When mum-of-two and professional musician Katrina Gordon was hit by Covid last year, it left her unable to play her beloved bassoon.
Although she was grateful to come through the ordeal, she was left with a chest inflammation that meant her instrument of choice was off-limits.
Looking for a new challenge, the Thurso musician turned to her childhood nemesis, the piano, with impressive results.
In a year, she has completed 570 hours of practise to achieve what most students take eight years to do.
Pending one final Grade 8 piano exam result, she is now a top grade player.
And she is close to raising £5,000 for a music charity into the bargain.
Champagne and chocolate to celebrate
Katrina, 50, celebrated with champagne and chocolate after finishing her year-long Couch to Grade 8 tuition challenge.
After 570 hours of hard graft, she sat her Grade 8 online exam in Thurso this week, completing completing the final piece, Adios Muchachos, a song written for tango.
As well as the satisfaction of mastering another instrument, she was also well on her way towards her target of raising £5,000 for the Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust (SScOT).
Many former and present pupils together with relatives and friends watched her sit the exam on a live stream feed from her Facebook page.
Katrina studied the bassoon at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.
She went on to become a freelance player, regularly performing with the likes of Scottish Opera and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
She has played trumpet in the Caithness Big Band; cornet in the Pentland Brass Band; percussion and horn in The Caithness Orchestra; and is musical director of the Caithness Handbell Ringers.
Covid legacy led to Grade 8 piano challenge
Her decision to do the challenge also followed a bout of Covid-19 in March last year.
Though relatively mild, it has left her with an inflammation of her chest, which has in the meantime left her unable to play her favourite instruments.
Katrina revealed that after contracting costochondritis as a legacy of her brush with Covid, she feared that could end her music-playing days.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to play again,” she said.
“That was also part of the motivation to do the challenge.
“But it’s looking more hopeful now and it’s definitely getting better.
“Doctors say it should clear itself – for some it can be three months but for others it has taken three years.”
In embarking on the challenge, Katrina has many memories of childhood frustration in trying to progress beyond very basic piano lessons.
Freely admitting that she was “rubbish” at it, she said: “I was the child who literally cried, aged five, when I reached the “hands together” page in my piano book.
“It was a real struggle as I just couldn’t get into the mindset you need to play the piano.”
Grown-up Katrina followed the online regime run by the Music Teachers’ Board to complete a Grade 8 piano programme in a year when most students take more than eight years.
She passed all seven exams, gaining a merit in Grade 7, but will not know the result of her last exam for a week or two.
Among the first to congratulate her yesterday were her two daughters, geologists Charlotte, 25, who is doing a PhD at Cambridge University, and Belinda, 23, who is doing a Masters at St Andrews University.
By Thursday, her appeal was over the £4,600 mark.
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.”
Donations can be made through her fundraising page at https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/couch_to_grade_8_piano