Edmonton pianist finds way to play despite spinal cord injury

For Riccardo Baldini, 29, the piano has always been there for him. He started playing when he was five years old and remembers he learned how to read notes before letters.

“I like to say that music is my first language.”

Over the years he fostered a love for classical music. He’s poured countless hours into studying and learning pieces. In just a few days, Baldini will be on an Edmonton stage for the first time in years, but it’s taken a lot to get to this point.

“Music has been with me all my life. I grew up with it. I was always practicing… It’s just a way for me to connect to these great human beings of the past.”

He never imagined that something so crucial to his soul could be lost, but one morning in 2019, he woke up and his world changed.

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“It was an out-of-the-blue thing,” Baldini said.

“I was 25 at the time when I got injured and I was healthy (during) the day… I went to sleep and something happened in my spinal cord and overnight I just woke up paralyzed.”

Baldini is paralyzed from the chest down. He has been using a wheelchair since 2019. He struggled with everything, including his passion. He couldn’t press the pedals on the piano, and had difficulty playing the keys.

“When I first got injured I was absolutely not in my mind… I had to focus on not going crazy. After a while I just started to wonder what I could do to just make the best of what I got.”

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As Baldini said, music is his first language and he wasn’t ready to be silenced. He tried right away to get back to playing the piano.

“I was really sad, and when I first played after the injury, it was a few weeks after I got injured, and you just realize what it is now, and it’s so fresh from what it was before,” Baldini said.

“I lost so much, this is crazy. It doesn’t work, you’re in pain. I couldn’t play more than five minutes because my core didn’t work at all. I was so tired all the time and that was terrible.”

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“I was also very sad because the pedal was not an option anymore. I looked through the internet for a solution… There’s one thing out of Germany, but I tried it and didn’t really like it. Plus it’s custom-made for the piano so you can’t really move it around.”

So Baldini decided he needed to find a way to play, and with a friend, built a pedal pusher device using his mouth.

“It’s working, it’s great and it’s movable.

“I am already thinking of commercializing it because it’s great… I want to see kids (living with a disability) playing with it.”

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Baldini is getting ready to use it in front of a live audience. It will be his first performance since his injury.

“It’s amazing. I really can’t wait to play and I’m also scared,” Baldini said.

Baldini will be joined on stage by Alberta Symphony musical director Emilio De Marcato. The pair will each have a solo but will also play together. De Marcato will be pressing the pedals. The show is titled “1-Piano 4-hands”.

De Mercato said he is proud of Baldini to be willing to play the piano again.

“I was by his side and went through this tough time in life and it’s amazing to see a great man with great strength and resilience. It’s really exciting to see this progress,” De Marcato said.

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“Once we are on stage it will be focused on a great performance and there will be time for tears and hugs backstage. I’m sure this will be a memorable time and I’m looking forward to many more to come.”

“Come to see something you have never seen before and to be inspired by Riccardo.”

While others may be inspired by Baldini, he will be inspired by, once again, being able to connect to people through music.

“There is this beautiful sharing of emotion and something through music and you feel that all through the audience. When that moment happens… that is why I like to perform.”

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