Jon: passionate pianist and Leonberger lover

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Brighton Host / Pianist & Teacher

“It(mushRoom) is also a great service, and primarily about sharing and people, which is maybe what music is missing nowadays.”

Based in the artistic bustling city of Brighton, Jon is a pianist, teacher and music enthusiast; when chatting, we were struck by Jon’s holistic approach to teaching and performing and how music has been a recurring source of inspiration and healing through his life. Jon’s Leonbergers ‘Chewy’ and ‘Solo’ bound about his bright musical home, which includes two spacious sound proofed musical studios, named the ‘Capra’ and ‘Vincent’ rooms after his old piano teacher and father. As a host, Jon is used to welcoming musicians into his home, including students, a music therapy charity and his mushRoom guests. We spoke to Jon about why music has been his solace through dark times and how hosting a space helps to promote musical communication, sharing and enjoyment.

 

How has your experience been as a mushRoom host so far?

JON
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I have had around eight bookings since the last lockdown eased and I have another tomorrow! I don’t really have time to advertise my space so it is really helpful to have mushRoom; it was great to meet Judy and chat about music spaces and there is a huge gap in the market for people on an extended visit somewhere who need practice space. For example, a couple of weeks ago I hosted a guy from America who was playing a difficult Scriabin sonata and making serious noise! Without mushRoom, where would he get that opportunity if he was staying in a bedsit?! I would go mad without access to a piano.

 

How has music shaped your life?

JON
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I’ve been obsessed with music for about as long as I can remember; it has come in the form of many different genres, from electronic to classical. As a child I studied violin, viola, cello, descant, treble, tenor, bass and double bass recorder, as well as piano! Unfortunately, I used to have horrid, cranky teachers so I stopped doing classical music and got really into electronic music. I came back to piano when I was fifteen with an amazing teacher called Sue Harvey; my best friend died that year and something clicked for me about the ability to communicate through art. I progressed through seven grades in a year and by the time I was seventeen I was playing Rachmaninoff preludes. I then applied to London conservatories but they all said ‘you have no qualifications’, so I did a degree in music and media at Chichester university and went back to the Guildhall to complete a performance diploma after that.

Wow, that’s an amazing journey! Would you say
music has helped you to cope with difficult periods in your life?

JON
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Yes definitely. In 2004, I struggled with addiction and mental health and spent some time in a rehab centre; music was a big help in getting me back on my feet and is a huge part of the spirit that is me. I remember my teacher said that she knew I would succeed in some way because two months into our lessons I brought along the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto and said ‘I am going to learn this!’.

 

Do you teach music?

JON
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I run a small music school in my music rooms and have 47 students at the moment! I am in the process of employing another piano teacher to work alongside me. I also collaborate with a music therapy charity called Belltree; they use the Capra soundproof music studio to work with people with mental health difficulties or people who have had a stroke or have autism. There is music happening here all the time which is really great – where would we be without it!

I have a different approach to music because for me it is primarily about communication. I don’t want it to be a hyper-elite industry for the richest and best; it annoys me the snobbery that can happen in classical music. I remember hearing that in Mozart’s operas there would be partying and drinking on the sidelines, and now it seems to be expensive tickets and sitting in silence! My partner doesn’t come from a musical or privileged background and he is moved to tears by pieces that I play that he would never have been exposed to. I want to work alongside musical charities for underprivileged kids and for them to just enjoy music. If a child strikes gold and they go on to have a career then that is awesome and if a child gets as far as twinkle twinkle little star but remembers having a great time in music lessons then I feel like I have done my job.

 

That’s lovely to hear. There is definitely an overdue push at the moment to make classical music more accessible so it’s great that you are front-running that. Could you describe the music rooms you have?

JON
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I have a big soundproof studio with a Steinway B piano. That is listed as the Vincent room and is named after my dad who has been really influential and helped me get on the property ladder. I am getting wheels put on the piano so it can be moved into my living room, which has spotlights, and I can have evening soiree concerts. I also want kids to perform and it doesn’t feel like they have a shotgun to the head and their family’s lineage resting on the performance. They can have a go and if it goes wrong then it is a good learning experience.

The other room, listed as the Capra room, is the music therapy space and has lots of percussion instruments and a small grand piano. There is space for concerto rehearsals, quartets, piano duets – anything you want to do!

 

What is your favourite part of being a mushRoom host?

JON
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It is similar to when you go to the practice rooms in a conservatoire and you hear this insane body and life of music: there will be drumming workshops, a kid playing twinkle twinkle little star and a mushRoom guest playing Scriabin and the house feels alive with people coming and going and playing different types of music. There is a buzz to it that I really love. It is also a great service, and primarily about sharing and people, which is maybe what music is missing nowadays.

 

Who are your musical inspirations and what is your favourite musical genre?

JON
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In terms of composers, I love Bach, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Chopin… The list goes on! For performers, I love Martha Argerich – she is a power of a pianist – and Barenboim. I generally aspire to be like the sensitive performers and am less enamoured by someone having one hundred fingers and playing at 900 miles an hour. I would prefer to be moved rather than impressed by someone’s playing. In terms of what I listen to, my poor Spotify algorithms don’t have a clue how to track me! I go from Ravel to drum and bass to country western and Schoenberg – I am a difficult person to musically keep tabs on!

 

Finally, what are your musical goals?

JON
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I don’t necessarily have set targets, just ideas that may or may not happen – covid has had to change all of our perspectives on the future! I am halfway through learning Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’ and would love an opportunity to showcase that at some point, perhaps in an evening soiree here in my music space.

 

Book Jon’s Capra Room and Vincent Room here

 


Photography: Simon Hsien-Chi Wan

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