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50 people you should have seen play the piano in Chicago this weekend

50 people you should have seen play the piano in Chicago this weekend
Deirbhile Brennan, First Place Winner--from Ireland, getting a feel for the piano in Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University--where she competed for the top prize. photo/Pianoforte Foundation

There were 50 people in Chicago this weekend who virtually no one knew about.  They were from everywhere.  They have jobs and families.  They were young and old, male and female.   They came to play the piano--and compete against each other in the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition--presented by the Pianoforte Foundation at 13th and Michigan.

These pianists competed against each other with vim and vigor, passion and pizazz.  They were nervous, proud, determined and vulnerable.  They played everything from Bach to Copeland; from Mozart to Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Chopin and Debussy.  They ate some meals together, chatted with each other, had a movie night (Grand Piano) complete with hot dogs and popcorn--and got to know each other.  Although many of them already know each other from "the circuit" of amateur piano competitions that take place around the world.

They were judged by seven local pianists, musicians of great renown--who have made their mark not only on the keyboard in front of demanding audiences, but also in front of classrooms of music students at various local academic institutions.  They judged three different categories of performances (two solo and one concerto) in everything from stage presence and charisma to command of pedals, accuracy of notes and pitches--and coordination between hands.

Not one of the contestants makes a living as a pianist.  Many are doctors and scientists.  Most, if not all, started playing as children.  Many have music degrees.  Some had long years without practicing piano and took it up again after the kids were grown or after retirement or some such.  Many have studied--or are studying--with well-known piano teachers.

It's hard to believe they are all amateurs when you hear them play.  But not many Chicagoans did.

Even though you didn't see them, Chicago, I am going to tell you a thing or two about who they were:

