Friday, December 04, 2015

Angela Fitzpatrick: Pianist

The music is always around you, even in the bathroom.

Von Maur at Oxmoor Center employs four pianists, who perform in three-hour shifts on a Yamaha standing on a large rug near the front escalators. Ninety-year-old Angela Fitzpatrick was the first the store hired 13 years ago, and she still works five days a week. On this November afternoon, the 4-foot-11-inch Fitzpatrick (“More like four-six these days,” she says, laughing) wears a black jacket over a red sweater and a plaid skirt that spills over the piano bench. The dress code: Women wear dresses or blouses and skirts (no pantsuits or slacks); men wear ties. No hats. No singing. No accepting tips. Fitzpatrick is a subtle rainbow, her eyes somewhere between blue and green, her long hair a blondish color. She always cleans the piano before sitting. “I insist on it,” she says. "It’s not because of the associates that I play with, it’s the people that play when we’re not here!”

The Connecticut native has been playing piano for 85 years. “My mother was a very fine pianist,” she says. “She would have been a classical pianist if she hadn’t married my father.” Fitzpatrick graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the 1940s and became a wife, mother and music educator. Beginning in 1976, she spent 15 years as a classical-radio DJ and station manager in upstate New York. Upon moving to Louisville to be close to her son, she landed a job at classical WUOL, where she stayed for a decade.

The pianists choose what to perform, a freedom that has kept Fitzpatrick, Ruth Gilbert (12 years) and Marla Kay Kosnik (10 years) around. Speakers throughout the store play their various styles: Fitzpatrick is fond of lush movie music from Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand. Gilbert likes show tunes. Kosnik prefers baby-boomer pop. Chuck Mink — the lone man — is jazzier and doesn’t like sheet music. Fitzpatrick also plays themes, such as a 40-minute set of weather-related songs that she calls “The Weather Report,” from Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” to Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine.” “What I enjoy most about this job,” Fitzpatrick says, “is being able to bring music to more people.”

c. 2015 Louisville Magazine.

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