THE NORTBROOK TOWER
By ALAN P. HENRY Freelance Reporter
Mark Damisch’s dream is a simple one.
All he wants to do is leave the world a little better than he found it.
To that end, the 63-year old former Northbrook Village president recently returned from his 24th classic piano concert tour in 45 years in 70 countries around the world, this time around performing 22 concerts in 32 days in 13 countries throughout the Middle East and Europe.
On this tour, he wrapped up with a performance for the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul.
In 1975, Damisch wrote in his first tour program: “Our prayer is that people everywhere will learn from each other’s differences, heal each other’s wounds, promote each other’s progress and benefit from each others’ mistakes.”
He still means it.
“That quote has kind of defined everything that followed,” he said. “Music is a way to be able to raise money to make things better and to bring people together who might not otherwise have been brought together.”
Throughout his life, Damisch has played exclusively for charitable causes or goodwill. Ticket sales typically go to local charitable efforts. He takes no money for performance fees and pays all of his own travel and living expenses.
The same was true when his daughters Alexandra, Katherine and Kristina performed with him when they were younger. Through their music, the family has raised well over $1 million for hundreds of nonprofit organizations worldwide, ranging from assistance for blind children in orphanages in Russia to breast cancer research to help injured U.S. troops returning from combat.
“It’s all an attempt to try to give back,” he said.
And the emotional payoff is priceless.
“When you play a concert in the Hermitage Theater in St. Petersburg to raise money for a 7-yearold boy who needs lifesaving stomach surgery and then you see that boy a year later in the ‘White House’ of Russia and he has had the surgery and he comes up on stage and gives you a hug and gives you a painting that has sunny skies and clouds with smiles on it, that’s the payoff. You were able to make a difference. I’d do that for the next 100 years if I could.”
Damisch grew up in Northfield and began studying organ at the Evanston Conservatory of Music at the age of 4
He performed his first piano concert at 7. As a teen in 1974, he toured Europe both as a pianist and also in a vocal group alongside the Vienna Boys Choir.
In his senior year at New Trier West, he traveled with the school choir to Salzburg’s Mirabell Gardens. While there, he first considered the idea of touring on his own.
The following year, he raised money by performing a concert at the Glenview Community Church, then arranged, promoted and performed concerts in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Soviet Union in furtherance of goodwill and international relations.
In 1980-81, while attending Northwestern law school, Damisch played fundraising concerts to raise money for students wishing to work in Chicago legal aid clinics.
From ages 25 to 43, he took a break from touring while serving as a criminal prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office.
He later joined his father’s personal injury law firm, which he now heads. From 1993 to 2004 he served as village president. His wife Patricia, he said, remains “the rock” of the family.
Damisch returned to the concert stage in 2000 and has been a regular there ever since, usually performing during the summer months. Along the way he has also, to a degree, conquered stage fright, with the help of Sue Young, when she was choir director at Northwood Jr. High.
“I’ve struggled with it all along,” he said. “She’s the person who said “you are the only person who doesn’t realize how good you are. Now figure it out.”