A guest blog by Pete Jones – A new way of playing the piano

Sometimes when a personal crisis happens, family and friends often step up. Pete is one such friend (and many friends have been and have offered amazing support), Pete’s offer is unique and I asked him if he would offer a guest blog.  Here he tells his story….

I have known Peter for over 30 years and like everyone, was horrified to learn of his serious stroke event affecting his left side, just over 3 years ago.

I knew that Peter played the piano, and that for a variety of completely understandable reasons he hadn’t felt able, since the stroke happened, to sit down at the keyboard again. 

I am a keen classical pianist myself, and over the past months I have been trying to see if there was anything I could do to help Peter surmount his significant physical and emotional hurdles and encourage him to play again – something which I knew had given him so much pleasure in the past – but which from now on would be under changed circumstances. 

The challenge was to find suitable music written for the right hand that would: 

a)        provide a bit of a challenge, (something to get your teeth into!), 

b)        contain enough variety to be stimulating, and also, (the two most important factors):

c)        provide a satisfying playing experience with just the one hand, and 

d)        re-ignite a love of playing to hopefully open a pathway back for him to play and enjoy again the music that means the most to him, albeit now with a different set of capabilities than before.   

A search of London’s sheet music shops for suitable right hand piano music proved unsuccessful. Most of what I was able to find was written by two nineteenth century composers: Charles-Valentin Alkan and Leopold Godowsky – both famed virtuosi in their day and who both composed piano music accordingly – ferociously difficult with torrents of notes on every page!

I was walking back to the tube at Holborn when I hit upon the idea of looking at Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas. This wonderful music consists of 6 groups of pieces, (32 in total) and is written on a single stave. I’d bought the music myself some years ago and realised that a few of the pieces could indeed be played quite successfully with just the one hand. However, it was only in that moment that I made the connection with Peter’s situation in that a second hand is not needed to play these particular works. Anyway, I turned on my heel, went back to Foyles music department and bought 4 copies!

I worked my way through the book and eventually put in the right hand fingering notation above the music for 24 out of the 32 separate pieces, and they more than satisfy the requirements I was looking for.

There are easier pieces, but there are certainly others that are a bit more awkward, and which would perhaps need a bit of serious practice. 

They have a wide variety: some are fast, some slow, some are sad and reflective while others are full of joy and exuberance. 

However, best of all, Bach wrote them in such a way that they sound complete. By not needing a second hand for additional harmony, this music provides a rewarding and satisfying playing experience for people that are only able to play with their right hand. 

Some people, myself included, may also find a spirituality in this sublime music, which is an added bonus.

After sending the book to Peter, who was very grateful, I realised that it could perhaps help others in a similar situation, and moreover, another book with the left hand fingering notation could perhaps help people who had suffered a stroke event affecting their right side.

I duly completed a second book, this time with the fingering notation for the left hand, and after obtaining permission to reprint the music – kindly given by Bärenreiter-Verlag, the German music publishers, I have had 100 copies of each book printed. These are now available, free of charge on request to anyone who would like one, in the hope that they might provide some pleasure, encouragement, and hopefully a means for someone to play and enjoy again their favourite music. 

Through Peter’s contacts, Ken Scott of the Stroke Association UK wrote an article about this project.

This was picked up and printed in my local newspaper here in North East London, and in Peter’s local area in Diss, Norfolk. 

I have forwarded the article to a number of stroke support organizations both here and abroad. From these contacts, and also from people reading Peter’s “My Stroke Journey” blog, we have had enquiries from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the UK.   

If you would like a copy of this music, please send an email to barnabaspandc@gmail.com, stating which book you require and I will be pleased to post one to you

Peter Jones June 2021

A footnote 

I am delighted that out of my personal devastation this unique offering has emerged.  Pete demonstrates how we, as fellow human beings can be generous, kind and supportive and furthermore the offer has been extended to others. I can only say; thank you so very much Pete, and how much I value our friendship.

Peter Ellis June 2021

2 thoughts on “A guest blog by Pete Jones – A new way of playing the piano

  1. Dr Catherine Millington-Sanders. Kingston CCG EOLC Clinical Lead. SWL STP EOLC Clinical Lead. Difficult Conversations Co-Founder and National Clinical Lead. RCGP / Marie Curie National Clinical End of Life Care Champion. RCGP / Marie Curie Daffodil Standards Introduction Animation. Mobile: 07968 097641 Tw/In: @DrCatherineUK

    Please use c.millington-sanders@nhs.net for patient identifiable data.

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  2. This is such a touching story of one friend, who out of love and care, has gone the extra mile to enable something beautiful and restorative to happen. Peter Jones, you are such an inspiration and your love for your friend Peter Ellis, has known no bounds in your wanting so much for Peter to play the piano again. Not just that, but that you thought about all the other stroke victims in a similar position, with both left and right paralysis, and pursued it even further. This is so beautiful and compassionate beyond all measure. Thank you so much for posting. It has brought tears of joy to my eyes and heart.

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