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Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley

Interview

1. As Piano À Deux you made it on to national television in April 2012 when you were on Britain’s Got Talent. Can you tell us more of this experience and pieces you performed please?

Music performed: “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin, arr. Robert & Linda

First Audition in London
Our first taste of BGT was queuing outside for over two hours, for the preliminary audition. This would have been lovely had it been July, but on a grey December morning, graced by a light drizzle, we must have been quite a sight: two bedraggled people, one propping up a keyboard stand and the other sitting on a piano stool. When it began to rain seriously, however, they took pity on us and allowed us in.

Once out of the cold, we were signed in and asked to wait in a large “holding room” with a host of other entrants. Robert was then obliged to go pounding back to the car park, about a mile away, wending his way back through the busy corridors of the Excel Exhibition Centre, lumbered with a heavy keyboard, and in some haste as we had no idea how soon we would be called.

After another hour, we were auditioned. Audition time: about ten minutes including setting up time for the keyboard. The adjudicator looked all of 22. He told us that we had made his day!

To our delight, we got through to the next round almost two months later, with judges Simon Cowell, David Walliams, Amanda Holden & Aleesha Dixon, held in Manchester as we were unable to do the London auditions. The brief was to be there for 8.30 a.m., ready for the audition. Tails and evening dress on a wet January morning! You have to be up for anything in this game.

Public Audition
On arrival, we were taken to be filmed, inside and outside, walking to the audition, through the doors, talking to each other, to the cameras, discussing the prize of half a million pounds, etc. This took about 4 hours, and no coffee breaks to lift our flagging spirits.

Afterwards we were taken to a “holding room” to spend the day with other hopefuls, their grannies, uncles, cousins and aunts, and could only leave the room by notifying a member of staff. Back to school again.

Round about 6 p.m. we were taken to the audition venue, and backstage, where we met some of the other acts, guitar-strumming singers, half-naked dancers, choral singers and a cockroach eater.

Many weeks before, we had requested a grand piano for this audition. That day, we checked many times to see if they had provided it. Twenty minutes before going on, we were told that we would only have a keyboard.

Brush with Simon Cowell
From the wings, we heard an Oxbridge type choral group being auditioned. After about 40 seconds of singing, we heard a buzzer: one of the judges telling them to stop. Simon Cowell’s booming voice was heard saying that this was not going anywhere. Earlier, we had met the group and their agent. They were doing the Manchester auditions as they were leaving the following day for a seven-week tour of the US. BGT had invited them to audition.

Round about 7.30 we finally got on stage, introduced by Ant & Dec, a comic duo. David Walliams interviewed us extensively, eventually suggesting that Simon Cowell ought to do as Robert had done and find himself a wife on the net. The audience lapped it up.

About 45 seconds after we had begun playing, we heard the buzzer, then another. We ignored both, determined to play the last ten seconds of our piece which ended with a flourish.

David Walliams loved it. Amanda Holden said, “I’m sure the Royal Family would love this!” Aleesha Dixon said that it was very sweet, that we probably sounded lovely in our front room, but no, she didn’t want to hear us again. Simon Cowell said he couldn’t understand why keyboard players sounded like cats walking up and down the keyboard.

We left, disappointed. To add insult to injury, we had to be filmed leaving the stage and building several times. Television now makes a habit of interviewing competitors who have just lost the big prize, and I have wondered how they felt. Well, this was it for us. Once we came to our senses, we remembered that we had cruise and concert bookings in the diary and this was what life was really about, although half a million pounds in the bank would have been useful.

Life after
Back at the “holding room” there was to be another interview with Stephen Mulhern round about 9.30 p.m. He seemed most disappointed, saying, “Simon Cowell didn’t get it did he?” We were released at 10 p.m., the last out of the building, the first ones in.

Having done BGT and not got through, we got on with life. In the midst of a really busy time, we had a text from Robert’s daughter to say that we were on television. Not only were we being flashed up in the trailers for Britain’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got More Talent, we were given about six to eight minutes air-space in one of the programmes, now available at:

2. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

Linda:

The pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli because he was meticulous, always made an exquisite sound and his concerts were events to be remembered.

