Piano Hero 2015:
Afterthoughts for Future Directions
By Jennifer Liu
This past January,
hundreds of amateur pianists across Canada sent videos of themselves playing to
CBC’s Piano Hero contest. Thomas Yu
emerged as the winner of the competition, which included a voting component as
well as a judging round. A periodontist by profession, Yu’s polished
performance of the Schumann-Liszt transcription of Widmung received unanimous approval from the judges, including
concert pianists Janina Fialkowska, David Jalbert, and Stewart Goodyear.
final count totalled 243 video submissions from across the country, as diverse
in style as the pianists were in background and experience. Video
views topped 540,000, a testament to the CBC’s ability to reconnect with
Canadian classical music enthusiasts and breathe new life into a field that is
sometimes considered to be stagnating. It’s a winning formula for everyone: participants were able to showcase
their playing, while the CBC improved its image as a supporter of the arts
after recent cuts to its classical music programming.
Robert Rowat, project
leader for the contest and community producer for classical music at CBC Music,
offers an inside perspective on the competition’s logistics, as well as
insights gained from the inaugural edition.
LSM: Can we expect another edition of
Piano Hero in the future?
Rowat: We were really impressed and
encouraged by the level of participation in Piano Hero - not only by the number
of people who entered, but also by the public's response. We will decide
whether we will do a second edition in the next few months.
What lessons can be drawn from this
year's inaugural contest?
RR: The primary lesson we learned was not to underestimate the amateur
classical music community in Canada. When we decided to do this contest, we
suspected that we might tap into a fun, engaged subculture, but we were not
prepared for the overwhelming reaction. The amateur classical music community
seems to be thriving, and is very present online and on social media, despite
perceptions to the contrary.
major lesson we learned is that a music contest can be run entirely online.
There are already several excellent competitions for classical musicians in
Canada: Canadian Music Competition, OSM Competition, Honens International Piano
Competition, Montreal International Musical Competition, to name just a few. We
wanted to see if an entirely web-based contest, using video only, and making
use of social media and online voting, could coexist with the other more
traditional type of competitions. It's our hope that Piano Hero adds another,
complementary dimension to this community.
Was the competition pitched in the same
way to the anglophone and francophone communities?
RR: We approached the French and English communications in the same way. We
used our extensive on-air networks to get the word out. We also spent some time
contacting music schools and cultural institutions from coast to coast. And we
used the social media networks of CBC Music and ICI Musique to reach the widest
How were the jury members selected?
RR: A few producers from CBC Music and ICI Musique had a brainstorming
session on whom we should approach to be on our jury. We needed people with a
profile in both English and French Canada. We also tried to think of pianists
who would be supportive of a contest geared towards amateur pianists, and
carried out entirely online. Our three jurors — Janina Fialkowska, Stewart
Goodyear and David Jalbert — were very generous with their time and told us
they had a good time judging the finalists.
Was there any difference of opinion
between the judges when it came time to pick the grand prize winner?
RR: We used a mathematical judging system, to make sure the judging of the
finalists was fair. When the results were tallied, we reached out to each juror
to make sure they were happy with the winner, and all three expressed their
How did you come up with the concept of
showcasing pianists exclusively?
RR: I was the project leader for Piano Hero, but a few key people conceived
of it and worked hard to make it a reality. Guylaine Picard, executive producer
at ICI Musique, played an important role throughout.
The idea to run an online video-based contest for amateur classical pianists
was first discussed about two years ago at a meeting of CBC/Radio-Canada music
producers. It was felt that the piano was probably the most ubiquitous
instrument among amateur classical musicians, and would lend itself best to a
video-based contest, partly because its solo repertoire does not need
So, did the contest live up to
RR: The outcome definitely exceeded our best
expectations. We consider it to be a big win for the amateur classical piano
community. We're really happy we decided to do it.
is following up on the theme for open call for musicians with their 2015
edition of Searchlight, open to
musical acts across all disciplines through March 29.
Labels: cbc, David Jalbert, Franz Liszt, interview, Janina Fialkowska, Piano Hero, Robert Rowat, Schumann, Stewart Goodyear