Competition & Conflict

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“To compete always damages your soul.”

Maria João Pires (International Piano, January 2014)


With auditions for the finals of this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition underway, we are yet again presented with the spectacle of competing pianists pitted against one another by an industry that would have us all believe that there is no other way to launch a career (despite so many high-profile examples to the contrary).

A lot of people seem to love this stuff, and certainly we can look forward to some fabulous performances. But personally, while perhaps not as outspoken on the subject as the marvellous Maria João Pires, I have long felt uneasy with the whole idea of piano competitions.

The climax of any competition is the victory of the “winner”. And of course, everyone knows what the opposite of a winner is. Mitigating this, multiple medals and accolades might be awarded, but when players are divided into good, better and best, they have still fundamentally been divided.

We don’t need to beat others to have value.

I sometimes hear it suggested that competition is natural, an evolutionary imperative. Whether the sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel set the tone for our species, or the ‘survival of the fittest’ determined who we have corporately become, the point is made that we are hard-wired to compete.

If we want to follow the Natural Way, should we compete?

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The Piano Student’s Humiliation

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


The other morning, while enjoying my first cup of tea for the day, our puppy Bella Bardóg decided to keep nudging me for attention, distracting me from reading the book in my hands. I rather thoughtlessly responded with,

“If you want the book, how about you read it to me?”

Bella looked somewhat forlorn, and my wife Louise chipped in with,

“Don’t humiliate her! You know she can’t read!”

This slightly daft domestic anecdote illustrates a hugely important truth: when we ask somebody, anybody, to do something we know they are incapable of, we humiliate them.

How often, perhaps inadvertently, do we do this to our students?

As well as an aspiring dog-whisperer, Louise is a clinical specialist in child and adolescent mental health, and it is only fitting to credit her for many of the thoughts which follow, emerging as they did from our discussion that morning…

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The Pianist’s Motivations

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


  • What is it that motivates us as pianists?
  • Why did we start learning to play the piano? ..
  • And why do we continue to play?
  • What are our piano goals for the future? ..
  • And how do they excite us?
  • How can we motivate and inspire our students?

Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.

In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.

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