Your Friendly Neighbourhood Concert Pianist

As someone raised in Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, the locavore movement isn’t any big departure for me. I’m a professor of piano at Wilfrid Laurier University now, which makes me an Ontario public servant. For me, that’s the big departure. Getting the job felt sort of like winning a small lottery later in life. When I was hired, at age 36, I finally bought my first piano, and took care of some family stuff. And kept on working, like coaching Beethoven concerti and remembering to freeze the rhubarb before the frost. I remember the first piano trio concert of my life, at age 13 in PEI. We were one act in a community talent show that took place one Saturday in a packed community hall blue with cigarette smoke. As we stood behind the beige curtains on a small stage, we listened to the act before us, a chicken caller. This means, a man who does chicken calls. He got way more enthusiastic applause than the polite clapping that was our lot. Now I think maybe that was the moment when I permanently lost any sense of entitlement that being a talented youngster might otherwise have bestowed. That island upbringing was really good for disabusing anyone of entitlement. In such a small place with so much snow and ice, with only a few ferries to the mainland, there just wasn’t any room for it. If there was any remaining conceit left in me, there were always my Mennonite relatives and Presbyterian congregation to make it clear to me that any musical gift wasn’t about becoming an “artiste”...

Ten Tips for Piano Practising

So many big articles on piano practising. I don’t have time to write those! A few tips I actually use: Count how many pages in the piece, know the average number of pages you can learn in a session, and book off enough slots in your agenda to ensure learning them. if people ask you for this time, say “I’m not available”. Compare tempi of each section. Identify all similar phrases/ sections and learn them back to back memorizing and starring each slight difference. Don’t write in most finger numbers, just make shapes around groups. Learn the harmony, rhythm, and left hand. Right hand last. Star top corner of the most difficult pages. Don’t have a technique warmup, but instead, learn those pages in creative ways that mine them for musical meaning. Do not bring screens to practise room. Set a time when you’re allowed to check them. Know what you’ll wear to perform, and try practising while wearing it. Take out a book about the life and times of the work – especially if you’re not the soloist and the soloist isn’t inspiring you. Know for your own sake what this is about. Compare editions using IMSLP. Take a day off at least once a week. To say, don’t indulge in unnecessary playthroughs and repetitions while angsting about your playing, is not on my list because it is not a tip but a preliminary axiom, like remembering to...