I was born in Houston, Texas and stayed there until the age of eight, after which the family began a series of migrations. My sister and I typically indicate dates by cities—Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Bloomington, Indianapolis, Denver, Minneapolis—and not years like ordinary people. Eventually I was able to stop moving about, but only when I was able to strike out on my own. We were southerners on the maternal side, prairie folks from the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles on the paternal side.
Nowadays I live happily in San Francisco, California where I qualify as an honorary native, having been here since 1975.
Beginning in Music
My parents bought a secondhand Gulbransen spinet piano in 1958, ostensibly for my sister, together with arranging for her piano lessons which were to be delivered by a rather defeated-looking gentleman who came to the house. She had only a modest ear and very little interest in playing the piano, and her progress was minimal.
I, on the other hand, figured out the thing immediately and began playing happily, entirely by ear, much to everybody's amazement—given that musical talent wasn't common in our family. Thus it was that the two of us started taking piano lessons with a much better piano teacher, the sort you had to travel to. I understand the deal with this new teacher was simple: you can have the little boy (I was four years old) but you have to take his big sister, too. The teacher agreed readily; I must have been pretty hot stuff, at least for suburban Houston in the late 1950s.
No matter what our familial vicissitudes over the years—and there were many—I generally had a piano and a teacher to keep me going, apart from a few interruptions here and there. By the time I was in junior high school I qualified to work with the better teachers in our current city. That included Dorothea Seamann in Denver (another of whose students was Condoleeza Rice), Max Lanner in Denver, and Bernhard Weiser in Minneapolis.
I played in a few competitions and generally acquitted myself well enough, but my heart wasn't really in them; I was never the kind of artist who needs to "win" things.
Almost as important in the scheme of things, I was an enthusiastic theater person who loved writing music for plays. My very first newspaper mention came from my composing the score to our ninth-grade production of "The Hobbit"; later, I was to write music or at least assemble the scores for several more productions, including a lavish old-time melodrama during my senior year in high school.
I had set my goal on entering one of the big conservatories as a piano major, and I made it when I was accepted to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Like most entering freshmen, I had wanted to study with Leon Fleisher, but I was assigned instead to Elizabeth Katzenellenbogen, who wound up giving me solid and long-lasting training that has sustained me ever since. Once she and I had done our work, I transferred to the fine scholar-pianist Konrad Wolff, with whom I studied for a fairly short but intense time.
I wasn't altogether happy at Peabody; once I had begun to develop as a musician I realized that Peabody's strengths weren't altogether in synch with my needs. So I transferred to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I found the teachers—Beatrice Beauregard, Nathan Schwartz, Laurette Goldberg, and Sol Joseph—that I needed, and stayed on to complete my Master's degree.
In fact, I have stayed on ever since.
I'm currently employed three colleges and work as an independent contractor for several orchestras. My primary employer is listed first:
- San Francisco Conservatory of Music
1978 - present
Chair, Department of Musicianship and Music Theory
- University of California, Berkeley
1990 - present
Instructor, Music 27 - Introduction to Music
- San Francisco Symphony
2005 - present
Contributing Writer and "Inside Music" Lecturer
- Fromm Institute, University of San Francisco (USF)
2011 - present
Professor of Music
- Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra
2015 - present
- New Hampshire Music Festival
2014 - present
- California Symphony
2013 - present
- Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
2010 - 2012
Program Annotator and Scholar in Residence (but still writing program notes for the PBO)
Performer and Pianist
I've been playing concerts since I was a little kid. Over the years, I've given hundreds of recitals, and worked at any number of various performance-oriented jobs. Here are just a few of them:
- First baritone in the Peabody Chamber Choir, directed by Gregg Smith
- Rehearsal accompanist for the Lamplighters of San Francisco (1970s)
- Studio accompanist to voice teachers Leopold Simoneau, Lenoir Hosack, Dimitri Onofrei, and Donald Stenberg
- Pianist with the "Amor Musica" chamber players, made up of players from the SF Symphony
- Harpsichord soloist with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the Conservatory Orchestra
- Violin/Piano duo with violinist Ervin Mautner (1970s and 1980s)
- Pianist for Chamber Music West at the SF Conservatory (1970s and 1980s)
- Pianist with the Chrysanthemum Ragtime Band
- Pianist on the Alaskan cruise ship S.S. Universe, every summer from about 1985-1994
- Pianist on the "Chamber Music Sundaes" series for the SF Symphony
- Accompanist to cabaret singers around the Bay Area
- Duo chamber performances with Lawrence Granger, Carolyn McIntosh, Stacey Phelps-Wenzel, Wayne Roden, Barbara Andres, and others
- Chamber music performances with Bonnie Hampton, Nathan Schwartz, Jorja Fleezanis, Mark Brandenburg, and others
- Pianist for contemporary ensembles conducted by John Adams, Barry Jekowski, Richard Felciano, and others
- Premieres of works by David Conte, David Garner, Carolyn Yarnell, Alden Jenks, and others
- Rehearsal and occasional concert accompanist for men's vocal group Chanticleer
- Solo recitals covering repertory from Baroque to modern
I've been teaching steadily since I was a teenager so it's hardly surprising that teaching would make up the bulk of my working time. It's something I love to do, and something I think I do quite well. I'm not teaching to make a living or support a composition habit; it isn't a fallback position. For me, teaching is front and central, my primary purpose in life and the one activity that gives me the most satisfaction and pride.
