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, Daniel Moe, 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.
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.