The Classic Influencers
Charles City pianist returns with collaborator
Classic Spring Concert –– Charles City Community Orchestra, feat. guests Harrison Sheckler and Peter Can Wang Cho
Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. –– Free
The Charles City Middle School Auditorium, located at 500 North Grand Avenue
By Kate Hayden
Spring break planning for Charles City native Harrison Sheckler started early in the school year. Sheckler is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, studying piano performance as part of the College-Conservatory of Music. That’s where he met with cellist Peter Chan Wang Cho, a Hong Kong musician; and like any good, musically-inclined friends, they started scheming up a series of performances.
“We put a program together, and then we had these different opportunities present themselves in Cincinnati,” Sheckler said.
Then the phone rang with an opportunity in Sheckler’s hometown. The Charles City Chamber Orchestra was looking for a guest performer to join their spring show on Saturday, March 26. For Cho and Sheckler, who graduated in 2014 as a dual-enrolled student at Charles City High School, it was a perfect fit.
“It’s exciting for Peter to meet everyone in (my) hometown –– he’s getting a taste of the midwest,” Sheckler said.
By the end of Saturday, Sheckler and Cho will have done five performances, including stops at the middle school, high school, Wartburg College and the University of Northern Iowa. And though they’ve been rehearsing the music since February, Tuesday night marked the first rehearsal the two have had with the Chamber Orchestra, directed by Gene Martin. The free program includes Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy, and a quintet made up of Sheckler, Cho, violinist Kimberly Birch, violist Kim Watkins, and string bassist Ellen Bengtson will perform the Trout Quintet by Franz Schubert. Sheckler and Cho will also perform as a duet, including Gabriel Faure’s Aprés Une Reve and Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grande Tango.
And although a mid-week snowfall doesn’t exactly sing “holiday getaway”, it’s been a soothing break, according to Cho.
“So far, I get to see a really nice sunset here everyday. Yeah, it’s a really peaceful city, Charles City,” Cho said. “I get to know more about the countryside of the United States, the daily life.”
Relaxing views aside, Cho and Sheckler have been busy visiting Charles City schools to perform for and encourage students.
“One of the biggest reasons that we came here is we want to promote music, let people know about our passion for music,” Cho, who began studying cello at the age of 7, said. “If you’re into music, just work hard and achieve more. We teach them different techniques of how to practice better, how to be a better student, how to work hard.”
For Sheckler, that work ethic seems to follow him wherever he goes. In between four- to eight-hour daily practice schedules, Sheckler accompanies up to 14 hours’ worth of vocal performance lessons each week, maintains his multiple social media presences –– his Instagram account, @HarrisonSheckler, is up to 26,000 followers –– and maintains a collection of baseball memorabilia, including letters from 500 major baseball league players that he’s been curating since 2008 for a future book.
He likes to stay productive, in his own words.
“I feel a little frantic in the way that I’m always having these different ideas,” Sheckler said.
Focused is a good word for it. Sheckler transferred to CCM after a year at Wartburg College so he could be in a conservatory environment, studying under the direction of Sonyeon Kate Lee.
“The biggest thing that I enjoy is, there’s 90 pianists in the school, including undergrad and graduate students, so you’re hearing all these amazing musicians,” Sheckler said. “Some of them had studied undergrad at Juilliard (School). You’re hearing all these different interpretations, and that’s real peer motivation.”
He met Cho over Instagram, and the two connected when they arrived on campus last fall. They both share a particular motivation for classical music, although they enjoy other styles. Cho also shares his repertoire on multiple social media platforms, where, he said, he hopes viewers leave critiques and comments to improve his style.
Cho came to study in the U.S. with a desire to join his biggest musical influence, the Metropolitan Opera House.
“The reason I work hard and play hard is (that) a teacher inspired me and teach me a lot of cello concertos, and I’ve attended quite a lot of different competitions,” Cho said. “I got pretty good self confidence, I’m good at music, that’s why I want to try to have a music career in the future.”
And, Cho said, he wants to be a part of classical music’s promotion.
“Rap, pop, different styles have overcome the importance of classical music. There’s a lot of different and really beautiful, sweet and lyrical classical music that you can listen to over the hundreds of years before the pop or rap appeared,” Cho said. “I really want to promote classical music more, which makes more people have interest in cello, and inspire them to work hard.”
In the meantime, Cho and Sheckler will keep planning upcoming performances –– and who know, maybe they’ll return to Iowa for a few more sunsets, and another show.
“You realize that you’re doing something good with it,” Sheckler said. “I’ve been given a gift. I think it’s important for people to find their passion and to use it to glorify God…People enjoy it. It’s like an escape for people.”