Students of Adult Piano Lessons: Gerard Colangelo, His Quest for the Piano

Gerard Colangelo playing an excerpt of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major.  An old favorite, this music he often plays at home for relaxation.  “This is the piece,” he says, “that I always find myself coming back to.”

In this second of our ongoing profiles of students of adult piano lessons, accomplished amateur Gerard Colangelo, a sales representative by day, talks about his practice regimen and his philosophy on performing.

Name: Gerard Colangelo
Profession: Sales Representative
Favorite Piano Music: Chopin
Aspirational Piano Music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations
Age Began the Piano: 14 (teaching myself)

Tell us about your experiences studying the piano during your childhood.

I had my first music lessons on the accordion when I was nine years old, and I studied the accordion for about six years, until I was fifteen. This was back in the early 1960s, and the accordion was a kind of tradition at that time. It was a popular instrument. Later on we got a piano, when I was about fourteen, and I started playing it, but I didn’t have any formal lessons until many years later as an adult.

How did you end up taking piano lessons as an adult?

About twelve years ago, my wife was arranging piano lessons for my daughters, and she encouraged me to get formal lessons. So I started playing classical piano music. For the past ten years, my teacher has been Phillip Dieckow, who is also the Piano Artist in Residence at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. A lot of his students are math, science, and engineering students, and many of them are very accomplished pianists.

When I first began lessons, it was awkward, because I went back to the basics, a lot of scales and theory. I started with fairly simply pieces, like the Chopin Prelude in E-minor. I progressively studied more difficult pieces. Periodically, Phillip had student recitals at St Matthews Church in Hoboken, four or five times a year. I’d play, and still do play, in two or three adult recitals a year, which are usually coordinated with the college students.

Phillip always gives me pieces that are a little harder than what I think can do. He sets high expectations. Right now I’m finishing up Brahms’s Ballade in G-minor, which is a pretty nice piece. There’s a lot of movement in the left hand, so the piece helps your stride playing, moving between the bass and a chord, for Ragtime music. I just finished working on Bach’s Italian Concerto, and the middle section has a nice melody, kind of lyrical, like the Goldberg Variations.

What is your practice regime like?

I practice at around eight in the morning for an hour, when everyone is out of the house, and at night after dinner for another hour or so. Then on the weekends, I do a little bit more, maybe two and a half hours a day. But only about half of that is really practicing, because I also like to play for fun, popular pieces, jazz, nocturnes, which tend to be a little easier.

Tell us about your recitals. Do you get nervous performing?

I do get nervous, but a lot less than I used to. It’s a physical reaction, where your heart is pounding so hard that your fingers start shaking. But usually after the first couple of measures, it abates a little bit. [My teacher] Phillip’s philosophy is there two kinds of playing, one for yourself, and the other for other people. When you perform a piece, you try to get to the point where you know it well enough to express yourself through the music. If there’s a recital coming up, I will work on one piece for a couple of months. Of course, it never comes out exactly the way you want it to.

Not so many adults really want to perform. A lot of them are reluctant to play in front of other people. They may not feel it’s worth getting over it, but once you do it, you discover it is worth it. You challenge yourself.

Any closing thoughts for others considering adult piano lessons?

A lot of people who don’t play the piano don’t get it. It doesn’t matter how good you are, but rather that you’re making progress. The thing about having this passion for the piano is that you’re always trying to get better at it, improve your skills and your knowledge. That’s what so satisfying about it. It’s like a quest.

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