Lori Sims’ ability to embrace new possibilities as a concert pianist has given her opportunities to broaden the appeal of classical music to the youngest concertgoers.
While Sims’ performances have spanned the U.S., Europe and China, the professor of music at Western Michigan University thinks youths around the globe hold the future of music in their hands.
“It’s fantastic to teach college students, but I look at teaching little kids as broadening the audience and keeping music alive,” Sims said.
This year, Sims will perform as part of the Gilmore Keyboard Festival for the eighth time. In 2000, she was the first local artist to be featured at the festival, and this year’s concert honors distinguished composer William Bolcom’s 80th birthday and includes works from his teachers, Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen.
“I always feel like I’m warmly received and I’ve done some of my best concerts here,” Sims said. “Some people really don’t like to play on their own turf — I enjoy it.”
A Colorado native, Sims grew up with parents who both played the piano and traced their first meeting back to a music camp. They were her first teachers. Later, she studied with Larry Graham, Leon Fleisher, Daniel Pollack, Claude Frank and Arie Vardi.
These days, Sims balances teaching with more regional performances while raising a 12-year-old son whose own busy schedule is factored into hers. She has short and long practice routines ranging between two to four hours.
“I’ve been playing the piano for 45 years,” Sims said. “At my age, it’s not particularly healthy to be knocking out five-hour-a-day practices.”
As the demands on her life and her own career trajectory took new turns, Sims has learned to be flexible to changes. If anyone had told her that at some point shewould spend half of her practice time on modern music, she would have laughed.
“For the longest time, I dedicated myself to 19th century Romantic music,” Sims said. “Now I’m turning to something new, and that’s doing more new and modern music by living composers.”
Although she feels that new music tends to be easily dismissed, she tries to present it in a way that’s accessible. She does not play favorites, preferring instead to explore a variety of composers and time periods.
This adaptability has translated well to her role as a teacher. She does not hold the mindset that the only successful outreach is one that gets thousands of people excited, instead measuring success one individual at a time.
“It’s education that brings people to music camps and concerts and supporting musicians,” Sims said. “I believe that some of my littlest students and college students will carry music into their professional lives in other ways.”
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May 11, 2 p.m., $15