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Music in the Age of Corona | Interview with Tristan Teo and Alice Burla

Two of our 32 competitors in the 12th Sydney International Piano Competition, Alice Burla and Tristan Teo, share their Corona survival techniques.

How are you surviving the Covid crisis at home? Discovered anything unusual?

TRISTAN: I’ve realised more and more during this crisis that my quarantine life is not that much different from my normal day-to-day routine! Apart from the absence of walking to school, teaching in-person classes, and taking in-person lessons, I really enjoy just staying at home and doing things around the house to occupy myself when I’m not practising. I’m one of those weirdos who is perfectly content staying at home for weeks at a time, and while that may sound boring, I always find things to do. Apart from practising and class planning and homework, I’ve been racking up some serious scores in Overwatch. I’ve also been experimenting with new dishes to cook. The unusual thing I’ve discovered is the fact that I somehow run out of food very, very quickly. Whenever I go to the store, I buy so much that I’m sure I have enough for two weeks, yet I run out in half that. Do I just eat too much?

ALICE: Despite the anxiety-inducing news of what’s going on worldwide, I’m finding something therapeutic in staying home. Time seems to pass at a different rate, and I’m taking this moment to look inward and find new types of creativity that there is usually no space for.

Is this a good time for you to practise some new works, or works you don’t usually get time for? What are they?

ALICE: I have been completely obsessed with Debussy’s Préludes during this time. Each of them is uniquely its own unbelievable drop of beauty.

TRISTAN: Definitely! The abundance of free time in my usually hectic schedule as well as the postponement of the competition has opened the door to learning new pieces and revisiting music I have not played in years. Examples of new works I’m tackling are Copland’s Piano Variations and Debussy’s Estampes, which I’ve always wanted to learn but never got the chance to until now. I’ve also brought back into my fingers Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and Schubert’s Op. 90 Impromptus. Revisiting repertoire I learned years and years ago is more gratifying than I imagined. It’s like reuniting with an old friend that you haven’t seen in forever, and there is also the added bonus of usually playing it better the second time around!

What are your tips for home-bound amateur pianists to work on while they have some time?

TRISTAN: Self-isolation and/or quarantine provides you a golden opportunity to learn a ton of music that slipped by because you were too busy with other things. Did you always want to learn the entire set of Chopin’s Préludes? Tackle Bach’s entire Well-Tempered Clavier? Carpe diem. You may never again have so much uninterrupted time, so work on a “quarantine project” (or two, or three!) and watch as hours and hours of idleness turn into super productivity as you fight through the dense counterpoint of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier and the wondrous harmonic complexities of Chopin’s A minor Prelude. We all have to make the best of this dark and uncertain situation, and there is no better way to stay sane and positive than by playing great music.

ALICE: I would recommend listening to different styles of music from various eras and taking this time to allow oneself to get lost in the pure enjoyment of music – no expectations, no time frames, just pure enjoyment and gratitude – and afterwards, to bring this same feeling to the keyboard. To play with gratitude rather than expectation is one of the most effective ways of improving in my experience, and this is something that will leave an imprint on one’s relationship with playing, even once we are back to the quick pace of life.