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Katrina Gordon takes on couch to Grade 8 piano challenge

By Jean Gunn

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The finish line is in sight for Katrina Gordon who will completes her Couch to Grade 8 piano challenge this week.
The finish line is in sight for Katrina Gordon who will completes her Couch to Grade 8 piano challenge this week.

A Thurso musician has come up with the unusual challenge of working through her piano exams from Grade 1-8 within a year as part of an epic fundraiser.

And now Katrina Gordon (50), is nearing the finish line of her Couch to Grade 8 Piano quest with the grand finale due to take place tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10.30am when she will sit down to do her online exam which can be viewed live on her Facebook page by clicking here.

In the process she has set herself the target of raising £5000 for the Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust (SScOT) which runs non-auditioned residential courses in orchestral and wind band playing for children during the summer holidays.

Katrina has already raised over £3000 and hopes more donations will come in as people tune into the livestreaming of her exam which can still be viewed after the event.

The professional musician, known more for her skills on the bassoon, confesses that she used to be rubbish at playing the piano. However, a "mild" brush with Covid-19 just before everyone went into lockdown last March meant she was unable to play her favourite wind and brass instruments.

She explained that she is currently suffering from costochondritis – an inflammation of the chest ligaments which flared up as an effect of the coronavirus and has put trumpet, flute and bassoon practice off the menu for a while.

Katrina, who is involved in many different local music groups, has over the years had a number of failed attempts at playing the piano with memories of literally crying at the age of five when faced with the 'hands together' page in her book. She moved to woodwind and watched in awe as her two sisters took piano lessons to Grade 5 and her talented brother played by ear.

Age 16 she tried again and took one year of piano lessons, learning to play the first two pages of a Mozart sonata, albeit very slowly, because piano was a mandatory requirement for her music college entrance exams.

"That was literally the only tune I could play, and despite the best efforts of my long-suffering piano teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, it was still the only tune I could play at the end of my first year, when it was politely suggested I should transfer my second study to contrabassoon," Katrina said.

About 20 years later she was persuaded to start beginner piano teaching on the agreement that if any got beyond Grade 3 they could be handed over to her partner in crime Susie Dingle for more advanced tuition.

However, one of her pupils, Niamh, refused to transfer and after nine years of lessons with Katrina and countless hours of private practice opened her Grade 8 piano book and aims to sit her exam in June 2021.

"She has inspired me," said Katrina. "She has always known I cannot play the piano – she stuck with me."

Along the way the musician has practised every day, totalling 570 hours playing and has sat every exam from Grade 1 through the online system used by the Music Teachers' Board (MTB). She set her fundraising target at £5000 as she felt that was the equivalent of what she would have earned if she had worked for that many hours.

Most people would take a around eight to 10 years to complete all their grades, however as Katrina could already read music she has been able to speed up the process. She will be taking her final Grade 8 exam within a year of sitting her Grade 1, which she passed last May.

Her aim was to actually sit the last grade but passing it will be a bonus. "When I started it I did not think I would be able to get to Grade 8," said Katrina. "There is going to be a celebration on Wednesday anyway. I should get the results in a week or two. My teacher Susie generously said she thinks I would pass."

"Watching it will make for edgy viewing. Although I am quite a seasoned performer, playing on the piano is alien territory and quite nerve-wracking. There will be an element of nerves with it, certainly it will not be note perfect. I have managed to pass all the exams so far, I even got a merit for my Grade 7 – I would say it's hopeful."

All funds raised will go directly to SScOT, which like many charities has been hit hard by the pandemic and have had to cancel last year's residential course and the one planned for2021 due to Covid-19. "I think all arts organisations and performers are struggling – they are in quite a difficult situation at the moment. They really do need the money in order to survive."

SScOT director Kate Whitlock said: "Katrina's challenge is one of the most ambitious fundraising challenges I've ever seen and the money she's raised so far has been an absolute lifeline for SScOT during what's been a difficult year for so many small charities. We're all so proud of her for reaching the finish line and grateful for each and every donation along the way.

"Every year at SScOT we see how making music together can build children's confidence and self-esteem, encourage teamwork, and bring a huge amount of joy - all things that we need in order to flourish as we emerge from the pandemic.

"We're proud of how students and teachers have persevered with Zoom lessons and solo practice while we haven't been able to play in groups but we can't wait to be back in the same room together, and every penny we raise through donations will go towards making that happen as soon as possible."

Donations can be made through her fundrasing page at https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/couch_to_grade_8_piano

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