The hands of 45-year-old Robert Sottile skim over the piano keys with the elegance of a performer accustomed to the stage.
It is just after noon on a recent day as Sottile -- he’s played for choirs led by Grammy Award-winning conductor Donald Nally at performance halls both in the U.S. and Europe -- takes a break from his new student orientation at the UNLV School of Medicine to relax at the keyboard.
“The Way It Is,” a song by the American musical group Bruce Hornsby and the Range, fills the school of medicine’s lobby on Shadow Lane. No longer does Sottile play the challenging classical repertoire of Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven -- pieces he would frequently practice as much as eight hours a day.
After finishing one of the song’s piano solos, Sottile explains that repetitive stress injuries to his hands, the same kind of tendon injuries which brought misery to pianists as accomplished as Leon Fleisher, Rachmaninoff and Glen Gould, derailed his performance career.
“I can play OK today as long as I don’t play too much,” says Sottile, who expects in the not too distant future to use his hands to suture. “I play today to relax.”
Sottile’s decision to enter medical school did not come soon after he experienced the aching, tenderness, tingling and soreness that made the mere lifting of a book painful. In fact, he would spend the better part of two decades in either computer or home improvement store management, the last 10 years at a Lowe’s outlet in Henderson.
“I was making good money and Lowe’s was prepared to promote me again to a very good paying district manager position,” says Sottile, who had been transferred by Lowe’s from Pennsylvania to Nevada. “I got the call from them for the new position in 2014 -- a call I had long been waiting for -- when I realized I didn’t want to do it. I realized it didn’t match who I am.”
He was 40-years-old then, a piano performance graduate of Westchester University of Pennsylvania who had transformed himself into a well-paid businessman.