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Piano prodigy prepares for national competition

Carter Johnson is B.C.’s representative at a national piano competition in Regina. - Photo submitted
Carter Johnson is B.C.’s representative at a national piano competition in Regina.
— image credit: Photo submitted

It’s Friday night and 14-year-old Carter Johnson has just finished his homework.

It’s not because he really loves homework. It’s because Carter didn’t get to be one of the best young pianists in Canada by slacking off. Tonight, he has to be organized in order to get in enough practice time, pack, and travel to Kamloops the next morning for a provincial competition.

And there’s no slowing the pace. Next month, he will be British Columbia’s representative at the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers Association’s National Piano Competition in Regina, Saskatchewan. Only one pianist from each province is selected to perform. He’s hoping to be named one of the top three, maybe even the best pianist in Canada under age 25.

He didn’t get this far without an awful lot of practice time. Carter spends at least an hour a day at his grand piano. But although practice is crucial, he’s reluctant to say that practice makes perfect.

“I read somewhere that practice makes permanent,” Carter says with a grin that shows off his braces. “If you practice something wrong over and over again, it’s going to stay there.”

So Carter is pretty meticulous about making sure he practices it right. It’s paying off – his teacher Shelley Roberts has trained him well, and she is very proud of him.

“It’s a privilege to teach and work with Carter,” Roberts says. “He’s demonstrated such devotion and passion for his music. He is a rare, gifted musician and a remarkable young man.”

Carter really is a remarkable young man. Unlike many of his peers, whose only exposure to music is pressing coloured buttons on a plastic guitar to score points in a video game, Carter is making real music. He is always looking for music that will inspire him to be a better pianist and seeks out new musical experiences. He is currently learning a second instrument, the oboe, which he says gives him a better appreciation for playing with an orchestra and for piano music written to accompany an orchestra.

It helps. Carter recently performed a piano concerto with the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra, and orchestra director Pippa Williams had high praise.

“Carter is a delightful soloist with exceptional technique and precision,” she said. “His playing is full of elegance and charm and particularly beautiful were his cadenzas and interplay with the orchestra.”

Carter definitely knows his music. When he starts talking about composers, he sounds more knowledgeable than a CBC Radio 2 announcer. He knows so much because he listens to so many different composers and genres of classical music. He figures his listening habits have had big influences on his style.

“The more you listen, the better you’ll be able to play,” he says. “Listen to lots of music, the good and the bad performances. Learn the difference, and it helps you be a better player.”

When he’s not practicing, Carter is already working as a piano teacher, passing his knowledge on to his own students.

“They’re doing very well, I’m very proud of them,” he says.

In fact, he adds, they’ve taught him a thing or two.

“By teaching, you learn more yourself,” he says. “I realized that if I’m telling them to do something, I should do it myself!”

Carter’s trip to Regina for the finals in July is not going to be cheap, so he is holding a fundraiser concert to help pay for his travel costs. On June 12, 7 p.m. at the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Carter will be performing works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms , Ginastera and Hétu.

Admission is by donation.

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