It was a pleasure to welcome Nicholas McCarthy to Dean Close last week; the accomplished pianist and motivational speaker addressed the whole school as part of induction week.

Nicholas was born with one hand and ‘concert pianist’ was not at the top of his parents’ list of potential careers for him. However, as a young boy, Nicholas heard a fellow pupil playing the piano in a school assemble and begged his parents for his own piano. He started to learn on a small Argos keyboard and began his journey of self-teaching. It wasn’t long before the budding pianist realised he was excelling and his parents allowed him to start formal piano lessons. With his teachers help he set his sights on a place at a specialist piano school; however he was promptly turned down when he told his interviewer that he did not want to play scales, he wanted to play music.

Following the rejection, Nicholas didn’t play the piano for three weeks (an awfully long time for the aspiring pianist). He set himself a new goal, to be accepted at the Royal College of Music. At this point in his talk, Nicholas treated the pupils to a performance of Scriabin’s Nocturne for the left hand. Nicholas encouraged the audience to close their eyes, as although the piece was left handed repertoire, it sounded like a two handed piece.

After rapturous applause, Nicholas told of his experience performing at the Paralympic closing ceremony in 2012. He received a phone call from Cold Play’s Chris Martin inviting him to play with the band and the Paralympic Orchestra to 86,000 people; the ceremony, which was also broadcast to half a billion people around the world, was also the performance that launched his career.

Nicholas continued to work on his craft and having been encouraged numerous times not to apply for the Royal College of Music, put himself up for one of only seven hotly contested places. He received offers and scholarships from some of the world’s most prestigious music schools and after years of hard work and dedication, accepted his place at the Royal College of Music.

The pianist realised that he had achieved in five years with one hand, what takes most people twenty years with two hands and set about telling the pupils his top tips for ‘How to create change quickly’.

  1. To create change you must first break the pattern of what you are currently doing – people run on routine, but without breaking routine, change can never truly happen.
  2. Make your dream public – Nicholas had kept his dream a secret for many years but by telling his friends and family the dream became more real and thus more achievable.
  3. Dedication – to achieve his place at the Royal College of Music , Nicholas was up at 5am every morning, consistently missed his lunch breaks and stayed up till the early hours in order to achieve his goals.Nicholas ended the talk with a performance of his own arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Minor, a two handed piece that he longed to play, so transposed to left hand repertoire himself. Thank you Nicholas McCarthy for a wonderful afternoon of music and motivation.