My first interview in the successful interview series is with my good friend and pianist Mr. Ricker Choi.
We met a couple of years ago at a New Year Group Dinner where I got to hear for the first time about his musical talents.
Over the years, Ricker has managed to gain a name for himself in the amateur pianist competitions. He won the
– 2nd prize in the Berlin International Amateur Piano Competition (2010)
– 2nd prize in the Boston International Amateur Piano Competition (2009)
– 3rd prize in Concours International Grands Amateurs de Piano (2012)
– 3rd prize in the Washington International Artists Competition (2008)
and winner of numerous piano competitions in the Greater Toronto Area.
I sat down with Ricker and we chat about his upcoming concert, his inspirational story and insights on balancing a demanding career with his passion for music:
R = Ricker
J = me
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
R: I took a break from playing the piano early in my studies and career (J: Ricker has a CFA and a MBA).
After a long hiatus of 10 years I picked up the piano up again around 6-7 years ago in 2006.
The first 2 to 3 years after that I was focusing on practising the techniques and flow of the music pieces.
I did a lot of studies on music theory and it has helped me tremendously.
2. With whom did you study?
R: I had been studying with my long time piano teacher Boris Zarankin.
Recently I also started working concurrently with piano coach Michael Esch.
3. You have been competing in top international amateur competition for the past years and you always end up in the top three. Would you share your tips on how you prepare for them?
R: I always have been pretty organized with planning ahead for my piano practice.
Sometimes I would even practice a year ahead of time.
For example, for my upcoming concert on Saturday April 13, I have been practicing on the pieces ahead of time so the main focus right now has been more on the administrative side of planning the concert.
The big difference between my concerts here in Toronto and oversea competitions was that the pieces I have been playing were very different.
The music pieces that I played at those international competitions were much more sophisticated and require a pianist to showcase a wide range of musical style and skills.
Usually those pieces are not necessarily “easy to listen to” and require much concentration from the audience.
They also require a few years of dedicated practice and experimentation to play them well.
When I first start competing internationally, I was very nervous so I spend a lot of time honing and perfecting my music pieces but over time I start really enjoying playing for a very large audience.
Actually I am much comfortable playing for a big audience than a small one.
4. Small audience makes you more nervous?
R: Yes, it is..because in front of a small audience, I feel I am being looked through in a microscope.
In front of a large audience such as the 2,500 seat hall when I competed in Berlin, I felt the stage to be much bigger and I have more space to deliver my musical message.
5. You are also working as a risk consultant in a full time capacity; how do you balance your career and your passion? Any tips ?
R: Well, the most important thing to do is really to plan ahead of time.
I plan my yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.
First I look ahead of what to expect in terms of my career expectations and any upcoming concerts and competitions I will need to participate in ahead of time.
Then I will break down my weekly goals of what I should achieve in each area and take action accordingly.
When you plan and look ahead, you will see that it won’t be too hard to balance it well.
6. You do a lot of concerts fundraising for charities, the most recent (upcoming) concert is to fund-raise for Sick Kids Foundation. Can you tell me more about this event with Mr. Hui?
R: This concert will be held on Saturday April 13, 2013 at the Glen Gould Studio with net proceeds to be donated to Sick Kids Foundation.
I love to team up with different pianists for my fundraising concerts and this year the guest pianist, Anson Hui, will be performing for 20 minutes.
On the other hand, I myself is performing a large part of the program (60 min).
The piece I am looking forward to play is the Yellow River by Yin Chengzong.
For more information on Anson Hui, please read his inspiring story here.
J: The concert will be held in downtown Toronto at Glen Gould Studio on Saturday April 13, 2012 at 7.30 PM featuring Ricker Choi and Anson Hui.
Price of the tickets are $26 for Adults and $10.60 for students. If you are in Toronto and would like to attend the concert, you can find more information here.
7. What is the mission of Music Heals?
J: Music Heals is Ricker’s charity fundraising concert project
R: Music Heals was started as a small project and we were doing concerts in a church environment.
As time goes on and more people got to know about me and my charity fundraising efforts, we slowly move to doing these concerts at Glenn Gould Studio, one of the top concert venues in Toronto.
8. What projects are you working on for 2013?
R: Besides my upcoming concert right now I am planning to release a CD.
I will let you know when it comes out :).
9. Any plans to turn professional in piano playing?
R: Currently I have no plans to be a full professional piano player.
I love being involved in different things at one time and I love my current job in risk management.
Besides the fact that it requires logical analysis the work also requires my creative, out of the box thinking and artistic side to be applied to my work and that is the kind of job I love to do.
J: Ricker is currently working as a risk consultant at Manulife Financial.
R: Future plans would be that I am thinking to pursue a masters’ degree in literature, arts or cultural studies.
A big thanks to Ricker for doing this interview with me and sharing his tips on productivity and music insights :)!!
Big Lessons Learned from Ricker:
- Prioritize and breakdown your goals and tasks by year, month and week.
- Once you are clear of both your long term and short term objectives, plan daily to ensure you take steps towards your goals.
- Know your own capabilities and plan accordingly.
- Follow your Passion and Purpose: Ricker has great passion for music and his career. He also works towards holding charity concerts in Toronto.
If you are in Toronto and interested in attending this concert, please check the official site for concert details and tickets
Please visit Ricker’s personal website for more information
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Here is a video of Ricker playing Franz Liszt’s Totentanz