Betty Reeves followed her father’s musical tradition

Betty Reeves (Betty Ching) 1913-2001

Betty grew up watching her father Ernest composing music – ‘doing dots’ – as she apparently described his work on his various manuscripts.  As she grew up she wanted to copy him and write musical notation. She also wanted to play the piano like him and so she started having lessons as soon as she started school at Surbiton High School.

Betty learnt the piano with Miss Martin at school, steadily moving through the Grade examinations, gaining high marks.   As she progressed through the school, she became greatly involved in the musical life, accompanying much of the school singing when needed and performing in school concerts.

When she was due to leave school, Betty unfortunately developed tuberculosis and spent some time in the chest hospital in Ventnor. She was unable to attend London University as planned and Ernest offered to pay for some more advanced piano lessons for her. After a consultation lesson, she went as a student of piano to James Ching who was making a name for himself in the musical world.  He had been to the Royal Academy as a young student and was then embarking on a series of concerts in London as well as writing a book on piano technique.  These piano lessons worked on Betty’s technique in an entirely different way and she was working on a number of challenging pieces with a view to giving a public concert in the Wigmore Hall.  At this time Betty was also composing her own piano pieces, mainly for the early years, which were published by Walsh Homes and Freemans.

In March 1939 she made her debut in the Wigmore Hall and her critical notices were encouraging with the result that she booked two more concerts to follow.  Unfortunately, with the outbreak of the war in September that year, these concerts never took place. In 1941 she married James Ching and they settled outside Oxford.  Betty continued her piano practice although much musical concert life at this time had stopped.  On one occasion in Oxford she and James joined Thomas Armstrong playing a Bach Concerto for three pianos in the Sheldonian Hall in aid of war relief.

After the end of the war, Betty took part in some concerts London with other former students who James had taught.  One such concert took place in the Cowdray Hall in London and the programme shows that she was still keeping up her pianistic skills but family life with two young children made it difficult to think about further big concerts.

Betty decided to turn her attention to piano teaching instead of performing, taking up a position at Oxford High School for Girls where she became a popular member of staff and was able to send several of her students to Music Colleges.  In addition to teaching, she produced an annual handbook of instruction for teachers called the Piano Teachers Yearbook.  This was a most helpful booklet, which gave hints and directions for piano teachers for all of the Associated Board Piano Examinations.  The music would arrive in advance of the exam schedule for that year, allowing her to produce the teaching hints before the  music was made available for the general public. The booklet sold widely to piano teachers in the United Kingdom and also to teachers abroad in places, like Malaysia, where Associated Board Piano Examinations were  also taken. She continued to produce this booklet until well into her early eighties, playing through all the music, including Grade 8 alternatives, before typing out her thoughts and ideas on practice and performance.

First Recital Wednesday, 29th March 1939 Wigmore Hall – (from the critics)

From Bach To Bartok By Our Music Correspondent

TWO pianists gåve recitals in London—both young, but with styles widely differentiated, and both made first appearances. Betty Reeves is one of the most promising debutantes I have heard for a long time. She started off at Wigmore Hall with the inevitable Bach, and, being a pupil of Mr. James Ching, himself a Bach enthusiast, she played the English Suite in A minor with real understanding, and the Prelude Fugue and Allegro brilliantly. Chopin’s Funeral Sonata was given with much sonority, but this work, hackneyed as it is, demands imagination, and imagination with this most successful debutante is well on the way.

And then for Bartok at Æolian Hall. Andor Foldes comes from Budapest, and is a great technician. I give him credit, too, for including in his program works by two of his countrymen, Bartok and Kodaly, in addition to the customary classics.
Unfortunately, I did not hear his three ” Bs “—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—but the Sonata ” 1926 ” by Bartok was an extraordinary exhibition of body blows on the unfortunate piano Kodaly’s “The Dances of Marosszef” was a little more reasonable ; at times, we heard glimmerings of melody ; but I prefer Miss Betty Reeves and her Bach to this exaggerated modernity.”
J. A. FORSYTH  (The Star)

Where Miss Reeves seemed most at home was in Bach, whow she clearly believes in presenting in as straightforward a manner as possible. The English Suite in A minor was given with neatness and clarity.
F. Toye, Daily Telegraph 30.3.39

I heard Betty Reeves play the set of eight piano pieces by Brahms, Op. 76. Her performance showed the possession of a thoroughly serviceable and reliable technique and her interpretation was sensitive.
Scott Goddard, News Chronicle 30.3.39

The Bach was delightful… after the Suite there was lovely Prelude, Fugue and Allegro which was played with understanding.
Fox Strangeways, Observer 2.4.39

The programme for a concert given by Betty Reeves in 1947

Betty Reeves publications for piano

From the West Country, Walsh, Holmes and Co.
Water Ways, Forsyth Bros. Ltd.
Fantasia in C minor, J.S. Bach edited and revised, Walsh, Holmes
Devotion Op.25 No. 1, Schumann edited and revised, Walsh, Holmes
Full Speed Ahead at the Piano, Freeman
Dances from the Bach Suites selected and edited (with James Ching), Freeman
The Pilgrims’ Way, Forsyth
Know your Notation, Freeman
Never too Late! Freeman
Early Days at the Piano, Braydeston Press
Etude (the Revolutionary) Op.10 No.12, Chopin, edited and revised, Walsh Holmes
Fantasie-Impromptu Op.66, Chopin, edited and revised, Walsh Holmes
Echoes from the Dancing Class, Bosworth
Largo, Handel edited and revised, Walsh Holmes
Approach to Piano Teaching 1955
Aural Training (Monographs on the art of piano teaching)