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Maestro Marek Jablonski: Tribute to a Mentor

By D.T. Baker

Saying that Marek Jablonski was one of Alberta's finest piano teachers is easy. There are scores of former students who'd be willing to line up to attest to that. But nailing down exactly what it was that made him special is not so easy. The reasons may be as varied as the number of students who had the chance to experience his wisdom and dedication.

"He was a very unique teacher, in the sense that he really respected you as a player and as a person," is the assessment of Ayako Tsuruta, a student of Jablonski's at the University of Alberta until the teacher's failing health resulted in Tsuruta's taking over the teaching of Jablonski's other students. "And this comes across from day one—in fact, from the minute that you meet him."

Jablonski, who died of cancer at the age of 59 on May 8, 1999, was born in Krakow, Poland a scant two months after the Nazis had overrun Poland in the blitzkrieg that initiated the Second World War. His studies on the piano began in his native land at the age of six. Arriving in Edmonton with his family at the age of 10, Jablonski the piano student studied with Gladys Egbert of Calgary and Randolph Hokanson at the Banff Centre for the Arts—the school where, years later, it would be Jablonski's master classes that would draw students from all over the world. Tsuruta, who obtained her bachelor's degree from Juilliard and her master's from Yale, was one of them.

"My very good friend, who also graduated from Yale—I spent three years hearing him talk about Mr. Jablonski, and I figured this was one person that I must give a try," she says. "That experience at Banff turned out to be incredible, and when I realized that he taught at the University of Alberta, I had every intention of continuing my education into the doctorate program, and it's no coincidence that I came to Edmonton."

U of A Department of Music sources show that students from Rumania, Poland, Japan, England, the US as well as from all over Canada, came to learn from Jablonski. He was so renowned for his teaching in the latter part of his life, however, that it's sometimes easy to overlook the fact that, in his halcyon days, Jablonski was a concert pianist of the first rank. That aspect of his career had an auspicious beginning. As a 22-year-old student at Juilliard, he won the grand prize in its national competition (1961), performing Chopin's Concerto No. 1 with Zubin Mehta.
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Reprinted with the permission of D.T. Baker and Legacy (Summer 2000): 36-37.
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