - so this really is a group for everyone!
When the pandemic hit however, like everything else, these groups were shut down and forced to adapt to the new online world. But that didn’t stop organiser and leader of these incredible groups, Ben Richards from keeping people connected.
We caught up with Ben to see how he was able to adapt and is continuing to help bring pianists and music enthusiasts together from all over the world to share a common love for music.
Tell Us About Yourself And Your Musical History:
“So I’m not a professional musician, but I have played all my life since the age of 7. I started learning seriously again around 9 years ago and around 5 years ago I got into the world of piano groups and gatherings, so since 2015 I’ve been running on a part time basis piano meetups across the country.
I’m originally from Cambridge, but moved up to Edinburugh around 16 years ago. The group in Cambridge is one of the largest and would mean that I get to come down to Cambridge around once a month to run the event, we’ve even hosted a few at Millers before.
I just love doing it and I just love getting people together and meeting other musicians!”
How has the past year been for the groups?
“Basically around January February time last year, I had the whole of 2020 mapped out because I have to plan ahead because there’s a lot of booking and logistics, paying for venues, travel and all of that. The whole year was planned but I had to basically cancel everything and then I really didn’t know what to do. I literally had no idea.
I had already been familiar with Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams through the day job and it became clear that it would still be possible to run online piano events of some kind, but it was quite difficult to work out exactly how to do it because audio quality is obviously extremely important so I spent a lot of time testing what platform would work best and then zoom improved and introduced some better audio settings so we were able to play again.
About a month and a half later, we started running the groups again. I had to spend a great deal of time basically teaching people how to use zoom and comfortable with the online situation but now it feels totally normal.”
What has been the response from the groups?
“The social aspect has probably been the biggest part of it, just to see other people you know, hear other people talking and of course playing. The music is a bonus really and just people really crave being a part of a group.
I know I would have found lockdown very rough if I hadn’t been able to keep these groups and connections going, it would have made a big difference being isolated.
So yeah, I think the social connection and also of course to keep people playing the piano!”
What do you think people can gain from learning an instrument?
“There’s so much - I think it’s like a lot of art and creative endeavours, they’re a great escape from the troubles of daily life and a distraction.
They’re great for mental health, any sort of art form that just takes you away and you can be completely absorbed in is a really positive thing. Especially playing the piano, it’s an intellectual challenge as well - It gets your brain working, it’s good for coordination, socially it’s great and the other great thing is, you can always get better as a pianist.
It’s not like playing a sport or something where you tend to peak when you’re younger. When you’re a piano player, you can just keep on developing over your lifetime.”
What does the future hold for your groups and what are you looking forward to in 2021?
“They’re here to stay! I’m definitely going to continue doing online events even when things go back to normal. People are getting used to it now and they understand how the online events work. The key thing is the technology and hopefully there’ll be even more improvements on that.
(The group even has a collaboration with the New York Piano Group in January 2021!)
In terms of this year, I’m definitely most excited about getting back to the usual schedule. I think there will be a massive demand for in person events this year and whilst that might not be until after the summer, I’m really hoping to get back to the real life routine and seeing everyone playing again soon!”
We are incredibly thrilled to be supporting Ben and the Let’s Play The Piano groups and love the message they are sharing. Whether you are a new or seasoned musician, these groups are a fantastic place to meet people, share ideas and a common love for the piano! Be sure to join your local Let’s Play The Piano group and tell them Millers sent you!
To find your local piano group - Check out these links!