What do you do for LPIE and how long have you been doing it?
I am a pianist/accompanist with the Acalanes High School choral program. I work as a rehearsal pianist in classes with all four of the choirs under the direction of Bruce Lengacher, and perform in the choral concerts throughout the school year. Basically I help the kids learn their pitches and then present the finished (or nearly-finished) product to a live audience. Bruce and I have been working together at Acalanes for 15 years! Bruce has tremendous enthusiasm for his craft and it has been really rewarding to watch him grow as an educator.
Tell us about your background and experience in this area.
I've been playing piano since I was seven years old. Growing up in Sacramento, I had the good fortune of working with Frank Wasko, a piano teacher and professor at CSU Sacramento, where my parents were professors of anthropology. During my junior and senior years of high school, I audited music classes at CSUS and worked with Dr. Wasko's piano studio. This was a tremendous opportunity and privilege as a budding pianist, and I will always be thankful for it. My love for music was really cemented during my years at Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, which has several terrific piano studios as well as a great orchestra, opera program, organ faculty, early music, and jazz studies. It was amazing to be around so many talented musicians in many different genres and specialties, all gathered together in a tiny little Ohio town. After Oberlin I moved to the Bay Area and won a position as principal pianist with the Santa Rosa Symphony, which has done a number of great choral collaborations over the years. Over the years I have worked for many Bay Area choral organizations including Piedmont Children's Choirs, Pacific Edge Voices, the Oakland Symphony Chorus, and WomenSing. I also really honed my accompanist chops working with James Toland's voice studio. The Bay Area is truly a terrific place to be a working musician, with such an active scene and many wonderful performance venues, large and small.
What is your favorite thing about working with this age group?
I really enjoy working with teenagers - they are like pint-sized adults, with a tremendous amount of childlike energy and enthusiasm and no small amount of musical talent and ability. On occasion, I get to see a few of the more mature ones follow a path into music and education after they graduate from Acalanes. In the past couple of years for instance, I've seen kids go to my alma mater Oberlin College, to Sonoma State for education (future kindergarten teacher), and to University of the Pacific for music therapy. This is especially gratifying to see and I always love to keep in touch with these kids as they move into adulthood and progress to college and beyond.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve found about teaching this age group?
It is amazing (and a bit terrifying) to realize what a huge impact you can have on teens. Small things I've said and long-since forgotten will turn out to have a huge influence on kids who have since grown up and followed their own path into adulthood. I told a Piedmont chorister to listen to a particular composer as I thought she might really enjoy his music. Ten years later I ran into her and she told me she'd collected nearly every recording and had become quite a devotee of this particular artist. Now that I myself am a parent and have small children of my own, this is a lesson I really need to heed well - the smallest thing you say can have tremendous impact. Choose your words and actions wisely! It's also surprising when that quiet kid in choir turns out to be the big voice and huge presence on stage - every year-end pops showcase has a few of those moments for me, and they are very happy surprises!
If you were stranded on a deserted island, which piece of music would you take with you to listen to?
This is an impossible question as there are many masterpieces of music in every conceivable genre. A steady diet of Bach, Charles Mingus, Maurice Ravel and Frank Zappa would no doubt keep me occupied for years. But if I had to pick one piece only, it would have to be the famous non-piece, "4:33" by John Cage. Which is to say, I'd be listening intently to the waves and wind and palms and sands of that desert island and finding what music there is in the world around me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What spare time? I did mention I'm a parent with small children, right? If I'm not performing somewhere, I'm usually playing basketball with my son. But the few times I do manage to carve out some time for myself, I love to go bicycling, hiking, and to follow the amazing exploits and accomplishments of the SF Giants and the Golden State Warriors. But in truth, all these things are even better when I can do them with my children Kai & Stella, and my lovely wife Becca.