Listen to Episode 73: Apple Podcasts – Spotify – Stitcher – Soundcloud

As a collaborative pianist, I’m stoked by opportunities to experiment, adapt, and communicate with all kinds of people, connecting musicians, performers, and audiences as they experience music together.

My musical training required countless hours spent studying scales and scores in isolated rooms where my only companions were pianos and metronomes. This solitary time was meant to prepare me for moments on stage, performing sonatas, etudes, and concertos in competitions that were intended to set me on a concert pianist’s career. Like many “serious” pianists, I found that I wasn’t well-suited to life as a professional soloist; I did, however, find great meaning in applying my skills as a solo pianist to collaborative music-making and teaching.

Working WITH all kinds of people sets me down paths a concert hall career couldn’t have. I’ve worked as a church music director, a dueling pianist, an audition accompanist, a Billy Joel impersonator, and a musician for weddings and funerals. I’ve played restaurants, coffee shops, bars, assisted living centers, hospitals, living rooms, live-feeds, and drag & burlesque shows. I love playing places where people are close, comfortable, and connected—places where community is created, even if (and sometimes, just because) it’s ephemeral.

I’m currently working for Ballet West, where I’m the company pianist. One of my duties includes playing for the Company’s daily technique and warm-up class, one of the loveliest things I think a person can experience. T.h.a.t is a space where everyone in the room is completely focused on a single creative
task: a series of dance combinations given by the teacher at the front of the room. As the pianist, I often don’t know what tune I will be playing, what the meter and rhythmic drive and overall “mood” of the dance movements will be, or how I’m going to adapt and improvise on the tune I select. The dancers often don’t know the exact combination the teacher is going to give. We’re all listening intently to the teacher, memorizing what they’re giving us, and then doing it, unrehearsed, watching and listening to one another. AND WE’RE DOING IT ALL TOGETHER, IN REAL TIME. Talk about communal experience! It’s incredibly personal, incredibly collaborative, and deeply spiritual.

In re-examining my definition of professional success as a musician, I’ve learned to welcome experimentation, adaption, communication, and collaboration as the expansive tools that facilitate communion in performance instead of isolating performing artists, their colleagues, and their audiences. Success isn’t a solitary adaptation—it’s a communal achievement. That’s an idea I want to share.