February 23, 2016
By Mike Killeen
Curtis Noecker has a big decision to make March 19. Does he wear a tuxedo, or a suit?
"I'm not sure," the Saint John's University sophomore from St. Paul, Minnesota, said. "I just got a new suit over winter break. It's possible they might want me to wear a tux, in which case I can borrow one of the choir tuxes."
It's a nice quandary to have. Noecker won the grand prize in the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra's Young Performers competition with his performance of the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 on Jan. 27 at St. Cloud State University.
By winning the event, Noecker gets a chance to perform the concerto with the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. March 19 at Ritsche Auditorium, SCSU. He also received a $500 scholarship, and performed in an honors recital Feb. 10 at SCSU.
"This is a huge resume builder. Being able to say that I appeared alongside an orchestra as a soloist already is awesome," Noecker said.
His win came as no surprise to Fr. Bob Koopmann, OSB, professor of music at CSB and SJU and president emeritus at SJU. Koopmann, a respected pianist in his own right, teaches Noecker on the piano.
"I was playing the orchestra part on a second piano for Curtis' audition in the competition," Koopmann said. "As he was playing, I realized his playing was really good and he had a chance at the prize.
"Curtis has grown significantly in his understanding of the expressive nature of piano music as well as technical ability to bring the music to life," Koopmann added.
The funny thing is, Noecker almost gave up the piano while attending Highland Park High School. He played in the school's symphonic band - as a trumpet player (he's also in the Brass Choir at CSB/SJU).
"I didn't do a lot with piano in high school - mostly private lessons and an occasional performance," Noecker said. "I guess there was a period where I wasn't that excited (about playing the piano) - like early high school and junior high, it was a chore.
"But eventually, I kind of realized I enjoyed playing. I enjoyed playing the music. I was good at it, I guess. I figured it out," he said.
Noecker said he was at first hesitant to try and double-major in music (piano performance) and computer science. He's also a swimmer (sprint events) on the SJU swimming and diving team. "I laid out a plan, figured out that a double-major could work if I really wanted to do piano, and I could tell I had the skills to be successful in piano," he said.
It probably didn't hurt that he requested to study with Koopmann. Curtis' uncle, Ron Noecker, was taught piano by Koopmann while Ron was attending Saint John's School of Theology in the early 1980s. Ron is currently executive director of Nursing Heart in Guatemala, and has also released several piano recordings.
"He's awesome," Curtis Noecker said of Koopmann. "I really enjoy having him as my teacher. He's pretty laid back. He isn't super strict on pushing me really hard every week, intensely criticizing or anything. We just kind of work together. I sit down and play through stuff, and we work together to make things better."
Koopmann suggested the Beethoven concerto piece to Noecker, who eagerly accepted.
"It's a really fun piece," Noecker said. "When I was at the recital (Feb. 10), the concertmaster from the orchestra was there for a little bit, and she said everyone was really excited to be working on this, because it's so fun. Everyone likes playing it. But then also, it was a good piece for me to advance technically."
Now, if he can just figure out what to wear when he plays it March 19.
This just in: Noecker won first-place honors at the Minnesota Music Teachers' Association Collegiate Young Artist Piano Competition Feb. 27 at the University of Northwestern, St. Paul. He prepared a 30-minute memorized program to capture top honors. Noecker received a cash award and the opportunity to perform in several concerts.