Kyung Wha Chung speaks out against competitions

There’s a great quote from the iconic violinist Kyung Wha Chung in the latest BBC Music Magazine (June 2017) which I think is worth sharing here in passing, as it ties in with a theme that has recurred on Pianodao.

Talking about the young players who seek her advice she says:

“They say they’re going to enter this competition or that.
But this is the wrong route.
How many competitions are there on this planet? How many winners are there?
Do they all have a career – meaning a career when you become a star, so to speak? No.”

Kyung Wha Chung’s simple words sum up the futility of a competition circuit which crushes the aspirations of too many players (and one discouraged young performer is one too many in my view). The violin world – just like the piano world – offers dozens of “international” competitions each year (on the piano it ranges between 50-100 depending on the year) – each claiming it can transform a young artist’s career prospects.

And as the internationally acclaimed cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber recently told The Times (also reported in The Telegraph) the majority of music competitions are corrupt in any case, with judges colluding and using competitions merely to promote their own pupils and careers:

“Everyone knows it, but no one says it, because when you’re in the profession, you don’t…
There are obvious exceptions, such as BBC Young Musician of the Year, which is not corrupt at all, but you have these competitions for violins, cello, piano and it’s all about who you studied with.”

So many alternatives…

The subject of competitions is one which I have written about here many times, most recently (and fully) in my post The Competitions Controversy.

We can but hope that moving forward the music business and education world will continue to embrace change and look to creative positive alternatives for developing artists.

The interview with Kyung Wha Chung is well worth reading in its entirety, and particularly focusses on her return to the concert stage after injury, and her present focus on performing the music of J.S. Bach – recommended!

Developing Performance Skills

Guest author – Roberta Wolff

Success Criteria to Develop and Enhance Students’ Performing Skills.

The season of exams, festivals and Spring Concerts is approaching so today I am sharing a simple but powerful approach to help students take their piece from practice room to stage.

The tools we will use are success criteria which leave almost no room for ‘failure’, and which develop confidence, and a sense of control and awareness as students practise the art of performance.

Continue reading Developing Performance Skills

Take a Bow! How, When and Why…

Advice for New Performers

As the pianist releases the final notes of the piece, the audience bursts into enthusiastic applause. The player stands and takes a bow…

It’s a code of conduct that we tend to take for granted – but one that should be taught and practised as part of performance preparation.

Because I try to cultivate a friendly, non-competitive, informal atmosphere at my student concerts, I have not always been careful to make sure that new performers understand the importance of “stagecraft”, and the essential place of taking a bow in order to receive and acknowledge audience applause.

I have been trying to address that by giving students a “mock performance” experience in their lesson, including teaching them how to bow. Here is a quick summary that supports that practice.

Continue reading Take a Bow! How, When and Why…

10 Ways to turn “I can’t” into “I can”

Guest Author: Frances Wilson

Whenever we have a thought or physical sensation thousands of neurons are triggered and get together to form a neural network in the brain.

“Experience-dependent neuroplasticity” is the scientific term for this activity of continual creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains which takes place as a result of our personal life experiences. With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time, and neuroscientists and psychologists have found that the brain can be “trained” to build positive neural traits from positive mental states.

The trouble is, the brain tends towards the negative and is very bad at learning from good experiences and very good at learning from bad ones. This negativity bias was very important in keeping our ancestors alive during times of great hardship and danger, but in our 21st-century brains it can be a block that prevents positive experiences from becoming inner strengths which are built into our neural structure.

As musicians most of us are very familiar with “the inner critic”, that destructive voice within that can sabotage a practise session or performance and damage our self-esteem with negative self-talk.

Continue reading 10 Ways to turn “I can’t” into “I can”

ARSM: Your Questions Answered

Interview with Penny Milsom, Executive Director of Products and Services, ABRSM

Professional diplomas in music performance and teaching have proliferated in recent years to a point where even many music professionals are sometimes baffled by the sea of letters that follow a colleague’s name.

Latest “diploma” on the block is the new ARSM performing diploma from ABRSM, the world’s leading music examining board.

The ARSM joins existing diplomas the DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM, and is intended to bridge the gap between Grade 8 (the highest amateur qualification ABRSM offer) and the DipABRSM professional qualification.

The ARSM syllabus and full information were launched last week, following which there has been much discussion about the purpose and validity of the new diploma, some of it summarised in this post by my friend and colleague Frances Wilson.

So I was delighted to have an opportunity to discuss it with Penny Milsom, Executive Director – Products and Services, ABRSM.

I put to Penny a number of the questions I have seen colleagues asking online. Read on for her responses, and I hope you enjoy what proved to be a very enlightening interview.

Continue reading ARSM: Your Questions Answered

ABRSM Syllabus 2017-18: The Review

Sheet Music Review

July 7th 2016 sees the publication of the brand new ABRSM Piano Syllabus, along with Exam Pieces books for Grades 1 – 8. Review copies arrived a week or so ago, and I’ve enjoyed looking through the books, listening to the optional CDs, and trying out many of the included pieces.

Continue reading ABRSM Syllabus 2017-18: The Review