Piano

Childhood

I began piano lessons at age four, in a Yamaha music school classroom with a group of children using electronic pianos. I enjoyed playing, and soon began taking private piano lessons, playing piano for school assemblies and performing in local music festivals.


My brother Dave, me and Uncle Frank Lukowich on fiddle
 

When I was a child, my family often travelled from Ottawa to Saskatchewan to visit relatives. I have fond memories of us all sitting out in a field under the bright prairie sun, playing folk songs and polkas together by ear. We played whatever was available, from accordions and guitars to spoons, pots and pans!

While most child musicians either have classical training or a natural ability to play "by ear" (playing whatever you hear, without reading sheet music), I had both, which opened up interesting opportunities.

At age 11, I began working as a musician, playing piano and accordion "by ear" for five Ottawa employers including Ukrainian dance schools, churches and the dance company Dnipro. When a singer of stature from Ukraine came to Canada to perform a recital, I was chosen to accompany her.

 


Performing in Sweden with Mary Pat Grimes
 

For my last few years in Ottawa until age 15, I was a piano student of Netta Gale. I went through the series of Royal Conservatory of Music graded piano examinations.

At 15, I played Beethoven's Trio, op. 1, no. 1 with violinist David Mount and cellist Tim McCoy for the local music competition, and we did well.

The same year, our high school orchestra, choir and band toured Sweden, Denmark and Norway. I was invited to perform as a pianist in a chamber music concert. I played piano with violinist Mary Pat Grimes and violist Jack McGowan for a concert in an art gallery in Sweden. Coromanterna, our host choir, awarded us necklaces of Coromant, a metal carbide harder than diamonds that cuts glass. I still have mine.

During my one year in Saskatoon at age 16, I studied piano with Louise MacPherson, participated in the local music festival and completed the Royal Conservatory of Music grade 10 piano examination.

Undergraduate years

Although I was a cello performance major for the first three years of my undergraduate degree, I always continued my piano studies as well. During my two years at Brandon University, I had a minor in piano as a student of Gordon Macpherson (and also studied voice with Sylvia Richardson). At Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, as a pianist, I took an enjoyable accompanying course with Marjorie Beckett, the director of the Beckett School of Music.

In the fourth year of my undergraduate degree I changed my major from cello to piano. Mrs. Beckett recommended me to her husband, Garth Beckett, the senior piano instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I became his student. Garth was a good teacher for me.

Together with pianist Christine Klaver, I won the local piano concerto competition. We performed Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor with the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener. Listening to that recording, I'm amazed to hear the true breakneck speed of runs in which I recall consciously focusing on the placement of each note.

 


Me and Christine Klaver

I played piano in Trio Terpsichore with clarinetist Phil Brunton and cellist Gordon Cleland, coached by clarinetist Victor Sawa. We performed in various venues including the Mount St. Joseph Recital Hall, the K-W Chamber Music Society's Music Room and the Windermere Institute of Music in London, Ontario. Our trio won the Ontario provincial music competition, and represented Ontario in the National Competitive Festival of Music in Vancouver, where we placed second.


Ontario musicians at the Nationals include mezzo Rebecca
Hass, Gordon, me and Phil, and flutist Laura Nashman

Graduate years

After finishing my first music degree, I spent three years studying with Garth and completed licentiate and fellowship diplomas in piano performance from Trinity College of Music, London, England. The fellowship diploma is considered equivalent to a doctorate.

During this period, I freelanced as a musician in Waterloo and surrounding areas. I worked as a pianist accompanying musicians and dancers. I've accompanied various voice studios and individual performers for recitals and auditions, including professionals and amateurs, adults and children at all levels of musical development.

I played piano for ballet classes at Bojangles and Morée dance studios and the University of Waterloo, playing repertoire ranging from required exam pieces and music written specifically for ballet classes through great classical waltzes and mazurkas to my own improvisations. Playing for ballet classes familiarized me with a lot of beautiful little-known music that I still enjoy playing for receptions.

 


Debbie Lou Ludolph, me and Michael Rouse
performing in Lion's Head, Ontario

I also spent two years as a church organist and choir director, and have often been music director for musical theatre shows. I was a lounge singer and pianist in various venues, including a nice restaurant at the Cambridge Holiday Inn. I was also the pianist with groups including The Lighter Side comedy troupe and Moodlight cabaret duo with soprano Patricia Swan. Moodlight performed at various venues in Kitchener-Waterloo and at the Jester Arms Inn in Stratford.


