Russell’s Experience – The Sydney Piano Lovers’ Competition

Thinking of applying for The Sydney Piano Lovers’ Competition? We asked Russell Thompson, a retired artist and editor from Sydney, about his experience in 2020.

The Sydney Piano Lovers’ Competition 

Why did you apply for The Sydney Piano Lovers’ Competition in 2020?  

Playing the piano has been an integral part of my daily life for over 70 years! I thought, at my age, it would be an interesting exercise to face the challenge of having to focus on my playing and if I could still do it! Many hours I have sat alone at my piano thinking about what it would be like to actually play for an appreciative audience as I know I have some talent as a pianist. As a teenager I had a great desire to be a professional pianist but I found that in Brisbane in the 1950s there were not the opportunities to pursue that dream – at least not as far as I was aware. Over the years I have actually performed in various capacities both professional and amateur but it was never a full-time thing for me. 

I wanted to test myself to see if I had the discipline to actually enter the competition – and it turns out, I did! 

What was it like preparing for the competition?

Deciding what to play from my extensive playlist that covers all areas of music from rock, pop, classics – you name it! There are some pieces I have actually been playing for decades so I compiled a repertoire of some favourites (nothing too complicated or technical!), and decided to practice more intensively rather than just sitting at the piano making nice sounds. I borrowed a friend’s tripod, got my husband to set up my iPhone and away I went with minutes to spare before I had to submit the video. The pressure of getting it right in one take felt as if I were performing onstage. Receiving the judge’s feedback was a boost to my confidence as they had taken what I was offering seriously and gave me a sense of achievement in challenging myself. 

What is your profession? Have you always had a passion for piano?

I am a semi-retired self-employed pensioner. After two decades in the performing arts as actor, director, producer and manager, I had a career change. Since 2001 I have worked inhouse and editor/proofreader for several major publishing houses and many individual authors. For over two decades – and still going – my private practice has served me well. (You can find out more at ) 

Did you play the piano often previous to the competition?

I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old. My mother had been a piano teacher but had not taught for some years after marriage. I immediately took to it so she entered me in annual AMEB exams, local eisteddfods and church concerts. Her success at teaching me rekindled her desire to teach again and she established a thriving private clientele for decades after that. When she died at the age of 79, she was still teaching! 

In my time in the performing arts, there were many times when my piano playing skills were used. A truly unforgettable experience in the late 1960s was when I entered the ABC Concerto Competition – first round only – and played an Honegger Concertina, with Max Olding playing second piano! Whatever my working life involved, I have always played the piano for relaxation and stimulation – and often wonder what it would have been like if I’d had the drive and opportunity to pursue it as a full-time profession. But, no regrets.

Would you recommend for others to apply for the next edition of the competition? Why/why not?

I cannot recommend the experience too highly – but only if that is what you want to do. No need to add extra stress to your life – but then we only have one chance at living, so go for it!