Natalee's passion for playing
THERE'S one of those British signs in the window of Natalee McCosker's home.
'Keep Calm and Play the Piano' it says.
Both parts of that work for Natalee, not only does the playing the piano help her relax, her skills mean she is the official accompanist for the Border District Eisteddfod in June and shared the accompanist role at the Queensland Eisteddfod held in Stanthorpe last month.
Even for an accomplished pianist, it's no easy task. Natalee accompanied 20 performers and not only were all the songs new to her, one was so complicated that she had to contact the Brisbane-based composer to send her a recording.
"I couldn't make heads nor tails from it,” she said.
Music pieces must be lodged with her two months prior to the event and then Natalee starts practising for an hour before work each morning and more on the weekends.
Then follows a session with each singer plus "jamming in a practice” prior to the performance.
She has to understand what the singer wants and adjust her playing accordingly as instead of following the piece directly, they may slow parts down, quicken others up or take a pause.
"The person you are accompanying is the leader,”she said.
"If they fall off stage, you just wait until they get back up again and keep going.”
In the eisteddfod one of her performers "went to putty” and Natalee had to call a halt.
"It's better to say stop and then pick it up again,” she said.
"You have to give performers a chance to do their best.”
And despite the rules about prior submission of music, she has to be spontaneous, as a few performers "just turned up the day before and threw their songs on us”.
Another performer couldn't find her accompanist so Natalee "just jumped in”.
"Luckily, I'd played that song before,” she said.
In eisteddfods in the past, performers had to do set songs but even that was not much help to the pianist.
"If you had 15 people, you'd hear 15 different versions,” she said.
Natalee is also a piano teacher and her students range from seven to 72 and while she says playing is easier for children because 'young brains absorb things', she enjoys teaching adults as they are enthusiastic and 'understand what I'm talking about'.
"They want your input, your experience,” she said.
"Even if I'm criticising them, they take it as they want to learn.”
Between teaching, playing in competitions, her work and family, Natalee admits that taking time out for her own music can be a struggle.
"But if I'm upset about something, I sit down and play,” she said.
"It makes me feel really good.”
It is something she has been doing since she was a little girl and wanted to play the piano just like her sister, who was 14 years older.
Natalee continued to ninth grade, a demanding process which involved playing three set pieces at the lower grades and eight at the higher, plus a test on the theoretical aspects of the piece and recognising a piece played by the examiner and singing it back in perfect pitch.
"It's more involved than what people think,” she said.
"When you're young you can think it's stupid, but when your mind matures, it makes sense.”
Natalee also gained an associate diploma of music, but then love and life got in the way and she now works in the family business A Better Way Printing.
"Eisteddfods are fun but they're lots of work,” she said.
"But that's what you train for.
"It's satisfying to be using your talent.”