Luke Welch is back where he belongs at the keyboard
May 10, 2018
Healthy hands are often taken for granted.
There was a time when Luke Welch couldn’t play the piano and he struggled to open a door and even put on his clothes.
Diagnosed with tendinitis, carpal tunnel and pinched nerves caused by the stress on his hands from the nearly eight hours he spent daily on the piano, he thought his musical career might be over.
The rehabilitation took three years.
“I was in a dark place during that time and I feared the worst,” said Welch who graduated from Mayfield Secondary School regional arts program in 1999 and the University of Western Ontario with undergraduate and Master’s degrees in music under the tutelage of John-Paul Bracey who is one of Canada’s leading music educators. “The pain started in my left arm and I kept playing hoping it would go away. Eventually, the aching extended to my right hand. I was in severe discomfort. My parents wanted to help, but they aren’t musicians or medical practitioners. I just felt alone.”
Working in the banking sector to make ends meet while undergoing therapy, Welch – who tied the nuptial knot two years ago -- was uplifted by a full two-year scholarship offer from the Codarts Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands.
That was like having a rope being thrown to a drowning man.
“I packed two suitcases and went over there not knowing what to expect,” he said. “I didn’t even take the time to figure out I was going to a country where Dutch is the dominant language and the culture is different. I was just focussed on restarting my career.”
Welch, who made his concerto debut 14 years ago with the Durham Chamber Orchestra, was still not sure if he would make it all the way back to the top.
“I had to hit the reset button when I got to the Netherlands,” he pointed out. “What part of the fingers I use, how high should the bench be that I would sit on, how close to the piano I should get, what sort of repertoire do I choose and how many hours I should play daily were some of the things that I had to consider as I attempted to get back in the groove. It wasn’t easy but I am extremely happy that I was able to rebound without having surgery.”
At the end of the scholarship, Welch got a job with the conservatory. He also toured several European countries, New Zealand and Australia with the Dutch National Opera & Ballet.
After a decade in the Netherlands, the acclaimed pianist returned home last New Year’s Eve.
“It was time to be back where I belong,” said Welch who teaches at an Oakville conservatory and has a five-city two-country European tour scheduled from September 29 to October 7. “This is where my family is. It’s nice to be based here and be able to tour the world doing what I love.”
Exposed to music for the first time while attending Dunrankin Drive Public School, Welch – who was born and raised in Mississauga -- fell in love with the piano.
“There just seemed to be an instant connection between the instrument and my fingers,” he said.
Gifted a piano by his parents John and Olive Welch at age 12, he enrolled in private classes and was tutored by Catherine Kuzeljevich and Krzysztof Jedrysik.
Invented early in the 18th century by Bartolomeo Christofori, no instrument has had more impact on western music than the piano.
For Welch whose first recital was at the Polish consulate in Toronto, playing the piano is a true joy.
“I really have an appreciation for the way the sound resonates and the wide range,” he said. “You can play really low or really high. It is something, if you are in a good mood, you can feel even better. If you aren’t in a good mood, it can lift your spirit. You basically can create your own world. It’s one of these things no matter how much you have been doing it and how good you think you are, it humbles you and keeps you motivated to always keep getting better.”
Not meeting the late great Oscar Peterson is one of Welch’s major regrets.
Regaling audiences with his keyboard brilliance in a celebrated career that spanned six decades, Peterson died in his Mississauga home in December 2007.
“He was someone that inspired me and I looked up to him,” said Welch whose second album, ‘Crossing Borders’, that’s a collection of Domenico Scarlatti keyboard sonatas was released last year . “He was a legend.”
His debut album, ‘The Universal Language’, was released in 2015.