New job!

March 2, 2014

Univ of Hartford sign

photo source:

A few weeks ago, I began working as a pianist in the Vocal Studies Division at The Hartt School, part of the University of Hartford.

Last Thursday, a voice teacher introduced me to one of his students as “our newest acquisition!”

Hartt has been, since I first set foot on campus for my interview, a friendly, welcoming place.  The students are excellent, and the faculty is consistently engaged in the students’ progress.

I love my job.

This is my bio as it will appear on Hartt’s web site, along with the photo to the left of this post:


Pianist in the Vocal Studies Division


Gretchen Saathoff was born in Springfield, Illinois and grew up in Burlington, Iowa.  She began piano lessons at age 6, and by age 12 was studying piano, organ, and voice at the University of Iowa.


Her father, a minister, trained her to collaborate in liturgical service playing from halfway across a rather large church sanctuary.  She began playing church services at age 14.  This proved to be excellent training in coordinating with a minister in the role of cantor, anticipating from a distance by using visual cues rather than sound, and leading congregational singing in the liturgy and hymns.


Thomas Dunn, then conductor of the Handel and Haydn Society, observed a chorus rehearsal for which Gretchen was accompanying during her sophomore year at SIU/Carbondale.  Following the rehearsal, Mr. Dunn suggested that she consider a career as a professional accompanist.


After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from UMass/Amherst, Gretchen worked as staff accompanist at Smith College, also commuting to New York to study with Martin Katz, the venerable accompanist and vocal coach.


She then earned a Master’s Degree with Distinction in Accompanying and Coaching at Westminster Choir College, where she continued studying with Mr. Katz, graduating first in her class.  During this time, she commuted to Philadelphia to play rehearsals for The Philadelphia Singers, directed by Michael Korn.  Additional training includes fellowships to the Aspen and Tanglewood Music Festivals, scholarships to the Alfred University Summer Chamber Music Institute, and accompanying singers in an audition class offered at The Metropolitan Opera by Joan Dornemann.


Following graduate school, Gretchen moved to New York with the goal of gaining the widest performing experience available.  She lived and worked in New York for 18 years, where she founded Kairos, a piano trio, followed by a collaboration of several years with the prominent violinist Lisa Rautenberg.


Gretchen toured the United States twice as pianist with the Norman Luboff Choir.  In addition to Mr. Luboff, she has worked with more than 75 conductors, among them Zubin Mehta, Placido Domingo, Daniel Barenboim, George Manahan, Paul Halley, Robert DeCormier, John Daly Goodwin, Amy Kaiser, Harold Rosenbaum, Joseph Flummerfelt, Greg Funfgeld, Clara Longstreth, Alan Harler, Alice Parker, and Tony Thornton.  In addition, she has worked in the studios of sought-after voice teachers such as Judith Raskin, Paul Sperry, Oren Brown, Edith Bers, and Cynthia Hoffmann.  She has collaborated with students of Joseph Fuchs, Harvey Shapiro, Richard Stolzman, Emanuel Vardi, Philipp Naegele, and Joel Krosnick.


She played rehearsals for the Brooklyn Opera, Bronx Opera, acted as House Accompanist for the Queens Opera Verdi Competition and the Oratorio Society of New York Soloist Competition, and played auditions for The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and Amato Opera.  She has played countless auditions for singers and instrumentalists in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Haven, and many other cities.


Influential teachers include Mr. Katz, Ms. Dornemann, Mr. Fuchs, Mr. Krosnick, Mr. Shapiro, and Kenneth Cooper.


In addition to her work at The Hartt School, Gretchen is Director of Music at Christ United Methodist Church in Northampton, MA, and pianist for the Hampshire College Chorus and the Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.  Her freelance activity has seen her performing with the Pioneer Valley Symphony, the Commonwealth Opera, the Valley Light Opera, the Amherst College Choirs, a variety of students and groups at UMass/Amherst, the Quabbin Valley Pro Musica, and Mak’hela, the Jewish chorus of Western Mass.


Gretchen is actively engaged in creating audience-friendly performances.  In solo recitals, she insists that the house lights be left on so audience members can read her program notes.  She has received a great deal of positive audience feedback when also providing verbal notes during her solo and chamber music concerts.


Her other interests are, among others, being outdoors; The New York Times crossword; listening to jazz, gospel, and soul; watching tennis, baseball, and old movies; and enjoying dinner out with friends.

Back to top

Repost ~ Perfect pitch and relative pitch: how do they differ?

January 31, 2014
Stamps of Germany (BRD) 1962, MiNr 380

Image via Wikipedia

New in 2014:

Please scroll down to Comment #50 for an expanded view on this topic.

Perfect pitch cannot be acquired ~ either you have it or you don’t.​  A discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of perfect (“absolute”) vs. relative pitch would be pointless, so I’m not going to go there.  Instead, this post will help clarify some of the ways in which the two types of pitch are different.

I don’t have perfect pitch, but feel fortunate to have very good relative pitch.

Someone with perfect pitch can:

  • instantly sing any pitch name​ when asked
  • always sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the original key, D Major
  • hear any music they know in the appropriate key
  • “hear” a score by looking at it, in the printed key
  • begin singing a song note-for-note with accompaniment without anyone giving the pitch in advance

A story!

In a class coached by Martin Katz, I partnered with a singer who had perfect pitch.  We were about to begin “Ach, ich fühl’s” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte when Martin whispered, “Give her the pitch!”

I chose to defy authority and ignore his directions.  We began the aria, the singer was right on, and Martin said, “Oh.”

