Farouk Wael

Wael Farouk will perform at First United Methodist Church on Feb. 24.

Egyptian born Wael Farouk knows that without God intervening in his life, he would have accomplished nothing.

Born with shortened ligaments in his hands, Farouk struggled to straighten his fingers, make a fist, fasten buttons on his shirt or grasp his toys with his hands.

After his doctor urged Farouk’s father to help him exercise his fingers, his father bought a toy piano for his third birthday. His love of music began that day.

By age 5, Farouk was playing piano in various Coptic churches throughout Cairo, even giving a performance for the Coptic pope, an achievement that would have been impossible without his parents’ sacrifice and dedication. His family was of modest means and sacrificed summer vacations to purchase piano scores and allow him precious hours to practice.

“My parents were an amazing factor,” he said. “Knowing nothing about classical music, especially in a climate where this kind of music is a foreign language, but still they were incredibly supportive all the way. I was also very blessed to have great teachers at the Cairo Conservatory, Russian teachers from the Golden Ear of Piano Teaching. Truly the best piano schooling in the world was available for me in my hometown, and for free.”

Now a professor in charge of Carthage College’s keyboard studies program, Farouk oversees the Carthage Arts Academy and is on the faculty of the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. He frequently judges competitions and delivers master classes as well as travels around the world giving concerts.

He holds degrees in piano performance from Rutgers University (Doctor of Musical Arts, with Daniel Epstein), Chicago College of Performing Arts (Artist Diploma, with Solomon Mikowsky), Manhattan School of Music (Professional Studies Diploma, with Solomon Mikowsky), Converse College (Master of Music, with Douglas Weeks), Catholic University of America (Fulbright Fellowship, with Marilyn Neeley), and the Cairo Conservatory (Bachelor of Music, with Samir Aziz, Edgar Davelienadze and Vselod Demidov, a pupil of the legendary Heinrich Neuhaus).

Overcame limitations

Though he was often told that his condition would limit his ability on the piano, Farouk was the first pianist in history to perform all 98 of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s solo piano compositions within six months.

It’s an admirable feat, since the 6-foot 6-inch Rachmaninoff had a reach that could span an octave and a half, where Farouk stood just 5 feet tall and his fingers could barely reach an octave.

After years of practice, Farouk stretched his reach and perfected his technique enough to master the compositions.

“I feel and I know for a fact that God has been and is still intervening in our lives, which we are very thankful for,” he said, adding, “But on a more practical aspect, if one practices correctly and enough, which usually means a lifetime, then anything is possible. This is certainly true for the music of Rachmaninoff, but also for any other composer.”

Local performance set

On Sunday, Feb. 24, Farouk will perform an all-Russian program at First United Methodist Church as part of its Fine Arts at First Concert Series.

The Carthage College professor will be playing Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Sonata No. 2” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

According to Jessica DeBoer, the Fine Arts Series director, asking Farouk to participate in the series was a “no-brainer,” as she has worked with him on several occasions.

“I play viola in the Racine Symphony and he played a Chopin piano concerto with us in October 2017; and in October 2018 he played Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto with the Kenosha Symphony, where I am also a violist … Both concerts were so amazing,” she said.

“I try with Fine Arts at First to have a mix of local and regional artists and groups perform,” she said. “We are so blessed to have him in the area, and I was so grateful that he agreed to come perform.”

Enjoys religious music

Though mastering Rachmaninoff is one of Farouk’s greatest accomplishments, especially Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3,” considered one of the most technically challenging pieces ever composed, he still enjoys playing Christian music in church when he has the time.

“I enjoy hymns by Bach and Mendelssohn for sure. I played for our church in Chicago for many years,” he said. He and his wife of 11½ years, Amy, and their two children, Nabiela, 4, and William, 20 months, belong to Bethany Lutheran Church.

“My parents in Egypt were Coptic Christians and when I met Amy, I better understood what the Presbyterian faith is. We both attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. However, now, since the closest OPC is about 50 minutes away, we attend Bethany,” he said.

Because Farouk and his wife come from strong Christian homes, they have a keen understanding as to how much faith sustains and empowers them in their everyday life.

“Without faith we have nothing, as Bach used to sign all of his compositions, ‘All for the Glory of God,’” he explained.

“I am ever thankful and grateful for the gift of music. I have always believed it is the voice of God. What I can say is that I have always felt and thought that way of music... the deeper our faith grows, the more our understanding and commitment also grows.

“I can say that I have always respected music in the same way and tried to do my absolute best to relate to it personally and to present it to the best of my ability, since I have to make whatever I do worthy of God’s name,” he said.

If you go

Who: Dr. Wael Farouk, pianist

What: Fine Arts at First concert

Where: First United Methodist Church, 919 60th St.

When: Sunday, Feb. 24, 3 p.m.

Admission: No charge; a free-will offering will be taken to defray costs.