Making music in the dark has been a constant for New Age pianist Kevin Kern, who was born with limited eyesight and can see colors and shapes but not details. Since childhood he has often found creative refuge in dimly lit rooms, away from the bewildering blurs of the visual world.
"I do some of my best composing in the dark," said Kern, 48, who will play his ethereal music this Wednesday and Thursday at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. "When I want to get right into the center of the musical experience, I will sit in a room that's dark so that I'm not distracted by a world that I don't always understand."
Kern, whose music has been described as "a romantic New Age mixture of jazz and classical," has sold more than a million records worldwide. His In the Enchanted Garden was the hottest album on the Billboard charts for 26 weeks, and he is especially popular in Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. "People in Asia seem to have a more reflective, meditative disposition and my music seems to fit that," said Kern, who was interviewed by phone on Monday at his hotel in Seoul.
Taipei audiences can expect him to stick to a translated set list for his concerts here, when he will be accompanied by guitarist Steve Erquiaga. In addition to tracks from his latest album, Imagination's Light, the list includes For You I Would (我愿你), a local favorite, as well as Sundial Dreams and Through the Arbor.
He will also play Return to Love, which put him on the charts in Asia after it was chosen for the South Korean drama Autumn in My Heart, known in Chinese as Endless Love (藍色生死戀) or Autumn Fairy Tale (秋天的童話).
"I wanted this concert to have a mix of my best-known pieces from my older albums, along with a generous selection from my most recent records," Kern wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.
Being blind isn't always easy. Kern likens his condition to watching a television set with the contrast dialed down. But when asked in Singapore if he would trade his musical success for better vision, he recalls saying: "being blind can be an expensive annoyance, but being a musician is a once-in-a-lifetime great thing."
Kern grew up in Detroit, Michigan. When he was 18 months old his family was surprised to hear what sounded like Silent Night coming from the piano in the living room. They found him there alone in the dark, hands stretched above his head to reach the keys.
To foster his talent, Kern's parents appropriated a high chair for the piano, hired a succession of tutors and made every effort to expose him to the best jazz and classical music. On one such occasion he met blind jazz pianist George Shearing, who afterward frequently stayed with the family when he was in town for a gig.
"George was the person who very effectively conveyed the message that if you worked hard enough and had talent and opportunity, the mere fact that you had a visual problem in and of itself would not deprive you of all of life's opportunities," Kern said.
Shearing's example also had a practical influence. "He could make an audience sit on its seat, and I studied that aspect intently for years," Kern said. "To the extent that my piano playing has a rich singing tone, I feel that I got my appreciation for (that) from listening to George Shearing play."
After earning a master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, Kern played in the Boston area for several years before moving to San Francisco in 1990. There, he played in restaurants and hotels until he was discovered by Terence Yallop in 1993. The record executive is partially responsible for one of this tour's highlights, A Million Stars (from album The Winding Path), which Kern improvised after Yallop asked him to "play the sky."