By Ann Leach

An Evening With Steven Spooner

Steven Spooner’s life as a pianist got off to a rocky start. 

“I dreaded my lessons as a child because my parents forced me to play simply because we owned a piano,” he said. “However, after my first difficult year, my teacher understood that I was about to quit, so she tried everything to get me interested. She assigned me movie themes, jazz pieces, folk songs, and nothing worked.” But then came the music of Chopin and a record of Polish pianist Arthur Rubenstein. “It is no exaggeration to say that as soon as that needle touched the vinyl, my life was forever on a different path.”

That path has included winning all seven international piano competitions he entered and top prizewinner at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition and first prize and recipient of the Niekamp Career Grant as most outstanding pianist in French music at the Paris Conservatory. In 2008, he was awarded the Ivory Classics Foundation Prize that enabled him to study Liszt with the legendary virtuoso Earl Wild. Following this, Steven underwent a period of serious self-study and emerged as one of the most comprehensively equipped pianists of our time, embracing a gargantuan repertoire of solo works and concerti by a host of diverse composers.

Spooner’s Joplin performance is one he’s eager to do. “My wife is from Springfield, so I am very familiar with the area,” he said. “And I am very excited about your new facility/concert hall and am honored to inaugurate the venue. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at the concert, and I promise this will be an event unlike others you have attended, because I will tell you all about the secret messages in the music. I hope you leave inspired.”

The Secret Agency

The Secret Agency is on a mission to find intelligence in all forms. From linguistic intelligence to emotional intelligence and from fine art to street smarts, The Secret Agency understands the value of bringing hidden intelligence to light. Their interactive hip-hop performances combine music, storytelling, dance and imagination to encourage kids to value their unique individuality and remind adults how exciting, scary and beautiful it is to be young. The performance is best for ages 7 through 14.

The band was created by Joel Sullivan, who shared some thoughts recently about the work and the performance. “I want every kid and grown up to be able to feel their own unique amazingness,” he said. “And to feel like a lightning rod for all the love and energy that is there and to feel the community. There is a lot of positivity in our lyrics, but the topics are universal enough that both kids and adults will relate to them.”

He is bringing a whole band that “have their own superpowers, and then we unleash our spell on the audience.” 

It’s a formula that earned the group a 2014 Grammy nomination and a 2017 Grammy win for best children’s recording, as well as notoriety from NPR, USA Today, TIME magazine and the Washington Post, among others.

The interactive show is founded in the hip hop culture that gets the audience up and moving from the first minute. “It’s the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are that make us who we are,” Sullivan said. “I think we have the capacity to change those stories and that it’s us together that becomes the whole story. And to do it on a stage with a microphone in your hand is very brave and a great rite of passage. Hip hop is familiar to kids and a lot more accessible than trying to play a violin. The kids relate. You can tell your kids whatever you want but what you show them is what you teach.”

Pride and Prejudice

Actor Elizabeth Belfast will perform in the Aquila Theatre’s production. She said she derives great reward from learning the audience and their responses. “At the top of every show, I listen from the wings as the audience comes alive with energy and laughter during the first scene,” she said. “The show changes throughout the tour based on your reactions and responses as we learn what moments from the story are the most impactful to you all. The energy in the room just ebbs and flows beautifully, and I can’t think of another medium that is able to create that relationship and leave that sort of lasting impact.”

From Left: Katie Housley, Leda Douglas, Jame Counihan, James Lavender, Elizabeth Belfast, Conner Keef
“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”; Desiree Sanchez, Director & Executive Artistic Director, Aquila Theater; Dress Rehearsal photographed: Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022; Glendora, California
Photograph © 2022 Richard Termine
PHOTO CREDIT– Richard Termine

It’s a process she enjoys with the entire Aquila Theatre company. “In order to tell these stories in an authentic way and diversify history, we have to really brainstorm and collaborate in every single step,” she explained. “Everyone’s voice matters in the room. We really lean on each other, and the whole group is just so supportive technically and emotionally. It is truly a blessing.”



Steven Spooner, pianist

February 10, 2023

7 p.m.

Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, Beshore Performance Hall

Tickets: Free

The Secret Agency

February 14, 2023

6 p.m.

Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, Beshore Performance Hall

Tickets: $15-$20

Aquila Theatre in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice

February 22, 2023

7 p.m.

Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, Beshore Performance Hall

Tickets: $30-$35

Call 417.501.5550 to reserve your seat or visit the box office inside the Cornell Complex.