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Try winning a concerto competition with one hand

An injury forces a USC pianist to focus on pieces for the left hand, but was his strategy the key to victory?

Sam Kinsey
Junior Sam Kinsey performed at the 2014 Debut Concerto Competition. (Photo/Kimmie Fadem)

For junior Sam Kinsey, playing the piano has always come naturally. What hasn’t come so easily, however, is the ability to play it with one hand.

The keyboard studies major and Southern California native at the USC Thornton School of Music broke his right wrist while playing basketball in August 2013 and had to face the challenge of learning to play his chosen instrument in an entirely new way.

“It was, in some ways, a blessing in disguise,” Kinsey said.

Slow recovery

After an initial consultation with a doctor, Kinsey began a careful recovery process that eventually led him to focus largely on his left hand’s ability to play. His right hand would not touch a piano for another two months.

Kinsey went to his professor, USC Thornton keyboard studies faculty member Antoinette Perry, with pieces for the left hand alone that he was interested in playing: a Scriabin Nocturne, a Brahms transcription of the Bach Chaconne, and, in particular, the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand.

“One of the things I really like about studying with professor Perry is that she’s open to discussing my new repertoire,” Kinsey said. “She guides my decisions based on what pieces she believes will be best for my musical development, but also wants her students to be studying pieces that really interest them.”

One-handed repertoire

Hosted by the Young Musicians Foundation, the 2014 Debut Concerto Competition provided Kinsey with the opportunity to showcase his months of recovery, hard work, and one-handed repertoire.

He went on to take the grand prize and was invited to perform at the foundation’s 60th Annual Gala and Concert. Held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on Feb. 2, the gala was dedicated to the late David Weiss, former chairman of the YMF Music Advisory Board and beloved oboist and member of USC Thornton’s faculty for nearly 30 years.

Kinsey’s win and performance with the YMF can be added to a growing list of accomplishments for the versatile musician.

Previous piano competitions

In 2013, he was awarded first prize in the college division of the statewide Music Teachers’ Association of California Solo Competition. Last summer, he was invited to work with USC Thornton faculty member Daniel Pollack in Germany at the International Summer Academy. There, he took third prize in the Siegfried Weishaupt International Piano Competition.

Sam is relentless in his pursuit of musical excellence. There’s no holding him back.

Antoinette Perry

“Sam is relentless in his pursuit of musical excellence,” Perry said. “There’s no holding him back. What a joy it is to work with him!”

As for what’s next, Kinsey said he’s eager to continue learning and competing with one and both hands on the keys. He continues to play the left-handed concerto despite a fully recovered right hand.

“I’m definitely keeping the Ravel Concerto. That’s a big part of my repertoire now.”

In terms of that fledgling basketball career, he seems to have other plans.

“I’m not quite tall enough to go into the NBA,” Kinsey said. “So I think I’m going to stick with piano instead.”

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Try winning a concerto competition with one hand

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