On an evening in 2009, Deb Wagorn sat in the audience of one of the world’s most prestigious music venues. She had made the long drive from Ottawa to New York to attend a concert by a bright young pianist. The place was Carnegie Hall and her son, Bryan Wagorn, was on stage.
For a “music mom” and her musical son, this was a pinnacle moment, representing years of hard work and dedication, the ultimate badge of honour. But both Deb and Bryan speak of it with notes of humility.
“As a musician I spend so much time working at the piano alone; it’s nice to experience sharing the music with people in the audience,” said Bryan in a phone interview from New York. “He just always was a great kid,” says Deb. “Bryan is a hard worker. If he didn’t have the piano in front of him, he was always doing something related to music.”
Carnegie was just one of the highlights of what has already been a stellar career for Bryan. He’s appeared in major concert halls and music festivals throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Bryan’s work at the piano began when he was about seven years old. Deb believed in giving her kids the opportunity to try a bit of everything and letting them see what they liked doing.
“When the kids were small, we’d go to the NAC, we’d take music lessons, we’d go skating, go to museums, do all kinds of activities,” she says. “I didn’t say you have to do this or you have to do that. I have four children and they’re all different. I think that’s part of the way they grew up, being exposed to different things and getting to see what they liked. But with Bryan, you just knew that music was his passion.”
“She’s amazing,” says Bryan about his mom. “Offering experiences to children and letting them run with whatever sparks their interest is the way to do it. So many children in music end up being forced into it and really waste their time when they could be pursuing something they really love.”
At about eight years old, Bryan had been taking lessons for a while and practising on an “apartment-sized cheap piano you make do with.” Some money came when his grandmother passed away and they were able to replace it with a grand piano. Deb recalls how he really took off shortly after that.
“He just loved it. You’d never have to tell him to go practise, because he’d just do it. As he got older, if he wasn’t practising, he’d be listening to a CD. If we were travelling to a competition, he’d have the score and he’d be reading through it. I bought older scores from the late 1800s so he could study the editing. He wasn’t just playing the music, he was thinking about why the piece was written.”
She adds, “There was a lot of travelling and a big time commitment, but you just make it happen.”
Bryan went to Bell High School, where he played saxophone in the band and accompanied the school choir on piano. He then did his bachelor of music degree at the University of Ottawa.
“It takes a lot of support for everything you have to do and I had a lot of support from people in Ottawa,” says Bryan. Scholarships, connections, building up confidence and the experience to play in front of audiences were all opportunities he got in Ottawa. “A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and Ottawa is a great music city.”
With praise for the great teachers at uOttawa, Bryan says, “It was a very nurturing environment and a very good experience for me.” He still keeps in touch with professors there and adds, “It’s like family.”
He also gives credit to the experience he had at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, both as a student and now as a faculty member of the NAC’s Summer Music Institute, which is directed by Pinchas Zukerman. “The NAC has been great and I’m paying it forward now by helping young kids coming up. Seeing the spark of talent in younger people reminds me of the experience I had as a kid. They really inspire me with their enthusiasm.”
Bryan has been living in New York for several years now where he received a master’s degree in music from the Mannes College The New School for Music. He’s currently working toward a doctoral degree at the Manhattan School of Music while playing piano at the Metropolitan Opera House.
However, Bryan still visits Ottawa and says it’s nice to come back and stay connected with his family and his Ottawa roots. “I’m so grateful for everything. I just want to keep working and keep striving to do better.”
Originally published in Ottawa at Home: http://www.ottawaathome.ca/Living/2013-10-28/article-3450239/Making-it-happen/1