Hey, Spike! listens to the Piano Boss entertain school children
His business card reads: Piano Boss.
And when Peter Simon sits down at the keyboard, he’s in charge and you know it — a demonstration in debonair pleasantness.
With a flair for style, a wide-ranging level of knowledge, Peter combines his musical talent with some showmanship ala that Danish guy, Victor Borge, making his concerts lively.
As a recent new homeowner over in Frisco’s Water Dance enclave with wife Susan, an accomplished award-winning painter, Peter is getting to know his way around The Summit even more following numerous trips up from their Evergreen home.
The Denver native performed a free concert for about 400 Dillon Valley Elementary students this week.
He delighted the kids, who sat cross-legged on the gym floor in lines, with his “Classical Music for Young People.”
“This special concert introduces classical music with humorous and educational dialogue and covers 300 years of musical history in 35 entertaining minutes,” says Peter, who adds the goal is for students to walk away feeling that classical music is interesting, fun and has significant value for them.
“I believe that classical music is for everybody and that it only takes exposure to appreciate its value,” Peter says.
With an introduction by music teacher Brooke Hoffman, the classically trained concert pianist, sporting a bow tie and jacket, kicked off his rapid fire, entertaining delivery of the theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, often heard as background music in scary movies and cartoons.
“Who’s heard that? he asks.
Nearly all the kids’ hands fly up in response.
He follows that up with Wagner’s “Lohengrin Prelude,” “Here Comes the Bride” and the response is nearly as strong.
The students quickly realize — and that’s the point of Peter’s performance — “there is so much classical music that is part of our everyday experience; people just don’t think or know about it.”
“I cover all the great composers: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc, and then some American composers: Aaron Copeland, Luis Gottschalk, George Gershwin,” he said.
A concert pianist for 40 years, Peter has played all around the globe.
“I have been just about everywhere, including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Europe, Asia, Israel and New Zealand,” he explains.
Not many years ago, Peter was contracted for a lengthy multi-city tour of the U.S.
“Imagine this: That’s 70 different pianos. Out of those 70, I would say that only five of them were really good, 10 were okay, and the rest … well, you just dealt with it. That’s part of being a touring concert pianist — you have to play with whatever instrument is in the hall.”
“I am on a crusade to bring awareness of classical music to young people. They are barraged with all kinds of music except classical music, and classical music is what lasts,” says Peter. “Also, classical music is meant for all ages and backgrounds and is performed and listened to by people all over the world.
“Unfortunately, with budget cuts, the arts are the first to be eliminated. I believe that this is wrong. Creativity is what makes the human experience so worthwhile,” he says. “So, I will continue to present this magical art form to as many young people as I can,” which he now estimates to be well over 100,000 students.
For his own education Peter says, “I graduated from George Washington, but I spent my junior year at North Carolina School of the Arts, a boarding school for aspiring musicians, actors and dancers — crazy place.”
It was when Peter was but a student of six years old that he started playing the piano in the family’s Denver home, where his father was continuing the Simon legacy with the National Jewish Hospital (NJH), which was founded in 1899 with help from Peter’s grandfather, Dr. Saling Simon.
The NJH, now National Jewish Health, specializes in lung diseases. His father, Walter Simon, was president of NJH for four terms.
Those elder Simons did not have to push Peter to learn and practice the piano.
“My parents never had to force me to practice,” he admits. “I have always enjoyed playing the piano.”
His tickling the ivories skill continued to grow, so much so, he won a piano competition sponsored by the Denver Symphony Orchestra and performed with it under the direction of Brian Priestman.
Today, it’s just not all music for Peter, who also enjoys road biking, tennis and golf, and reading history, with the current title being the “Life and Times of Kit Carson.”
The Simon lineage of talent has carried over to Peter and Susan’s son, Saling, who also started playing the piano at age 6. He is named in honor of his great-grandfather.
That father-and-son duo’s talents led them to a touring partnership.
“I am happy to say that I am part of a wonderful music act called ‘Simon & Son,’ where my son and I play duets on one piano. It is a unique, fun show and everybody loves it,” Peter said.
“And what could be better than traveling with your own child? We have great fun together — on and off stage,” he adds.
Saling has a very unusual background: He played in Carnegie Hall when he was 8 and has performed with his dad since. The lad was mostly home-schooled because of their touring on a consistent basis.
“When he decided to go to ‘regular school,’ Harvard became interested in him and he was fortunate to attend there and graduated last spring,” his proud father says, noting Saling has since moved to Boulder.
While attending the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Saling was invited to perform at a Harvard graduation ceremony. The Ivy League school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, quickly offered an enrollment opportunity for his remaining three years.
Saling has a sister, Chloe, who visited recently from California, where she manages a medical spa in Beverly Hills.
“Evidently, she sees all the famous and not-so-famous stars and makes them look better,” says Peter. “It’s big business out there.”
Chloe is also artistic, painting (like mom), plays guitar and composes songs.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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