Throughout the interview it became more apparent just how serious Alex took the piano and music as a whole. So the question of if he had ever competed formulated in my head. When I asked he responded with “I’ve competed quite a bit in different things. I competed as accompanist to make it to all-state level in high school which was very competitive. I also competed at the Chautauqua piano festival and actually made it to the semi-finals one year which was very exciting.” Then he said something that made me truly respect him as a musician. He added “even though competing was an exciting experience, it does not motivate me as a musician. I’ve done well in competitions but it is not satisfying to me at all. I find that people who judge playing excerpts of pieces tend to focus on shallow aspects of listening at times.” Learning that Alex was not driven by some crazed competitive nature and was only fueled by his love of playing the piano for pure enjoyment was very admirable and inspirational. It is refreshing to find that there are still people out there who don’t play for money, or for the gain of illustrious titles, but simply for the pure ecstasy the person feels every time he or she picks up, or sits down to the instrument they share a very special bond with.
So how much did Alex have to practice to get as good as he did to be able to enter competitions and be in the position he is at today? As a student I was dying to know. He told me “I practice anywhere from 3-5 hours a day but in my first several years at Eastman I did 5-6 hours a day, but what I learned after a while is that what really matters is the quality of practicing and not how long you do it for.” He also added that his piano teacher told him “any more than 8-12 hours a day is a waste because you will be brain-dead through most of it.” Very good advice, especially since practicing that long everyday does not sound like fun in my book.
Alex then further extended upon his answer by saying “What matters most is being emotionally and intellectually engaged at every moment and taking practice at a pace where you can process everything and really listen even though it may be fun to push yourself faster at times.” He also said that it is just as important to learn how to improvise harmonic progressions as it is to practice scales and that teacher should “emphasize this as much as they do scales.” Alex says explains it is important to learn scales, arpeggios and good technique but he learns better from just playing real pieces of music where he says “there is a story and an expression”. He usually doesn’t endorse a lot of exercises in his curriculum.
So far I’ve gotten to know Alex as a musician. Now it was time to learn a little more about the man behind the piano. I wanted to know what else in his life brought him joy and the other thing’s he had to delicately balance his musical side with. He laughed and told me “well, friends and family are always essential. I definitely like to...