Pupil Harrison Cole recently won Ipswich School’s Young Musician of the Year 2017 in March 2017. Here the talented pianist shares his thoughts of the experience.
Q. How did you feel when you heard you’d won? Did you expect to win at all?
A. It was quite a nice feeling really! To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to win anyway – I’m sure everyone who went along would agree that all twelve performances were outstanding in their own right and that there wasn’t a ‘clear winner’ so to speak. However, it was a relief to find out that all of my hard work had paid off!
Q. How did you choose the pieces you played?
A. For me, the main factor influencing my choice of pieces was trying to achieve a contrasting programme, which with an eight minute time limit is quite a difficult task. For the competition, I played Chopin’s Etude in E major op.10 no.3 and Percy Grainger’s In Dahomey (“Cakewalk Smasher”). I had been learning the Chopin before the competition, so I was set about doing that for the competition. The Grainger is completely different to the Chopin – I had discovered it a couple of years ago, I think, and having stumbled across it again a couple of months ago I had a rare light-bulb moment and decided to programme it alongside the Chopin!
Q. Who is your musical influence?
A. Although many people have helped shape my musical development in some way or another, I would say that John Stafford, former assistant director of music at Woodbridge School, has been my prime musical influence. His extensive musical and cultural knowledge, masterful ability at the piano, organ and as conductor (and his inimitable bow!), combined with his willingness to give up time to help young musicians and charming personality, has had an enormous impact on me as a musician and as a person. His unfortunate early death over a year ago was a devastating blow to all that knew him. I am eternally grateful for all that he has done for me.
Q. Roughly how long do you practise each day?
A. It depends! Having to juggle all of my other musical practice commitments as well as piano practice, school work and reading time means that I have to prioritise some things over others. So, to be blunt, I can’t really answer the question properly; but of course, when the competition was rapidly approaching, I practised a lot!
Q. What piece of advice would you give to anyone entering next year’s competition?
A. Drawing together as much as I can from what the adjudicators in the instrumental and vocal heats and the final, and from my own personal experience, I would say this: always try to give, to use the adjudicator of the final, John Heighway’s, words, a “full performance”. Performing music live to an audience is as much a visual experience as it as an auditory one (people go to ‘see’, not ‘hear’, a concert). It is the visual element that differs a concert from listening to a recording, after all. Therefore it is not just singers who have to work on how they present themselves, but instrumental musicians too. This means physically engaging (to a tasteful degree) with the music, playing with good posture, and bowing at the end! It is surprising at first what a tremendous effect this has, and it really does lift the music off the page. Personally, I like to give solo performances from memory as I think it enhances this effect, but I appreciate that memorised performances are not everyone’s cup of tea!