If you were born without a right hand, chances are that your wish list would not include becoming a concert pianist. Nicholas McCarthy had other ideas. Here is Nicholas’ story, as told by Donna Bowater for The Telegraph.
ONE-HANDED PIANIST NICHOLAS McCARTHY GRADUATES FROM ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC
Nicholas McCarthy, 23, was told as a teenager that he was wasting everyone’s time by trying to learn the instrument with only one hand.
But he has now become the first one-handed pianist to complete his studies at the Royal College in its 130-year history.
The musician has also joined Britain’s first disabled orchestra, the Paraorchestra, which played to Paralympic athletes to welcome them to London.
Mr McCarthy, from Tadworth in Surrey, achieved his ambition by playing music written specifically for the left hand, including works by the Austrian composer Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War.
Ravel, Prokofiev and Bartok are among the composers who have written pieces for just the left hand.
Mr McCarthy said being told by a head teacher that he would always be held back was “soul crushing” but made him more determined to succeed.
He was left to teach himself to play on an electric keyboard from Argos when he was a child, and only started piano lessons aged 14.
“There are people in my position having counselling, and I just think: ‘Please get over it and make something of yourself.’ You can turn it into an advantage,” he said.
He said of his Royal College achievement “I don’t go around thinking of these milestones, but when my teacher rang me up and said ‘you’ve made history’, that felt good.
As a teenager seeking his first place at a school for young pianists, he was refused an audition and told he would never succeed.
“It was soul crushing because that’s all I wanted to do – I could feel it would be an uphill struggle, but it made me more determined, I’m quite a stubborn character” he said.
He taught himself to play an electric keyboard from Argos as a young boy, but did not start piano lessons until he was 14.
He had planned to become a chef but changed his career path the moment a friend played him a piano sonata by Beethoven, which “dumbfounded” him.
He said “I just fell in love with it and decided that was what I wanted to do. I started playing around with the piano and found it came very naturally.”
At the age of 17 he secured a place at the junior department of London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, winning the annual piano prize.
He then went on to the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, and has just graduated.
The college’s head of keyboard, Prof Vanessa Latarche, said her pupil had been “incredibly enterprising” in overcoming some big challenges such as developing the stamina to present a 50-minute recital with one arm.
“He has been a great inspiration to many of his fellow students in showing what it is possible to achieve with a disability” she said.
Nicholas said “When I first joined the orchestra, a couple of the musicians who are partially sighted and blind didn’t believe I was playing with one hand, that was a big compliment to me.
“The music is all written for the left hand alone, I’m not changing anything, I’m playing the music as it was written. It’s written very cleverly, but you’ve got to be very quick and good with the pedalling to sustain the bass notes while playing the top notes.”
Nicholas said he thought a lot of people came to see him perform “for curiosity and think ‘How is this possible?'”
Next week (August 2012) he will perform in Malta at the offices of the country’s prime minister and in September he will headline his first evening concert at Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Click here to view all my posts featuring people who have triumphed over physical challenges.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?
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