Thanks so much for your interest.
People often ask how I came to be a pianist. My short answer has many gaps, so I am using this space to fill in what is missing.
There was no “aha!” moment, no “I’m going to be a pianist!” Instead, I capitalized on a series of opportunities. And along the way, playing the piano is what I did most consistently.
My parents met in college choir, and both my older brothers and sister took lessons. My sister majored in organ at the University of Michigan, also earning her masters in organ there. Although she has since changed fields, her playing inspired me.
We had one recording of Rubinstein at home. Later on, my mother subscribed to the Musical Heritage Society, which sent recordings on a regular (monthly?) basis. What I remember is several harpsichord recordings, along with works of composers like Vivaldi and Telemann.
My family occasionally performed, singing in church. However, growing up in Iowa, my exposure to music outside my town was quite limited.
Another factor was that, by the time I was a senior in high school, my family had only been to Chicago once. It’s not that far away. It had become obvious that if I wanted to see New York, I would have to do it myself. So I took every opportunity leading to something better, and ended up in the East. I’ve never regretted it!
Age 6 through High School
- I began piano lessons at age 6
- In 7th-10th grades, the University of Iowa music camp gave me state-wide perspective. I will always be grateful to my 7th-grade band director for persuading my parents to allow me to attend. While there, I studied flute and voice.
- William Warfield was the 1st professional singer I heard, in 7th grade. He made such an impression, I had goose bumps!
- I started organ lessons in 9th grade
- I played organ for church, 10th-12th grades
- Summer piano and organ lessons at University of Iowa during high school
Although I had visited Valparaiso and Wittenberg, I didn’t want to attend a church school. The University of Iowa offered me a President’s scholarship (free tuition), but I wanted to be further away from home.
An older brother had attended Southern Illinois University/Carbondale, where he managed the University Choirs. On a visit to campus, I had met the choral director. He promised me the accompanying position for one of the choirs as a freshman, so I decided to enroll there. Beginning the following year, I played for all 5 choirs.
- Freshman year, Alice Parker visited to conduct a high school festival. I met her and went out to dinner with a group.
- Sophomore year, Alice Parker returned for a similar engagement. This time, I was the accompanist. I peppered her with questions.
Thomas Dunn’s Encouragement
- Thomas Dunn also came to campus, judging a high school madrigal contest. Afterward, he observed a university Male Glee Club rehearsal, for which I happened to be playing. He took me aside and asked if I had considered a career as a professional accompanist. I don’t think I played the piano particularly well then. But I did know how to anticipate during a rehearsal, giving the pitch early without being asked. That was a result of playing liturgical services in high school. My father, the minister, was 1/2 way across the room. He taught me how to sync with him from that distance and keep the service moving.
Lessons on the Side
- Also during that year, there was an Artist-in-Residence who was a pianist. When I was asked to play the piano reduction of the Mozart Requiem in performance (orchestra was not available), I asked him to help me with the technique required to play a phrase I didn’t understand. Then I studied with him on the side. The following year, he moved to UMass/Amherst and asked me to come along. My “regular” piano teacher was a theory professor who also played the piano (but piano was not his main focus), so I went with the more professional situation.
During sophomore year, Alice Parker and I corresponded. This contact resulted in an invitation to babysit for her 5 children for the summer in New York and Massachusetts, just before I transferred to UMass in September.
- UMass was building the library when I attended orientation. The pouring rain created a mudhole in the center of campus. I had second thoughts about walking through the mud for the next two years. Several people talked me into going through with my decision.
- Joel Krosnick, the first terrific cellist I had heard, touched my soul. I asked if I could play for his students. Affirmative!
- I played for all the university choirs and many student recitals as well.
- After graduation I continued to live in Amherst, teaching 25 students and going to NY often for concerts. In addition, I played several auditions for singers and instrumentalists, mostly in Boston.
- Being a student at the Aspen Music Festival gave me national perspective about my playing. I attended 50 concerts that summer, as well as open rehearsals of the Juilliard String Quartet.
- I auditioned for a staff accompanist position at Smith College and was hired. The position provided good experience playing for lessons, doing some coaching, and playing for numerous juries and student recitals.
Finding Martin Katz
- After auditioning for a masters program in accompanying in the Midwest, I was not admitted. I felt devastated for a while. Then Jon Humphrey, for whose students I played at UMass, suggested that I study with Martin Katz. I had heard him at Amherst College not long before. He blew me away, even though it was August. (I thought he would blow it off!) When I found the courage to call, after thinking his phone number would be unlisted, I reached his answering machine. His outgoing message said he was in Santa Fe. So I called the festival, obtained the mailing address, and wrote to him. He replied, saying he couldn’t teach me every week ~ I said I didn’t care! So it worked out extremely well. I commuted to New York every other week for 2 years, arranging for 2-hour lessons to make the travel time worth it. My hands were shaking in every lesson for an entire year! I studied with Martin, both privately and in graduate school, for five years. I have never been sorry. He is the best teacher I’ve ever had.
