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10:51 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

Musician couple brings their romance to the stage

They have been married for 12 years, which Henry said "isn't long enough."

He began playing the piano at a very young age, and said his father has been a choir director since he can remember. His father also played the tuba and string bass.

Henry's parents told their children they must all study the piano until they were in the 7th grade, and his sister chose to continue through high school. His brother quit in the 7th grade, and Henry was left without a choice.

"They said I couldn't quit because I had too much talent," he recalls.

Henry went to high school at the New Orleans Center for Arts and earned degrees in music composition and electrical engineering from Northwestern University in Illinois.

When Henry graduated from college, he said he "felt (he) didn't have the patience to be a composer," so he spent the early years in his professional life helping to produce multimedia CD-ROMS for MediaStation, which he co-founded.

In 1993, he spent eight months working on a time- consuming project that consisted of creating the programs for about 25 CD-ROMS, and realized that the project "took patience and time," and he knew he had the patience to compose music.

"I knew I had to go back to where my soul was," Henry said, so he began studying the piano privately. He then formally studied and composed music, and started working only half-time for MediaStation.

He studied with Marianne Ploger, who is a protégée of Nadia Boulanger, and has composed many works for piano and various ensembles. The Louisiana Philharmonic premiered his "Fanfare for My City" in 2000, and has had premieres by the Kennesaw State University Wind Ensemble and the Atlanta Wind Symphony.

Henry now spends time performing with his wife in their duo called "Sticks and Tones," conducts two choirs and teaches piano.

Henry said people always told him it's best to not teach his own children, but discovered he wanted to so he could teach his two children composition and improvisation. He took formal training to learn to become a Suzuki teacher.

"The way the Suzuki method is different from others," Henry explains, is that Suzuki "involves the parents when it comes to lessons and practicing with the child."

Oftentimes, when a child attends piano lessons, the experience might be "boring, confusing and lonely" because they practice and play by themselves.

"When you get the parents involved, it's more enjoyable for the child," Henry added. "Then they learn that music is something to love, not something to dread."

Henry's brother chose the name of the duo, and Henry said it came from "sticks, as in percussion, and tones, as in the piano."

Maria also has an extensive background in music, and has been a percussionist most of her life. She played the clarinet and piano when she was a little girl, and when she was in junior high, she saw a friend of hers play the marimbas in a college recital and decided that's what she wanted to play.

She studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy and received degrees in music performance and music education from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University.

Maria then went to study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to earn a master's degree. She began free-lancing in the greater Detroit area, and has performed in the percussion section of the Detroit Symphony and as a timpanist with the Michigan Opera Theater.

Next year will be Maria's 15th season with the Flint Symphony, where she currently holds the timpani chair. She also spent seven years in a band called "Harpbeat."

In the Flurrys' music room at their home are two beautiful pianos and dozens of drums. What might seem unique to anyone else is the collection of drums Maria has.

"When you're a percussionist, you have to play anything," she said, "including the kitchen sink."

She has a Dumbek Drum from the Middle East that she uses to play folk and world music, and a wooden spoon instrument called "cat paws." Also in her collection is an Irish drum called a Boudhran.

While Maria can play many different types of percussion instruments, she said "there is always something new to learn." She is currently learning to play a drum from Brazil called a Birim Bao, and Henry said "(that drum) is one of her many life lessons waiting to happen."

Maria gets many of her instruments from art fairs and music festivals, and said that "with the whole world music explosion, there's a lot more music from Latin and Africa and the Middle East."

Maria said she loves to be able to play so many percussion instruments, and it's like "being an artist and having all the colors at your fingertips."

The Flurrys' play locally at schools, libraries and churches, and their stage presence makes it apparent that they have a wonderful time performing music together.

The most enjoyable part of playing the piano for Henry is to improvise, which he explained as "making up music on the fly," and, Maria added, "it's playing by ear and dressing it up and changing it around a little bit."

At one point, Henry injured his hands and learned to play again without hurting them. He said from that point on, he "experienced the sense of the music just flowing out of my fingers."

Maria added, "it's a connection of mind, hand and heart."

The Flurrys' combine a mixture of music, and a lot of what they play is children's music for audiences made up of children.

"We play music for children, but it's not hokey- pokey," Maria said. "We're classically trained so we also do some classical music."

They add unique touches to their music, such as singing in other languages and using sign language to communicate to kids who cannot hear.

While the Flurrys do not always have the same musical opinions, they said when they do disagree that "it's a learning experience."

Maria said she enjoys every moment she spends practicing and performing with her husband, and "there's nothing else like it."