I was discussing ‘Strictly’ with a friend who’s also a fan of the show. He asked me:
‘How do you think it would work if celebrities were partnered with professional pianists, to learn to play the piano in a few weeks and then perform, say, a piano concerto in front of a TV audience?’
I started to say that quite a few competitors on Strictly have had prior dance training, but equally it’s true that many of them stress the fact that they have never danced before, or at least not more than joining in with the dancing at a wedding reception or whatever.
Before I had formed an answer to the question about ‘Strictly’ for pianists, we had started laughing. It seemed obvious that such a format wouldn’t work, at least not if competitors were truly starting from scratch. Yes, perhaps they could learn some simple tunes and chords in a few weeks, but the idea of playing a piano piece as dazzling and intricate as the dance routines we see on Strictly …. ‘not gonna happen’.
Now I should stress that I have great admiration for the dancers on Strictly. I think the professionals do an extraordinary job of teaching the celebrities, who in turn achieve amazing things in a short time. Watching everyone’s progress week by week is a delightful experience – and this year’s bunch is already performing at a high level.
However, I can’t imagine that the format would work with piano-playing (or many other musical instruments). Dancing is an extension of what we do anyway, but playing the piano to a high level is not quite as ‘natural’. Of course, almost everyone is musical, so in that sense, playing a musical instrument is an extension of an innate quality.
However, an instrument is not part of your own body, no matter how much we musicians like to imagine that it is. A piano is a complicated mechanical device that takes effort to master, and (for classical repertoire at least) there’s also the matter of learning to read music. It takes special study and a long time to lay down neural pathways and train the fine muscles of the fingers to a level where you can control the piano and perform music designed to delight, impress and move an audience.
When you think about it, it’s amazing that so many people persevere with learning the piano. The first steps come easily, but to go beyond them takes patience and discipline. Luckily, by the time they get past the first steps, many people are hooked. The peaks of the piano repertoire hover before them like a gorgeous mountain range and they are drawn towards it, day by day, month by month, year by year.