Living Leeside: One performance and pianist fell for Cork

Living Leeside: One performance and pianist fell for Cork
American pianist David Syme and Christy Moore.

INTERNATIONALLY renowned American pianist David Syme has found himself settling in West Cork with his wife Suzanne since 2005 and said he can’t see himself living anywhere else.

David, who has performed all over the world and regularly travels internationally to play for large audiences, said since lockdown his life in Cork has changed dramatically with Scrabble and piano-playing his two main hobbies.

“Since Covid, life has essentially stopped,” he explained. “I play piano for a living, I travel internationally for work, all my dates have been cancelled this year.

“I like Scrabble it keeps my mind sharp.”

The pianist said he often likes to stay up late practising on the piano — going over melodies late into the night and early into the morning and learning new music.

David, 71, said in his younger years he would have practised 70 to 100 hours a week, but these days he plays as much or as little as he likes, depending on what events he has coming up.

The American, originally from Detroit, fell in love with Cork and the charm of Castletownbere after moving over to be with his wife Suzanne.

American Pianist David Syme with his wife Suzanne and Mary Kennedy.
American Pianist David Syme with his wife Suzanne and Mary Kennedy.

“I was living in the area about a week and it got out that I played piano professionally,” he said. “I was asked to play a concert to raise money for a local cause.

“There were about 100 people sitting out and this rickety old piano, it was magical! I knew then I wanted to live here.”

David and Suzanne met in 2004, although their paths could have crossed many years previously, if the stars had aligned.

“Suzanne was raised in an Irish Catholic family, but 30 years ago she decided to convert to Judaism and approached my father who was a prominent rabbi in Detroit. My father converted Suzanne to Judaism, but I did not meet her until many years later when she went looking for some of my music.

“I was living in Houston at the time, she wanted some Jewish music I had released, we got talking on the phone and I have never looked back.”

The pair were married in 2006 and moved over to live in Ireland permanently in 2013.

David said there is something very special about the people of West Cork.

“I love the people here: Their kindness, compassion, and values. They are remarkable in their respect for tradition, their literacy, their inclusiveness and their reverence for the arts. There is an elegant informality in the way people speak here.”

The American said that he found Cork people to be quite respectful.

“There is not a lot of coarseness here.”

David was friendly with actor Maureen O’Hara and regularly played for her on her birthday. He is also supported in his music by Irish musician Christy Moore.

David and Suzanne also have a border collie pet dog called Jesse, which was once part of of the O’Hara family.

As well as this, David was awarded an honorary degree by the Royal Irish Academy of Music for his contribution to the Irish music scene.

American pianist David Syme at a symphony concert in Rockford, Illinois, U.S.A.
American pianist David Syme at a symphony concert in Rockford, Illinois, U.S.A.

When not playing sold-out concerts, David likes to perform low-key gigs alongside other musicians most notably with the White Horse Guitar Club in Ballincollig and a new music group he recently set up called Emerald on Ivory.

“I love to play for people, I love putting on a concert, it gets the adrenaline going.”

In pre-Covid times, David also liked to hold intimate concerts at his home for friends.

“Our lives used to be dictated by concerts at our home, we would do about 20 a year, now we can’t do any. It is really strange, it was a big change, huge. These concerts defined our lives for 15 years, I am hoping beyond hope that they can resume soon.”

Thankfully David said music has played a big part in pulling him through these unusual times, as it has always been a huge part of his life.

“I started playing when I was three and was self-taught for a number of years. I saw my mom play and I tried to pick out melodies, by the time I got lessons 10 years later, I could play anything I heard, mostly I played TV commercials and radio theme songs, it was probably very annoying for my parents.”

The pianist represented the USA in international piano competitions as a teenager and said those experiences are some of the best highlights of his very colourful career.

David said while the lockdown has been challenging he is in better health now than he used to be and he has lost 30 pounds in recent months.

“My doctor told me I needed to lose weight so I just changed my diet overnight.”

Discussing the ongoing pandemic, David said he has no real fear of the disease.

“I am old, I have had a nice life, I’m enjoying my life and I am grateful for my blessings. I am more worried for people I know in the US.”

Reflecting on his life in America, David said that while he misses some people he does not miss living there, especially with the ongoing politics.

“There is so much anger and vitriol in the US right now. I live in a beautiful area, surrounded by lovely people, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Adapting to the modern era, David is taking part in a virtual concert from his living room as part of Cork’s County Culture Night on Friday, September 18.

David Syme, will perform a ‘fake live’ performance from his living room. Full details on
www.culturenightcorkcounty.ie

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