  1. Cary Adams is a dentist in Chicago, a marathoner, a world traveler and a single adoptive dad.
  2. Tim Andrianson is a retired food chemist from Kraft Foods.
  3. Monica Hart Alianello lives in Naperville and works for an executive search firm downtown.
  4. Hassan Al-Mufti is from Baghdad, where he studied music and ballet, taught in Amman, Jordan--and now teaches music in Buffalo, New York.
  5. David Brinkley "debuted"at Carnegie Hall after winning First Prize in the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition.
  6. Deirbhile Brennan lives near Dublin, and is an accountant/Senior Operations Manager who recently got a Masters in music.
  7. Liang-Hui Chu--from Taiwan--is getting a PhD in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, where he began two chamber groups.
  8. Judy Darst is a retired piano teacher, lives in Bend, Oregon, and has performed in the Ladies Musical Club in Seattle.
  9. Robert Finley was born in England, is a retired electronics engineer and is a founder of the Boston International Piano Competition.
  10. Matthias Fischer is a psychiatrist in Wuerzburg, Germany, researching Coffin-Lowry Syndrome.  He studied piano for one year in Munich.
  11. Edward Fritz is a dentist in Mesa, Arizona; he studied dentistry at Case Western Reserve.  And this was his first piano competition.
  12. Martha Chestnut Hartman has two degrees in piano.  She left Accenture as a partner and a telecommunications consultant in 2001.
  13. Mark Hensley is getting a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Washington, where he researches gene-environment interactions.
  14. David Hibbard, of Fort Worth, left music school at the University of Illinois to take a job on the railroad--where he stayed for 41 years.
  15. Peter Hiss is an ophthalmologic surgeon in Germany, where he has studied piano since the age of 14.
  16. Wen-Yee Ho played on Radio Hong Kong as a teenager, has a PhD in French and taught at Harvard and Tufts.  She retired in 2011 and lives in Concord, MA.
  17. Adrienne Johnson is Polish-American, lives in Minnesota, and has four boys.  She's a Julliard grad and music director of a theater group.
  18. Ellie Kyung has two daughters, went to Yale as an undergrad, has a PhD from NYU and is a marketing professor at Dartmouth College.
  19. Darren Lee is a Chartered Professional Accountant for high net worth and corporate clients.  He placed 125th out of 39,000 in the  2013 Boston Marathon.
  20. Sharon Madison is a retired Chicago Public School music teacher, who has studied advanced piano at Sherwood-Columbia School of Music.
  21. Thomas Maurice is Senior Program Manager for General Dynamics in Baltimore, has several technology certificates from Microsoft, is restoring a 1926 Steinway and rescues lost and abused cats.
  22. Neil McKelvie is an 84-year-old Englishman, lives in Forest Hills, New York, is a retired chemistry professor, suffers from Parkinson's Disease and at one time was a chess master (#19 in New York).
  23. Ai Miura is from Japan, went to Tokyo University of Agriculture, is a product planner at SONY--where she is a member of the SONY piano club--and has a four-year-old child.
  24. Franca Morazzoni is from Milan, is a chemistry professor and active in teaching and research at the University of Milano-Bicocca.
  25. Melinda Morse is from Arkansas, and completed a 37-year teaching career in Nevada, California and Arkansas.  She runs, plays with her grandbaby--and is active in her church.
  26. Karen Mothkovich lives in Highland Park where she likes to cook and bike.  She is an executive administrator at The Ayco Company, a financial consulting division of Goldman Sachs.
  27. Emi Nagakusa is from Tokyo, graduated from Waseda University and is on the staff of the Health Insurance Association.  She is married to…
  28. Hirokazu Nagakusa, who is from Japan, went to Keio University  and is a banker at the Japan Finance Corporation.
  29. Lee James Noren lives in Wadsworth, Il., has a degree in jazz from DePaul, has written a jazz cookbook, two screenplays, is producing a children's book/CD and developing a musical.  He writes sacred works for his church and is forming a partnership with a publishing house in Nashville.
  30. Kensuke Ota has a PhD from Tokyo University and works as a research scientist for Toshiba.
  31. Eugene Phillips, Jr. lives in Bloomington, Il. and works for State Farm.  In college, he had an accident that almost cost him his arm. He used to be director of a gospel choir in Waverly, Iowa.
  32. Charapin Pongtornpipat has received a Licentiate of the Trinity College of London after an exam administered in Thailand when she was 21.  She went back to studying piano in her late 40s.  She currently studies at the Merit School of Music in the West Loop.
  33. Esfir Ross was born in Moldova, graduated from the Kishinev Conservatory, is a registered dental hygienist and has lived in Oakland, California since 1980.
  34. Robert Seppy lives in Philadelphia, has studied piano with a number of piano teachers, and is currently studying with Josh Wright.  He also accompanies his wife Kelly at church.
  35. Ronald Setiawan of Hoffman Estates is a finance manager for the manufacturing IT group of AbbVie.  He studied electronic organ for years but took up the piano seven years ago in order to compete in the amateur competitions.
  36. Richard Sire is a computer programmer who has a Master of Music in piano performance and literature from the University of Illinois.
  37. Stanley Sisskin is from New York with several degrees in music.  He has soloed with the Fort Wayne Symphony, and has won several competitions (including a First Place medal over the weekend).
  38. Una Stroda was born in Latvia and came to Chicago for postgraduate studies in theology. She receives her PhD this month in systematic theology.
  39. Max Sung is a doctor in a full time practice.  Prior to studying medicine, he was an exchange student in Germany and studied with Helmut Rotoff.
  40. Yoko Taruki is the director of a school in Japan.  She got her MS at Indiana University and worked in the social sciences.
  41. Esa-Matti Tastula is getting a PhD in physical oceanography at the University of South Florida.  He studied piano in Finland.
  42. William "Al" Thomas is the president of an appraisal company in Burlington, North Carolina.  He collaborates on recitals with his daughter, a New York professional violinist--and he is an amateur piano technician.
  43. Angela Tien performed with the Boston Pops when she was a child.  She has three young boys (who accompanied her to Chicago from Massachusetts), and degrees from Julliard School and New England Conservatory of Music.
  44. Matthew Tingle lives in Windsor, Ontario.  He has studied Jazz improvisation.  He collaborates with instrumentalists and vocalists in all genres:  classical, sacred, jazz, fusion, funk and lounge.
  45. Darin Tysdal has degrees in music composition.  He has had his pieces played by community orchestras and bands in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  He lives in Bloomington, MN, accompanies the church choir and works for Groth Music.
  46. Janet Underhill is a retired music teacher who taught for 31 years, spanning grades K through 12.  She also played keyboards in a Big Band.
  47. Ronald Van Vollenhoven is a physician specializing in rheumatology--and is a professor of clinical therapy research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.  He's originally from the Netherlands.
  48. Wei Ling Wang (who also won a First Place medal in the Chicago competition this weekend) does a lot of competitions and supports a lot of  music schools and  non-profit music organizations.
  49. Reo Yasuma is an ophthalmologist from Japan and came to the US to do research on eye diseases.  She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.  She says studying piano gets her to relax and "get energy to live."
  50. Emauela Zaharia-Donici's hometown is Hof--in Bavaria, where she began studying piano.  She studied medicine in Berlin.  She works in the field of transfusion medicine for the Red Cross in their blood donation department.

The competition will be back in two years.  Don't miss it!

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