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A classical pianist on her genre’s ‘golden time’ — and Ray Charles

“Music entered my life before I knew it,” says classical pianist Jeanne Stark. Stark grew up in Belgium during what she calls a “golden time” for classical music and was granted a scholarship by the queen herself, who recognized Stark’s enormous potential. This is her Brief But Spectacular take on playing, listening and what she learned from Ray Charles.

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  • JEANNE STARK, Classical Pianist:

    I am born in Belgium. And what do you want to know about this?


    Well, when did music first enter your life?


    Music entered my life before I knew it.

    My father, he walked around with me and sang, and then I stopped crying, and I smiled. He made up his mind, hmm, see, this is a musician.

    Queen Elizabeth in Belgium was very fond of music. She decided that I should have a special scholarship because she felt that there was a lot of potential there.

    I made my debut in the Carnegie Recital Hall in the year 1959. My teacher was Edwine Behre. She never charged me for anything. So, I remember, I said: "Thank you. And now I got this big concert because of you."

    And she said, "You proved me right."

    I have been so lucky, where all these great artists, Geoff Leigh, who was a friend of Bartok, I got them all. To learn from people like that, it takes you years to understand what they were saying. But once you get it, you get something very precious.

    It's not interpret. It's understand how music is made, how it's put together.


    Has your understanding of certain pieces evolved over the years?


    Oh, yes, enormously.

    I will tell you one example. I played Mozart's sonatas, Beethoven's sonatas, and I was never happy with my adagios. I did it with the metronome. I tried everything.

    And I came to the States. And, by accident, my friend took me to hear Ray Charles. And I thought, now I know an adagio.

    Classical music is not being really promoted these days. When I was young, it was a golden time. There were fantastic players, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. And, my goodness, the inspiration was unbelievable.

    When I was little, I was in a theory class two, three times a week. You learn to sing. That's a great thing. If you learn to sing, you start to hear.

    I am 90 years old. I don't know why I am here. I should be dead, because most people are.

    My mind is, as you can see, very sharp. And I don't understand, but I love the day. I love music. How I adore music. I love to hear great music, well-played as well.

    My name is Jeanne Stark, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on my life in music.


    Oh, that's beautiful.

    You can find more videos from our Brief But Spectacular series online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.


    I want to be her.

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