“39 Years of Teaching Leads to New Career”
The New York Times
February 1, 2004
By Barbara Delatiner

The Stecher and Horowitz School of the Arts in Cedarhurst was a fixture in the Five Towns for 39 years, training more than 15,000 young musicians from throughout Long Island and metropolitan New York. But in 1999, its owners, Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz, sold the property.

Still, the two, who are pianists and who performed together, did not have retirement in mind. They became piano-competition impresarios by founding the New York Piano Competition for musicians ages 14 to 18.

“We decided to expand our horizons into a national project,” Mr. Horowitz said in a telephone interview.

But it would not be a replica of existing competitions, Mr. Stecher continued.

The two, who admit to “hovering around 70,” set about creating a “different model.” It would not, they said, eliminate contestants along the way, but instead would allow all the youngsters to continue performing, thus benefiting from accompanying coaching and master classes. It would also reward every participant with at least a $1,000 scholarship, with more substantial amounts going to six major prize winners.

More than 125 pianists applied. Twenty-two from as far away as Washington State and Texas, but none from Long Island, were asked to contend.

The first competition, held in the summer of 2002, is the subject of “Speaking With Music,” a documentary that will receive its world premiere today at 3 p.m. on Channel 21.

The film was made by Lucy Bruell, a former student at the music school whose previous films include “A Visit With the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit,” which won the grand award at the New York International Film and Video Festival.

Besides detailing the performing and teaching careers and goals of Mr. Stecher and Mr. Horowitz, and the thinking of the judges, the film about the competition explores the motivations and aspirations of the 22 young competitors and the mothers who came to New York with them.

Ms. Bruell’s involvement stemmed from an accidental meeting on Broadway in Manhattan, Mr. Horowitz recalled.

“Walking in the city, we’re often stopped by former students, which is what happened with Lucy, who was Mel’s most brilliant student, not necessarily in piano, but certainly intellectually,” he said

When Ms. Bruell, 51, told them that after a career in broadcast journalism, she had become a filmmaker specializing in professional educational material, they invited her to document their competition.

“But not just the performances,” she said. “I wanted to find out from the kids and their parents why it was classical music over MTV and rock. What drove them to do this?”

Over five days of filming, she said, she found some answers to those questions. The youngsters, she said, were “articulate, focused and passionate about what they are doing.”

The camera often vividly captures these answers. For example, there is the mother who points out her son’s shaking hands and says competitions are “a training ground for performances.”

Then, there is her son, Adam Golka, who says, “I always have music going through my head.”

This youngster did not win one of the major prizes, but Mr. Stecher said he recently won first prize in the Shanghai Competition for pianists ages 17 to 32, and will be performing throughout China.

“Performing, that’s the important thing about the competition,” Mr. Horowitz said. “When Mel and I were just starting out, there were 3,500 professional venues for young musicians. Today there are maybe 300. And it’s important for young people to perform, for when you perform you learn.”

The New York Piano Competition is currently accepting applications for its second event, to be held in June. Information: (212) 581-8380.