Moodlight - soprano Patricia Swan and me

My piano teacher in Waterloo, Garth Beckett, knew Tom Plaunt who taught at McGill, and sent me to audition for his studio. I was accepted, and I completed my master's degree in piano performance at McGill University in Montreal as a student of Tom Plaunt. I participated in Bruce Mather's contemporary ensemble, and both he and Tom felt I had a particular talent for contemporary music. My solo recital was an all-contemporary program including several of Olivier Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus, works by Canadian composers Laurie Radford and Brian Cherney, and the Barber sonata. I also performed this music as a semi-finalist in the Eckhardt-Gramatté competition held at Brandon University, where I had studied years earlier. My solo performance at this competition received praise from pianist Janina Fialkowska.

 


Me and Tom Plaunt

I enjoyed playing chamber music with saxophonist Linda Crossfield. Linda and I performed Curtis Curtis-Smith's Unisonics, which involved bowing the strings inside the piano, at a saxophone symposium in Québec city.

In my chamber music recital, I worked with cellist Mark Fraser, percussionist Brian McCue and a string quartet. Mark and I played a Beethoven sonata for cello and piano. American composer David Chaitkin was very pleased with the performance Brian and I did of his work Scattering dark and bright. I very much enjoyed performing the Brahms piano quintet in F minor with a string quartet coached by cellist Marcel Saint-Cyr.

 


Mark Fraser, me and Brian McCue

While I was doing my master's in Montreal, I was music director and pianist for professional musical theatre productions at La Diligence, performing six nights per week. The shows we did included Nunsense, which ran for 10 months, Eubie and They're Playing Our Song.

In Nunsense, I wore a nun's habit, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the excellent and very nice jazz singer Ranee Lee.

 


The Nunsense cast (top right is me)

Life in Toronto

When I moved to Toronto in 1990, for many years I was a piano accompanist for singers, doing both musical theatre and operatic repertoire. I worked with singers who came to my home studio to work with me on their repertoire for concerts and auditions. I was also an accompanist with proVOCE Studios, Creative Artist Productions and the Royal Conservatory of Music. I performed with Damien Atkins for Toronto Dance Theatre, and played piano for various shows organized by Bill Shookhoff at Gatsby's Restaurant and the St. Tropez Restaurant.

I've played keyboard for many musical theatre shows. One summer I lived in Kingston while performing in Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, under artistic director Greg Wanless. I also played keyboard for Rick Jones' political satire Millennium Madness Sale! at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

 


The Forum musicians, costumed in togas

I spent a summer working in Port Dalhousie, Ontario as music director and pianist for Harvey Schmidt's I do! I do! I enjoyed working with Wendy Coles and Michael Harms at the Port Mansion Theatre Restaurant.

I played piano in shows that I wrote and directed for the law firm Davies, Ward & Beck, featuring its staff and lawyers, including We're All In This Together, a short original musical, and a full-length variety show presented at the University of Toronto. I've been an audition sight-reading pianist for George Brown College, RedHead Productions and Equity Showcase, and a recording studio pianist for a few CD projects.

Soprano Maria Thorburn and I performed cabaret music as The Satin Dolls, in recitals, and with the Bellamusica Chamber Ensemble. Our repertoire ranged from Liszt, Satie and Obradors to Kurt Weill, Hoagy Carmichael and David Frishberg.



Singer Chris Dallo, Norman Hathaway, me and Mary-Katherine Finch

I enjoy playing piano with singers and instrumentalists, in recitals and for private events. Recitals for which I've played piano have included Brahms and Hindemith viola-piano sonatas with Chris Turner, Brahms' first violin-piano sonata with Ines Pagliari, and a program of French romantic music with flautist Shauna Basiuk and soprano Krystina Lewicki. I particularly enjoy playing piano with strings, in a piano trio (violin-cello-piano), quartet or quintet. My favourite chamber music to play is the piano-strings music of Johannes Brahms.


I have been playing solo piano and cello for weddings and special events throughout Ontario for more than 20 years. I offer both solo and ensemble music at my website www.michellekyle.com.


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