“If you’re a musician, you’re a musician, no matter what you do for a living.”
This is the advice Jane Coop has given to many students over the course of her at least thirty years teaching piano and chamber music at UBC. Coop is one of Canada’s most prominent artists, a pianist who has traveled the world and has the stories to prove it.
Her adventures as a young woman playing piano around the world offered great entertainment to audience members filling Green College’s virtual Coach House on the evening of Thursday, January 21 as she joined the College’s series of Senior Scholars sharing the stories of their career and scholarship.
Some stories included Coop’s adventures in Bulgaria on her first Eastern European tour, an occasion on which, she joked, “in my incredible naivety, I neglected to get a visa.” This wrinkle being eventually ironed out, she embarked on a tour that took her throughout the continent, playing in venues ranging from large to small, famous to obscure; including one venue in Moscow where the cold was so intense she played the rest of the concert, after her initial piece, with a full winter coat on. It was during the time of the Soviet Union, an experience that Coop said “felt like being a part of a huge history.”
Pianos falling on toes, injured thumbs leading to red keyboards, remote fishing towns in Manitoba with a surprising appreciation for Brahms and plastic bags of Bulgarian currency were a few of the anecdotes that appeared in the tragicomical adventures Coop related in her talk.
When asked her favourite venue of all, Coop remarked without hesitation, “St. Petersberg.” Staying at a hotel that included Gustav Mahler in its previous guest list, playing in a magnificent, chandeliered hall to 2,000 attentive audience members was an experience Coop said that “felt like heaven. I will never forget it.” She could perfectly recall every piece she played that night, although none of them included a Russian composer.
Another experience that stood out was recording a radio broadcast in Warsaw where she was able to choose between two magnificent pianos in a city where she wasn’t able to buy a winter hat. There was nothing in Warsaw in those days, she said, except “lots of books, lots of people and music.”
From playing concerts in Europe, Coop went on to teach and perform in China, Japan and Taiwan. The skill of her students she said was incredible, and the concert life was a whole other experience altogether, with different audience etiquette, culture and venues.
As host Jerry Wasserman put it, Coop has led a wonderful, creative, imaginative and adventurous life, one that is not even near to finishing its artistic production. “I’ve loved it all along, and I still am,” Coop said.
Coop’s retirement from UBC several years ago has since allowed her to focus on other pursuits, including taking French lessons. However, she is also finding the time to put into practice her own teachings from her career and focus on improving and refining her own already formidable skills as a pianist.
Coop’s talk concluded with a recording of her performance of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 61, which you can watch online here.
by: Jane Willsie, Department of English Language and Literature, UBC; Green College Work Learn Content Writer, 2020-21