Andrew Staupe reflects on his Premiere Series experience

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The Host Family Experience: Peggy Watanabe and Casey Scott

When concert pianists travel to perform with various orchestras and ensembles around the country or around the world, often times they end up staying in hotels without too much social interaction.  A fantastic part of the Premiere Series is that all 5 of us are able to stay with wonderful hosts in beautiful homes.  Not only is it a luxury to have an entire home instead of a small hotel room, but it also succeeds in making a competitor feel far less stressful in such a high pressure situation.

Peggy Watanabe and Casey Scott are among the nicest and most thoughtful people I have ever met.  I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Peggy the first time I traveled to Indianapolis, but I got to know Casey really well.  I quickly found him to be completely selfless in his approach to hosting an APA competitor, and was always ready, willing and able to make my experience as stress-free as possible.  Besides this, we have hours of engaging and wonderful conversation during down times.  It felt like a home already.

On my return trip to perform in the Premiere Series, I was able to meet Peggy and immediately realized how true Casey’s words were in describing her: full of spirit, extremely generous, and possessing a sharp wit with a twinkle in her eye.  Every evening, we all enjoyed amazing dinners – either out and about or in her gorgeous home – and then sat at the fireplace for conversation, movies, and snacks.  What a difference from Facebook chatting with people in a lonely hotel room, no?

Her unbelievable home provided a stressed-out APA competitor with everything I needed, including a pristine 9’ Steinway grand piano that I could play 24/7. A 72” HD television was in close proximity, so I had to be EXTRA studious!  This is not the norm in almost any other competition!  But Peggy and Casey made me feel right at home, and I have made lifelong friends with both of them.

How could any competitor not feel better under these amazing circumstances?  I wouldn’t have it any other way, and thank APA, Peggy and Casey for providing such a memorable and positive experience!

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and Recital, Rehearsal

I had performed Mozart’s Concerto No. 27 with an orchestra before, but upon the first few notes of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, I knew I was in another league entirely.  Their ensemble is designed for this music, and it was so completely refreshing to hear this beautiful music directly to my left onstage!  Working with Maestro Kirk Trevor was a particular treat, and he provided excellent leadership and ideas for me while we prepared the concerto.

After an extensive and exhaustive solo recital, which included the leviathan “Rudepoema” by Heitor Villa-Lobos, it was a challenge but also a relief to hear the opening of Mozart’s gem onstage.  Once I began playing the first few passages, I had an immediate thought, “just enjoy these fleeting moments,” and that really aided in quelling any anxiety I had.  The slow movement was sublime from the best seat in the house, right next to them!  And the ICO’s energy and collaborative prowess helped me have a lot of fun in the finale.

The only sad thing to point out is that it was only one performance!

credit John Behringer

Photo by John Behringer

I was also thrilled that my good friend and colleague, composer Christopher Walczak, was able to the attend the world premiere of “Eridanus” which he had written for this event a month prior.  It’s always a special honor to have a composer present at a premiere, and the audience greatly enjoyed his music and mentioned it to him numerous times.  As American pianists, I feel it is an artistic duty to discover and champion the best composers in America, and what more appropriate venue to do this at than at APA’s “Premier” (pun intended) Series?

Broad Ripple High School, Concerto Curriculum sponsored by Citizens Energy Group

Giving hour-long lectures and demonstrations for high school children is a unique challenge, but also carries with it immense rewards.  I have given talks to a few high schools in the past, but never in the rigorous and diverse schedule that was set up for me at Broad Ripple High School.  The classes I talked/performed to ranged from Special Needs to Theater Arts to Chemistry to Debate and Speech.  What variety!

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Photo by Daniel McCullough

It is said that youth is the hardest audience to perform in front of.  In certain ways, this is true, but in others it is one of the most enjoyable audiences too. Instead of just talking or performing each other, I tried to mold my main points depending upon which classes I was speaking to and to have a little fun!  The latter emerged in spades during some of the interactive demonstrations I asked the BRHS students to partake in.  For Theater Arts, I asked a few volunteers to come up and improvise a scene that all the other students decided on.  We got a graveyard, subway, Narnia, and Walmart.  Yes, even Walmart.  What I asked the volunteers to do is listen carefully to the music I was improvising, and change their improvised dialogue to echo the music’s mood.  In the Debate and Speech class, I played Christopher Walczak’s “Eridanus” for the class, and asked two students to play both sides of a debate: one defending the piece’s merits, and one attacking them.  Both of these improvisatory demonstrations were absolutely hilarious to witness, and the BRHS students showed their immense creativity in real time!

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Photo by Daniel McCullough

I also had the good fortune of collaborating with the student orchestra, led by their cheerful and dedicated Music Director Leslie Bartolowits.  She and I had an instant rapport, and I was quite surprised to hear how prepared the students were upon a first run of the piece.  We could have performed it right then and there!  Rather than just be a typical rehearsal, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk to the students about certain advanced musical concepts: the meaning of ‘concerto’ and how these notions of opposition and collaboration of orchestra and soloist play out onstage, the idea of concerto of symphony as bigger chamber music, energy and organic flow in musical structure, and many other similar ideas.  The students were immediately responsive and enthusiastic, and the performance went flawlessly.

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Photo by Daniel McCullough

I pulled a little surprise on the students in the orchestra during our dress rehearsal.  Seeing as how I never went to high school, I purchased a Broad Ripple Rockets sweatshirt and wore it to the rehearsal underneath my coat. Before we started playing, I told the students about me not going to high school and how they made me feel like an honorary Broad Ripple Rocket.  At the moment I opened my coat, and the surprised students cheered me on; it’s all on camera if you don’t believe me! I did the exact same thing in the performance, and told the audience the same paragraph.  For the duration of the Bach concerto, I wore my Broad Ripple Rockets sweatshirt over my tuxedo.  When is the next time I’ll be able to perform in a sweatshirt onstage?

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Photo by Daniel McCullough

At the conclusion of the concert, all the BRHS students came up and we took a number of photos together, and to my delight they all wanted autographs on their music!  I told all the students that whenever I’m in Indianapolis in the next few years, I’ll make it a point to stop by Broad Ripple to check up on them, and it will be great to see their artistic and personal growth over the course of their education.

All in all, I had a most wonderful time during my Premiere Series week, and I can’t wait for April!

Andrew Staupe, Finalist

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Author: americanpianistsassociation

The mission of the American Pianists Association is to discover, promote and advance the careers of young, American jazz and classical pianists.

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