15. 1947-1948 The James Ching Piano School


For some time James had been thinking about setting up his own Piano School in London along the lines of his mother’s school in Leicester and before that, the Tobias Matthay School where he had received his original musical training.  It would allow him to promote the highest level of piano playing with his students and also circulate his own newer ideas on piano technique as developed in his book Piano Playing: Foundation Principles.  He had already gathered together a group of like- minded piano teachers who were interested in joining him in this, Mary Saunders, Barry Barker, Derek Abrahams and Betty Reeves among them. To promote the new school he organised a series of six piano recitals in the Cowdray Hall in West London given by these teachers and advertised in the Daily Telegraph on 3rd December 1947. He invested in a large three storey Victorian house in Hampstead, 8 Hollycroft Avenue for the school; the basement was large enough to house a concert venue with two pianos and a number of rooms above would lend themselves as teaching studios. It also allowed for him to live on site.  A promotional advertisement in the Daily Telegraph of 9th January 1948 invites prospective students to apply to the school.  At this time the government was offering grants to ex-service personnel to train at a profession which made the school attractive for prospective piano teachers.  Advertisements continue throughout that year  offering recitals in Hampstead Town Hall (28.2.48), a Midsummer Festival in the Wigmore Hall (26.6.48) with lectures and recitals and a summer concert (8.7.48).  This sort of promotion continued throughout the year and among the teachers and performers was Albert Ferber, who became  well known as a  performer of impressionist music in the 1950s.  He features in the advertisements as the concert director for the school.  More advertisements followed throughout 1948 for recitals and student concerts, mainly given in the Wigmore Hall, but sometimes in the concert room of the school.  An advertisement (26.2.49) announces that the school has ‘just been equipped with the latest sound recording apparatus’; this was an idea which James later developed further in his private teaching and as part of the James Ching Professional Service to offer help with examinations.

At some point during the short existence of the James Ching Piano School in London, James planned for a big extension of the school into a number of large towns and cities.  A detailed brochure for the Oxford Piano School shows plans for others in Manchester, Ealing, Nottingham, Stanmore, and Northern Ireland.  There is no date for this brochure so it might have been produced before the London Piano School.  James had obviously approached colleagues to provide the teaching in these new Piano Schools and the Oxford one did actually go ahead.  The brochure shows considerable planning for this venture with venues and fees listed in it.   It is particularly interesting as it contains a detailed personal autobiographical account of James philosophy behind his ideas of setting up his own Piano School.  It gives a glimpse into the musician’s personality and the ideas he held about the importance of music and of developing a good technique.  This also gives a clear description of how he developed ideas from Breithaupt which ran contrary to those of Tobias Matthay and his conviction for these ideas, despite these theories being unpopular with many in the musical establishment.  There is personal information that the Oxford school definitely went ahead at the house of the Principal John T Morris and with teaching by Betty Reeves.  However, there is no documentary evidence that any of the other schools went ahead.

The text of his introductory booklet to the Piano School can be viewed on page 17.