From reluctant student to piano virtuoso

What: Jamie Parker with Victoria Symphony

When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

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Where: University of Victoria, Farquhar Auditorium

Tickets: $30 to $50; 250-385-6515 or 250-721-8480

 

He’s a Juno-winning concert pianist who has played with every major Canadian orchestra. Yet Jamie Parker is the first to admit he didn’t always enjoy practising as a kid.

He once even devised a trick to reduce his keyboard time.

The Burnaby-born musician said his mother, herself a piano teacher, used to listen to make sure he and his older brother (fellow concert pianist Jon Kimura Parker) were practising upstairs. Because she couldn’t see them, Jamie would coax Jon to play all the music.

“We were allowed to play after our practising, so I’d say: ‘Listen, you’re older and better than me. So you just play through my pieces, because you played them a few years ago,’” Parker said.

His sister figured out an even more ingenious method of shirking:She recorded 45 minutes of herself practising on a cassette player. Then she’d turn it up and sneak out to play.

“But then,” he added, “at a certain point we all figured out that you gotta shut up and practise, you know.”

On Sunday, Parker will play Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor with the Victoria Symphony. The concert, conducted by Jean-Michael Lavoie, also includes Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.

The Parker family is famous in the Canadian classical-music scene. As well as Jamie Parker and Jon Kimura Parker there’s their cousin, pianist Ian Parker (who played with the Victoria Symphony in January). Ian’s father was noted piano teacher Edward Parker, who taught for a time in this city.

Jamie’s own father, John, wasn’t a musician; he was a pharmacist. However, he was a lifelong classical piano devotee who loved playing records and attending concerts.

Music reigned supreme in their household. Parker recalls once opening the Vancouver Sun after Arthur Rubinstein died. There was a photograph of the famous pianist greeting fans backstage after a concert at the Orpheum Theatre.

“There were two people in the front, talking to him. I went: ‘Hey, that’s my mom and dad!’ ” he said.

He remembers, as a youngster, coming to the surprised realization that not all children take piano lessons.

As well as performing as a soloist, Parker plays with the acclaimed Gryphon Trio. The Toronto pianist, who holds a doctorate from the Juilliard School, is also a music professor at the University of Toronto.

Parker, 51, made his orchestral debut in 1981 with the Calgary Philharmonic. Thirty-four years of professional concert-playing have left him with at least one nugget of wisdom: There’s no substitute for hard work.

He recalls a musician once auditioning for the University of Toronto’s music program. Parker was part of the audition committee. Despite the young man’s obvious talent, he failed to make the cut.

“You could tell he had no respect for his gift. And he did not have the will and the seriousness of discipline to carry through,” Parker said.

“He did some beautiful playing. But you could just tell this would be the kind of student ... I’d pull out what’s left of my hair, you know. He didn’t have the right kind of attitude.”

Star-making television shows such as America’s Got Talent and The Voice have skewed the public’s perception of what it takes to succeed in the performing arts, Parker said.

“It takes so much more than raw talent to make a success of this. [My advice is] just do it. Just get out there and do stuff. Do the work.”

That’s advice he’ll no doubt dispense to a new generation of Parkers. His sons — nine-year-old Dylan and Max, seven — are violinists who have recently started piano lessons.

Asked whether he’d like his children to become professional musicians, Parker said he’ll let them decide. He hopes they become sufficiently skilled to play chamber music with other musicians, partly for the pleasant social life this can provide. He notes being a professional musician can be a tough life, for some fraught with financial hardship and the risk of “being resentful because it’s hard.”

As for practising, it’s mostly Parker’s wife who keeps an eye on the boys.

“But,” he added with a laugh, “if I heard sloppy practising going on, it’s not like I can tolerate that either.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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