Ed Balls lifts lid on ability to play the piano

The Shadow Chancellor will join a host of celebrity performers hoping to entertain the public with their piano skills

Ed Balls is more familiar with wrestling fiscal policy than a tricky Schumann movement, but for one morning only, the Shadow Chancellor will be entertaining the public with his piano skills.

Celebrity Carnival is a Sunday morning concert at Kings Place featuring 13 ivory-tickling amateurs, including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, comedian Alistair McGowan and actors Juliet Stevenson, Edward Fox and Simon Russell Beale.

Accomplished pianist Lucy Parham has selected the writers, politicians and journalists to perform Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) and Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals for the first in a series of coffee concerts titled Word/Play on December 8.

“I thought this would be a fun way to bring people who love the piano, but are not known for it as their first job, to the stage. When we do the Carnival of the Animals, we will have Martin Jarvis and Joanna David reading the Ogden Nash poems for the pieces. I want it to be fun and accessible to everybody including kids.”


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Having previously worked on many word and music programmes, Word/Play was a natural progression, says Parham: “I work with actors quite a lot and I love the combination of words and music.”

‘Difficult’ piece

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Muswell Hill-based piano teacher and composer Lola Perrin has been teaching Ed Balls piano for two years. The Shadow Chancellor will be performing a “short but difficult” Schumann piece called The Poet Speaks.

“Ed Balls had played violin when he was younger but had always wanted to learn the piano,” says Perrin who is composer-in-residence at Markson Pianos in Camden Town.

“I was teaching his neighbour and was recommended. I feel strongly that it’s extremely possible for adults to learn completely cold without ever having learned as a child, as long as it’s taught in the right way.

“I’ve taught a number of adults and all of them are very busy, high-achieving professionals like Ed but they are all extremely serious about learning and he is no different. He’s made a couple of changes in his schedule to fit in the practice. He’s completely dedicated and wants to get to Grade 8 by the time he is 50 and is on course to achieve that.

“I think it’s a great thing for people in positions of power to be in a situation where they don’t know as much as the other person.”

Parham, who will be presenting the Celebrity Carnival, demonstrated her love for piano at a young age when she debuted at the Royal Festival Hall at 16. She has since built a successful career as a concerto soloist playing alongside renowned orchestras such as the London Philharmonic and City of London Sinfonia.

The personalities will play from two 9ft interlocking concert grand pianos. During Schumann’s Kinderszenen, two people will start by playing in front of each other on stage. As one person leaves the stage, another will quickly replace them, the music will continue with the pianists creating a “seamless walking on and off with no clashing”.

For Parham, the main purpose is to have fun and enjoy piano music. “I don’t want it to get too heavy, it’s a little bit of froth and I think there will be much laughter, but although they are not professional, they’re all good pianists in their own right.

“Ed Balls and Edward Fox’s paths would not necessarily cross in day to day life but everyone is bound by their love of piano. I think that’s nice and that’s our message – music is for everybody.”

Like Parham, music composer Perrin believes piano playing should be for everyone.

“I have spent my life promoting piano playing and the continuation of the piano repertoire. Learning the piano you are self-sufficient, you don’t need any other musicians. Many adults wish they had learned as children or not given up, or think it is elitist, too expensive or too difficult but it doesn’t have to be.”

Ultimately, Parham wants Celebrity Carnival to be a light-hearted affair attracting people who simply enjoy music.

“It’s important that people don’t think of classical music as unapproachable and stuffy. All these people here play the piano but are of different standards. It doesn’t matter because they all love playing and that’s what matters.”

Celebrity Carnival is at 11.30am on December 8 at Kings Place, York Way. Bookings on 020 7520 1490.

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