B i o g r a p h y
Ricker Choi has a successful career in financial risk management but his first love is classical music — a passion he discovered at age 12 when he was still living in Hong Kong. Ricker began studying piano at age 13, after his family immigrated to Canada. Through years of dedicated practice he earned the ARCT Diploma in Piano Performance at age 18. Faced with a choice between a career in music and in business, Ricker opted for the “easy route” and enrolled in York University’s Schulich School of Business, where he earned an undergraduate degree and MBA. (He also holds Chartered Financial Analyst and Financial Risk Manager designations.)
After a 12-year hiatus Ricker returned to piano studies with pianist Boris Zarankin. Soon after he also started studying with pianists Lawrence Pitchko, Michael Esch, Michael Berkovsky and Kui Min. An award-winning amateur pianist, Ricker has performed in festivals and recitals in Toronto and internationally. He had performed live on 96.3 FM classical radio in Toronto. He has also been featured regularly at TSMAF`s Emerging Artists in Concert at Walter Hall, and with Off Centre Music Salon at Glenn Gould Studio. In 2011, he gave a solo recital at Four Seasons Centre. His most memorable experience was performing at 2,500-seat Berlin Philharmonie and 1,000-seat Salle Gaveau in Paris. Ricker had participated in masterclasses of renowned pianists including Anton Kuerti, Olga Kern, Andre Laplante, Marietta Orlov, Ilya Itin and Joseph Banowetz.
In 2006 Ricker combined his love of piano and philanthropy to establish Music Heals!, a series of fund-raising concerts for charity organizations such as SickKids Foundation.
AWARDS SINCE 2005
3rd Prize: Concours International de Grands Amateurs de Piano (2012)
2nd Prize: Berlin Int'l Amateur Piano Competition (2010)
2nd Prize: Boston Int'l Amateur Piano Competition (2009)
3rd Prize: Washington Int'l Piano Artists Competition (2008)
Grand Prize winner: Markham Music Festival, North York Music Festival, Scarborough Music Festival
Below is Ricker's musical journey in his own words.
My first piano lesson was a failure...
I was born in Hong Kong and studied at Rosaryhill School, where I spent my kindergarten and then primary school years at. I still remember for my Grade 6 music class examination, me and five other classmates chose to sing the theme song from the famous Japanese TV series Story of Oshin. I didn't know any classical music, and pop music was my only exposure to music at that time. When I was 7 years old, I decided to have piano lesson, hoping to be able to play Hong Kong pop tunes that my mother often played. After less than 1 month of piano lessons, I gave up! I didn't have the discipline, nor the passion for music. I just hated practising!
When I was 12 years old, I entered into St. Pauls Co-ed College, in which each student was required to learn at least one instrument. Guess what? For novelty, I picked Er-Hu, while most of my classmates opted for more conventional options, such as piano, violin, and cello.
Falling in love with Amadeus and Ludwig
It was in this environment that my passion for classical music was ignited. I was fascinated by the beautiful sound my classmates made from their instruments. Listening to Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik during music class and Chopin's Polonaise Op.53 ("Heroic Polonaise") performed by a senior student during the class assembly opened my ears to the wonderful world of classical music.
I started purchasing classical music cassette tapes. (CD was not available yet.) One day I came across a tape with the title The People United Will Never be Defeated! I thought it was such an inspiring name and bought it. Then I came across another one called The Ring of the Nibelung, with a piece called: Immolation Scene. Immolation: a big serious word which I didn't even know.
The cries of the Valkeries, the powerful emotions of The Ring, and the stirring theme of The People United Will Never be Defeated! opened me up to a new world. Even though I didn't understand a word sung in the opera, I was fascinated by the picture of the dragon slain by a boy with a sword on the cassette tape cover. My love of Wagner and mythologies started from this time.
My first piece? Für Elise!
I decided that I must learn to play the piano, and my first piece? Für Elise!
I was only able to recognize what middle C looked like on a score, therefore I had to write down the letter names of almost every single note on the score in order to learn the music. I practised extremely hard, and after 3 months, finally, I was able to play through the first page, hitting only 50% wrong notes, and stopping only 10 times through my way. What an accomplishment!
Then I discovered Richard Clayderman! Yea, I know serious music students are not amused when someone says he likes Richard Clayderman. Well ... he was so popular in Hong Kong, and I really loved his Ballade pour Adeline! I bought all his music scores and cassette tapes. It was from his own arrangement of popular classical music such as Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 or Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata that I get further introduced to the classical masters.
Piano lessons again!
I started really learning the piano when I was 13 years old, when I immigrated to Toronto with my family. I started with a piano teacher from RCM, Catherine Russell. After she passed away, I studied with Boris Zarankin, co-founder of Off Centre Music Salon. I was totally passionate about classical music, and I practised extremely hard. I completed the ARCT Diploma in Piano Performance at the age 18.
It was a tough decision! Should I study music, or get into a more conventional academic program? I sent in the application form and had arranged for an audition with RCM, but at the last minute, I opted for the easy route: study business! I knew at that time I was not musically gifted. I just worked extremely hard, but I didn't speak through the music. I was playing the piano, not making art. The most important factor was that I didn't even know what I want for a musical career. I didn't have a vision of a musical future. It was a hard decision, but I still believe today that it was a right one for me.
Bye bye love ....
Upon entering York University's Schulich School of Business, my piano study was halted for 12 years. The work load of the business program plus working a few part-time jobs at the same time didn't allow any time for practising piano. It was initially quite depressing to have to say good-bye to my beloved mistress, Lady Piano.
After I graduated, I was busy with my career, and at the same time studying on the side for further academic credentials. Piano was not even thought of.
In 2005, I felt that my career was on track, and I started studying piano again with Boris Zarankin, co-founder of Off Centre Music Salon. After more than 10 years of hiatus, I was finally back with my mistress!
I started participating again in local music festivals, and was awarded the Best of Festival Award from Yip's Music Festival and the Markham Music Festival Trophy. Through a friend I met at Kiwanis Music Festival, and with the encouragement of Boris Zarankin, I started also having coaching sessions with other teachers such as Lawrence Pitchko and Michael Esch. I participated in the Toronto Summer Music Academy and Festival, attended master classes of Anton Kuerti, Andre Laplante, Marietta Orlov, and James Anagnoson.
My life today ...
I am currently a business consultant specializing in financial risk management. I have an MBA from York University, and am a holder of FRM and CFA. I enjoy reading, traveling, and listening to music for leisure.
I like to share my passion for classical music with my friends, while at the same time contribute to the needy in society. Hence in 2006 I started organizing and performing in charity fund raising concerts. Since 2006, I have been helping to raise funds for charity organizations such as Oxfam Canada, SickKids Foundation, and World Vision Canada.
Through other amateur pianists in Toronto, I first knew about international amateur competitions in 2008. I have participated in following international amateur piano competitions:
2012: 3rd Prize at the Concours International de Grands Amateurs de Piano (2012), where I performed at the 1,000 seat Salle Gaveau in Paris
2010: 2nd Prize and the special Candidate Prize at the Berlin International Amateur Piano Competition, where I performed at the 2,500 seat Berlin Philharmonie
2009: 2nd prize for the 2009 Boston International Piano Competition
2008: 3rd prize for 2008 Washington International Piano Artists Competition (also awarded both the Press Jury Award and Best Performance of a Romantic Period).
I hope to see you at one of my future performances.