Mark Payne has always loved the piano.
The musical director of Victoria Playhouse Petrolia remembers the moment he first wanted to play. “I had an uncle who was only five years older than I was; when I was seven I saw him taking piano lessons and I said I wanted to be like Uncle Carl.”
His parents agreed and Payne’s love affair with the piano began. “It was never a push, my parents never made me work at it…I was always highly self motivated.”
Payne was, like most young piano players, classically trained and he looked up to pianist like Vladimir Horowitz. “I had awesome teachers who I aspired to…there was no shortage of those in my life.”
Throughout high school Payne was active in music, playing in bands and being involved in choir, but didn’t reveal his skill at the keyboard right away. “No one knew me as a piano player but as a trumpet player or a singer; then at one point I played the piano and they said ‘You play piano, too?’”
Payne, with the encouragement of his parents, studied music at university earning a Bachelor of Music in Piano performance and a Masters of Music at the University of Toronto in music performance and music literature. There he dreamed of life as a concert pianist.
Professors tried to ground the students in realism, getting them to consider teaching music saying “if you ever try to do this (for a living on stage) make sure it is all you can possibly imagine yourself doing.”
Payne did perform and he went on to work in London and had a chance meeting with David Hogan and David Rogers. They were in Sarnia at the Imperial Theatre at the time and enlisted him to help with one of their production. From there the relationship grew and now Payne works full-time on theatre productions, something he could have never imagined as he trained.
“All the technique I learned at that level has served me well,” he says. “I couldn’t do what I do now at the level I do now without that training.”
Being musical director allows Payne to use all his skills from songwriting, directing and performing. In 2011, Hogan and Rogers wanted to take that performance to a different level, creating the show I Love A Piano with Payne to feature his talent.
Payne, Hogan and Rogers have refreshed the show to suit their changing musical tastes and it hits the stage this week until Aug. 30.
“This is a culmination of almost everywhere I’ve been,” says Payne “from classical to jazz to ragtime and strike; from Liberace to Victor Borge and Elton John to Billy Joel.”
Payne has also written original music for the show. He says it is some of the most challenging music he’s played – practicing six to eight hours a day to get it just right.
And Payne can’t wait to share it.
“It is amazing when you find the moment on stage when the audience is all right there…in a big house and you can hear a pin drop…You know when there is that much silence…we’re all in that moment, that event together. And it’s not in those wild, crazy moments, it’s when the music is tender that it is infinitely special.
“I do a solo version of Rhapsody in Blue in the show; it’s really difficult but it’s exciting – I can’t wait to play it all.”