Since moving into central London, I had always been intrigued by Peregrine’s Pianos, even without ever stepping inside. As a practising musician having only just graduated from university, I was looking for a job that would allow me to work with fellow musicians, and get a glimpse of this exciting profession. I am now preparing to enter my fifth month of employment here, and have had the opportunity to interact with artists from all walks of life – an experience that has been as enjoyable as it has been eye-opening!
With a legion of traditionally-made German pianos greeting you at the door, it is easy to assume that the shop and its clientele might be as tightly-strung as the instruments themselves. The truth is anything but. Not only have the team instilled a vibrant atmosphere about the place, but the predictably unpredictable stream of musicians who come in to rehearse means that shifts here are rarely dull. From hosts of jazz musicians flown in from America, to renowned opera singers preparing for their next performance, to the idle passer-by hoping to rediscover their love for the piano – the doors of Peregrine’s Pianos are open to all!
Interacting with such colourful characters has certainly been enjoyable, but what has impressed me most has been the ease with which these musicians blend carefree personas with deep-rooted professionalism. They might seem friendly and casual as they saunter in, but once their session has begun, they have entered their professional world, and will not be distracted.
One visit I will certainly remember came in November, when a well-known pop singer flew in from Los Angeles to use our rooms. Preparing for an upcoming London gig, she would come in daily to practise her set, and over the course of her rehearsals we got to know each other quite well. Without fail she would enter her room precisely on time and would not emerge until three hours had passed. She repeated this pattern daily for the month, even as she battled flu, before performing her sold-out show to rave reviews and then flying off back home the next day.
Perhaps the coolest customer I have witnessed was one of the youngest – a boy of around 12 who came here religiously for three weeks, accompanied by his father and an assigned vocal coach, to learn his lead role in a forthcoming Benjamin Britten opera. He was not the least bit shy or tetchy: he simply strode in as if this were his home, smiled politely, and then waltzed into his room to do his job.
Just today, a professional orchestra came looking to fill a cello vacancy. They were here for two days, listening to over thirty applicants, and left extremely content having chosen a number of talented musicians for trial shifts. We will probably never know which candidates were successful, but we are just happy to be part of the story!
Meeting professionals auditioning for some of the most highly sought-after positions in the orchestral world is undoubtedly a pleasure, but our staff are equally proud to support those entering this arena for the first time at youth level. Over the space of several weeks, the prestigious National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain held their second-round horn, oboe, clarinet and violin auditions here at Peregrine’s Pianos. The process was a success, and the 2020 Orchestra of 164 players has already enjoyed its first residency with acclaimed performances in Warwick, Nottingham and London’s Barbican Centre.
Many people seem to forget that along with hosting these auditions we also accommodate over 750 music examinations every year. One recent applicant, who had pulled out of her previous exam at the last minute though nerves, came to Peregrine’s Pianos to re-sit her exam. This second attempt (after some encouragement from our staff to go into the exam room) was a success and she sent us a lovely Christmas card to show her gratitude – and it is always nice to see a happy customer!
Room 2 is frequently used for piano meetup groups; and it is wonderful to see so many pianists, accustomed to practising on their own, now sitting in a circle around the Schimmel grand, discussing ideas and sharing brief performances. Our Room 3 is often chosen for filming, and we even made an appearance on ITN News recently: this was a heart-warming story of a returned violin, and the grateful owner was filmed playing the instrument and telling the story with our beautiful August Förster in the background.
The two larger rooms are a popular choice for masterclasses: Room 2 can comfortably fit twenty attendees, whilst Room 3 has seen as many as fifty audience members. One recent teacher training day saw best-loved teachers from as far out as Russia, Israel and America come together with their students for a day of music-making and invaluable first-hand coaching.
Peregrine’s Pianos is a haven for the working musician, but it is also a professional environment and needs constant maintenance. We are a staff of three – Dawn, William and myself – and are all pursuing our own musical aspirations. We work in shifts to keep the business running like clockwork. Each day the windows and all facilities must be cleaned, hand towels washed, and of course our pianos need to be kept clean, serviced and in tune. We are on duty at all times during the working day and always available to provide a helping hand.
I have always associated music with entertainment, and I had quite naively underestimated the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the music profession. Four months at Peregrine’s Pianos has opened my eyes to this, and I will certainly aim to match the musical dedication I have observed so regularly from behind the desk! It is a pleasure to work here and I look forward greatly to many more encounters with the wonderfully creative people who use our music studios.