Musical Interludes

By Kanny, Mark | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Musical Interludes


Kanny, Mark, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


A musical instrument can be a wonderful friend, says amateur pianist Sidney Stark.

"When you're sad, you can play sad music on it. When you're happy, you play happy music. And it never talks back to you," says Stark, of Oakland, with a light laugh.

While both might be devoted to music, getting paid to play is the defining line between amateur and professional. Stark has been playing piano for more than 70 years, but amateurs aren't into their hobby for financial reward or the ego gratification of audience adulation.

The exact number of amateur musicians is impossible to determine, says Jack DiIanni, president of Volkwein Music and a professional percussionist. Some play in amateur orchestras and bands, while many others simply play at home by themselves or with friends. But he guesses that 10 percent to 15 percent of sheet music sales from his company, which has locations in Findlay Township and Latrobe, are to adult amateurs.

DiIanni says the piano offers the richest solo repertoire, followed by guitar, but like many amateurs Stark relishes the social aspects of music making. He even had two Steinway grand pianos in his living room for reading through piano duos with friends until he sold his house and moved into a one-piano apartment. Stark has the golden memory of playing Franz Schubert's Fantasy in F minor for piano duo in his home with Rudolf Firkusny, the Czech virtuoso who stopped by after rehearsing for a concerto performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

When Perry Morrison moved to Pittsburgh in 1959, a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Stark, beginning a musical friendship that has lasted 47 years.

"I never intended to play professionally," says Morrison, of Shadyside. "I wanted to do it for fun. I enjoy it. If I made it a profession, it would be a struggle. Besides, I wasn't that good. To this day, I get angry when I hear kids play so well because they do it so seemingly easily. But there is enormous satisfaction from playing the great music of the masters reasonably well."

Stark and Morrison play piano trios nearly every Sunday evening in Morrison's Fifth Avenue apartment with cellist Kathryn Logan, of Squirrel Hill.

"You have to keep the idea of playing sacrosanct," because social obligations can easily intrude, Stark says. "In some ways, a musical partnership is like a marriage. It's all give and take, and a lot of overlooking each other's limitations."

Amateur musicians are an important part of the clientele of the Carnegie Library in Oakland, says Logan, who moved to Pittsburgh in 1984 to become head librarian of the music and art department.

"We have a lot of people coming in and wanting books on how to play instruments," Logan says. Books of easy arrangements of great classical tunes also are popular, she says, adding that amateur interest has been steady if slightly increasing during her years at the library.

Some amateurs are more focused on public performance than others, such as Michelle Walters, an amateur percussionist and conductor who studied piano through college.

"I was teaching music at Franklin Regional High School with a decent salary, but after a few years it wasn't making me happy and taking a physical toll. My husband, Jim, agreed there was no reason for me to keep working if it was such a bad experience," she says.

Now she's happy staying at home in Washington Township, Westmoreland County, with a music room full of electronic instruments which she uses to prepare for performances with the Westmorland Symphonic Winds and for her work as a conductor. …

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