Written by Lauren Carrane

Each member of Civitas has a unique story about how he or she got involved in music and what drives each of them to succeed on their own instrument.

Over the next few months, we will interview each member of the group so you can get to know them better.

This week, we interviewed pianist Winston Choi. Choi, 38, is a native of Toronto who currently serves as an associate professor and head of the piano program at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts.

Here’s what he had to say:

How old were you when you started playing music and what instrument did you start with?
I started the piano at the age of 6. I did dabble with the cello for some years (from age 9-18), but never took it seriously.

What kinds of music were you exposed to as a kid?
My parents weren’t really into classical music. In fact, I don’t really remember any music playing around the house as a kid. I had cassette tapes that my piano teachers and my parents gave me (of classical music) that I listened to every night, and my first piano teacher always took me to piano recitals as well as orchestra concerts and loaned me recordings of great pianists. I remember really loving Mozart, and I had an Ashkenazi recoding of Chopin that really stuck out in my mind. I think because it was like my own discovery, I took more ownership of it.

When did you know that music was something that you wanted to pursue professionally?
I think I always knew from a very early age (8 or 9) that this was something I wanted to give my life to, although I did not truly have a real understanding of what a professional career would be like until much later.

What is your favorite music to play? Do you have any favorite composers?
I am a big fan of interesting and engaging contemporary music (I used to be a composer myself). However, it all starts and ends with Bach for me — truly my favorite composer. What I love about Bach is that it’s difficult, challenging music in every way. It’s challenging in terms of control. You really can’t coast with that music. There are no dynamic markings or interpretive markings, so you have more freedom to be creative. It’s music that’s fascinating on the macro level and the micro level.

What is fun for you about playing with Civitas?
It is such a high level of music-making, and it happens so spontaneously, with a shared vision. We have a great working energy and thoroughly enjoy playing together on stage.

What has been the most exciting moment of your career so far?
My first time going to France was to enter a competition [the 2002 Con­cours Inter­na­tional de Piano 20e siè­cle d’Orléans], which I had the good fortune of winning, and that gave me the opportunity to go back to France for a concert tour. It was my first time playing concerts professionally and it was just thrilling. That opened up a whole new world of being on stage, and traveling, and being a musician. I have been to France now about 15 times, but it was the first few times that were simply eye-opening in the best way.

What kinds of things do you do for fun outside of music? Do you ever get sick of playing piano?
I love being in the water, indoors or outdoors, especially at the beach, boating, etc. Spending time with my wife chasing after our 3-year old twin son and daughter around in parks and playgrounds. I don’t get sick of playing piano, but sometimes, the pace of being an active performing artist and a teacher does get a bit overwhelming, and I need to have a momentary escape.


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