Note-worthy Experiences Music Studio
F E A T U R E
Interview with Ann Stimson
F E A T U R E
Interview with Ann Stimson
How old were you when you first got interested in music, and when did you start piano lessons?
When I was 4, a friend of my father's offered us an old upright piano, free for the moving. I started picking out Christmas carols on it, one-finger style. My first – and fabulous – piano teacher, Esther Gillis, had me dancing on her rug, clapping and singing with her. At 6 I knew I wanted to be a composer; she encouraged me, helped me with notation, and found me wonderful repertoire.
Who were your other inspiring teachers?
Trudi Salomon (piano), Nicholas Van Slyck (composition) and Margaret Rohde (theory) helped me through my teenage years. Morton Feldman, my composition professor, was a font of kindly guidance, often laced with humor. He once said to me (laughing,) “Your music is like concentrated orange juice. WHERE'S THE WATER?”
What is your favorite music to listen to?
Classical, jazz, ragtime, early music (Guillaume de Machaut's Mass), soul music (Aretha Franklin), Joan Baez, Stevie Wonder, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, Osvaldo Golijov's St. Matthew Passion, Ruth Lomon's Songs of Remembrance, Pat Morehead's Night Sky, Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. Among folk music's many gems: Shenendoah and Wade in the Water.
What is your favorite music to play?
Ragtime, Gershwin, Bartok, Faure, traditional blues, Bach, Ravel, Mozart, Latin music, jazz.
What do you think can be learned by studying piano?
First, life lessons. With effort and patience, you can achieve something you once thought was out of reach. Secondly, music as a route to other learning:
Social history: how Scott Joplin dazzled America in the face of huge obstacles Beethoven as a philosopher: Ode to Joy and the message of tolerance
Physics/acoustics: What made the invention of the piano such a breakthrough Music history: 19th century women composers' struggles to be to be recognized. Third, the spiritual realm. Music is a world where many wordless questions can be asked and somehow be answered. That can be a huge comfort. Fourth, the gift of collaboration: You can feel a great sense of community in performance with other musicians. Fifth, the gift of performance: Performing music is a powerful way to serve your community; it gives back even more.
What is your approach to teaching?
I make a point of listening respectfully to each student: to learn their interests, both musical and extra-musical, to pick up on their learning style and sort out how to best encourage them and support them in their musical goals. My style is informal and lighthearted. I think the ability to be encouraging is a huge part of teaching. When my students' moods dictate it, I switch tasks. When they are stuck, I try to get them unstuck. Theory games are a fun way to teach notation, rhythm patterns, intervals and the layout of the keyboard. We do “Name That Tune” often. As a composer, I encourage my students to write music and help them with notation. I like to update the parents (by email these days) so they're kept in the know.
What have been your favorite performances?
Far and away, my favorite performances as a pianist have been solo piano concerts for Council on Aging audiences. Their feedback and anecdotes are something to be treasured. One of my favorite performances as a composer was the premiere by the superb Lenox Brass Quintet of my composition, Venetian Blue. It juxtaposed two very different styles – Renaissance music a la Gabrieli and jazz a la Dizzy Gillespie. The “Gabrieli” performers had a formal stage presence but the “Dizzy Gillespie” player had a completely different body English, very much the jazz trumpeter. I hadn't anticipated this and got a big kick out of it!
What do you like about teaching young musicians?
They are among the most creative people on the planet. In addition, they are intense, observant, inquisitive, original and funny! Who wouldn't want to be around and teach people like that? When they are hitting a wall, I want to help them. When they are soaring, I am so happy to cheer them on!
What do you do for fun?
I love long walks in nature with my husband and my friends, connecting with my family, reading about other centuries, communing with our quirky cat. I hope to get back sometime to watercolor painting outdoors and swimming in the ocean.
Read more about Ann on her Teacher Page.