Nicole Dieker just finished her freelance work and is about to start her second piano practice session of the day.

The thing is that I don’t plan to win the International Competition for Outstanding Piano Amateurs (or, in French, the Concours International des Grands Amateurs de Piano).

I’m planning something a little more important.

First, a note on why I probably won’t win: From what I understand, this competition tends to favor people who can pull off the biggest and showiest pieces in the repertoire — your Hungarian Rhapsodies, your Gaspards, your Chopin sonatas, your Liszt sonatas (yes, I know Liszt only wrote the one), and so on.

L has some of that repertoire already in his fingers. He could win.

I have Mozart K332, which is one of the more technically difficult Mozart sonatas, and this week I just started learning one of the most difficult Bach fugues (you have to play Bach as part of the competition). I’m not going to disgrace myself or anything, but my Chopin Nocturne Op. 72 No. 1 is a “lesser Chopin” (to the point where Chopin didn’t even want it published, and they snuck it in after his death) and the Stravinsky Les Cinq Doigts is flashy but not extraordinarily challenging.

I mean, I could learn a more challenging contemporary piece, if I have time after polishing the Bach. I could put my dear little Chopin Nocturne aside, even though I’ve finally started to turn it into something that resembles art, and see if I can gronk through the Fantasie-Impromptu.

But I’m not playing to win. I’m not even playing to place. (I’d love to be a semifinalist, and based on the level of playing I’ve seen on YouTube that’s not an outside possibility.)

I’m playing for two reasons.

Maybe three.

The first reason is that everybody who enters goes to Paris. You don’t have to send a tape or anything in advance; all you have to do is put your name on the list before all of the spaces fill up, and commit to spending a long weekend in Paris with a hundred other amateur pianists.

So yes, L and I are probably going to Paris together in 2022. We’re also going to note, on both of our entry sheets, that we can play the four-hand version of Ravel’s La Valse together — should the judges want to hear it, of course. (You might remember that this particular move worked for Meredith and Jackie in The Biographies of Ordinary People. It could also work here, especially since it appears that the person who runs the competition likes competitors to make bold choices. [This is also why I’m currently studying the Bach I’m currently studying, because it is so complicated that it rarely ever gets played. If I can pull off the first of the six pages within two weeks, I’ll keep going and tell you what it is — and if you kept track of what L and I were reading earlier this year, you might be able to guess.])

The second reason is because of what competition founder (and bold-choice-approver) Gérard Bekerman said in a recent interview:

I think that it’s quite legitimate for a candidate to want to win, but I can assure you that, at the Concours – and it’s the same in my professional and personal life – you can win without it meaning that you have beaten someone else. In a certain sense, the only person a candidate really has to beat at the Concours is themselves. Competitors have to learn to have complete self-control, totally master their situation and overcome the logistics of the keyboard, so that the door to expression, the “soul”, will spontaneously open. The piano, as you know, is a lot of soul and even more sweat.

(That quote is how I sold L on the competition, btw. That and the whole “we’re going to Paris” thing.)

The third reason is because I want to be the kind of person who is prepared to play the Concours in Paris.

It took me about two hours to realize that wanting to play this competition meant living every moment of every day like a person who was training to play the Concours. Making positive choices that would help me maintain a physical and mental equilibrium that would support my practicing, for example. Prioritizing discipline, balance, and the development of what L and I have described as “magic” (that is, the ability to manipulate the elements around me instead of letting myself be manipulated by them).

It took me about two hours and twenty seconds to realize that this kind of life would also make me a better person.

And it took me two hours and twenty-two seconds to realize that this kind of life could make me an incredible partner to L.

Not because I’m hoping to spend as much as three hours every day at the piano, even though L is exactly the kind of person who would want a partner who does that (as long as he gets his three hours every day as well).

But because — well, think about my spending the next ten months building the kind of awareness it will take to prioritize discovery over assumptions, possibility over conflict, generativity over stagnation (as Erik Erikson put it, and it’s worth noting that I am right on schedule to enter that stage of psychosocial development).

Developing the kind of self-control (as Gérard Bekerman put it) that allows the soul to spontaneously shine through.

The Concours barely matters, except as a way to become that person.

And that partner.

And go to Paris.

And make a bit of art along the way. ❤️

2 thoughts on “On Piano Competitions

  1. What an exciting adventure!! The training and the competition will change you in delightful ways!! Keep us posted!! Are you doing any writing?? I loved the Biography of Ordinary People. Lori Lacina

    1. Thank you! I am not writing any fiction at the moment; I’m focusing on paid freelance work and a lot of thoughts on pedagogy and problem-solving.

      BUT THERE WILL BE A FICTION SEASON AGAIN SOON, I PROMISE

      Also, congrats again on Extra Sprinkles! I loaned my copy of Mama Said to my mom and she really enjoyed it.

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