I taught studio piano lessons for years, as a member of the Preparatory and Adult Extension divisions at SFCM. I don't do that any more; piano lessons are a minuscule part of my weekly work. However, I did teach an awful lot of folks in my day. Among my early piano students were Aaron Jay Kernis—just a student then and not a Pulitzer Prize composer, the duo-piano team of Tony & Kathy Angelo, singer and teacher Wendy Hillhouse, and several other folks who are now my colleagues. And lots of nice kids and adults.
It is as a classroom teacher and lecturer, however, that I feel most comfortable and useful. I have taught Musicianship and Music Theory at the SF Conservatory for a good 30 years now; I specialize in Schenkerian analysis, Keyboard Harmony (figured bass, transposition, score-reading, and the like) and general formal analysis, in addition to the core curriculum courses in basic theory and eartraining. I have acquired considerable experience lecturing on music to interested adults, via a series of classes at UC Extension in San Francisco and teaching in the Fall Freshman Program at UC Berkeley. I'm a music history wonk and love nothing better than to research music history and pass on the results of that research to others. Thus lecturing at the San Francisco Symphony, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and USF's Fromm Institute comes naturally for me, and takes up a significant chunk of my time and emotional energy.
The writing schtick came about indirectly. I had been writing for myself, as well as carrying on lengthy correspondences with others, for years. Finally a colleague suggested I start writing for publication and introduced me to an editor at the San Francisco Symphony, where I'm now honored to be listed as a Contributing Writer. I've been enjoying a secondary career as a writer ever since. I even spent a year writing a blog on classical music for Examiner.com. The time required proved to be problematic so I had to stop the project, but I enjoyed it immensely while it lasted.
As of 2010 I have been invited to join San Francisco's superb Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra as Program Annotator and Scholar in Residence, in which capacity I am writing all of the season's program notes, giving a number of the pre-concert lectures, and serving in an advisory capacity.
I have been teaching non-musicians about the glories of music for a long time—first at UC Extension here in San Francisco, then via my Music 27 class for Cal's Fall Freshman Program. That led rather easily to my becoming a pre-concert lecturer for the San Francisco Symphony and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and from that I have also added other venues such as USF's wonderful Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning, for which I'm only to happen to spout forth on just about any topic they care to name.
In late 2009 I was approached by San Francisco's Museum of Performance & Design to serve as guest curator for a lobby exhibit on Puccini's La Fanciulla del West for the San Francisco Opera. Although I had never done anything of that kind before, I quickly discovered that I loved it, and more importantly, had a knack for it. The exhibit has been quite successful, and as a result I designed another exhibit, on Zandra Rhodes' designs for Aïda. That may have been a short-lived venture, however; lobby exhibits at the SF Opera are on hold for the foreseeable future, and even more disturbing, the Museum of Performance & Design is in difficulties.
I have written a fair amount of software, including the eartraining applications we use at the SF Conservatory, the Kapelle series. For a while, the Conservatory was also using software I had designed to maintain our student records, although I'm relieved to say that nowadays they're using much more robust stuff. I'm not doing any application programming these days, but at some point I do intend to get up to speed on Mac OS X programming practices.
I rather enjoy designing and implementing websites, including the one you're reading at the present. In addition to this one, I've also designed the site for my department at SFCM, and the site for the new music group Ensemble Parallèle.