Kiana Reid

The temporary family: An interview with Gisela Maria Becker (Kiana Reid's host mum)

What is your role in the competition?

[Mrs Becker]: Our job is to create an ambience for our guest to feel comfortable. Our piano has been specially tuned so that Kiana [Reid] can practise at our place.

How long have you been doing this?

This is the third time we've hosted someone. I consider it a privilege because you often enter into a longer relationship with the participants, which is very enriching.

So that's your motivation, that you find it so valuable that there's always a new guest?

Yes, it is! We love being with young people, it's always interesting. We also have a big family, which is nice for everyone. It's enriching and we enjoy doing it. These are usually long days at the competition, and when our guest masters one round after the next, we all share in the excitement. We try to organise the environment for our guests so that they can fully concentrate on the competition.

How did you become aware of the ITBCB in the first place?

I'm a big music lover and also play the piano myself and used to go to the competition to listen. Then I read: „Host parents wanted“ and thought, that's something for me! However, that was a few years ago now.

You just said that you also play yourself. What is your personal connection to piano music and do you have a special connection to Beethoven?

Yes, Beethoven was of course the idol of our early music lessons. I used to play myself, quite well, and I loved playing Beethoven. I just really like music and if you have friends who also like music, even better!

Do you have a favourite piece?

Oh, what do you mean by favourite piece, I can't really say. I can name pieces that I know, the Moonlight Sonata for example - that might be a bit trite, but it's easy to play! A few Beethoven sonatas perhaps, and then of course it's wonderful what Kiana played in the second round of the competition: "An die ferne Geliebte" by Beethoven and then in Liszt's version - I think it's really great! But apart from that, I can't say I have a favourite piece, nor can I say that I have a favourite composer. I like classical music more than modern music - I can say that - but otherwise I wouldn't know.

So you enjoy piano music regardless of the composer and regardless of a specific piece?

Yes, exactly. I like going to concerts.

How is your week organised when you have a guest?

They arrive the evening before the competition starts and then you get to know each other. I prepare something nice for dinner and then they actually start practising straight away. She [Kiana] is basically at the Telekom headquarters all day, either practising or auditioning, and then in the evening we meet up at home and review the day. Then they're also pretty exhausted, it's incredibly demanding.

Do you have certain routines that you try to stick to?

Yes, it's different for everyone. Now with Kiana, she has her own system. Our previous guests always played in the morning. Kiana, however, has put a lot of emphasis on memorising it and she has different methods. I was always very impressed by that! She usually did it in the morning after waking up and then practised it here and then at the Telekom. So it always depends on the participant. The further she progressed, the less time she spent at home. When she came in the evening, we had a nice chat, but then she was done! So it's quite exhausting. Especially when you move on, you have to have the new pieces - you have to have them all ready and memorised beforehand - and then update them. That's stressful!

You just said that it is very stressful for the participants. Is the competition period also stressful for you as a host family?

Nope, I wouldn't say that now! Of course I'm not planning to do anything else in the meantime, that's for sure. I wouldn't manage that either. I'm focussing on that and I think it's wonderful!

I've heard that a former participant you took on is now studying in Cologne. Do you generally still have contact with the former participants?

Yes, Shan-Chi Hsu. She was here again for a weekend afterwards, which I thought was very nice.

Does that mean you also make contacts?

Yes, definitely. The contacts remain!

Do you also attend the competition when your guest is playing?

Yes, so obviously when my guest is playing, I go there! But even if not, I am because I simply follow it. Not all the time, of course, because I don't have time for that, but actually almost every day. When she's playing anyway and then I listen to the whole cycle and sometimes when I have time. That's how I got into it! I used to go to the competition and that's how the host families came about. Before I had a guest - I didn't even know there was such a thing - I used to go regularly.

Do you also show your guests a bit of the city, go sightseeing?

Yesterday Kiana visited the Beethoven House and had breakfast with the other participants and today she is at the Schumann House. I told her that she should definitely visit the cloister of Bonn Minster!  Or we could go for a walk along the Rhine together. The participants are usually only indoors all the time, so it's good to have a change!

Do you have a secret or something you do to ensure that the competition participants have a relaxed or good stay with you?

I also have children and grandchildren myself and I'm building up a relationship with my guests. That may sound like an exaggeration, but you just love each other as if they were daughters. They fit in well with the family, it was wonderful with my last three! Shan-Chi, who was with us in 2021, also enjoyed playing chess and we actually played chess games together. That was really fun - I always lost.

So basically your secret is that your guests should feel like family? And that you also spend your free time together?

Yes, of course! And that also comes back, like with "the family of man", that it's not just your own family that counts, but if you're open, you can count everyone who is also open as family!

That sounds lovely. Then I have just one last question: will you be hosting a participant again next time?

Yes, of course! I would love to do that.

An interview by Luisa Belzer