JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Pianists put the dynamic in duo

THEY SHARE THE same name.

They grew up in the same area.

They went to the same university at the same time, majoring in the same subject and earning the same degree.

After college, they taught as well as performed, separately and as duo pianists.

But don’t ask them to share the same piano bench.

On Sunday, Kathie Sharp and Kathy Morrison will play a concert at the Port Ludlow Beach Club featuring fast-paced classical music.

They play on the same piano but don’t share a bench, preferring to assert their individuality by sitting on two square benches pushed together.

And neither stays on her side of the keyboard.

Sharp, who lives in Port Ludlow, and Morrison, who lives in Seattle, are a duo who play a dynamic style of four-handed piano that is not so much a sharing of the keyboard as playing a whirlwind game of chess on it.

As they demonstrated at last Sunday’s rehearsal, it’s as interesting to watch as it is to play.

“We have some really fun stuff,” Sharp said of their repertoire.

Both want the flashy parts, Morrison said, but take turns, getting down to logistics once the issue is resolved.

Coordination required

Four-handed requires planning and split-second timing. “Over” and “lean right” are penciled on the score help the musicians remember whose hand goes over whose on a crossover and when to lean sideways to allow the other person room to play a run.

It also requires a sense of humor if things go wrong.

“Sometimes we have massive collisions,” Sharp said.

At other times, the musicians play right on top of each other, one on the black keys and tops of the whites, and other on the edges of the white keys.

They take turns working the pedals.

“It’s odd to be pedaling when you’re not playing,” Sharp said, of the rare times when all four hands are not on deck.

On Sunday, the program includes “Hungarian Dances,” which Brahms wrote for four hands on one piano and will be familiar — think Cossack kick-dancing or the score from the film “Twelve Chairs,” which Mel Brooks borrowed from the composer.

Ravel’s “Rhapsody Espanol” is more romantic than manic, but as originally written, proved so difficult to play on the piano that the composer’s friends convinced him to score it for orchestra, Morrison said.

It’s the hardest piece they’ve ever played, she said, but that’s what the two look for when they choose music.

“It has to be challenging to us to make us want to work on it,” Morrison said.

Both musicians grew up in the Spokane area — Morrison in town and Sharpe in Garfield — and took piano lessons there.

As music majors at the University of Washington, they knew each other but went their separate ways to teach after earning degrees in piano performance.

They reconnected at the Johnson West Music Store in Seattle when they were picking up music for students.

That chance meeting led to teaming up as duo-pianists on two pianos.

“It opened up more opportunities to perform professionally,” Sharp said.

As well as performing recitals and benefits, they were the guest soloists with orchestras, including the Salem Chamber Orchestra.

But when finding places to play that had two pianos became harder and harder, they decided to move to playing on one instrument.

Turn on kids to classical

One year, the musicians took their act on the road through the Washington State Arts Commission, presenting programs at schools. The goal: to get kids turned on to classical music by making it fun and interesting.

“My whole life is dedicated to making classical music accessible to everybody,” Sharp said. “I don’t want people to think I’m a ‘serious’ classical musician.”

But the background is there.

Sharp taught music in Edmonds and at Seattle Pacific University and started the Parnassus Music Festival in White Pass.

A three-year resident of Port Ludlow, she has just opened a studio and teaches music.

Morrison taught music in the Lake Washington School District, then moved to Mercer Island, where she was the vocal music teacher, then an elementary school principal. She is now the school district’s director of elementary learning support.

Morrison drives over to Port Ludlow to rehearse with Sharp.

As well as similar backgrounds, the musicians are alike in size, have similar glasses and hairstyles, and even tend to dress alike, Morrison said — they showed up, unplanned, for Sunday’s rehearsal in similar outfits.

But they draw the line at sitting on the same piano bench.

“We’re prima donnas,” Sharp said.

Keyboard Salsa performs at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Beach Club, 121 Marina View Drive, Port Ludlow.

Tickets cost $10, available at the Beach Club and the door by cash or check.

The concert is approximately one hour plus an intermission.

Refreshments and raffle items will be offered at the concert, which is a fundraiser for the Beach Club.

For more information, phone Peggy Schafran at 360-437-9935.

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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