The conductor John Wilson because of his passion for the music he conducts and his extensive and enthusiastic research into the genre he works with.

The pianist Stephen Hough because he is a fine pianist and musician, a polymath who writes, paints and has a wide range of interests including theology, hats and puddings. He not only plays the standard repertoire with great skill, but also arranges and composes.

Robert:

The pianist Martha Argerich because of her exceptional power and brilliance, and also her emotive and precisely considered phrasing.

The pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim not only because of his exhaustive knowledge and research into tone production but also because of his ability to draw musicians from East and West together across tense racial divides.

3. Robert, you studied with Dorothea Law. What was it like to be tutored by this lady?

Being Austrian, she had a fearsome admiration for hard work and discipline and could spot immediately a lack of attention to detail. She made a speciality of the classical repertoire: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, etc. When I suggested Ravel for instance, she would say, “If you must play such things go ahead but I don’t have much to say about them”. However, I learnt a huge amount about beautiful tone from her and will always be very grateful for her teaching.

4. Robert, you gained the Premier Prix at the Conservatoire de Lyon (France). When did this happen and what was this for?

Whilst on my year abroad midway through a linguistics degree, I made a point of continuing with piano practice in my spare time. Some friends heard me and asked whether I was studying music. One young lady very kindly offered to put me in touch with Mme Suzanne Cauvin, who was in charge of the “Classe Superieur de Piano” at the Lyon Conservatoire. She liked my playing and I was allowed into her class, free of charge, for a year. What a blessing! She put me in for a number of concerts and I eventually took the Premier Prix exam along with the others in the class, all of whom were French, from the Lyon area.

With the Premier Prix in the bag, I had free access to the Paris Conservatoire for the next year, but since I was midway through my degree in England, and loved it, I decided to forgo the Paris experience.

5. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or composing for you two?

Linda: The very first time we played a duet together in public was at Leighton House Museum, a concert organised by Canan Maxton. Robert and I had arranged a medley of three Gershwin songs and wanted to test the water. The audience loved it, and that encouraged us.

Robert: It comes as no surprise that the fondest memories are often to do with a first encounter! We first played the piano together on our second date, sitting down together at my piano and rattling through some Schubert that Linda had borrowed from a public library. It was a great time of discovery.

We do enjoy performing together. I think that Robert was made to be a pianist, and is now fulfilling his life’s mission. Travelling and performing is hard work, but we are thrilled every time we get positive feedback, especially when people say that our music has lifted their spirits.

What particularly thrills us is when someone says that they don’t generally like “classical music” but thoroughly enjoyed our concert. We long to bring a more diverse audience to our kind of music.

6. You are both arrangers and songwriters. Are these for you to perform or are they for other musicians?

Most have been for us. We write harmonies and link passages in the music in order to make it more accessible and exciting. Our first CD contains arrangements like these.

Robert has written a great number of songs, some of which have been recorded and published, and generate royalties. The songbooks are available all over the world and our hope is that many, professionals and amateurs alike, will continue to enjoy singing them.

Linda: I have done some arranging for church use and also for a concert for 4 singers which took place at the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore.

7. Linda, during your time at the Guildhall School of Music (London), you won awards like the Royal-Overseas League Accompanist’s Prize and were the harpsichordist of the Guildhall String Ensemble when they won the Internationales Jeunesses Musicales Competition in Belgrade. Tell us which pieces you played and the feeling of the time?

As harpsichordist with the Guildhall String Ensemble, I was only involved in the Baroque pieces. I had a great respect for the group, who played without a conductor. They deserved to win as they were enthusiastic, fresh and made good music.

For the Royal-Overseas League I played for a couple of singers and the adjudicators chose to give me the prize without my knowing it. I had to be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to receive the prize and had to play the National Anthem, much more nerve-wracking than playing anything else.

8. Would either of you would like to teach music?

We both teach at the moment. Robert teaches piano and has done for many years.