- I auditioned for the Tanglewood vocal fellowship program and was accepted as a coach.
- My experience at Tanglewood helped me realize that I needed to improve my coaching ability. The singers there were on my level, and until then I had been working with younger singers.
Westminster Choir College
- The Accompanying and Coaching masters degree at Westminster Choir College was accredited in July that summer. I applied in August, 2 weeks before school started! The dean and I spoke many times to finalize my status, with me on the pay phone in the Tanglewood dorm.
- At Westminster, I sang in the Symphonic Choir with the New York Philharmonic 3 times, participated in classes, lessons, and 3 degree recitals, commuted to Philadelphia to play rehearsals for the Philadelphia Singers (Poulenc’s Figure Humaine, for 14-part double chorus, from open score), went to New York every Wednesday and every weekend, played for singers in auditions, recitals, lessons, classes, and competitions, and snagged coaching sessions with Joan Dornemann. (Martin Katz threw me his car keys, asking me to drive her to the train station (“and don’t leave her alone on the platform”) after a class she coached at Westminster. What was I to do, not talk to her? I never miss an opportunity, especially when one lands in my lap like that.)
- I worked for Martin Katz for two years. In addition to being his graduate assistant at school, he hired me to type letters, run errands, answer the phone, return calls, reshelve music, etc. I learned a great deal about the business, which has been extremely helpful in sustaining my career. And I am no longer intimidated when on the phone with Columbia Artists Management, for example.
After Graduate School
- Where was I going to live following graduate school? For me, it was between New York and Boston. Here’s how I made the decision: on a legal pad, I made a list of everyone I knew well enough to sleep on their couch if ConEd turned off the power (it happens). The list for NY was longer. In addition, Alice Parker had offered me her maid’s room for a year @ $100/month. I benefited greatly from her and her family’s insider info on the city.
- Concert Artists Guild presented a weekend seminar. I gained invaluable information about furthering and sustaining my career.
- I played for everything!
Norman Luboff Choir
- Two years after playing a singer’s audition for Norman Luboff, during which Norman went out of his way to talk to me, I had the opportunity to go on tour as pianist for the choir. Kenneth Cooper, in only one lesson, gave me ornaments for Monteverdi. Bach and Purcell I could have pulled off, but was unfamiliar with Monteverdi ornamentation.
- Joan Dornemann‘s audition class at The Met was fabulous.
- I jumped at the opportunity to play for lessons in the studios of Joseph Fuchs and Harvey Shapiro.
- About a year after tour, I founded Kairos, a piano trio. We were together for 4-1/2 years, performing 12 concerts/year.
- I had the wonderful experience of attending the Alfred University Summer Chamber Music Institute twice in upstate New York. Joseph Fuchs was the founder and coach. What an inspiration! My trio attended the festival the first summer. We were rehearsing the Brahms Trio in C Major. In the theme and variations, the violinist was shy about going with the rubato. I wanted much more freedom. Joseph Fuchs took the violinist’s chair and played with the cellist and me. His rubato was incredible. I felt as if I was playing with Brahms himself. (Fuchs was born a year after Brahms’s death, so there was no reinterpretation!) I watched Fuchs like a hawk and made sure I stayed with him. He gave me the validation I needed to believe in my instincts.
- Following that, I founded the Rautenberg-Saathoff Duo (violin/piano). Both of us left the city along the way, but continued to perform together for a total of 14 years.
- After 18 years in New York, and having sustained computer injuries, I needed a part-time backup job. My idea was to work 4 hours/day. Every employer I spoke to had other thoughts. Part-time to them meant 3 full shifts/week. I couldn’t sustain that and practice too, so it seemed like a good time to leave.
- I canvassed friends and acquaintances nationwide, after which I decided to return to Amherst. It’s beautiful here, and I know more people here than in my home town now.
- About two years after moving, I discovered that I enjoy playing solo concerts! In college, all I wanted to do was play the Beethoven cello sonatas. But I had to play solo repertoire due to degree requirements. I did not enjoy it at the time. Now I find it liberating! I can get my own act together without the need to juggle concert dates, programming, or rehearsal times with anyone but the presenter. So, when I’m not otherwise engaged with chorus rehearsals, teaching, coaching, or collaborating with someone, solo playing is my focus.