Established in 2010, The Cross-Eyed Pianist has become “an important voice in the piano world” (Peter Donohoe, international concert pianist) and enjoys a wide global readership with over 20,000 visitors to the site per month, and a social media following of c9000. Regularly updated with varied content, guest posts and the popular Meet the Artist interview series, The Cross-Eyed Pianist is now one of the UK’s leading blogs on classical music, with a special focus on pianists and piano playing.
Frances Wilson, author of The Cross-Eyed Pianist, regards herself as a non-specialist who cares passionately about classical music and the piano and who simply wants to share that passion with others. Here she tells us how she got started, offers some tips for bloggers, and describes how blogging has put her in touch with a wide variety of people in the sphere of classical music and beyond…..
A pianist in the blogosphere
I’ve always been interested in writing about music and my blog The Cross-Eyed Pianiststarted initially as a place where I could record thoughts about the music I was playing, studying and enjoying at concerts. I had returned to playing the piano seriously after an absence of 20 years and a blog rather than an old-fashioned pencil and notebook seemed a useful way to track my progress. I’d already had some experience of blogging through my food blog Demon Cookso the initial set up process was easy. Looking back, as I occasionally do, at my earliest articles, my “juvenilia” as I call them, I see a rather self-conscious person who still has much to learn about the craft of writing. But from the outset, I tried to write with intelligence, honesty and commitment, and with a distinct personal voice, which I think is important for any blogger.
I did not consciously create a USP or a particular online persona via the blog – I just wanted to write about music and playing the piano – but the name has undoubtedly helped, and it also describes who I am: a pianist who is genuinely cross-eyed. Today mynom de plumeis my “brand” and I try to keep a consistent persona and identity across all my social media platforms so that I and my blog are easily recognisable.
I think the key to a successful blog is to offer well-written articles and varied, regularly updated content (no one wants to read a blog that lies fallow for weeks or months) on an attractive and easy-to-navigate site. But one should also write from the heart with passion and commitment. I don’t actively think about who might be reading my blog (though I do know some of my readers personally), but rather I write about subjects which interest me. I care very passionately about the piano and classical music and I want others to care about it too. Subconsciously, I’m probably writing for someone like me: someone who enjoys classical music and has some knowledge of the art-form, who likes going to concerts and reading about them, maybe plays the piano too and who ponders the day-to-day practicalities and exigencies of being a musician, amateur or professional (practising, repertoire, continuing study, teaching etc), as well as the more esoteric aspects of the musician’s life (motivation, performance anxiety and the psychology of performance, impostor syndrome, avoiding injury). I write from the point of view of an informed non-specialist: I did not have a formal musical training but have studied with a number of leading pianists and teachers since I returned to the piano in my early 40s. I am naturally inquisitive and a self-confessed auto-didact, which encourages me to explore and research aspects of classical music, piano playing and performance practice and psychology to broaden my knowledge.
A successful blog is constantly evolving, and so in 2012 I launched the Meet the Artist project, a weekly series of interviews with classical musicians, conductors and composers. I had no expectation of this taking off but I thought it would be interesting for professional classical musicians to share their insights. People outside the profession often think, mistakenly, that classical musicians exist in some kind of gilded cage, at a remove from real life. The Meet the Artist series allows readers to “get beyond the notes” and offers a window onto the life of classical musicians, from their working habits to significant teachers, influences and inspirations, performing, recording and more. Featured artists include leading pianists Stephen Hough, Joanna Macgregor and Benjamin Grosvenor, baritone Roderick Williams, composer of ‘The Snowman’ Howard Blake, BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016 finalist saxophonist Jess Gillam, prog rock legend Rick Wakeman and maverick harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, amongst many others. The series is ongoing and is so successful that it now has its own dedicated website. It is regarded as an important resource on musicians and contemporary music making, and I regularly receive requests from musicians and/or their PRs/agents to take part in the series.
Alongside the Meet the Artist series, I run a number of other mini or occasional series on the site which allow others to contribute and give readers the chance to hear from someone other than me. Mini series like Mixtapes, At The Piano and A Pianist’s Alphabet as well as guest posts offer readers a wider variety of voices and viewpoints, and give a platform to other writers and bloggers. The blog has provided additional outlets for my writing too, including concert reviewing and as a regular guest contributor to a number of other classical music and music education sites and publications around the world.
Engagement is also important for a blogger. Unlike a number of other bloggers I know, I allow comments on my posts as this creates a dialogue with readers, and opens up a conversation. A willingness to engage, both via the blog and on social media, has led to some very interesting encounters and fruitful opportunities, important connections and firm friendships within the sphere of classical music and beyond. In fact, the spin-offs from the blog have surprised me: when I started it, I never expected to receive invitations to concerts, prestigious piano events, classical music awards dinners or receptions.
All of this feeds into my musical and writerly landscape and my working life as a writer on classical music, piano teacher and (occasional) performer, as well as offering further inspiration for new blog posts. And while the inspiration remains, so The Cross-Eyed Pianist will continue.
Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, music reviewer, writer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. Frances started playing the piano around the age of 5 but at 18 she stopped playing for 20 years. On returning to the piano, she completed two professional performance diplomas in her late 40s, passing with distinction, and documented her preparation via her blog, providing an informed and supportive resource for other pianists.
Frances is a regular writer for InterludeHK, a Hong Kong-based classical music website, German streaming service IDAGIOand The Schubertian, the journal of the Schubert Institute of the UK,and from 2011 to 2018 she was a concert reviewer for Bachtrack.com. She also contributes a column on aspects of piano playing to Pianist magazine’sonline content, and has written teaching notes for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music graded piano exam syllabus.
In 2015 she co-founded Music into Wordswith three other bloggers which seeks to explore the wide variety of writing about classical music today in a series of presentations and discussion events, live and online. Frances has also appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme with Tom Service to discuss the effect of the internet on music criticism.
In her addition to The Cross-Eyed Pianist, Frances also writes a blog on piano teaching called A Piano Teacher Writes…and is co-founder and general editor of ArtMuseLondon.com, a site for cultural musings and reviews of art and music in London, created by a quartet of writers.
ArtMuseLondon – reviews and cultural musings Artmuselondon.com
Author photos by James Eppy