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The blind concert pianist who learns by ear

J-P Mauro - published on 06/08/17

It can take him a month to learn a large piece.

The pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind due to microphthalmia. He began his formal education on the piano at the age of 4 and three years later won first prize at the All Japan Music of Blind Students competition by the Tokyo Helen Keller Association. He played with a full orchestra when he was 10 years old and by the age of 12 he was performing solo recitals and began touring internationally.

In 2011, Nobuyuki performed at Carnegie Hall, in New York. In 2014, directer Peter Rosen made a documentary call Touching the Sound about Tsujii’s life from birth until his Carnegie debut.

He can read Braille, but prefers to learn music by ear. He has assistants record small sections of a work, keeping left and right hand separate, and he listens to each recording until he has memorized the piece. The process, as he explains, is often time consuming:

“I call these tapes ‘music sheets for ears.’ It takes me a few days to complete a short piece, but it takes one month to complete a big sonata or concerto.”

He has released 10 CDs of famous piano pieces, as well as his own original works. He also works as a soundtrack composer for movies.

In 2016, he returned to Carnegie hall to perform his “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami” in remembrance of the victims of the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

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