Archive for August, 2012

One-Handed Piano Player Makes History

August 29, 2012


Nicholas McCarthy

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.


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.


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A Friendly Flight

August 28, 2012

That’s me in the middle with the sport jacket and bowtie. Scott is the second one on the right. In between us is my sister, Cindy (now Cyn). Doesn’t every eight-year-old get suited up for his birthday?

Yesterday, I got to my airport gate for my San Diego-to-Minneapolis flight about an hour and a half before takeoff. There were only a few other people waiting at that point. I sat down, opened my laptop and chose the airport’s free wifi network. I opened my browser and saw that I wasn’t connected to the Internet. Restarting my computer didn’t help. That struck me as odd considering that a guy with gray hair and a visor sitting in the row across from me and five seats down was actively using his laptop.

Finally, I gave up and decided to go buy a bottle of water. I stopped in front of the visor guy and said, “Excuse me, are you connected to the Internet?” He looked up at me, and without hesitation, said, “Are you toying with me?” As he spoke, I was so startled that I physically (more…)

A Taylore-Made Solution

August 27, 2012

My friend Mark was coming to pick me up at 5:30 tonight to drive me to the airport for a two-month trip back home to Minnesota. I had been trying in vain for two months to find someone to rent my room in Encinitas, California while I was away to help defray the rent cost.

At 11:10 this morning, three hours and twenty minutes before I’d be heading to the airport, I had no renter and zero prospects. By the time Mark picked me up at 2:30, I had not only found a renter, she had already moved in and had even taken me grocery shopping!

Out of the blue, Taylore, a friend whom fate had guided me to meet a mere three months earlier, Facebooked me and asked if my room was still available because she needed a space for September until she found a place of her own. I said yes, and, thinking she was still in Europe on a six-week trip, asked what date she’d be arriving. She (more…)

Bella Ferraro—On the Fast Track to Stardom

August 20, 2012

Bella Ferraro

When high school dropout Bella Ferraro auditioned for X Factor Australia in August 2012, she was so nervous she was trembling. She never dreamed her performance of Skinny Love would wow the judges so much that one of them would stand up on the judging table to applaud her before she had even finished. The YouTube video of her audition has already attracted more than four-and-a-half million views.

What’s astonishing to me is how some people are (more…)

Jahmene Douglas—From Supermarket to Superstar

August 18, 2012


Jahmene Douglas

Mild-mannered Jahmene Douglas stepped on the X Factor stage in Britain on August 18, 2012, but as soon as he started singing he turned into Superman. As the last note of his song faded into the night, he once again assumed his secret identity of a nervous twenty-year-old supermarket clerk. Seriously, his transformation before and after his performance was astonishing. It was a joy to behold.

Jahmene is one of those rare people who have been blessed with the magical ability to totally lose themselves in their music and effortlessly express the deepest, most authentic part of themselves. Every note he sings strikes a chord of resonance and recognition in those who are fortunate enough to hear him sing. When Jahmene sings, you don’t just listen with your ears, your whole body reacts.

Judge Gary Barlow told him, “Jahmene, mate, I’ve got (more…)

A Wedding Blessing from Paramahansa Yogananda

August 1, 2012

On Wednesday, August 1, 2012, in the middle of the weeklong Self-Realization Fellowship World Convocation, two devotees from Brazil, J.P. and Jussara, were married at the SRF Hollywood Temple, about twenty minutes away from the Westin Bonaventure, the downtown Los Angeles hotel that was hosting the Convocation.

J.P. and Jussara Salles

J.P. and Jussara Salles

A couple of hours before the ceremony, two devotees and longtime friends at the Bonaventure (one of whom was a friend of mine who told me this story directly) were discussing how to reach the Hollywood Temple by train. A woman devotee from Iran standing nearby overheard the conversation and volunteered some helpful advice. In gratitude, the two devotees invited her to the ceremony. She happily accepted the invitation, suddenly understanding why she had felt compelled to (more…)