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August 17, 2012

One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy defies odds, graduates from Royal College

The piano is on my mind. Having managed to sneak away from work for a few days of R&R, I figured my time off would be a good opportunity to have some fun with keyboard pieces I recently purchased.

(Yes, although I am addicted to the International Music Score Library Project and all the fabulous free goodies available there for downloading, I also still buy things from time to time -- and for that, it's hard to beat Sheet Music Plus, if you ask me.)

So, in between eating bonbons, I've been struggling through the "Orphee" Suite by Philip Glass and William Bolcom's concert paraphrase of the gorgeous aria "New York Lights" from his opera "A View From the Bridge" (if I had known that one was written with a zillion sharps, I might not have bought it).

After one bumpy session with those works, I headed for the computer to seek some distraction and happily discovered, thanks to Musical America, a terrifically inspiring story from England. It quickly put my complaints about myself in perspective.

Meet pianist Nicholas McCarthy. He was born without a right hand.

He taught himself to play at the age of ...

14 and set out to get formal training. Naturally, some folks told McCarthy to forget all about being a musician. One school even refused to let him audition.

But he persevered, and, at 17, McCarthy was admitted to London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he won the top piano prize. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music and, at 23, graduated last month.

We are used to hearing about two-handed pianists who, at some point along the way, lose the use of their right hand -- Leon Fleisher, longtime local hero here in Baltimore, is a prime case in point. But to start with that disadvantage, to have only left-hand repertoire as an option from the start, that's a whole different thing.

McCarthy's heartwarming story -- as well as that of the British Paraorchestra for disabled players that he performs with -- says so much about the potential of the human spirit and the magnetic force of music. I wish him well. (And, now, when I get back to the piano to face my own little hurdles, I'll be in a much better frame of mind.)

Check out stories this week about McCarthy from the BBC and the Independent, and visit the pianist's Web site for more. Here's a stirring sample of McCarthy at the keyboard:




Posted by Tim Smith at 6:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


Just FYI - The link to the independent seems to go to the BBC (as well as the BBC link).

What an inspiration!

Thanks for spotting the link issue, which I should be able to resolve. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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