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Playing by ear: Perham grad found a passion for the piano while stationed overseas

Kurt Weber, a 2008 Perham High School graduate, learned how to play the piano as a child, but discovered his passion for it later in life while deployed to Kuwait as a member of the National Guard. He has recently published a book of original compositions, with an accompanying CD of him playing the music. He'll be having his debut recital at St. John's Lutheran Church in Ottertail this Saturday. Submitted photo

Perham High School graduate Kurt Weber has been playing the piano since he was a child, but it wasn't until he was all grown up and halfway around the world that he discovered his deep passion for it.

In Kuwait in 2011, as a member of the Army National Guard, Weber found himself wide awake at the end of his late-night shifts on the military base. There wasn't much to do there at 2 a.m., but he needed something to keep his hands and mind busy. He remembered that the chapel on the base had a piano, and one night he decided to sit down at the bench and play.

It had been years since he last tickled the ivories. His mother, Mary, a music teacher, taught him how to read music and play as a young boy, but he never really fell in love with it. By high school, he says, he had left the hobby behind in favor of things more important his teenage self, like video games and girls.

So he was surprised when, several years and 7,000 miles removed from his last serious sit-down at a piano, in an empty chapel on a dusty base in the quiet early hours of the mornings, the music found its way into his heart.

Weber began to make nightly visits to the chapel to practice. He found inspiration in songs and composers he discovered online, and would rework the music to fit his own style. By day, he was an intelligence officer, handling classified information for the U.S. government. By night, he was a pianist and composer, hashing out his own sound and honing his art.

By the time his tour of duty ended in 2013, Weber felt confident enough to play in front of his friends and family back in Minnesota. He surprised his parents with his newfound talent "and they loved it," he says. On weekends, he'd sometimes play at the family's church in Ottertail, St. John's Lutheran, where his dad Karl is pastor. During the week, he'd perform for friends at a student center at the University of Minnesota, where he was attending college.

The more he played, the more he loved it. When a college friend suggested that he get some of his songs published and recorded, Weber decided to go for it.

"I'm the type to try whatever is in my mind," Weber says. "I don't sit back and let things happen to me; I'd rather make things happen."

To start, he had to get his compositions written down in a professional manner. He says he spent a lot of his spare time in 2016 refining his music and getting it put to paper. His writing process varies a little from song to song, but generally, Weber says, once he finds inspiration, he uses his cell phone to record himself at the piano. He'll usually record multiple variations of a song before he finds the 'right' one.

"There are often special moments when you're doing this," he says. "Something will click in my head and I'll realize it's something to keep. From that one little moment, I'll try to make something. In the end, when I start recording it and listening to it, that's when it gets exciting."

Weber describes his music as "minimalist," consisting of light melodies and simple broken chords. He reworks existing piano arrangements to suit his own style, and also creates entirely original pieces of work.

Every song Weber writes goes through a tweaking process that can take anywhere from a few days to several months, and then, once he's satisfied that the piece is finished, he listens to the recording of it over and over to put the music to paper, note-by-note.

"Writing it down takes work, but it's a beautiful process and a joyful experience," he says. "It's a feeling of satisfaction. I get joy out of accomplishing things."

As a whole, the process is a natural and creative one for Weber. He says the more he tries to force a song into fruition, the poorer its quality will be. Inspiration comes best, he says, when he doesn't try too hard.

Weber's initial goal for his music was to get a book of songs published by a national publishing company. He has recently met that goal; at press time, "Pebbles," a compilation of compositions, was expected to be printed and available later this week. The book has an accompanying CD featuring Weber playing his songs.

So with that goal newly behind him, Weber's next goal "is to share the music I've written and hope people enjoy it."

He'll get started on that goal with a debut piano recital in Ottertail this weekend.

Area residents may remember Weber as an active speech and track program participant during his four years of high school. He also ran cross country his junior year and played football as a senior. He graduated in 2008.

Weber lives in Minneapolis and works in software, writing code for websites. He comes back to Ottertail often to visit family.


If you go

What: Kurt Weber's debut piano recital

Where: St. John's Lutheran Church in Ottertail (31963 County Highway 61)

When: This Saturday, Jan. 21 at 2:30 p.m.

Other Info: A reception with Weber will follow. CDs will be available to purchase. For more information, and to hear clips of Weber's work, visit the Kurt Weber Piano Music Facebook page.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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