The pandemic has affected us all in some incredibly unique and unforeseeable ways. From gigging musicians to teachers, to industry professionals, we’ve all had to adapt, change and reconnect ourselves with the way we see music. One individual that has perhaps felt this change more than most is Dr. Chris Stanbury.
Chris is not only a musician himself, but is also a key writer for many keyboard syllabuses across the world - Chances are if you’ve taken a piano or keyboard exam, he’s probably helped write it! Chris is also a product specialist and technician for Casio, today we speak to Chris to share his experiences during lockdown and how he has used this time to reconnect with his art.
Read Chris’s story below, or if you are feeling particularly inspired, check out our other lockdown stories with fellow musicians, teachers and hobbyists here.
Tell us a little about yourself and your musical history
“My name is Chris Stanbury, I’m a piano and keyboard player and am also a consultant for boards such as Rockschool and the London College Of Music...So if you take a piano or keyboard exam, chances are you’ve played something that I’ve possibly written for one of the various exam boards. I do have quite a varied job, a lot of the time I’m teaching and occasionally I get to travel to quite a few interesting places - for example China and the Philippines to teach teachers on the best way to teach exam pieces.
Writing for exams is a really interesting job actually because you have to be creative. You have to think about technical demands that you want students to meet in an exam situation, but above all you want to make it accessible and want to make sure the tests you make don’t turn people off music so it’s a fun balance to find.
Above all though, I think music is a social skill and a language. It’s difficult to be a musician within four walls, you’ve got to share and I think that’s been one of things that has been the most difficult about the past year, as musicians we’ve had to adapt how we share what we do. Normally I would be out and playing live, but we’ve all had to master recording from home and micing ourselves up etc. It’s a totally different scenario to where we were 12 months ago.”
How has music helped you and your students throughout the pandemic?
“The great thing for me about music is that if you want to stick at it and want to dedicate just a small part of your daily routine to making music. Just a tiny bit of time put aside can have amazing rewards, whether it’s finally conquering the last phrase of a piece you’ve been learning, or maybe you’ve finished a song you’ve been writing. That sense that you’ve finally completed something you’ve been working on for some time can really lift you up and my goodness we all need every opportunity to lift ourselves up and out of this situation we’re currently living in!
Music is something that in one way, when you’re playing on the piano or keyboard, everything else around you sort of fades into the background, for me, that’s been a great help. All of the worries I’ve had, particularly financial worries.
I’ll be honest, the last 12 months, we’ve had no live music scene. The bills haven’t stopped coming but the work certainly has slowed massively. For many other people who I teach and talk to with my work, many people say the piano is my escape and it really is. It’s one of the things that after a particularly difficult day, or if you’ve been homeschooling your kids like I have. You sit down and just think “Let’s relax and just play something!”
It does turn off a lot of the worries and things that particularly in lockdown can really get to you.”
What do you think people can gain from learning an instrument?
“I think when you’re learning an instrument, it really does teach you how you as a person like to learn. What I mean by that, when you’re learning a new piece of music it really improves your concentration. It also gives you a chance to be critical in a positive way, to look at what you’re doing and to be reflective about how you are doing something. If you’ve recorded a piece you’re practicing, to play that back, you’re able to think “I did that really well, but maybe I can try this instead.” These are all learning abilities that you don’t know you’re developing but are great for self-evaluation.
Those skills don’t just apply to music, but all areas of life. Certainly at school, we find a lot of kids who play music, when they leave, they take a lot of those skills with them. WIthout doubt it helps your concentration and ability to commit to having an outcome, it demonstrates the value of dedication.”
What do you think the future of music looks like?
“I think one of the things that this whole situation has done is that it has opened up a lot of new avenues. I mean certainly I’m looking forward to going out and playing live, but on the other side, a lot of my colleagues are having real success with zoom concerts and they’ve reached new audiences.
A few very close friends of mine are now getting up in the middle of the night to broadcast to the other side of the world because they’ve found a little niche market all built through social media. They have substituted a live stage for a virtual stage and I think that when we do get through this pandemic, we are probably going to end up with both virtual events and live events, which I think is a good thing actually.
As musicians, we’ve got a lot more skilled on how to present ourselves. There’s all these new avenues and possibilities that we’ve been forced to discover and I think some of those will stay with us.
The other thing is since lockdown and not being on the road, I’ve had time to sit down, actually listen to music and to be educated by youtube, go on and solve problems that I’ve had but haven;t got around to solving myself. Being at home on one side has been difficult, but as musicians it has given us all the chance to reflect and learn.”
What are you most excited for about the coming year?
“I think when we eventually get onto live stages, that is going to be a very happy moment. I think not only for us as performers but when we can get audiences together and go to gigs ourselves. When we can start being sociable with music again that is going to feel amazing!
We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re going to get there!”
Insightful stuff! Do you have a lockdown story that you’d love to share? We’d love to hear them! Simply get in touch with us @millersmusic or use #MillersMusic for your chance to feature!
Check our more lockdown stories here, or if you are looking to start your own musical journey, contact our team today!