This story is part of 30 Under 30.
Nicholas McCarthy is a British pianist. Born without a right hand, he was the first left-hand-only pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in London in its 134-year history.
As part of 30 Under 30 he chatted to us about his journey to success and talks about breaking barriers, his love of music and his advice for other young disabled artists.
Here’s an extract from the full blog which we’ve shared on Medium, along with some of Nicholas’ music.
I didn’t play piano until I was 14. I saw a friend of mine play a Beethoven piano sonata in assembly and I just had one of those moments where I thought “Oh my God, that’s what I’m going to do”. I had a small keyboard from years before so I got my parents to get it out of the loft and started really slowly learning. One day, my dad shouted up “Nick, turn the radio down” and it was actually me playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So I said “It’s not the radio dad, it’s me” and there was a deathly silence from downstairs. Then they said “Do you want piano lessons? You’re quite good actually love!” — and of course I said yes.
After a two years of lessons my piano music teacher said I should go to a specialist school. My friend who played that Beethoven piano sonata had been to a specialist piano school with very high standards and I really wanted to go there. I knew I needed to audition so I rang up the headmistress. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “To be honest I haven’t got any time to see you because I don’t know how you can possibly play scales without two hands”. Being a cocky 15-year-old at this point, I replied: “I don’t want to play scales. I want to play music” and she put the phone down on me.
In my head, that was my one chance of becoming a concert pianist and I felt completely shattered. This woman, sadly, couldn’t think outside the box and I thought “That’s it, poor me”. Reality isn’t like that, there are many paths around things. I found a different way.
That wasn’t the only barrier that Nicholas has had to overcome. Head over to Medium to read about the path that he did take, which led to his record-breaking success at the Royal College of Music and performing at the London Paralympics 2012.