Business Courier spotlights two retired pilots studying at CCM

Janelle Gelfand writes about two pilots who traded their captain's seats for piano and organ benches

James Cannon, a pianist, and Bert Nelson, an organist, are not the typical music students you would find walking the halls at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. Both are retired airline pilots with distinguished careers in the military who are currently taking graduate-level classes in keyboard studies at CCM.

Janelle Gelfand featured Cannon and Nelson in the Cincinnati Business Courier, speaking to the keyboardists as well as their CCM professors about their studies. “Whether commanding commercial airliners or flying loops, rolls or the ‘Diamond Pass In Review’ with the Thunderbirds, both are awe-inspiring,” Gelfand wrote. “But what they are accomplishing now is a different kind of challenge.”

Two men sit at a piano bench

James Cannon, left, and Bert Nelson are retired airline pilots who are now studying keyboard performance programs at CCM. Photo/Mikki Schaffner for ACBJ

Nelson isn’t enrolled in a CCM degree program, but he currently takes graduate-level classes in organ performance with CCM Professor Michael Unger. Cannon began taking piano lessons through CCM Preparatory and Community Engagement in 2015. In 2018, he enrolled in CCM’s Master of Music program to study piano performance with CCM Professor Dror Biran.

“The life experience of these two pilots sets an example for students who are often stressed about winning competitions and auditions before they turn 30,” Unger told Gelfand. “What a gift for the 19- and 20-year-olds to see that we’re all in this together, we’re all learning together. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 19-year-old or someone in your 60s.”

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