Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Cuban-born pianist Enrique Chia performed during a March 22 benefit concert at Atlanta Symphony Hall for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.


Pianist Plays Benefit As Concert Among Friends

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 30, 2009

Enrique Chia still vividly remembers playing the piano in his parents’ living room when he was a young boy growing up in Cienfuegos, a “very beautiful city” on the southern coast of Cuba.

Friends and strangers alike would stop by to listen to the talented Chia, which gave him “a feeling that is very special,” and one that he still cherishes today.

Decades later, and with more than 40 recorded albums to his credit, Chia has become successful in creating that same “living room” atmosphere whenever he performs live.

The laid-back, interactive nature of his performances allows the crowd to embrace the nostalgia of hearing old tunes with which they grew up and gives them to chance to connect with their roots.

His passion for music came early. Chia remembers listening to his mother, Alicia, play the piano. At the age of 5 he began to clunk away on the ivory keys.

Noticing his interest, his mother taught him for nearly two years before he began lessons with José Manuel Vázquez, a professor at the Havana Conservatory of Music.

“That was very special for me,” Chia said about his experience with Vázquez.

However, a professional music career was not something Chia intended to pursue. He said his mother also instilled in him a belief that music was for personal pleasure, not for making a living.

To develop a career, he moved to Georgia in 1961 to attend Georgia Tech, just as the political climate was changing in Cuba. There he obtained his master’s and doctoral degrees in metallurgy.

Chia himself will tell you that he has always been torn between his passion for science and music. For several years he worked at Southwire Co. and taught at Georgia Tech as an adjunct professor in the department of materials engineering, all while helping to raise his two daughters, Laura and Lisa, with his wife, Diana, whom he married in 1968.

In the mid-80s he was selected for a special faculty position at the Georgia Tech Research Institute to work with private industry in the improvement of metals-processing techniques.

Just four years later, Chia became executive vice president and chief operating officer of American Fine Wire Co., working with computer components until 1996. He has been granted 46 U.S. patents for his research work.

During this time, Chia’s music was a private matter. He would occasionally play at small gatherings of friends and family. But at one point he recorded a cassette at the insistence of his father-in-law, Dr. Rodolfo Beguiristain, who wanted to make copies for relatives.

“The first recording was just for my grandchildren to listen to,” Chia said with a smile, adding he did not think that a few short years later he would be recording professionally.

As the tape was shared among Chia’s acquaintances, one played the music at a shop in Miami. It was so well received by the public that people continually asked if they could buy the music they were hearing.

That led him to continue recording and, in 1991, he celebrated with his first formal CD release “Piano Romántico.”

“I was still doing metallurgy while we made the first CD,” he added. “I was able to do both of them for a while.”

It wasn’t until around 1995 that he began pursing a full-time career in music. Chia said he wanted to make sure a career in music was a sure thing before he entered it full time.

Initially performing only benefit concerts, his live music career began in Miami, a place where he still loves to perform. He described the Miami crowds as lively, adding they have no problem shouting out requests when asked.

“My hope is that the public becomes part of the act,” he said.

This could be seen at his most recent concert in Atlanta, held at Atlanta Symphony Hall on March 22, as part of a benefit for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Often responding to requests from the audience, the crowd was intimately involved with how the show progressed emotionally, an element to performing that Chia really likes.

“I never perform songs off of a list,” he said.

“There is an energy that flows from the audience,” he added, noting that he likes this more improvisational feel than playing a predetermined group of songs. This allows him to react to the emotion of the crowd, whether it’s bringing them up with a happy tune, or relaxing them with something slow and passionate.

Chia’s concerts also reflect his casual and personable nature. The Chia you see live is the same Chia you could chat with after the show. His love for music radiates during performances and is evident if you mention the topic during a conversation with him.

The benefit concert in Atlanta was held to aid St. Vincent de Paul’s education programs, which assist individuals by providing needed skills and training.

“In today’s economy it has become more important than ever for each of us to offer our time, talent and treasure to offset the challenges and hardships facing many in our community,” wrote John Berry, executive director of SVdP Atlanta, in a letter to concert attendees.

“No longer is the face of someone in need the face of an anonymous stranger; it is the face of our neighbors, our friends, our families,” he added.

The concert netted $43,000 for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Judy Sebastian, community outreach director for SVdP, said the organization was very happy with the generous donations of participants, especially in these tough economic times.

Chia was “pleased and honored” to perform at the event for such a good cause and gave the crowd a memorable experience.

The eight-piece band performed on a stage with a tropical feel, with plants and trees surrounding the musicians. The orchestra reacted to crowd suggestions and invited them to sing along with the tunes they recognized. An added surprise were the elegant dancers that came on stage during several of Chia’s songs, moving to the catchy rhythms of the performance.

Chia now regularly performs throughout the United States and Latin America. Several of his CDs include the late master bassist Israel “Cachao” López. He has also featured flutist Nestor Torres, and legends like Olga Guillot and Libertad Lamarque, who sang accompanied by Chia’s piano in her last vocal recording.

His CDs include romantic boleros, tangos, traditional tropical, Christmas, inspirational music and two sets of international hits of American music. In addition to the Casandra International Award in the Dominican Republic and a nomination for a Grammy Award for his recording “The Music of Ernesto Lecuona,” Chia recently completed a documentary entitled “La Cuba Eternal,” a documentary that features a musical trip through the rich cultural heritage of Cuba.

But, for Chia, the best recognition is that of the people who have been touched by his music.

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