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Robert Cunningham

What inspired you to play piano? I grew up hearing a lot of great music, hearing Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov on the record player as I fell asleep every night.  After starting violin lessons in the fifth grade, I quickly realized that I wanted to grow up to become a musician and that I should study the piano alongside the violin.  That was about six decades ago, and I have known ever since that music was my true calling, even though as an adult I would be obliged (like many musicians) to earn my living outside of music.

At what age did you start playing? My first formal piano lessons were at age 10, but there had been a piano in the house ever since I could remember, so I was already somewhat fluent in reading music. 

What memories/stories do you have of piano lessons? My first teacher's teaching style was rather strict, but perfect for an ambitious young student like myself, and I progressed rapidly. Three years later we moved to another state, where throughout my high-school years I studied privately with a Juilliard-trained piano professor at a local college. I proceeded to major in piano at Duke University, then studied another year with English pianist Katherine Bacon at Juilliard. Good musicians never stop learning, and from time to time during my adult life I have sought out additional coaching from various high-level pianists. Just this year, for example, I took lessons from Israeli concert pianist Rami Bar-Niv at two of his piano camps.


Do you have a favorite piece/style of music to play? Although I play classical music from the Baroque era up to the present, I have always had a special predilection for Romantic music:  e.g., Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff. I have also composed a large body of original Romantic music over the last few decades. About half of my compositions are for piano solo, and the piano also features prominently in most of my chamber music. So naturally my own compositions constitute a major part of my piano repertoire.

As an adult, why do you still enjoy playing piano? Over the decades, I gave many concerts, typically mixing works from the standard piano repertoire with my own compositions. In these events, I could feel the electricity of music flowing through me, enabling me to communicate spiritually with others in a way that I could not elsewhere in my life. Back then, the necessity of earning a living limited the amount of time I had available for composing and preparing for performances. But since retiring from my non-music career about four years ago, I am finally able to pursue music on a full-time basis - not just practicing, but also composing, interfacing with other musicians, editing scores, producing videos, and promoting my music through social media.


Do you have a favorite experience that involves the piano? I have a lifetime of them! But typically, the peak experiences happen whenever I feel most intimately in touch with the music I am playing and therefore most able to convey its essence successfully.


If you teach piano, what has been your most memorable teaching experience? The most memorable occasions are the recitals, usually informal, where you help the students overcome their reluctance to play in front of others.


What do you enjoy doing when you’re not playing piano? I do workouts most days, intending to remain healthy enough to make music for decades to come. At the end of the day, I relax by reading or spending time with my husband and our two standard poodles. 


What do you/or have you done for a living? I worked in information technology for most of my adult life.


Where do you live? (city, state, country) Gilbert, Arizona, USA

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