Music with Minnesotans: Michael Pearce Donley

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
December 29, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — In his mid-teens, aspiring pianist Michael Pearce Donley got a gig at a local pub. He brought his "Carpenters Gold" songbook and played a few hours every Thursday night.

Soon, the regulars offered him good money to stop playing so they could listen to the jukebox!

The story does have a happy ending as this wonderfully creative and warm comedian/actor/writer/musician has gone on to produce great things.

Michael is the creator of "Triple Espresso" - a show that ran for 15 years - and he's now one of two - along with Peter Vitale - starring in the unique play "2 pianos 4 hands" at the Park Square Theatre.

It's a comedy filled with music that traces the lives of two pianists from their earliest lessons at age six to the time when they decide to give up playing altogether.

The play left me in tears I was laughing so hard. But as in all good drama, "2 Hands 4 Pianos" grabs you out of nowhere with a poignancy and a directness that for anyone who went through years of lessons and might have nurtured a dream of their own of an international career will remember those moments of elation as well as those moments of crushing defeat.

Michael is not a classical musician, partly because his own experience studying piano as a child was similar to the play's story. But his relationship to listening to the great classical musicians has become one of awe and respect. I contend he may not be able to appreciate the music so much if he hadn't studied piano and could look back at the classical world from the vantage point of a successful jazz/pop/theatre pianist.

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Michael Pearce Donley's playlist:

Keyboard Concerto No. 1 BWV 1052, Johann Sebastian Bach - Murray Perahia

Sonata in C, KV 545 (for beginners), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mitsuko Uchida

In the Hall of the Mountain King, Edvard Grieg - The Five Browns

Prelude in D flat, Op. 28, No. 15 "Raindrop," Frederic Chopin - Rafal Blechacz

Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Franz Liszt - Vladimir Horowitz

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Check out more from Music with Minnesotans:

Linda Z. Andrews, Philip Brunelle, Mayor Chris Coleman, Joe Dowling, Dr. Victoria Elmer, William Gurstelle, Karen Hansen, Steve Heitzeg, Stuart Loughridge, Stephen Paulus, Lois Quam, Mayor RT Rybak, General Larry Shellito, The Reverend Spenser Simrell, and Dale Warland.

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Join me next week when my guest will be explorer Ann Bancroft. She's been to the North and South Poles a few times and tells me upon returning from an expedition, she needs to listen to classical music!

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