Pianist, National Guard officer performs for ‘A Salute to Veterans’


By Annabeth Carlson

Pianist Ian Gindes will always remember his first big audience.

It was not in a concert hall, but rather a theater in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in front of hundreds of young soldiers at a meeting for basic training. Gindes was one of them.

It was 2004 and tensions ran high while soldiers were getting deployed to Iraq. The anxious soldiers focused their gaze on a sergeant on stage, who stood beside an old, wooden upright piano with missing keys. Suddenly, he asked if anyone knew how to play.

Gindes’ hand shot up, and instantly, he worried that he had made a mistake.

The sergeant ordered him on stage and asked him what he could play.

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“Well, sergeant, I play the classics like Beethoven,” he said.

So, the sergeant told him to play. He started with one of Beethoven’s sonatas, a song that began simple but soon became complex. The sergeant acted confused and went to the piano and looked into it as if someone had played a trick on him. But it wasn’t a trick. When he finished, the soldiers shot to their feet and applauded.

Looking back, Gindes said it was one of the most wonderful experiences of his life.

On Sunday, Gindes performed a concert called “A Salute to Veterans” at Foellinger Great Hall, which included patriotic and jazz music from American composers. In the past, he has done a soldier’s benefit concert and a 9/11 concert.

“It’s always been a part of giving back. How can I use my job to benefit the National Guard while being in it?” he said.

When Gindes walked into the dark, cavernous theater, he was wearing a black tuxedo and blue polka-dot bowtie. A spotlight illuminated the shiny black grand piano on the wooden stage.

The scene was very different from his impromptu performance on a beaten-up piano in his GI uniform at basic training 10 years ago.

But one thing remained the same: he’s still playing for his fellow soldiers.

Growing up in Southern California, Gindes’ love for the piano began at the age of seven. His father recognized his talent and he began taking lessons. At Gindes’ first recital, he said he made his musical debut with a song called the “Wig Wam.”

By age 11, Gindes said he knew he wanted to make music the rest of his life. He became more advanced and could play Beethoven and Berg.

“I enjoyed bringing an audience into what I was feeling; that was really important to me as an artist and even at that young age,” Gindes said.

Gindes said he really focused on making a career out of piano during his first year of college at the University of Northern Colorado. After earning a master’s degree in Music, he applied to Illinois to study under Dr. Ian Hobson, a recognized soloist in classical music.

He first learned of Hobson because his father had one of his CDs, and he wanted to study under someone who had legitimate authority as a pianist.

After Gindes was accepted, he immediately moved to Urbana to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. However, after a year of study, his father fell ill and he took a year off to care for him.

Gindes also used the year off to build his repertoire. But something was missing. He said since he was a child, he loved adventure. It was Gindes’ father who suggested he join the National Guard.

“I always was fascinated by firefighters and being a hero in that sense, when you are young you want to get out there and do everything and have adventure, and the cool thing with the National Guard is you do part-time adventure stuff. You go to your adventure and then you come back to civilization basically,” he said.

But after basic training, Gindes was not deployed. He was listed as a combat engineer and returned to Illinois to finish his doctorate. He came to the ROTC department and began officer school as well.

Gindes said it was hard to balance going to school for a doctorate and becoming an officer simultaneously.

“We had to get up Monday, Wednesday, Friday at five in the morning and you do two miles in -20 degrees,” he said.

Despite this, Gindes loved the bonds he formed in the process.

“The coolest thing about it is … having people to look after you. I have guys who will be at this concert to look after me. They trained me, they made sure I became a very effective officer and I was very lucky … to be in their environment it changes you. It makes you very resilient,” he said.

It was also around this time that he met his wife, Ann Gindes, in 2005 at a church retreat through St. Johns Catholic Newman Center. They were married on campus in 2007. He said that she has always been supportive of his professions.

“She’s been through all of it — me being at home, me being at the airport, and it’s hard to go away,” he said.

Ann said that being married to a pianist is always a fun, exciting adventure.

She promotes Gindes’ piano career by taking his photos and working on his website and Facebook page.

Now, Gindes focuses on furthering his piano education. He is getting a pedagogy credential which will allow him to teach college students piano. He also does some individual teaching for the experience. For the National Guard, he must do a PT exam with a two-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and weapon qualification. He also holds meetings and runs ceremonies. So far, his extent of service has not landed him in deployment.

Gindes has also entered various competitions, and in 2011, he won the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition.

Gindes said at the time, he had entered 15 competitions and was getting tired of rejection, so he did not expect to win. The first prize was performing at Carnegie Hall in New York. He prepared for the concert so much that he could perform with his eyes closed. However, he was still so nervous that he could not remember how to put his bowtie on and had to look up how to do it on YouTube. Nevertheless, he said that the concert went well.

But Gindes said messing up is part of the business.

“You just keep going … and let the music flow … you are playing 1000 notes you are bound to get one wrong.”

Gindes said the most challenging part of being a pianist is putting himself out there.

“Pianists are babies, we worry about what people think about what we do and the reason is when we perform in front of people not only are we expressing what the composer felt, but we are expressing ourselves,” he said. “But there are two different kinds of pianists: one who can play precise, and there’s the other who will put themselves on the line and take risks and show who they are. You can tell the difference, too,” Gindes said.

Gindes also said that life is rough for aspiring musicians but they should keep working hard.

“You have to come to the decision: do you like music? If you love music, you’ll keep going and the only thing that can get in your way is yourself because you’re the one who decided to quit,” he said. “Just keep going and keep trying.”

Annabeth can be reached at [email protected].