Hard work the key to piano-playing success for Westholme siblings

Pacchiano family trio developing life skills throughout lessons and performances

The family that plays together, stays together.

The Pacchiano siblings of Westholme – Francesca, 16, Angelo, 15, and Bianca, 12 – have a common bond in their exceptional piano-playing ability. All three were part of the Cowichan Valley Music Teachers’ Association’s Canada Music Week celebration concerts at the Christian Reformed Church in Duncan Nov. 18.

The two parts of the concert the same day were held to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, with 50 students of piano, voice, harp, violin and cello ages 6-80 performing works by Canadian composers and arrangers. The concert was organized by Ann Mendenhall, who teaches the Pacchianos piano sessions.

Bianca was the first of the family on the program, performing ‘Peter Enjoys A Swing’ by Healey Willan. Angelo made two appearances in the first half of the concert, first with the solo Tarantelle by Clifford Poole and then as part of a Winter Wonderland trio arranged by Mendenhall, with Sierra Mimeault and Mateo Moody.

Francesca played her piece, Rings Of Saturn by Alexina Louie, during the second concert that followed immediately after the first.

“It’s probably come from me,” said the Pacchianos’ mom Shelly. “I wanted them to play the piano.”

She also home-schools her two daughters and son.

“It’s part of education,” Shelly indicated. “I think it’s challenging till kids get to a certain age where they can enjoy it themselves. You have to be persistent and not give up.”

The Pacchianos have also been learning from Mendenhall for nearly four years after initially taking lessons from Kathy Lassche at Mulberry Lane Music Studio in Duncan.

“They were all with Kathy when they were little,” noted Shelly.

“Kathy believed if you did piano up to Grade 4 you wouldn’t lose it for the rest of your life,” she added. “You’d always have a musical base to take it with you the rest of your life.”

Francesca is currently at a Grade 8 level. “This is her passion,” noted dad Rob.

Angelo and Bianca are at the Grade 3 piano level.

Mendenhall has a studio at her house where the Pacchianos take their lessons.

“We just wanted to challenge the kids a bit more,” Rob pointed out. “Young kids get comfortable with their teachers and parents.”

“Kathy was like family,” noted Shelly. “They had been with her since they were babies. Kathy was a fantastic teacher. I just wanted the kids to be a little uncomfortable.”

“I think all things take a while to catch onto,” said Francesca.

She remembers needing a week and a half to learn a selection that would now take her about five seconds to play.

“I think persistence,” Francesca added is the key. “I was made to sit at the piano and practice. I didn’t want to do it at first.”

Besides Mendenhall’s lessons, each of the Pacchiano siblings practices for about an hour a day at home.

“We have performances about twice a year – the Christmas recital and the summer recital,” explained Francesca.

Being accomplished on the piano has grown on Angelo, who just turned 15 a week ago.

“I never really wanted to be in piano,” he confessed. “I think it’s a little more recent that I’ve not disliked the piano as much.”

“He’s really improved the last two years,” observed Rob.

“I am moving forward quite a bit,” agreed Angelo. “It’s more likeable that I can play it.”

Somehow with the public performances, it never seems quite right to him. “It always goes better at home,” he conceded.

Bianca was only four when she started the piano.

“I’m not sure I wanted to do it,” she recalled. “It was more you have to do it.”

Like Angelo, she’s learned to love it and still has so much potential to harness being the youngest of the three.

Bianca is also learning to deal with the pressure of public performances.

“I get really nervous and I really shake sometimes,” she said. “The shaking stops, but then my heart starts pounding. It’s fine after you do it. I just think to myself, ‘I can do it.’”

Working with Mendenhall has been a great experience for Bianca that’s led to her rapid development.

“I was still working on my techniques and I really wanted to do Grades,” she noted, getting a little overanxious.

“You learn all the basics before you get into Grades,” explained Shelly.

As for their possible futures in music, “I’ll probably take it in university as a minor or an elective,” said Francesca. “I don’t see it as a future career, but it could be.”

“I have to go till Grade 12 before I can stop music,” offered Angelo.

“I’ve thought about doing it in university like my sister,” added Bianca. “I want to play harder pieces.”

“I think Bianca works harder because she doesn’t want to be left behind,” noted Shelly.

In all their cases, music is giving them a foundation in life that will surely instill a great work ethic in them.

“I think it’s just hard work and you have to keep at it,” conceded Shelly.

And Bianca has formulated a plan in theory that’s certain to work every time to calm those nerves in public performances.

“Just walk up there, play your piece, bow at the end and go sit down,” she reasoned.

A simple way to complete a complex series of steps to get there.

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