Against the Odds: Alicia de Larrocha and Mercedes Sosa

As sport explores and develops its understanding of performance, there are wonderful opportunities to enrich this understanding from a performing arts’ perspective.
In the last two weeks, two remarkable musicians have died. Their stories have significant resonance with those interested in the emergence of talented individuals and their long-term development pathway. They have a great deal to say about virtuosity and resilience against the odds too.
Alicia de Larrocha died on 25 September 2009. The New York Times published an obituary here. This is her wikipedia entry. This an interview with the New York Times in 1995. Two items attracted my attention from these two New York Times’ pieces:

Ms. de Larrocha began to demand piano lessons when she was 3, after visiting her aunt as she taught students. At the keyboard on her own, Ms. de Larrocha imitated what she had seen her aunt’s students do, and impressed her aunt sufficiently that she took Ms. de Larrocha to Marshall. He was less encouraging. He said it was too early to start lessons, and suggested that Ms. de Larrocha be kept away from the piano. Ms. de Larrocha said that once her aunt locked the instrument, she banged her head on the floor until Marshall relented and began to teach her. (2009)

To generate auditorium-filling sound, she used to set the piano bench as high as it would go, the opposite of low-benchers like Glenn Gould. “I used to play with all my strength from my shoulders and my back,” she said, “so I had to be higher.” But her arms are so short that when the music called for her to go from one end of the keyboard to the other, she had to twist sharply; she ended up almost facing the audience. In recent years she has taught herself to sit closer to the keyboard, minimizing the extremes of movement. (1995)

This is Part 1 of a YouTube video of Alicia de Larrocha and Michael Tilson Thomas discussing Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1 and this is Part 2.
Mercedes Sosa died less than two weeks later on 4 October 2009. This is her wikipedia entry. She was recognised as a leader of the La Nueva Canción movement. This is some brief background information and this is her website. This is a YouTube video of her rendition of Gracias a La Vida.
In 2001 Mercedes Sosa observed that “I’ve got my voice and the soul that comes out in my voice.”  Throughout her career she was viewed as the voice of the silent majority.
Photo Sources
Sydney Cricket Ground 1895
Screen grabs of Alicia de Larrocha and Mercedes Sosa.


  1. Hi Keith,
    A quick stream-on-consciousness response: Sport as (emergent) performance, both for the “player” and the “audience”– definite resonance here, especially as I observe those negotiating the interface of arts and athleticism (A tiny bit of rehearsal/training: (Hmm… What happens when the element of competition is absent? Does it become a display of athleticism/artistry, rather than a sport? Clearly this would affect the behaviors and structures of the performance event… hmm…tangents abound…)
    Emergence, talent, development– Thinking/agreeing that “talent development” in other pursuits (i.e. gifted ed, which is often focused on academic ability) could/will benefit from understanding the approaches beneficial to coaching elite/gifted athletes… and musicians:-)

    • Carmen
      Thank you for reading the post and commenting. I think we can become focused on our own sphere of interest and miss some wonderful didactic moments in other people’s stories. Sport (particularly in Australia) is fascinated by precocious talent and I think Alicia’s life exemplifies this talent. Sport values resilience too and I think Mercedes illustrates this quality wonderfully.
      Both made performing their life journey. It was a life long journey. Sport has a much shorter life cycle that can learn from such role models. As we have discussed previously it is vital to understand people’s journeys in order to personalise their development. These are educational journeys too.
      Thank you again for calling by and prompting me to think about these ideas.


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