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Pianist Damisch to fit performance into cruise-ship vacation

Posted: July 27, 2011 - 6:16pm

At least three passengers from next week’s roster of cruise ship passengers will be doing much more than perusing the shops and walking the rainy Juneau streets during their time in port. Pianist Mark Damisch and two of his daughters, Katherine and Alexandra, will be using the local stop as a chance to share their musical gifts with our community in a concert Tuesday. Moreover, proceeds from the show will be directed back into town; Damisch, a concert pianist who’s been performing since he was 7, takes no money for his shows, preferring to have it go to support local needs. Money from the show will go to Northern Light Church and Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Organizer J. Allan MacKinnon said Damisch’s visit is an unusual treat.

“This is one of these gifts that suprises people once in awhile,” he said.

Damisch performs at 5:30 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 2 at Northern Light United Church.

For Damisch, performing is a way to promote goodwill within the communities he passes through.

“I don’t think there’s many people who have found this niche but there’s no reason other people couldn’t do it,” he said.

Damisch is on tour both before and after his Alaska cruise, but the trip itself was scheduled as a family celebration of his 30th wedding anniversary. Juneau will be the only Alaska city that gets to hear him.

“My wife said no concerts on the boat, but I broke the rule once for Juneau,” Damisch said with a laugh.

Damisch said he’s wanted to visit the state for 45 years.

“I have been to all 49 states in the U.S. with one exception. And that’s Alaska.”

Scheduled stops after Alaska include China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. In those countries, Damisch’s performances will help support a Special Olympics team, a group of blind music students, a battered women’s shelter and a mental hospital. Normally Damisch selects the charities himself but for the Asia tour, the pianist was aided by the five U.S. embassies in those countries.

Damisch was a full-time concert pianist as a young man, but quit at age 25 for 18 years, in part because the lifestyle of a traveling performer didn’t jibe with raising a family. Now he tours only in the summers, making up for lost time with the frequency of his performances: he schedules about 80 concerts a season.

When he’s not playing piano, he’s practicing law in Chicago, a profession he says he really enjoys. He formerly served as mayor of his town, Northbrook, Ill., for a dozen years.

“I’ve been able to have the best of both worlds,” he said.

For the Juneau performance he’ll be joined by two of his three children, both of whom will also accompany him to Asia.

Their program will focus on American music, and feature works including Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Katherine, 21 will sing Gershwin’s “Summertime” while Alexandra 16, will play Gerswhin’s Three Preludes. Encore pieces will include “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Day by Day” from Godspell and “You’ve Got a Friend. Alexandra will also be featured on percussion on Copland’s “Hoedown.“

The concert is free, but the suggested donation is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students will go to support the reconstruction of the Northern Light window wall and the prison ministry at the Lemon Creek Correctional Facility.

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