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John Paul Ekins Interview - Highlights

K "What made you Choose the Piano?"

JP “I’m not going to pretend I had anything to do with it. My parents picked the piano. We had a piano at home so I guess I must have been playing it a little bit so they got me some lessons. So yeah, it was as simple as that. Having said that I am very glad the piano was picked for me because it’s such a versatile instrument. It’s one of the only instruments that can accompany itself....”

John Paul was 5 when he started learning the piano. I asked him about his first teacher. I wanted to ask him this because your first teacher can really shape what kind of musician you become, or whether you become a musician at all.

JP “She was amazing! She lived in Putney and we went to go and see her every fortnight. Cycled on one of those bikes where you’d clip a third wheel and a second saddle onto the back. She was amazing, so good with young kids of that age. I've recently dabbled with teaching kids of that age and it’s so hard to make it fun for them and to really engage. She was amazing. And I have since gone and heard her teach and she’s wonderful. So she gave me a real passion and enthusiasm for it which is not easy for a kid of that age.”

In the next excerpt John Paul gives an insight into what it was like for him being a young man at a very prestigious college.

JP “My time at the Royal college was a very difficult time for me from about 11 to 15 just because I was really hitting teenage years. I really didn't want to be spending time practicing, I wasn't enjoying it that much and I think if it hadn't been for my dad pushing me and also not wanting to waste all the time and money invested in it I think I probably would have quit. The when I was 15 I changed teacher and something just clicked."

K "Many of my tutors studied at the Royal Academy and, like you, at the Royal College of Music. They would say how intense it is and how you need to really have your head screwed if you want to come out the other side having been broken down so much and built back up. You have to be so strong willed. What were your experiences with regard to that?"

JP "I’m totally aware of teachers who do that to their students. I don’t think it's necessarily the only way. However, in anyone’s musical development there are very key lessons to be learned and the truth hurts sometimes.The first time I ever got a proper kick up the backside was when I went to do a summer course in Krakow and the teacher there who gave me the scholarship gave me a lesson every day and just said “your having a shocker” In the nicest possible way. It was a physical thing. I was just tight everywhere and he told me “you have absolutely got to sort this out.” So I think as long as it’s said in the right way, it’s said allied with “but if you do this you’ll have the potential to do this” then I think you can have the strength. But you’re right it is a tough and dark world for people who only experience one side of the coin. I do know people who have been broken down and then before they have been rebuilt they've just lost it.”

K "What other styles do you enjoy playing?"

JP "I love Jazz but I’ve never been able to improvize. I did one year Jazz Piano at secondary school as a naive teenager thinking It’s not gonna be that heard, it's just Jazz. And then soon realized the amount of theory and independent stuff that‘s involved and I just didn't have time. It needs just as much time as classical piano to learn all the scales and chords and I just didn't have enough time. I have a very good feel for Jazz though. So if people give me some music I love it. It’s great. But if people give me some chord symbols and say “Whack something out” Just forget it. My brain’s never worked like that."

K "Favourite composer?"

JP "I love big orchestral music. Shostakovitch symphonies, Mahla symphonies, Also Wagner operas. I think the Ring is the greatest work of art that’s ever been produced just because of it’s scale and power. Probably Liszt and Schubert would be my two favourite piano composers."

On John Paul’s website he mentions about how he always wants to show the love of a piece during the performance and that this can so easily be killed by too much analysis and scrutiny. I asked him if he ever finds it hard to keep the love for a piece.

JP "Yeah really hard because when you’re practicing at home you have to analyse and you have to scrutinize but if you do that too much like you say you kill it. You kill the joy, the love and the beauty and it just becomes about an exercise and a test of your brain. So yeah really hard. I try not to practice the same piece too many days consecutively. Each time I can come back a little bit fresh. I practice mainly in the afternoon. I’m not good in the mornings. I also do a lot late at night. Chatting to the audience like tonight takes my mind away from what I have to do and all the difficulties there. It just takes it to the music and what it’s all about.

"Do you have any particular views on where classical music stands in modern society? Is there a stigma that goes with it?"

JP "Yeah Massive Stigma. It’s really hard to get even people my age who aren't musicians to listen to classical music. For kids who don’t have friends who are musicians or who don’t come from a musical background I think its even harder. That said, I don’ t think it’s anywhere near as in the doldrums as many commentators like to say. If you look across some of the newer and fresher institutions of music making, something like the B.Y.O or Kings Place, the numbers of young people coming to hear these concerts are only increasing. Fundamentally classical music has always been considered music for people who are slightly older which I think is only natural because it does require a patience. I didn’t like test cricket until I was 22. You don’t have the attention span for it you can’t sit still for half an hour when your younger but I don’t think that’s a problem either because we’re living in an aging society and I actually think people have got it and it’s not easy and it’s never gonna be main stream. I don't think that’s what it’s built for.

K "What do you think of audition shows like X Factor and thier effect on the music industry?"

JP "Personally I think it’s junk. Despite all they ludicrous, over hyped claims I don't think it really is about the music at all. It’s  just a factory. If you look at the number of big, big artist who have come from them it’s pretty small. Leona Lewis, One Direction.  I mean you wouldn't particularly say either of those are cutting edge in contrast to someone like Adele who comes from nowhere."

 "What's your advice to someone who practices regularly and who wants to improve to your standard or generally become a well rounded player?"

JP "Make sure you have the basics. The basic concepts. Basics in terms of posture and removal of tension in chest, shoulders, elbows and wrists. I practice less now than I did when I was twenty but I make progress twice as fast."