Early April 2020 was a strange time for us all. The greatest challenges of the pandemic were yet to come for many of us of course. Then it was more about the shock. The suddenness of the recently announced lockdown. Would it be a fortnight, a month, 2 months? Would this thing still be with us by the summer? Christmas even? (I doubt many of us were thinking then of whether covid Plan B regulations would or wouldn’t be in place for Christmas 2021!)

For me personally, and the Pro Corda team, that strange period was about working up a plan to make sure Pro Corda courses could come back in as soon as possible, and meanwhile putting as much of Pro Corda online as we could. Our Outreach students by then were already “dialling in” several times per week and “Pro Corda@Home” was about to launch for our chamber course students. I often found myself in the Guesten Hall alone recording material for those various weekly sessions and, as I sat at the Guesten Yamaha grand during those long days and evenings, it just seemed natural to start putting out some piano podcasts. Initially these were designed to be for our community concert audiences (whose regular concerts with us were on pause along with everything else in person at that time.) Some wider members of the Pro Corda community started to tune in, and we even got listeners from as far as Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and the States. It was also very touching that many of them wrote in wanting to know more about the Abbey and the ancient place they were tuning into each week.

I had to come up with a name for the podcasts and “Piano Sanctuary” literally just popped into a slightly cluttered mind at that stage. But then I thought of another Pro Corda group whose programme with us had been put on hold by the pandemic. Twice a year, since 2006, we have hosted two “Adult Piano” weekends each year. Initially often the parents of Pro Corda students, the weekends began to gather their own pace – each a combination of music course and weekend break in the country (washed down with house wine and great Abbey homely cuisine!) “Adult Piano” was another title which popped into the mind at the time – and not a great one… It always seemed overly functional!

Somehow the concept of “Sanctuary” seemed to chime with what those weekends had always been about, but what those who came on them (together with many of those now tuning into the podcasts) wanted from the piano, what they wanted from music in general, and what they wanted from Leiston Abbey.

As the constant twists and turns of the pandemic and its lockdowns rolled on, Piano Sanctuary seemed to grow in a natural and organic way. When we restarted courses, and although it wasn’t the month when we would usually host one of the twice yearly “Adult Piano” weekends, it seemed only natural to schedule a long weekend for adult pianists – and call it the Piano Sanctuary Retreat. Word got around, with more new people enquiring about “The Sanctuary” and so why not schedule one the next month too… and so on. Meanwhile, some of those overseas listeners wrote about their own piano journeys, and so the Sanctuary online courses were born.

18 months on we now have over 100 Pro Corda Piano Sanctuary online participants (taking either the “Starter” or “Adventure” five lesson course) and from 12 different countries including the UK. The Retreats are monthly (but for August) and we’re about to launch the “Piano Sanctuary Secrets” events regionally – part piano recital, part social gathering – but all with a twist!

It truly became one of those journeys born out of the bleakness of lockdown that led to a colourful kaleidoscope of different possibilities and as ever it’s the people that make these things. I am so grateful for the incredible range of human beings I’ve met on the monthly retreats and on the online courses. Now a fully fledged subsidiary of Pro Corda, there is so much going on at Piano Sanctuary and it can all be found at www.pianosanctuary.co.uk

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