LONE ROCK – Julie Bachman doesn’t have to travel across the country to experience the melodic sounds found in places like Carnegie Hall.
One night a week during the depths of Montana winter, she only has to settle in on one of the blue plastic chairs in Lone Rock Middle School’s choir room and close her eyes.
On an old school piano more likely to play Chop Sticks than Liszt, Arthur Kostuk's fingers begin to dance across the keys and the room fills with works of Beethoven or Bach or Schoenberg.
That moment can be transformative for some.
“When I shut my eyes, I feel like I’m in Carnegie Hall and listening to a prestigious pianist,” Bachman said. “It’s like his fingers are melded to the keys. It’s an amazing thing to have a world-renowned pianist willing to come to our tiny little community and let us all enjoy his amazing talent.”
Once known as the “silver bullet'’ because his fingers moved at amazing speeds, the 68-year-old Kostuk has been teaching a course at Lone Rock’s Adult Education program for the past three or four years.
In between snippets of concertos of classical music, Kostuk offers insights into the rich history of the piece and the composers who created them.
“When we hear a piece, it’s really a soul speaking,” Kostuk told his Wednesday night class. “It’s telling us something about what’s happening at the time from the composer’s point of view.”
As a child growing up in Long Island, some of Kostuk’s earliest memories are of his grandfather coming for a visit and playing the family’s piano. His mother was a ballet dancer, his father a cartoonist who knew New York City like the back his hand.
“I can’t draw a thing and never could dance,” Kostuk said from the Corvallis home he shares with his wife, Cheryl Zweigart. “I wanted to be more like Dennis the Menace when I was young and build robots and other odds and ends. But music was always in my blood … I think I inherited my talents from my grandfather. He was a fantastic pianist.”
Music took hold of Kostuk’s life when he was 13. He then studied with Fulbright scholars and at the University of Vienna and in Salzburg, Austria. His career took hold after winning first place at the international Israel Piano Competition. From there, he hired an agent and began playing in concert halls in places like New York, Boston, Montreal, Seattle and St. Louis.
Today, he shares his talents in smaller settings nearer to his Bitterroot Valley home. In June, he’ll celebrate his 200th piano recital on June 29th with a little birthday cake on the side.
“This year I also celebrate my 50th year of playing piano seriously,” Kostuk said. “If I don’t get it right now, maybe God will give me another 50 to get it pinned down.”
Kostuk said he was intrigued when he first read about the adult education classes being offered at Lone Rock.
“One day I just called up the person in charge,” he said. “I thought it would be something that I would enjoy doing and hoped that I would meet some interesting people along the way. Both of those things have come true.
“People tell me they have a good time and I hope that I leave them with some knowledge that they didn’t have before,” Kostuk said.
A fellow professional musician and Bitterroot resident, Elliott Oppenheim, attended Kostuk’s class this past week.
“There are many fine instrumentalists and pianists in the Bitterroot Valley, but there is only one Arthur Kostuk,” Oppenheim said. “Arthur is a musical treasure.
"We are fortunate to have this opportunity. How many people can talk for 90 minutes about Schoenberg and Bach and Beethoven and Brahms and Bernstein and Liszt in one breath and then play pieces from memory.”
Oppenheim said Lone Rock School’s Adult Education program is both admirable and ambitious.
“The school district enriches the community,” he said.
Bachman said that’s the goal of the program.
“Considering that we’re off the beaten path, I think that we do really well,” she said. “We have people now coming from Lolo and Missoula to take advantage of a new offering of line dancing. Sixty people have registered for that class.”
Overall, the program focuses on enriching the lives of people who live nearby.
“We want to be able to give them things to do that don’t cost a lot of money,” Bachman said. “We want to offer them something that educates while having fun at the same time.”
Kostuk’s willingness to share his knowledge is a perfect example of that.
“Arthur is an amazing man who is also very humble,” she said. “There aren’t words to describe his talent … and it’s not just his piano playing that brings people in. The things he says hit you right in the heart. He has a lot of wisdom to share.
“People absolutely love being part of his class,” Bachman said. “We just love Arthur. If he wasn’t part of our adult education courses, something would be missing. He is such an interesting person who has lived such an interesting life.”