“Learn by Playing”
January 25, 2004
By Peter Goodman

When Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz were teenage duo-pianists starting out, there were thousands of places to play. Some involved riding on a dogsled to the hall, or performing on top of a bar, but there were performing chances aplenty.

Musicians today don’t have that abundance. The small-town series, the clubs, stores and hotels that once offered music are long gone. What’s left for young players who still have a lot to learn?

So Stecher and Horowitz, now retired to Manhattan after decades of running a music school in Cedarhurst, created the New York Piano Competition, for 14- to 18-year-olds, with a twist. Unlike every other competition, theirs has no eliminations. Eager youngsters don’t find themselves playing for 20 minutes the first day, losing and being forced to stop. Instead, over the span of a week, each competitor (there were 22 in the 2002 inaugural event) plays in each of the four rounds and the master classes. Ultimately, four winners are chosen; first prize is $4,000 and some performance dates. But each participant wins a $1,000 scholarship; there is much less pressure, and the pianists get a chance to listen, to compare and to become friends.

“Performances are the best teachers one could have,” Stecher said. “They play for five days, and no one is eliminated.”

“Speaking With Music,” a film about the first competition by Lucy Bruell, airs next Sunday at 3 p.m. on WLIW/21. A second competition is scheduled for June 20-June 25 at the Manhattan School of Music.