When I was with Suite101.com, I had the chance to speak with Colin Edie, one of the recreational pianists who participated in the 2011 Honens Piano Competition for Amateurs in Calgary, Alberta last month. A petroleum engineer for Encana by day, Colin discussed his piano lessons, the Honens ProAm, continuing education and observations about music.
Colin Edie on Early Music Lessons
“I'm the youngest of three siblings,” Colin explained. “My older brother and sister, they took piano lessons for a year. I took them at the same time. I was probably five-years old. That only lasted a year, for all of us.”
Colin couldn't stay away from the piano for very long. “When I was in Grade 2, I was sitting down at the piano and playing around,” he said. “I asked my mom if I could be put back into piano lessons. She was almost crying for joy.” He re-enrolled in piano lessons with Mr. Reisecamp, starting with group lessons and graduating up to private lessons.
Colin studied with Calgary-based piano teacher Joan Bell from Grade 6 school (Grade 4 piano) up to high school. He really connected with Joan Bell's approach: “Focus on the music. Focus on the enjoyment of it.”
Piano gave way to sports and school in high school “I stopped at the beginning of Grade 12. I just didn't really feel like practising that much anymore.”
Colin Edie on Playing the Piano Between Lab Experiments
After graduating from high school, Colin Edie studied engineering at Queen's University. As luck would have it, one of his classes presented him with an opportunity to play around on the piano. “In fourth year is when I really started getting back into it,” he explained. “I had a lab thesis, an undergrad thesis. Mine was a lab one where you can always spend time in the lab and the type of experiments where you set it up, then it takes an hour and a half to run.” After a pause, he added, “It's excruciatingly time intensive.”
While his experiments were running, Colin wandered over to the music building next door. “There were some practise rooms, so I got a key to that and started, saying, “Well, I was terrible at technique when I was younger, so I'm just going to drill all my Hanon and get good at that.”
After rebuilding his piano technique, Colin set his sights on a bigger challenge: learning and memorizing Frédéric Chopin's first Ballade, no easy feat to tackle on his own. “I'll be very clear here – it was terrible musically,” he said. “Looking back, yes, there were lots of things wrong with this, but I was very happy with it. It just shows that I could go for it.”
Colin Edie on Piano Lessons as an Adult Student
Colin didn't return to piano lessons immediately after graduating. An avid athlete and former captain of his high school football team opted to pursue sports first. “With a friend, I did judo for a year,” he said. “On a couple of challenges, I did an Olympic triathlon and I did a marathon.”
However, Colin soon felt drawn to the piano once again. “I had been fooling around a little bit. I had wanted to get back into it.” He borrowed his parents' upright piano and in 2009, started looking into piano instruction. His previous teacher, Joan Bell, recommended her colleague Allen Reiser.
“Little did I know that she matched me up with one of the best teachers of the province,” Colin said. Allen is sought after as a piano instructor, clinician, adjudicator and pianist. Many of Allen's students have won medals on their music examinations, at festivals and piano competitions.
Colin appreciates Allen's focus on proper piano technique.“It's very apparent, even with the very young children that he's into focusing on hand motions and technique from the very beginning, he said.
“He just blows my mind away in his musicianship, he added. “The thing that killed me is that I'm playing my piece that I've practised for so much and then he's like, “Oh play it like this,” and he plays it, and all these things throughout the piece – perfectly, flawlessly.”
Colin Edie on the Honens ProAm Competition
The Honens ProAm is a competition turned fundraiser to raise funds for the Honens International Piano Competition. Colin attended the first Honens ProAm back in 2008.
“I had been dating this girl for two weeks,” he recalled. “The ProAm is pretty much sold out and it's like two months away, so it's like, “Should I buy tickets, should I not?” I bought tickets and that girl turned out to be my wife.”
Watching that piano competition inspired him to get back into piano lessons. “It was in the back of my mind, that a couple of them were playing Grade 10 repertoire that I had played way back,” he said.
In 2010 when Honens began searching for pianists to participate in the 2011 Honens ProAm, Colin didn't hesitate. “I volunteered, straight up,” he said.
The ball got rolling in the summer of 2011. Each participant was responsible for raising $5,000. Honens worked with the pianists to organize a series of home and corporate performances that the four participants performed in. In addition, Honens staff made an appeal for corporate and individual donations.
“Honens was fantastic with it,” said Colin.“They lined up twice as many of the big individual donors. People who just wrote $5,000, $10,000 cheques, which was very impressive to me.”
“Individually, I got $8,000, that was from friends and family,” he said. One-quarter of that amount came from five friends who donated $400 each if Colin would wear his unorthodox suit when he performed at the ProAm. “With all the Honens donors, the total on my site was over $20,000. I consider that a resounding success.”
Colin really enjoyed programming his own home concert for family and friends. “I completely didn't do the format that you're supposed to do,” he said. “It was five minutes about each piece, talking about the history of it, things I think about, what I'm trying to bring out and then play the piece.” It was a hit. “People were very interested, so it turned into another 15 – 20 minute question and answer about my musicality, how did I get into music, what do I think about, all those types of things.”
Colin Edie on David Dixon, 2011 Honens ProAm Champion
Colin has a tremendous amount of respect for this year's ProAm Winner, David Dixon. “He's definitely the most musical of us,” he said. “Just the pure accompanying that he does. He's very much into jazz as well. I don't think I ever heard him play a wrong note.”
He is pleased with the jury's decision. “I absolutely think it was best that he got the weekend in Banff for training as a musician because he's going to use it the most.”
Colin Edie's Observations About Studying Music
Colin has noticed several changes since resuming piano lessons. The first is that giving work presentations has gotten easier. “I always tell this to lots of people at work is that I consider performance music ten times more difficult than any kind of presentation,” Colin said.
Another observation he's noticed is increased mental acuity. “I never thought I had lost it, but I found I was getting mentally sharper again,” he commented.
Colin Edie on Future Plans
“I try to balance myself with personal and professional goals,” said Colin. “After I do my ARCT, I will probably will think about doing some kind of program or degree related to work. Everybody toys with doing an MBA as an engineer. It might be a CFA or CMA or something like Project Management Professional which comes up a lot in the industry. “ With a smile, he added, “And of course, trying to fit in as much as possible before children because that's going to come up pretty soon.”
That isn't to say that Colin will stop playing the piano. “When I was younger and someone was playing really well, and really bringing out the music, there's just something really special and magical about it,” he recalled. “Usually, those are in home settings, not in a concert setting.” He wants to continue playing in small, intimate settings. “I like to play the Christmas music at Christmastime. I like to play something that someone else finds fascinating.”
Personal Communication with Colin Edie, October 29, 2011.
Photos were taken by Boon Ong Photography. Photo permission was granted by Honens.
Originally published on Suite101.com on December 1, 2011. Updated July 13, 2013.