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Friday, 17 August 2018 06:48 am

Jazz musician Mark Wilson turns 50 in his beloved Queenstown

May 7th, 2018 | By | Category: Arts/Entertainment, Latest News, News

Mark Wilson still has his first piano, and 45 years and several pianos later he’s still making music – and celebrating his 50th birthday.

Mark Wilson and wife Emma stand on stage at their birthday celebration at St Peter’s church hall.

The Queenstown musical legend and his wife Emma were joined by musicians and friends in their birthday celebrations – an event billed as “Mark and Emma turn 100”.

Wilson, whose actual birthday isn’t until June, says of aging: “You’ve got a sense of youth but a sense of wisdom too. A broader perspective or hindsight.”

But there have been times in the musician’s life when the chances of making half-a-century seemed as unreachable as the pedals on a piano to a toddler.

Wilson was born 10 weeks premature and given little chance at survival.

He was placed in an incubator and left blind by too much oxygen, but he lived.

It was while boarding at the Homai School for the Blind in Auckland that Wilson discovered his passion and profession.

Wilson says he thinks the music found him as much as he found it.

“Every room had a piano, so there was always someone playing. I just gravitated to it.”

He began playing by ear and started receiving encouragement before taking music lessons.

Wilson says there are a lot of misconceptions about playing by ear.

“If you do have some degree of inner instinct, it gives you a head start. Learning music is nature and nurture.”

Although other blind musicians have studied at the University of Auckland, Wilson is the first to graduate from the piano performance programme in 1993.

But he doesn’t define himself as a blind musician.

And for the most part, his blindness hasn’t hampered him professionally.

“It’s been more a barrier breaker than barrier maker. Sure, there’s always those awkward moments, but most people accept me as a musician who happens to be blind rather than a blind musician.”

Since 1993, Wilson has been a regular on the Queenstown music scene, performing with such bands as the Master Blasters, Mojo, and the Jive Pranksters in addition to performing solo.

But his favourites are the nights he plays at local hotel bars and restaurants.

“It’s the intimacy of the environment. You get people coming up to you and saying they love the music and have that connection with you. That, to me, means even more than the money.”

Singer Chad Robinson, who often performs with Wilson on Saturday nights at the Sofitel hotel, says musically Mark is on another level.

“From my point of view as a singer, he can transpose any song. Mark has a great ability to play any style.”

Wilson says he’s a made-to-order musician—familiar with a lot of styles but is most comfortable with jazz and classical.

“I feel I can express myself best through jazz. I never play anything exactly the same way twice. I can’t imagine being robotic and want something to be fresh.”

Nigel Hirst, a saxophonist and sound engineer who has played and recorded with Wilson since 1993 says he is a victim of his own success.

“He’s so busy with gigs it’s impossible to book him,” Hirst says.

That success almost came to an end in 2009, when Wilson suffered a seizure which left him unable to speak.

Wilson was diagnosed with a grade two brain tumour, underwent major surgery, and it was two years before he completely returned to the keyboard.

Singer Margaret O’Hanlon and Mark Wilson entertain guests at birthday celebrations.

“I was more worried about how family and friends would react, as I had only to get well.”

Wilson says it’s been nine years, and he’s still alive and kicking and has someone worth living for.

In 2011, he met trumpeter and singer, Emma Sykes, who was on holiday in Queenstown.

“Emma blew me away,” he says.

The two performed in a community choir, and the first song they sang was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Love Changes Everything.

It did, and five weeks later the couple got engaged.

Wilson says his philosophy of life is to make the most of every day and be there for people the way Emma, and friends and family have been for him.

In April, he will release a new album of sacred music called Branching out in Faith.

Follow Mark Wilson on twitter @onyourmark or visit his webpage at markwilsonmusician.net

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