June 17 marks 20 years Lacey Black has been playing piano in Silverton’s Grand Imperial Hotel.
It’s a gig that began when the fourth generation Durango resident was in high school. What started as a temporary spot filling in for the current pianist on his days off during the summer – something that fell into her lap and what she refers to as “one of the luckiest things that has ever happened to me” – has turned into a seven day a week venture, one she hopes to return to so she can officially celebrate that 20-year mark.
Black has been around the piano her whole life. Her mother taught piano in their home since she was little, and while she wasn’t a regular student of her mother’s, she observed enough of the lessons that happened in her house to attempt to learn on her own.
“She left me to my own devices, and then when I came to her asking how to do something or how to figure something out, she would help me along the way,” Black said. “So I don’t want to say I was self-taught by any stretch, but I didn’t go the normal route of going to a normal lesson every week and getting a star on my page from the teacher. It was a lot more self-driven than that. I think I begged her to do that once or twice and she would try it and I wouldn’t listen, so she decided it was probably not worth the fight. It was more important for us to get along as mother-daughter.”
While she picked up the music talent from her mother, it was her father, a longtime City Market employee and choir alum from Durango High School, who aided her playing by attempting to distract her.
“He would walk into a room and turn off the lights to see if I could keep going or not, teaching me to withstand distractions without it derailing a performance,” Black said. “He’d coach me to close my eyes and get into it when performing, to be more engaging. So I got the music side from Mom and a lot of the performance skills from Dad.”
Reared on songwriters like Paul Simon and Bonnie Raitt, or classic country that ranged from outlaw to novelty, which included Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson or the absurdity of C.W. McCall, whose songs name-drop regional locations, she’s kept music and performance in her front pocket since taking on that first professional gig when she was 16.
At Fort Lewis College, she studied education and music, earning a teaching degree and a performance degree in French horn, and led the band Red Rhapsody, which is piano-driven pop – quite the opposite genre from the ragtime she’s made a career out of playing for tourists fresh off the train. Along the way, she’s released records, worked alongside Scott “Scooter” Smith doing sound engineering at local and regional festivals, and kept a steady stream of live performances, which includes future internet performances via social media.
Playing ragtime has been her main gig. Her mother’s teaching abilities helped her figure out the complexities of the music; it also remains a genre with universal recognition and appeal.
“For anyone that’s ever played it, it’s actually quite difficult to work out the rhythms. It’s quite complex and it gets a bad rap. People say, ‘Oh, it must be simple,’ and it’s really not,” Black said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it because it’s a different kind of energy exchange with the audience. You’re allowing people to time-travel, especially people that are older. The number of eyes that I see glistening back at me after I play a song. And somebody comes up to me after I play a song and says, ‘You know, that was my dad’s favorite song,’ or, ‘I haven’t heard that song since my grandpa died,’ or something like that. That is so much more meaningful to me in many more ways than I’ve ever achieved doing anything else musically.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.