Erica Suh remembers the day she was visiting her grandmother’s farmhouse in southern Missouri, and heard her cousin playing the piano. Her grandmother was the church pianist at a Lutheran church in Springfield for more than 50 years, so kept the upright piano in the living room in tune.
Hearing her cousin play inspired Erica to ask her grandmother to teach her to play. On Sunday, Erica, who grew up to become an accomplished concert pianist, played a free concert at Clinton Methodist Church, which was attended by more than 80 people. The program included lively mazurkas and a hauntingly-beautiful nocturne by Chopin, Erica’s favorite composer.
“I chose music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic period,” Erica said.
The concert was sponsored by the Clinton Arts Council and Clinton Methodist Church. Erica first played three Bach sinfonias, the first one reminding her of a curtain rising, followed by a lively piano sonata by Mozart. The audience gave Erica a standing ovation at the end of the program, which she played from memory. The concert concluded with a bang, as Erica said, referring to the turbulent conclusion of Ballade No. 4 by Chopin.
After taking beginning lessons from her grandmother, Erica started taking lessons at age 8 from Vicki Cooper in Springfield. By age 15, Erica was teaching piano students of her own.
Erica said the most important thing Cooper taught her was how to recover from mistakes, although none were evident in Sunday’s program. It was Cooper who encouraged her and nurtured her desire to pursue a music career, Erica said.
Erica, who took lessons from Cooper until she was 18, said she practiced three to five hours a day. It was her favorite activity, she said, but it was hard work. She also found time to study Japanese in high school and traveled to Japan when she was 15.
Erica earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Missouri State University, and a master’s in piano performance and pedagogy from the University of Nebraska.
In 2000, she won the Missouri State University Symphony Orchestra Concert Competition, and in 2002, played at the Ameropa Music Festival in Prague.
The highlight of the trip to the music festival was performing at a convent with a cellist and a violinist who were outstanding artists, she said.
Erica married and in 2004, moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where her husband had a job. She had a private studio for 20 years, and was vice-president of the Huntsville, Ala., Music Teachers Association. Her husband’s job brought them to the Kansas City area 10 years ago.
Erica plays at her parents’ church in Springfield sometimes, and also occasionally at Clinton Methodist Church. Her Clinton connection is Dennis Maruszak, a retired Warsaw High School history teacher, who has known Erica since she was born. Dennis attended a concert Erica gave recently in Kansas City, he said, and asked her to perform in concert in Clinton.
Erica, who lives in Leawood, Kansas, now teaches piano to her son John, 13, and daughter Gloria, 10. Her oldest son, Will, and her daughter play the violin.
“Gloria really enjoys playing,” Erica said. “John will practice on the condition that he chooses the pieces.”
Erica has a Yamaha grand piano in the entrance to her living room, but she still remembers listening to her cousin play the upright piano in her grandmother’s farmhouse. When she was a child, the house reminded her of a gingerbread house in a fairy tale, she said, and was always filled with delicious scents coming from the kitchen. Adding to the old-country ambiance was Hans, the dachshund, stretched out in front of the fireplace.
Erica said she doesn’t think her cousin still plays the piano.
“But I want her to know that she inspired me,” Erica said.