Christina and Michelle Naughton carry on a conversation only they can understand while playing the piano together.
“The whole thing is a conversation and having the same thought,” Christina Naughton said. “Sometimes you forget that there’s another person there. You forget that there are two brains and four hands and you just perform as one.”
The sisters, who are also identical twins, will give a performance on Nov. 5 at the Wellspring Theater in downtown Kalamazoo. This is their first visit to the area, which is part of an ongoing series of concerts organized by the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.
The pair said they’re excited about their association with the Gilmore because of its world-class reputation. It also will be something close to a homecoming for the twins who were born and raised in Wisconsin, but now live in New York City.
Their mother began teaching them how to play the piano after seeing the emotional impact music was making on them at a very young age.
“When we were little, we would watch children’s music videos and one time a very sad song came on and there were tears rolling down our cheeks, and that was first time she realized music moved us,” Michelle Naughton said.
Not yet 4 years old, the sisters would practice for short amounts of time during the day and said it was something they always looked forward to. They even thought other kids did too.
As they grew up and became even more serious about their music, their parents — neither of whom are musicians — transported them on weekends from their Wisconsin home to Cleveland for lessons. Up until the end of high school, the Naughtons were training to be solo pianists, but then a concert promoter asked them to perform together and they “never looked back,” Michelle said.
The sisters are graduates of The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, where they were each awarded the Festorazzi Prize. Their professional careers were launched in 2010 with debuts at The Kennedy Center and at Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The following year, the Naughtons performed in Munich’s Herkulessaal and began to establish their reputation outside of the U.S.
While twins performing together as concert pianists may seem like an anomaly, Michelle said it is not uncommon.
“We know of others, but they are not out there actively performing yet,” she said. “We feel like we do what we do and we happen to be twins.”
Christina said there was no defining moment when she and her sister knew they wanted to pursue careers as concert pianists, but it became clear over their time at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute.
“Music is the thing that spoke to us most. It stays in your soul,” Michelle said.
Their performance schedule often takes them on the road for six weeks at a time and they both say they love traveling together and have very few disagreements, but those usually involve the way they each interpret a piece of music.
“Even as twins, it’s very difficult because there are times when you’re called to play in the same voice,” Christina said. “Everything is hard in its own way. There are certain pieces where there are so many notes. Even with pieces written by Mozart, the bareness and the actual writing makes it so exposed and so difficult.”
When asked if they have a favorite composer or a favorite piece of music, Michelle said: “It depends on the moment and if it’s something old or something new. We love Bach and we also love playing music that was recently written for us.”
Occasionally, they are asked to perform as soloists, but prefer to perform together, even if it does mean countless hours of practice that they intentionally avoid tracking.
“We purposely don’t know because sometimes we don’t want to admit that we have to practice as much as we do,” Christina said. “It all averages out to several hours a day. It’s so physical. When you go into music, you don’t think of it that way. You need to stretch out your hands and remember that you’re playing big chords and you may be sore the next day. You have to be super careful.”
While their chosen careers may seem arduous to some, the sisters say they can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives, and they encourage other young people to consider music as a livelihood.
“When we are on the road, we sometimes have the chance to talk to or play for school kids or young musicians,” Christina said. “We always tell them that no matter what capacity you have for (performing) music, there are a lot of ways to make it part of your life.
“Performing is a small part of what makes the music world go around. If you love music, there are many ways to be a part of it.”
Christina & Michelle Naughton
359 S. Kalamazoo Mall #204, Kalamazoo
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