Sharon Graham Pianist









Sharon Graham Pianist Sharon Graham Pianist
Sharon Graham Pianist

Dad, Bert Graham
browsing our treasury
of memories

Sharon with Brendan Henderson at Henderson Piano Studio, Northland Road, Derry

"I am supremely grateful to Gerry, Brian and Brendan 'Henderson Music Ireland', with whom I have had a longstanding association, for all their encouragement and support in promoting me as a professional pianist but especially for supplying fabulous pianos to the venues where I play."

Photography by
Julie McPherson
at Henderson's Piano Studio

Just the other evening, while my father and I were looking through boxes of old photographs in an attic room, we came across his collection of vinyl records. As we picked up each one, to smooth our hands over its tattered, dusty cover and scratched surface, we smiled and laughed together as if we had found buried treasure. Such memories came flooding back...

Growing up in our home in the '60s and '70s, there was always music. As far back as I can remember my father played records constantly on his HMV record player which was kept in an attic room where he, my brother and I would spend many industrious hours building cardboard houses, making scenery and painting figures for a magnificent 'N' gauge model railway. This project absorbed all three of us most evenings, during which it was my job to change the records, taking care not to scratch their vinyl surface and forever blowing dust off the delicate needle. Looking back, it was the music that made this memory so special for me. Many of the records (from the late '50s and early '60s) that we held in our hands that evening evening, were some of the earliest in my memory - Ray Charles singing 'You Don't Know Me' and 'Georgia On My Mind', Ivor Emmanuel singing Cole Porter's 'So In love', Sarah Vaughan's rendition of 'Misty', Jo Stafford singing 'September In The Rain' and Margaret Whiting's version of 'The Lies Of Handsome Men' - songs imbued with soulful lyrics that ignited in me, at a very young and impressionable age, a great love for the music of that era. I may have been too young to understand the sentiment of the words of Hank William's 'Your Cheatin' Heart' or Dean Martin's 'Gentle On My Mind', but I remember dancing around, singing happily along with the choruses.

Fortunately for me, my father's taste in music was rather eclectic and, among his collection of 45s were Humphrey Lyttleton's 'Bad Penny Blues', Chris Barber's 'Storyville Blues', Charley Pride's 'Crystal Chandeliers', The Clancy Brothers' 'Mountain Dew', The Beatles' hit 'Sloop John B', The Beach Boys' 'You're So Good To Me' and LPs by Monty Sunshine, Burl Ives, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, Tom Jones and my father's favourite, Lena Martell. With Booker T & the MGs 'Green Onions' (1962 instrumental 12 bar blues) on the turntable, volume to full blast, my father's fingers and thumbs clicking in time, his feet tapping and our hearts jumping to the rhythm of the music, we were oblivious to the frustrated thudding of my mother's sweeping brush banging off the kitchen ceiling below us. Her retorts of "turn that racket down!" were to fall on deaf ears.

Of course, it wasn't just the records playing all the time that inspired my love of music. My father was in the car repair business and we were fortunate to have a Mark II Ford Cortina fitted with an eight track sound system which played tape cassettes the size of a modern day VCR video. Every Sunday afternoon my father took our mother, my brother and me out for a 'run' to Portrush, Downhill, Castlerock or into 'The Free State' (as they referred to it, being Donegal natives) to Fahan or Buncrana. The car radio would be tuned in at 3pm for the romantic classical piano renditions of Alberto Semprini in 'Semprini Serenade', followed by 'Pick of the Pops' at 4pm. All the way home it was 'Sing Something Simple' on the radio followed by my father's favourite tape cassette of Mantovani's Orchestral film themes. For me, the most spell binding of all was Mantovani's rendition of 'Charmaine' (originally recorded in 1958) - his signature cascading strings stirring my imagination and transcending me into another world from which, some say, I never returned!

Although I have no recollection of this, I am told that I first touched the keys of a piano in 1964 when a neighbour, who was minding me for my mother, lifted me up onto the stool of her upright piano and I became obsessed with making up tunes using just the black notes. It wasn't until December 1968 that a piano, which was bought for ninety pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence from Cavandish's, Bishop Street, Derry, arrived in our home. I remember vividly the day the new piano was delivered. My mother was fussing around it, polishing what she considered to be the latest accessory in furniture for 'the good room' of any respectable home. I sat up on the stool, and proceeded to try to pick out the notes of 'Scarlet Ribbons for her Hair' - a popular song of the time sung by Val Doonican, and a favourite of my father's. By the time I started music lessons in January 1969, I had mastered my own interpretations of quite a repertoire of his favourite songs.