Linda: I have taught piano and singing, and really enjoy working on singing technique and developing singing voices.

In the near future, we are thinking of taking the Piano Duo perhaps into the possibility of publishing, doing master classes and helping the next generation of players.

9. Linda, you have recorded with several artists and have released seven CDs of your own. Can you tell us more of these artists you have collaborated with and the briefly describe the different themes in the CDs you have released over the years?

Dominion International Opera: a Christian opera group with whom I recorded a CD of arias and songs. This group was a floating group with two founder members, both tenors. The group did corporate and other events, usually with 4 singers and a pianist. Sadly the group has folded.

Janet Fairlie: my good friend and colleague, a soprano who was also my bridesmaid. The CD is a mixture of songs with piano, and also operatic arias arranged very successfully for string quartet.

Russell Ablewhite: a tenor, a good friend who sang at our wedding. He did some roles with the Opera House, and was lately in their extra chorus until he met a Norwegian girl and now lives in Oslo. The CD we recorded was a mixture of songs and operatic arias with piano accompaniment.

David Gregory (previously David Fade): a tenor who helped me a great deal. We recorded “Classically Yours” which was a CD of his favourite songs. He now very successfully sings regularly to raise money for Macmillan’s and other charities like that.

Robert Stoodley: my darling husband and duet partner who is imbued with patience and compassion. Without these qualities Piano À Deux would not exist and our first CD would never have been made. This CD, “Strictly Not Bach”, recorded in April 2011, consists of some of our arrangements. It was so called because one track includes two Preludes and a Fugue out of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”.

The intention was to raise at least £2000 for charity through the CD and we are happy that this has been achieved. Even now, listening to it, I feel that we could make a better job of it now.

5 other CDs were at the instigation of a Singapore company. They were to be my hymn arrangements. The invitation came after I was heard playing at the funeral of my father in 1996 and at that of his sister who died a week later. It was a god-send as it gave me a focus during a very difficult time.

I was to have recorded 10 CDs, but the organiser has since passed away and the company is in other hands.

Two other CDs recorded at my own expense. They consist of standard piano repertoire as well as some of my arrangements. I cringe when I listen to them now and hope that my playing has improved.

10. Linda, you have featured as the cover girl for “Woman Alive” magazine. How did this magazine choose to celebrate your success?

It was just an interview, “A Day in the Life Of...” article, mostly questions about how I lived each day and how much music there was in my day.

11. Linda, in 2002, with Janet Fairlie you created “Diva, Diva” bringing music to luxury cruise liners. What is the style of music you present please?

We did a mixture of popular operatic arias with Janet singing, and also some songs, particularly Scottish folk songs as she is a Scot. I would play some solos, Chopin, Debussy, Schubert, etc., some of my song-arrangements, and also well known pieces like “The Warsaw Concerto”.

12. Do either of you have specific projects for the future?

We are just in the process of putting together a brochure, which is expensive. At the same time, our spiritual mentor has helped us to set up a blog which should be up and running by the end of January. We hope to write a monthly blog which will serve as a newsletter, covering travel and various other matters of interest, such as art, music, books, health and cooking! >link:

We also wish to increase interest in piano duet playing, through sharing our experiences and skills with younger people, and through arranging and publishing music for piano duet.

Another CD would be good, this time of our arrangements of Christian music past and present.

Our work for various charities is ongoing. We try and help with a local charity called Donnington Doorstep which works with families in the Oxford area and helps with disadvantaged girls.

“Talent Unlimited” is an inspired charity, and we would like to increase our involvement with it.

Vision
It is very easy for us artists to aim for fame, and to desire great wealth. However, there are far worthier causes to be found by getting in touch with our “higher selves”. Art is for the service of our fellow beings, an instrument joy and healing. We need to nurture an attitude of service and of rejoicing in the success of others.

The last word must belong to a wonderful song writer, Marvin Hamlisch. He is reputed to have said that artists have God-given talent and that if we don’t utilize this talent, God would be disappointed!

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