Retired weatherman, now the piano man

Rick Penner has been volunteering his time to put on a musical gift series at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery for over five years.

Gallery curator Susan Holland recalled the program being Penner's idea.

"I think he came to me and suggested that he would like to do a couple of concerts and use the beautiful grand piano that we have, and it was so well-received that we kept it going," Holland said.

"It’s a lovely thing to do: to come in and listen to some music, and spend an hour just hearing stories about composers... It’s a great program because there’s no charge, so it’s available to everybody. And regardless of your age or your personal musical preferences, you can really enjoy one of these concerts."

For Penner, it's a way to keep busy upon his retirement from being a weatherman.

“I do it because, well, obviously I like music. But what I’m doing in a sense (is), I’m retired, so this is my hobby."

This year's series is meant to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary, with all songs by Canadian artists.

Penner started off the year with Canadian love songs on the morning of Feb. 10. The event marked his 54th show, he said.

Orland French is a frequent musical gift series concert-goer and was there in the audience that day.

“It’s a nice way to pass a Friday morning," he said.

French likes the concerts because of the way Penner tells stories about the songs he plays.

“I just like the presentations he makes where you’re learning something about the music," French said.

Penner said he prepares for his concerts by selecting an artist, composer, or theme and researching them. Sometimes he will also find guest musicians to join him. From there he finds songs to play and facts to deliver.

“I discovered, on the Internet, you can find so much. It’s all there. The Internet’s the greatest thing in the world. You can hear all these songs. So, I just enjoy discovering all these things," he said.

However, his preparations only go so far when it comes to the event itself.

“I just come in and it’s off the top of my head," Penner said. "I never know what I’m going to say next. If I were to do the same concert twice it would be totally different. Some people prepare with notes and stuff, but I don’t like that because it takes away from my own spontaneity."

And the man has no stage fright.

“I’m too old to be nervous," Penner said.

His spontaneous techniques seem to be working. Holland said the event attracts anywhere from 30 to 60 people each time.

“It’s gone on for over five years and the seats are full pretty much every time. And we’ve often had to bring in more chairs," she said.

Penner said as long as people keep coming, he'll keep playing.

“That’s what keeps me going. If nobody comes, then I’m not going to do another one. That would be the end of it, which is kind of sad."

Future series dates: March 10: Canadian Men April 14: Canadian Women May 12: The Music and Wisdom of Buffy Ste. Marie

*Each concert goes from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and takes place in the John M. Parrott Art Gallery. Refreshments provided at no charge.*

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