Soon after the piano had arrived in our house, Brian Henderson (of Henderson Music, Bishop Street, Derry) came to tune it and I can remember him playing the piano loudly and confidently, rippling up and down the keys, grabbing fistfuls of notes and ending triumphantly with a flourish. I had never actually watched someone play the piano like that and I was so impressed that he wasn't reading music in order to play - he just knew where to place his fingers. I decided there and then that I wouldn't need music either and so there began a 10 year battle between me, sheet music and a flotilla of music teachers, all of whom were despairing of my tendency to want to play from memory and worse still, playing my own interpretations of the music, as they referred to it, ‘by ear’. Of course, I am indebted to my mother for her own tenacity and dedication - enforcing my daily piano practice and regular attendance at lessons - even though, on occasions, it meant her running with me by the hand through stone throwing riots which, in the late 60’s, often flared up close to my teacher’s home in the Derry city centre.

Eventually I acceded and practised diligently to attain my pianoforte and theory of music examination grades (including GCE 'O' and 'A' level music), before graduating from Queens University, Belfast to embark on a teaching career. As a student in Belfast in the late 1970s, I remember I brought some of my father's record collection with me to listen to because they represented, for me, the comfort and security of home. At that time most of my friends at college were into Depeche Mode, The Jam,The Specials and The Sex Pistols but, while I enjoyed, and had an appreciation of this music genre, I always returned to the music that was engrained in my soul from my earliest memories - to listen to and to play - Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone...

Upon reflection, the love of this music was to permeate throughout the rest of my life; it was there in the background to ease the soul, offering consolation and comfort in the darker times when I learned humility; it was there to stimulate the imagination and elate in successful times, bringing with it growing self confidence. Music was always waiting shyly in the background, just waiting...

Within the past 15 years, while engaged in a commercial career - travelling abroad in a commercial marketing capacity -I had many opportunities to play wonderful pianos in some fabulous locations, for the entertainment of all present. Some of my special memories include (in all modesty) playing, by invitation, in the Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel (London), the The K Club Hotel (Kildare), Castle Leslie (Co. Monaghan), The Gleneagles Hotel (Scotland), and various other hotels world wide, including The Hamilton Princess and Southampton Princess Hotels (Bermuda), Hotel Le Bristol (Paris), the cocktail lounge of the Abu Dhabi Grand Hotel and Le Meridian Dubai (UAE). This all seems very grand - but the simple gift of being able to sit down at a piano and place my hands on its keys to play from the soul - whether it be for my own pleasure, or for the entertainment of others - is something that I am eternally grateful for.

Often, while piano entertaining, I will find a note, card or even a serviette placed by the piano with a few words of appreciation handwritten by someone who wishes to express their personal appreciation of my music. It is always heartwarming to receive such a compliment - especially when, on one occasion, the hand written message was from well known song writer Brendan Graham - who wrote down some lyrics from his song ‘You Raise Me Up’ and then a personal note - "From one Graham to another thanks for the music."

These days I am honoured to be resident pianist the Culloden Estate & Spa (Holywood, Belfast) - Northern Ireland’s premier 5 star hotel - while also playing regularly at the Europa Hotel’s Piano Lounge (Belfast), The Beechill Country House (Derry), The White Horse Hotel (Derry), Castle Grove Country House (Letterkenny, Co. Donegal) and Sunday mornings jazz brunch at The Sandwich Co.(Derry) and continue to enjoy providing piano entertainment for numerous weddings and private/corporate functions throughout Ireland, UK and Europe.

None of this would have transpired for me without the initial promotion of Brian, Brendan and Gerry Henderson (of Henderson Music Ireland - with whom I have had a longstanding association) who encouraged me to promote myself professionally as a pianist and, of course, I am supremely grateful to them also for supplying fabulous pianos to the venues where I play!

These days I offer an eclectic range of piano music which can be tailored to suit any venue or occasion ~ whether it be to create a certain ambiance for hotel reception foyers, public or intimate dining areas, cocktail lounges or entertaining guests at private functions such as wedding receptions/anniversaries/birthday parties or corporate drinks receptions/events, etc. My piano playing style could be described as easy listening, ranging from traditional Irish/Scottish airs, light classical favourites, themes from the movies and West End musicals and everything from the memorable melodies of Cole Porter, soulful blues of Ray Charles, popular Rat Pack hits and The New American Songbook standards, right through to modern ballads. Of course, I can raise the volume and tempo for a good old sing song if necessary.

So the other evening, when we found those records in the attic, and sat for hours reminiscing over their significance, I turned to my father and said "You realise, don't you... that this is where it all began for me? It was all because of you Dad - thank you for the music..."

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