The Vibrant Experience of Amateur Piano Competitions

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The Vibrant Experience of Amateur Piano Competitions

Q & A with Glenn Kramer of AmateurPianists

In the world of classical piano, it can often feel like all the opportunities to perform or compete are exclusively for young prodigies and the pros - especially here in Canada, where we don't appear to have any established Amateur Competitions. But if you think you've missed the chance to showcase your talent on stage as an adult, you need to talk to Glenn Kramer

Head of the largest piano performance meetup group in the world and Founder of the San Diego International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, Glenn has good news for adult pianists! The world of amateur piano performance is alive and well.

Glenn let us in on the wealth of amateur events just south of the border - where adult non-professional pianists are the sole focus, in true concert performance settings. Entrants have the opportunity not only to meet a personal goal, but to join a vibrant community of people whose love of music drives them, above any prize. 

Can you tell us about the AmateurPianists organization?

I started this meetup group in 2011, with the idea to offer performance opportunities to anyone who wanted to perform in public, on stage. There are a lot of amateur pianists out there, who would love to perform, but just really don't have opportunities. Mainly what we do is put on recitals for people to sign up and play publicly.  We play for our friends and family 98% of the time, so having a place like a concert hall helps motivate us.

Which are the main amateur competitions in North America?

Those on the east coast tend to gravitate to the Boston Competition, there's one in Chicago, one in New York, and if they want to travel further west, they would travel to the Van Cliburn in Fort Worth Texas. That's the most prestigious.

I have a lot of friends who play piano in Los Angeles, and there's a lot of talent in San Francisco, so I thought if I could create a competition here in San Diego... it's a beautiful city and people don't have to travel all the way to the east coast to enjoy the experience. We have it every 2 years now.

What was your own experience like, competing in the Paris International Amateur Piano Competition?

I saw an ad for the Paris competition in Piano Magazine and thought I would pursue it out of curiosity, and I love Paris. I did not make it past the 1st round, but loved the experience and enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. I competed 2 more times after that and did quite well the second time, not as well the third time, but still enjoyed the experience.  (Paris) was the first amateur piano competition that was ever started. That's a big one that attracts people from all over the world.

Was there anything you found surprising as a competitor?

What I did not expect was to make lifelong friends from the experience. It was just really nice to share that kind of comradery. I've participated in the Colorado Springs (Rocky Mountain Piano Competition) and the one in Paris 3 times, then as an audience member in New York - and they all have a very high level of pianists. The calibre of playing was higher than I expected.

Would you suggest memorizing pieces, even if it's not required?

I do suggest it because I think performers can do a better job if they're not relying on the music, but a lot of pianists like to have the sheet music there, even if they're not looking at it, just so they feel there's a safety net. We allow that, so they are welcome to do that for our competition.

If there's no promise of having a performing career or recording contract, why do adults choose to compete?

They love to perform for people and it's a personal goal for them. There's a lot of validation and goal setting in learning a piece for competition, even though it can be very nerve wracking. There's a competitive element to it, even if they're just competing with themselves to do a good job. We do have financial prizes, so for some people that's an incentive. There's also a chance to perform with an orchestra, which is very exciting for an amateur pianist to have that accessibility, so there are all sorts of reasons people have applied to our competition. But ultimately I get the sense that it's about their enjoyment and sharing their love of music with others.

Is there more appreciation of the music itself in amateur competitions compared to professional events?

I think that there is, because I've heard that professional pianists, although they love it, have to learn pieces they may not want to and it's their job to have a huge repertoire. For amateurs, they choose the pieces that appeal to them and there's a supportive element to it. I think when we attend as amateur competitors, we all feel like we're in this together, rather than competing against each other for a recording contract or some sort of recognition. There's a higher sense of family to the amateur competitions.

Do you have any suggestions for adults contemplating entering a competition?

It is so worth the experience! The thing I took away from it was not whether I won or lost, but the experience itself. It's really one of those things where the journey makes a big difference and it's not about reaching a goal of being a finalist, but making friends with other pianists. Sharing the adventure really means a lot. It did for me.

You can find a list of international competitions at, as well as info on the Meetup group & events hosted by Glenn Kramer / TBA: Amateur events in Canada at The Honens Piano Competition (


Crystal Greffard began playing piano at age 6 and holds a Royal Conservatory of Music ARCT Performer's Diploma in Piano. She is a solo & collaborative pianist, creator of, and a performance education resource site.

Keywords: pianopiano competitioncompetitionspianistamateuramateur pianist

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