The Pianist’s Kindness

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

As I write this I am in India on a two-week yoga retreat, in which each day has started with a reflective discourse on the ethics outlined in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali, the classic text from which yoga theory subsequently developed.

The first, foundational ethic presented by Patanjali was ahimsa, which can be literally translated no harm, and intrinsically means be kind. Without kindness, there can be no true yoga. And yet, as our teacher rather decisively noted:

“There are plenty of people in this world who can touch their toes – but who are still basically arseholes!”

As usual, what is true in one field can equally apply in another, and certainly from my own observations of pianists – both in online forums and the ‘real world’ – there are plenty of very fine piano players and teachers who, it would seem, somewhat lack kindness.

So how can we encourage the piano community to be a kinder one? As always, the answer must begin with ourselves …

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Kyung Wha Chung speaks out against competitions

There’s a great quote from the iconic violinist Kyung Wha Chung in the BBC Music Magazine (June 2017) which I think is worth sharing here in passing, as it ties in with a topic 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 genuinely talented players. 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.

The internationally acclaimed cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber recently revealed, in any case, that the majority of music competitions are quite simply corrupt, 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 Competitions Controversy

Debate about the value of piano competitions continues to stir heated discussion in the classical music world.

Latest to weigh in with a rather controversial blog post is pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, a young Russian formerly awarded Prize Laureate at the Honens Competition of 2012. Kolesnikov goes so far as to name specific jurors who, he says, have voted for their own students in recent competitions, lifting the lid on a practice that he portrays as rife.

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Jorge Bolet on competitions

The journalist Jeremy Nicholas interviewed legendary pianist Jorge Bolet back in 1977, and among other things asked him why “The Romantic Pianist” seemed already by then to have vanished.

Bolet’s reply was prescient, and perhaps even more relevant today than it was in the 1970s. Here is his response:

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