Piano-playing plunge? N.L. group aims to boost numbers

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Piano-playing plunge? N.L. group aims to boost numbers

A plugged-in pianist and educator says fewer people are tickling the ivories in this province for a variety of reasons, but he hopes his group PlayPianoNL to reverse the trend.

"We're seeing people starting, but when you get to the higher levels, there's nobody left," says the group's artistic director Phil Roberts, who also adjudicates in music festivals across the province.

Roberts said he believes kids are calling the shots now more than ever, and that's a big factor.

"I think in the past I would hear about kids telling their parents, 'I don't really want to do this anymore.' And parents would say, 'No dear, you're doing this. You're eight. You can't make this kind of decision yet,'" said Roberts.

"Now, more and more, I hear parents saying 'Oh, you know he doesn't like it anymore so we moved him into something else.'"

Shorter attention spans?

Roberts said while there have always been many extracurricular activities vying for kid's attention, his general sense is that children aren't staying with them for the long-haul.

"We get a lot of these kids that they take piano one year, they'll do voice the next year, then they'll do hockey the next year, then they'll do basketball the year after that," he said. 

"Music is something that requires an investment."

That investment includes not only lessons, but practice, too. 

"The students that I have noticed that have enjoyed the most success are the ones that have a parent as an active part of their practicing," said Roberts.

"Not necessarily sitting there with them the whole time, but being a part of it, checking up on them, helping with routines ... and just being a part of the process and that something that seems to be disappearing now."

Modernity matters

Roberts said there is more hustle and bustle when it comes to families with two working parents.

"Not to say [parents] weren't busy in the past, but it's a different kind of busy ... speaking as a parent myself, it's a lot," he said, noting he has two kids, age three and seven.

"It's very hard to be a single income family."

There is also the pervasiveness of screens to contend with too, said Roberts.

"It's a very real thing. Like I'm not that old, but I had my TV shows on Saturday morning, and that was basically it. I didn't have a video game system," he said.

Piano plan of action

PlayPianoNL's mission is direct: increase the public interest in piano-playing across the province.

It offers a piano camp, but it's piece de resistance is the annual PianoFest. This year's event, scheduled for May 27-28, is a two-day "celebration of the piano in all of its forms," according to the group's web site.

Roberts said he hopes to get 100 participants and that ultimately, similar to a catchy song, an interest in piano-playing will grow once again.

"Piano tends to be a very lonely thing. So it's really easy to lose your motivation when it's just you, by yourself, all the time," he said. 

"Our events are designed to get kids and people playing together."

Roberts believes it's a pastime well worth trying to preserve.

"It's a form of expression that's very unique ... it is definitely something that's worth your time."