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Photo courtesy of David Jalbert

If not for his father, David Jalbert would not have become a pianist at all.

“My dad asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what a piano was.”

Much has changed since then. Jalbert is a professional pianist, a University of Ottawa music professor, and a three-time Juno nominee. The now 37-year-old studied at the world-renowned Juilliard School in New York and has won prestigious awards nationally and internationally.

Most recently, the CBC named him one of the top 25 greatest classical Canadian pianists. Jalbert was selected based on international recognition, successful recordings, and artistic integrity, according to classical music community producer Robert Rowat.

Jalbert has played for audiences across North America and Europe, since the age of 21 when he graduated from the Université de Montréal. Rather unsurprisingly, he was away when he heard the news—but not because he was travelling on a music tour. This time he was on vacation in the Caribbean.

“I get an email from a friend that forwarded me the link. There’s a saying in French, ‘La fortune il vient en dormant,’ which would translate roughly as, ‘Good things happen when you’re sleeping.’”

Not long after Jalbert learned what a piano was, he began studying at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec and was soon competing in various competitions such as the Concours Clermont-Pépin, the MSO Competition, and the CBC Competition for Young Performers. Jalbert was the first Canadian in the Dublin International Piano Competition to make it to the finals.

He knew the challenge of  standing out from the crowd of other pianists in the classical music industry, but he took them as an opportunity.

“(It) was a bit of a blessing because the sooner you realize that, the sooner you take the means to set yourself apart and do all that you can to ensure that you will be successful.”

Jalbert won several awards at competitions and eventually caught the attention of a music manager during one of his performances. He was competing professionally before he had even finished his studies. Now a professor with the U of O’s School of Music, he’s passing along the torch.

“After you’ve learned so much and accumulated all this experience touring and performing and you meet lots of young pianists along the way who come to your concerts, it’s really nice to have a way of helping young people doing what you did, what you went through,” he says.

In his spare time he listens to rock ‘n’ roll and opera, plays tennis, and reads French literature. Jalbert says that if the piano didn’t exist he would be a French literature professor—that, or diving into the field of neuroscience.

Luckily for Jalbert, the piano does exist.

“Music can be a catharsis in so many ways,” he says, “and just helps you emotionally throughout your life and all sorts of aspects … There have been times when it has been a support. I think for any music lover to feel that way about music, it’s one of the greatest things I find about life.”