Jim McDonough is building community, one note at a time.
Tickets come from across the country – from Texas, Georgia and South Carolina to Oklahoma, Nevada and California, as well as Canada and the Midwest. Listeners watch his virtual concerts, to hear the notes flying off McDonough’s fingers and on the Steinway grand piano at his home in southeast Cedar Rapids.
His noon St. Patrick’s Day concert went viral, racking up nearly 14,000 views.
“It’s a virus we want,” he told those who logged in for his concert the following Friday. As long as demand remains, he will continue to do those 30-minute Facebook Live concerts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Connect by “liking” and “following” his Jim McDonough Music page on the social media platform Facebook.
“This time together, it’s about building a community, it’s about positivity,” he told listeners on Friday.
Unlike the St. Patrick’s Day concert which featured Irish-themed music, he asked those listeners to send him a favorite song they would like to hear next time around. They responded with over 60 tracks, many of which “turned” into a nearly half-hour medley for Friday listeners.
The popular-requested medleys arose from his early career playing on cruise ships and have since become a standard feature of his concerts.
On Friday, he added his flourish to favorite hymns like “How tall you are”, “In the garden”, “It’s good with my soul” and “A mighty fortress is our God”; Broadway hits and movies like “Unchained Melody”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, “Memory”, “Music of the Night”, “As Time Goes By” and “Over the Rainbow”; pop and patriotic standards like “Wind Beneath My Wings”, “Hallelujah”, “What a Wonderful World” and “God Bless the USA”; and nostalgic pieces like “Satin Doll” and “You Are My Sunshine”.
He even added touches of whimsy with “I Want a Hippo for Christmas,” “Bumble Boogie,” “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and a fiery “Chopsticks,” as well as a few classic favorites including “Moonlight Sonata”. and the Canon of Pachelbel in D.
He told viewers that he didn’t memorize every song, but heard them in his mind, and as he played one from the request list, he sang the next one in his head.
“I just have (a list of) song titles,” he said. “So if I can sing a song in my head, if I know how the song goes – especially if I don’t think too much about it – I can just turn my brain off and let it play. The piano knows all these songs. …
I just live in them for a while and let my fingers tell the story. ”
Now 45 years old, McDonough’s story begins at the age of 7 in Monticello, when he begins taking piano lessons. As a freshman in high school, he “walked” into his hometown bank and applied for a loan to purchase a used Steinway mid-size grand piano from Carma Lou’s House of Music. at Cedar Rapids.
“He was stunned,” McDonough said of the loan officer.
The teenager traded in the family upright piano, his parents co-signed the loan, and he made “for years” payments on the balance of just under $ 13,000. He still has this piano in his home studio, and continues to practice on it, even though it’s a larger Steinway that he plays when he gives concerts in his vacation home and the current series. midday.
This first piano was also a lifeline. In eighth grade, he accompanied the junior high school choir. And as he helped move a piano around the floor of an elementary gymnasium in preparation for a concert, he tipped over, crushing two fingers of his right hand.
As he recovered, he began to take piano lessons for the left hand.
“I couldn’t use my right hand for a long time,” he said, and he had physical therapy for about a year and a half.
“I was really determined to get back to the piano. That’s what defined me, ”he said. “I think like a lot of people in the arts, I wasn’t going to be an athlete, I wasn’t going to be an astronaut. It was the only thing I was really good at, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction and positive reinforcement. What kid doesn’t like to have this? The piano and the music gave me that, and then it was going to be taken away.
The purchase of his first Steinway the following year gave him the motivation to keep going and to strive to play again. At one point, his doctor told him that he had lost 25 percent of the movement of those injured fingers, and it still hasn’t returned to 100 percent.
“Using my hands allowed me to regain range of motion, dexterity,” he said. “Who knows – maybe I made up for it. But that’s how music got me through a time like this – to be motivating and fun.
“We look to the arts for so many things – distraction or liberation, whether it’s movie or movie – we can just get lost in it, and I think maybe we could use it more than ever now. . “
He studied music education at Wartburg College in Waverly, then taught harmony in high school for two years before feeling the need to change course. Completely.
He followed in his sister’s footsteps and became an air traffic controller at the second busiest center in the world, located in Chicago. But after a few years he felt the siren song of the music. During a month’s vacation at the control center in the summer of 2000, he was fortunate enough to replace a pianist on a cruise ship. He jumped on board, launching his career as a professional pianist.
“It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” he said. “I’ve gone from one of the most stressful jobs in the world to fulfilling the demands of playing songs that make people’s eyes shine. “
Mainland beckoned to him, and in 2002 he moved his base of operations to Monticello, leasing commercial space and housing. But in 2017, he was ready to put it all under one roof and landed at Cedar Rapids.
In addition to giving concerts, recording albums and taking a vacation tour across the state, in 2010 he became a Certified Steinway Artist. There he joined the ranks of Emanuel Ax, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Joel, Ellis Marsalis and others, as well as the “Immortals” including Van Cliburn, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Edvard Grieg, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and John Philippe Sousa.
“It’s like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” McDonough said. But don’t be fooled. He had to be nominated, fill out a long form, submit examples of his artistic talent, and then put everything to the vote of a selection committee.
“It was such a beautiful day when I found out,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing. “
The designation does not have a paycheck attached. The only obligation is to play as often as possible on a Steinway piano.
Seeing the joy on people’s faces and hearing their kind comments is their own special reward. And that’s how he feels since his midday concerts.
“So many of our artistic outlets are suffering right now. As a population, we need these things and we have less access to them in the traditional way, ”he said. “It’s not traditional, but it’s a medium that we can still provide.
“I find it also satisfying – maybe more than the people on the other side of the computer – because it gives me a very positive project, and yet I love to sit here and see all these songs that people ask. On a human level, that has been great for me too. …
“If I can play a few songs and make someone’s day better, mission accomplished. And if that person becomes a permanent member of my online community, mission accomplished. If they end up on a concert seat one day, so much the better. If they buy my music, so much the better, ”he said.
“But it’s about community – it’s not about income.”
Comments: (319) 368-8508; [email protected]
How to watch
What: Jim McDonough Live
Where: Click “Like” and “Follow” on Facebook.com/jimmcdonoughmusic/
When: Tuesday and Friday at noon Central Time
Artist’s website: Pianofavorites.com/
Pianist Jim McDonough addresses his audience live as a friend watches the live stream on his page at his home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Pianist Jim McDonough plays his grand piano at his Cedar Rapids home on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Pianist Jim McDonough performs for a live audience on Facebook at his home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Pianist Jim McDonough will perform at his home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
A gift from a young neighbor is seen placed near the piano at Jim McDonough’s home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Pianist Jim McDonough is giving a digital concert via Facebook Live to keep people connected to the arts from his home in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 20, 2020. McDonough performed digitally earlier in the week and responded to requests for songs and compiled a mix of around 70 songs to play in front of a live audience of over 300 viewers. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Pianist Jim McDonough performs a digital Facebook concert live at his Cedar Rapids home on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)