Canadian Pianists: Their Passions Away from the Ivory

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makingmusicWe all know professional musicians, famous sports players, and celebrities based on what they do; play music, sports or act. But just like the rest of us, they are deeper than just what they show to the world. David Beckham is an avid fencer, David Letterman co-owns a race car, and Phil Mickelson flies planes. Many people have a passion, and sometimes it’s not even what they are famous for.

Many Canadian musicians travel all over the world to perform. Some record music, others conduct operas, while still others play piano in an orchestral setting. Their talent takes them to new places, and gives them the opportunity to share music with a large part of the world. But what do they do in their spare time? And is performing music their only passion? In some cases, it is. But just as students need to learn to balance school, fun and the piano, professional musicians often try to keep their lives balanced as well. Here are a few pianists, from the past and present, who have learned to keep the piano as a priority, but also take time to nourish other interests.

Alberto Guerrero (February 6, 1886 – November 7, 1959)

Not only was Guerrero a pianist, a teacher and mentor to Glenn Gould, but he also studied philosophy, art and painted. Guerrero was most well-known for introducing his Chilean colleagues to Debussy, Ravel, Scott and Scriabin, but in his spare time he enjoyed other arts; not that he ever bragged about it. His students described him as well-loved and eloquent.

Glenn Gould (25 September 1932 – 4 October 1982)

Glenn Gould, as mentioned previously, studied for a short time under Alberto Guerrero. He was known as a bit eccentric, and was typically not personable. In his spare time, he enjoyed creating radio broadcasts for the CBC. Most of his broadcasts were about people who lived in the Canadian wilderness. He used a voice technique that he termed contrapuntal radio, which blended voices together to make music.

Oscar Peterson (August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007)

Peterson, also known as O.P. to his friends, was a dedicated and hard-working pianist. As a child, he was first taught by his father. He often practiced for four to six hours a day, and only cut back his practicing time in his later years. His sister Daisy Sweeney taught him classical pieces, and by the age of nine he was already making an impression on local professional pianists. At 14 he won the national music competition put on by the CBC, and quit school to play the piano professionally, beginning a career which spanned almost 70 years.  Peterson taught piano and improvisation in Canada, mainly in Toronto. He started and headed the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto for five years during the 1960s with some associates, but it closed because he and his associates could not keep up with the school and demanding concert schedules.  Later, he mentored the York University jazz program and was the Chancellor of the entire university for several years in the early 1990s.  In his spare time, he enjoyed fishing, astronomy and photography.

Angela Hewitt  (July 26, 1958 – )

Angela Hewitt was born into a musical family in Ottawa, Ontario.  Her father was the choirmaster at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa and her mother was her first piano teacher, starting at age 3.  She had her concert debut in Toronto performing a full-length recital at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1967.  She studied piano at the Royal Conservatory with famed Canadian teachers Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero and then later with French pianist Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa.

Ms. Hewitt is regarded as one of the greatest living interpreters of the music of J.S. Bach and in 2007–2008 her entire concert season was devoted to complete performances of The Well-Tempered Clavier in major cities all over the world, a remarkable achievement.

In 2005, she extended her passion for classical music beyond international tours by becoming the founder of The Trasimeno Music Festival Association in the Umbrian town of Magione, on the shores of Lake Trasimeno in Italy. The Festival lasts for one week each summer, where Angela presents concerts in the magical atmosphere of the Castle of the Knights of Malta in Magione herself, as well as using international artists of the highest level, including talented young musicians.

Jon Kimura Parker (25 December 1959 – )

Although he still thinks of himself as an emerging artist, Parker has been performing solo and with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for over ten years. Although he lives in Houston, TX, he travels back up to Canada at least twice a year, and has a profound appreciation for Vancouver. His biggest musical inspirations are Arthur Rubinstein and Oscar Peterson, but when he’s not working on his passion, he often listens to rock music. His favorites are Rush and Pink Floyd. He also enjoys watching football, a game he says he almost now completely understands.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin (6 March 1975 – )

Nezet-Seguin started studying the piano when he was five, and decided he wanted to be a conductor at the age of ten. He currently has contracts as conductor with the Orchestre Metropolitan, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although his musical career began with the piano, he paved his path towards conducting music all over the world. In addition to his three main venues, he has guest conducted for countless orchestras, and also conducts operas such as Romeo and Juliet.

Whether our passion lies in the piano, or in studying the stars, we can all do our best to keep our lives balanced and healthy. Learning to play the piano takes a great deal of time, and turning it into a career demands countless hours of practicing, but even the best pianists set aside time for fun endeavors. In addition, learning to play the piano can pave the way to other careers in music as well, whether it is as a conductor or teacher, festival organizer or mentor for future generations of musicians.

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