Lake Norman & Mooresville

Pianist stays busy pursuing a passion for music

Jeff Perks' fascination with the piano began at age 4, when his mother, a pianist, taught him the left-hand portion of the boogie-woogie style of playing.

Now, the 48-year-old Denver resident has a remarkable record of musical achievements, including performing for Christmas parties at the White House in 2007.

"It was awesome," he said. "I got a private tour of the White House, and I saw areas that most other visitors don't get to see.

"I was mesmerized by my mother's piano playing from the time I was very young," said Perks, who was Born in Savannah, Ga. "Anywhere there was a piano, I was drawn to it. In fact, I can't ever remember not playing the piano."

The organ didn't escape his attention, either. "After church services, when everyone was leaving, I would go watch the organist play the postlude." The organist at the Lutheran church in Savannah noticed the young boy who displayed so much interest in the instrument.

"She told my mom my interest was an obvious sign of talent and suggested that I should have formal lessons."

His mother took the suggestion to heart, and at 7, he began his music studies, which continued uninterrupted through college. His dad, a real-estate broker, wanted him to pursue a more practical career, but Jeff was insistent on pursuing his passion.

"I told my dad I'd rather do music and go broke than sit behind a desk and be miserable the rest of my life."

Perks entered the University of South Carolina as an organ major because he thought that would be the most reliable way to make a living as a musician. However, after a year, he decided that his true passion was for the piano, and he switched his major to piano performance.

For several years following graduation, he performed on cruise ships operated by Carnival Cruise Lines. A four- to six-month deployment on ships cruising the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska would be followed by a two- or three-month furlough.

But as rewarding as the cruise-ship circuit was, after five years, he decided he wanted to settle down in one locale. In 2006, he began to look for a job as a church organist. "I can work for a church because unlike many pianists, I can play the organ as well," he said.

That job search ended when he was hired by the Denver United Methodist Church, where he has worked for the past five years. He is also the accompanist for the East Lincoln Community Chorus, and he played at the Charlotte Speedway Club for three years.

To round out his musical career, Perks also plays for weddings and private parties, but a good portion of his time is taken up with lessons for local residents. His current roster of 40 students range in age from 5 to 70, and he has a waiting list for potential students.

"Teaching piano to students, young and old, was not something I thought I would enjoy but I find it quite rewarding," Perks said. "I have had some students for as long as five years now, and it is awesome to see their potential."

Not all students are as promising as others, he observes, but that's OK with him. "Even for students without the gift of musical talent, there is still something you can teach them through music. Whether they continue to pursue their studies or not, they can achieve a lifelong appreciation for music and the arts and that in itself makes it very rewarding."