Updated:
Apr 11, 2003
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Pianist: ‘North Carolina Is The Place I Call My Home’

BY FAYE M. DASEN: Features Editor

Valerie Zamora is a classically trained concert pianist who has performed and taught in Europe and across the United States, playing demanding solo and chamber works. Oh, incidentally, Zamora is deaf.

Zamora, who recently favored Pinehurst Trace residents with a short concert at their belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner, tells The Pilot that she lived in several places while growing up.

“But I consider North Carolina home,” she says. “It was the last move my family made.”

Zamora’s deafness wasn’t diagnosed until she began school. She began lipreading classes and gradually discovered that her inability to understand the others around her was not the confusion of every child. She is able to hear many sounds and has developed a sensitivity to define what she is able to hear.

“My ears shut down with almost any amount of loud sound,” she says. “For chamber music, I memorize each part for each instrument, spend time with the other players to get a feel for their body language and stylistic tendencies and just listen by deduction to stay unified.”

But Zamora hasn’t allowed her deafness to stop her in her quest to perform.

“I have always been interested in music,” she says.

She received her studio training from pianists coming from a variety of traditions, including Einar Steen- Nokleberg, Adele Marcus, Marvin Blickenstaff and Walter Hautzig. She has studied at such prestigious schools as the Hochschule fur Musik in Germany, Juilliard School in New York City and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md.

After a short period teaching piano at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she returned to her graduate studies at Arizona State University.

Zamora loves all types of classical music and is hesitant to select a favorite composer or piece of music.

“I probably enjoy playing Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann the most,” she says, “but then you also have to add Liszt and Chopin as well as Prokofiev, Berg and Bartok as well as Mozart and Bach!”

She prefers playing large works or entire sets of short works because of their storytelling or structural capacity.

Her current favorite contemporary composer is Paul Schoenfield.

“I did a trio of his a year or so ago,” she says. “Since then I’ve heard concerts of his music and enjoy his diversity and fabulous sense of energy.”

She also enjoys listening to CDs of other pianists and performers.

“Richard Goode is my favorite pianist; I just heard him in a recital two or three weeks ago,” she says. “Mitsuko Uchida ranks right along side and YoYoMa is also tremendous. These three express music with an exceptional depth.”

Zamora says she did face difficulties in being accepted because of her “handicap.”

“I hid it at all costs,” she says. “Once it was revealed — and it always was — I was not accepted. It was better for people to think I was crazy, a drug addict or ‘whacko’ than for it to be known that I was ‘handicapped.’”

In 1998, she received the Career in the Arts grant from the J.F. Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., her first as a “uniquely-abled artist.” She now performs recitals and holds workshops to promote an awareness of the accomplishments and achievements of those with disabilities.

Zamora offers a word of advice to others who have any sort of handicap or disability.

“Never give up,” she says. “Learn from each experience and use it to find a way.”

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