Pierce Emata will be staging a free performance today at the Lewis and Clark High School auditorium.
Pierce Emata will be staging a free performance today at the Lewis and Clark High School auditorium.

Ivory keys to success

Emata returns for festival, free concert

When Pierce Emata played the piano as a child at the Spokane Music and Allied Arts Festival, now Musicfest Northwest, he hoped to eventually become an adjudicator.

“When I was in high school there would be these wonderful adjudicators. I would think, ‘It would be cool if someday I could be an adjudicator like these musicians,’ ” said Emata, who graduated from Lewis and Clark High School. “I had some excellent and valuable feedback and advice from the judges.”

Next week the concert pianist is doing just that as an adjudicator in the piano division of Musicfest Northwest, a weeklong festival for young musicians and dancers that begins Sunday. He’s also kicking off the music festival with a free concert this afternoon at Lewis and ClarkHigh School.

“This is a way of giving back from what I received to the music community in Spokane, as well as the high school I have fond memories of attending,” he said.

Pat Sexton, his former music teacher at Grant Elementary, said Emata was a hard-working, talented musician who accompanied her voice students and the school glee club on top of his own performances. “When they announced at our board meeting that Pierce Emata was coming to adjudicate, I lit up like a Christmas tree,” she said.

Emata, who was class president at LC, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano at Indiana University. He’s appeared in the “Sunday Afternoon at Cantigny” series and nationally broadcast Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert. He adjudicates competitions, is an advisory panelist for the Indiana Arts Commission and maintains a private studio in Las Vegas.

That success, said Emata, stems from the musical foundation he developed while growing up in Spokane. “I got a lot of opportunities to study with good teachers. … I attribute a lot of my personal growth and musical development to my years in Spokane,” he said. “There always has been, and it is even greater now, a high level of quality among piano students in the area.”

It’s a success story that Sexton hopes inspires student musicians. “I’d really like to have the children at Grant see that a student from their school has gone on to do wonderful things in the music world,” Sexton said.

They’ll get that chance today. To make the event open to the community, like the other festival concerts, Musicfest Northwest teamed with Lewis and Clark. The school is donating its auditorium and Emata is performing for free.

“He’s really a success and he’s coming back and wants to give back to the community,” said Musicfest Northwest volunteer and piano teacher Mike Caldwell. “He tries to bring music to the people.”

The concert, Emata said, is an eclectic program that ranges from the world premiere of “Sestina Mutations” by Michael Colina to classical pieces by C.P.E. Bach and Frederic Chopin, a jazz piece by Bill Evans and “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, in addition to several other pieces that provide depth and variety.

“It’s important to be exposed and involved in other forms of music in addition to classical, because it balances musicians,” Emata said.

The concert will follow Emata’s trademark style of conversational performance. Between pieces he’ll talk about the music and his thoughts, he said, “not to lecture the audience but to give deeper insight.”

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