Another story!

An organist I know also has perfect pitch.  During a wedding in which I collaborated with a singer, he proved it!  The last song before the processional was in the key of A-flat Major, transposed down from the original key.

The organist did not know what our program was, and I was as yet unaware that he had perfect pitch.  In addition, even if had known the song cycle we performed selections from, he didn’t know we were using a transposition.

Immediately following the final song’s piano postlude, I heard John playing the organ nearly imperceptibly.  He began in “our” key, in “our” dotted rhythm, modulating with a big crescendo to D Major, the key of the processional.

I was not only impressed ~ I knew I’d never be able to do that.

Yet another story!

At the wedding reception, John told me that prior to being hired for his full-time position, he was part-time with an additional job in a synogogue.  The Rogers electronic organ had a transposition function.  During one service, he decided to check it out!

He programmed the transposition he wanted and started playing.  When he heard the sound come out in a different key, his hands moved over!

That may be the flip side.  Perfect pitch makes transposing nearly impossible.

Relative pitch allows people to:

  • sight-sing easily by using interval relationships
  • transpose more easily than someone with perfect pitch
  • learn music quickly
  • “hear” a score just by looking at it, but the key may be incorrect
  • come close to singing A-440 (just now, I sang a “G” instead)
  • comfortably listen to music not exactly “at pitch”

When I was in college, a chorus I was singing in lost pitch during a concert.  The conductor looked at me to ask for a pitch for the next piece!  He must have though I had perfect pitch.

I gave him a pitch and hoped it was close.  (Having a discussion with the concert in progress didn’t seem like such a great idea.)

A few years later, everyone in Tanglewood‘s vocal program was required to attend sight-reading classes.  All of us were excellent sight-readers, so we loathed going to class.  It felt like a waste of good practice time.

So we took turns showing up, a few at a time.  After four or five days of this, we began getting notes in our mailboxes from Seiji Ozawa!  We had to go to class or be dismissed from the program.

To be fair, this was a class in sight-singing contemporary music.  The method used was fixed “do,” with numbers.  (“Do” was always “C,” so “C” was 1, “D” was 2, etc.)

Learning relative pitch

A person’s pitch can be improved through the use of solfedge and other methods.  (But again, perfect pitch cannot be learned.)  I have also found that when someone takes piano lessons, s/he can acquire a visual conte​xt that provides a consistent reference point.

Related articles

What is your story?  I’m all out.  Do you have perfect pitch?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Back to top

Enhanced by Zemanta

Snowy bush

January 21, 2014

Isn’t this pretty? It’s just outside my door.


January 21, 2014


Heifetz Piatagorsky Rubinstein Trio

January 20, 2014

This incredible video came to my attention on Facebook, posted by my friend Beth Marie Sperry.  Beth discovered it at, posted by Norman Lebrecht.

Even if you do nothing else today, please take the time to enjoy this.

Caribbean Lord’s Prayer

January 19, 2014

My choir at Christ Northampton did a wonderful job rocking this wonderful version of The Lord’s Prayer this morning!  It’s a West Indies tune, arranged by Carlton R. Young.

Everyone sang the verses ~ no soloist. Our version was faster and had much more “d” in “hallowed,” greatly enhancing the rhythm (“hal-low-ed-a”). We began with a 2-bar piano intro into the 1st verse, no vamp. A long “A” in the “Amen” verse seemed to fit the piece, projecting well in our acoustic with 6 singers.

Congratulations, everyone!

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2013

A wonderful improvisation by Bobby McFerrin, one of the best musicians out there, performing at Lincoln Center with two of his kids.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2013

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays “Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus” from Olivier Messiaen‘s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus.”

Q&A: Can the prelude to a church service be sung?

December 16, 2013
Light Singers  - 61

Light Singers – 61 (Photo credit: pixiduc)

Short answer:  there is nothing that says “no” to this in all cases.

You would need to check out each situation.

A more detailed answer:

In my experience, the congregation is in “music on the side” mode before the service begins.

There are also some situations where singing could work:

A pre-service concert series

One church where I’ve performed concerts designates one Sunday per month as their concert Sunday.  The musician(s) play a half-hour program which is followed immediately by the service.  The congregation arrives 1/2 hour before the usual service time expecting to listen to the music.

A sung pre-service concert would be wonderful!

Congregation expects to listen

At The Riverside Church in New York, the prelude occasionally consisted of Mozart sonatas for piano and violin.  William Sloan Coffin, who was trained as a concert pianist, enjoyed teaming up with an accomplished violinist from the congregation.  However, at Riverside, the congregation is accustomed to hearing great music played by organists at the top of their field.  People come early, find a seat, remain quiet, and listen.

A singer would be comfortable in this situation.

Most of the time

My suggestion would be to include a singer after the service has begun. When the minister is at the front of the sanctuary and the call to worship or opening prayer has been spoken, people are more settled.

Why planning matters

Choir members at a nearby church (not mine) told me that when they sang an anthem as the prelude, nobody listened.

The text of a song or anthem is much more important than background music.   We need to keep that in mind when deciding where to place sung music in the service.

People who write advice columns about party/dinner planning say that instrumental music works best when guests are talking.  The prelude can be seen in the same way.  The congregation is just arriving, and they want to greet one another.  When they are talking, the text of a song is lost.

Please comment!  What have you experienced with sung preludes?


Back to top

A fascinating video: Viola Organista

December 1, 2013

Thanks to Mary Likins, who posted a link from NPR on Facebook!

Read the news story.