Not many classical pianists have the chance to sit with farmers at a 7-11 lunch table and enjoy a box of fried chicken fingers before their concerts. Such an experience was a first for renowned classical pianist Robert Cowan Tuesday.
Cowan and members of the Troy Arts Council had lunch at the Banks Buy Rite prior to Cowan’s concert at Banks Middle School and Cowan said he enjoyed the experience.
“I like to play for young people wherever they are,” he said. “Giving young people an opportunity to be exposed to classical music is important to me. My focus and concentration have to be higher with children because there are noises and other distractions that you don’t have at other concerts. But it is important for children to be exposed to classical music. And, I think if I play long enough I will communicate something to them.”
Cowan played several pieces by Chopin, a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, who is one of his favorite composers.
“Chopin was a genius,” Cowan said. “His works for the piano are the greatest that have ever been composed. ‘
He played one of his favorites pieces, “Nocturne in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 42 No. 2.”
“Nocturne means night and Chopin wrote 21 Nocturnes,” Cowan said. “He didn’t write them all at night. But they are meditative pieces. Night thoughts. Listen and you will hear the night sounds.”
Cowan told the students about minstrels and how members of the black community would play banjos, trombones, fiddles and tambourines and make fun music. He closed with a piano minstrel piece that had the students moving with the beat.
“The minstrels were taken to England and Queen Victoria liked the music,” Cowan said. “So, our music traveled abroad, not just Europe’s music coming here.”
The students had an opportunity to quiz Cowan on his musical career. They asked if music was just in his “genealogy.”
“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “But my dad was a tenor and my mother played the piano. I can remember lying in bed at night and hearing them play and sing.”
He also told the students that memorizing pieces of music takes a lot of work and sometimes requires weeks, sometimes months and even years to master.
“It’s a laborious process but I’m stubborn,” he said laughing.
Dr. William Denison, president of the Troy Arts Council, concert sponsor, said there is a natural reaction to music and he believes the students at Banks and Pike Liberal Arts School, where Cowan performed Tuesday morning, were positively affected by the concert.
“Concerts like this stimulate an interest in music and generate excitement about the arts,” he said. “Participation in the arts helps students academically and behavior wise. The arts are beneficial in many ways for all ages.”