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Adult Student Q and A

Piano student Richard Sparks

Are you from Chicago?

Originally I am from Holland, Michigan and moved to Chicago in 1991.


At what age did you start the piano? Why did you choose this instrument?

I actually started music lessons on a Lowrey spinet organ, back in the late 1960s. I believe I was 8 or 9. During my senior year of high school I took pipe organ lessons, which continued through my first year of college.  My college professor informed me of my lack of proper training and suggested I pursue other interests, so I ended up diving into my German studies instead and headed overseas. 


I also played the bassoon during junior and senior high school.  The instrument I had was a loaner from my school music department.  Unfortunately the funds for an instrument were not available after graduation, so my woodwind days ended.  My musical journey ended rather quickly, so I spent many adult years missing being involved with something I loved. 


The longing to make music peaked in my early 40s, and that is when I invested in my first upright Yamaha piano.   The bassoon still nags at me, but I resolved to be an avid listener and concert goer instead of picking it up again.  My subscription to Music of the Baroque keeps my double-reed obsession nicely satisfied.


Was there a particular piano recital or concerto performance you heard that had a big musical or emotional impact on you?

I heard a Prokofiev concerto (I believe it was No. 3) years ago while living in Vienna.  Prokofiev’s music broke the Bach spell I was under. It also piqued my interest in the piano, along with other more modern works, especially the Russian ones.


If you were stuck on a desert island which three recordings would you bring with you?

  1. Bach English Suites performed by Murray Perahia
  2. The Chopin Preludes by Martha Argerich (though I just heard a young woman from Hong Kong play them for the Cliburn Competition, and she was magnificent).
  3. The Complete Mozart Concertos, many choices of performances


What is your favorite piano piece and why? 

This is impossible to narrow down to a single piece! The Brahms Rhapsody in G Minor, Op. 79, No. 2.  I was completely mesmerized by the power and drive of the main theme when I first heard it.  A fellow music student was working on it in an adjacent practice room.  I remember as if it were yesterday.  I asked the name of the piece and immediately ran out and bought a recording.  It has been on my bucket list ever since, and actually my goal for piano playing.  I recently started working on it with my piano teacher at MIC, Mio Nakamura.  Baby steps, little by little, I am going to learn this piece!!


Besides Classical, what kind of music do you listen to?

I love film scores, the great songstresses of the 30s, 40s, 50s and show tunes.  Much of my musical taste comes from my father.   My house growing up was filled with Ella, Nat King Cole, early Doris Day, Rogers and Hammerstein, Judy, Julie Andrews, etc.


What makes you take piano lessons as an adult?

Unfinished business, unfulfilled dreams and regret for having left behind something I loved. 


How important is your teacher in your level of enjoyment?

Absolutely essential!  I have had a couple excellent teachers in the recent past and I learned a great deal, but it wasn’t until I connected with Mio that I started to blossom.  She has coached me through some of the worst of my adult student angst, has patiently guided me in building a pretty solid technique, and is helping me to see that I too can consider myself a pianist.


How you are able to fit piano in to your busy schedule.

Practice is the biggest challenge any adult learner can face!!!  I think I would be sitting at the piano for several hours a day were those hours even available.  I try to come home from work, get the dog walked, and then dive in for an hour before I have to start dinner.  If I am tired from the work day, I am in trouble.  I work Downtown, so often at lunch I run to Harold Washington Library and try to get a practice room.  If I am successful I can just make about 30 minutes at the keyboard before having to head back to work.  Unfortunately a lot of students use those pianos and I can’t get a spot.  I study at the MIC Gratz Campus, so on Fridays I try to run in and grab an open piano there.  I recently asked our Campus Coordinator Aubrey Faith-Slaker to investigate lunchtime practice options at the new St. Johns location.  Perhaps that will offer me up some extra daytime playing.


What other activities do you enjoy besides music?

It is gardening season and I love it!  We have a sizeable urban vegetable and flower garden.  I also enjoy cooking and baking…the kitchen is my sandbox!  The travel bug was unleashed in me early in life, and so I try to go abroad whenever the finances allow.  My husband and I have travelled recently to Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Austria and Hungary.  More of that to come! 


There are far too many books to read, and I have two language bases to cover, so a book is always open and in progress.   To stay on top, I spend a good amount of time at the gym trying to stay fit and active.  Just wish work wouldn’t get in the way of all the people to see and things there are to do out there!!!  Conversation and a glass of wine on the front porch with my husband and the dog is about as good as it gets however!

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