Posted By Crystal Desch on July 20, 2012
Nancy Bachus is an acclaimed pianist, teacher, music historian, author, editor and clinician. She has published several inspiring collections and series with Alfred Music Publishing integrating classical piano works with the history and art of the respective time periods. During the week of August 13, 2012, Ms. Bachus will tour the U.S. giving piano teaching workshops in Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota (Bismarck and Fargo) and Utah, sponsored by Alfred and PianoAtPepper.com. Click here for more information and to register. Read on to get to know Nancy Bachus!
What were the earliest signs you would one day be a music historian and educator?
This may seem strange, but I have wanted to teach piano as long as I can remember. As a young child, around 9 or 10, I loved music and the piano so much, I wanted to teach, so that others could have this experience too. I wanted everyone to love it as much as I did!
When did you begin to study the piano? Who was your first teacher?
I began lessons at 4 years of age and my mother was my first teacher. My mother played the piano, but was in no way a professional musician. She said I begged her to teach me, but she thought I was too young. But I would often sit at the piano trying to play by myself for an hour or two, so she decided to teach me. With red fingernail polish, she painted the names of the notes on the keys that matched the grand staff (from the low G to the high F). I remember climbing up on the bench and looking for the name of the piano to find middle C, and also remember how proud I was when we were able to remove the fingernail polish because I knew the notes and keys.
When and how did you get involved with the original “monster concerts”?
My teacher Eugene List did the first “monster concert” on the Ed Sullivan Show (a Gottschalk Symphony for 10 pianos—The Seige of Saragossa) the year after I finished my master’s degree with him. The following year I was teaching about two hours from Rochester, New York (where he was teaching at the Eastman School of Music). He was making a recording of “Monster” music for Columbia Masterworks at the Eastman Theater, and he asked me to be one of the pianists on the recording. A few months later, he chose 16 pianists to play in a Midnight Monster Concert at Lincoln Center, and I was one. The next year ten of us appeared at Radio City Music Hall. In this concert each piano was on something like a pillar that raised up in the air, and also turned. This happened while we were playing The Stars and Stripes Forever. There was also confetti, and a flag being dropped—a real extravaganza! (I remember not wanting to look down.)
We see from your biography you have performed at the White House. Was there anything surprising or noteworthy about that experience?
It was during the Jimmy Carter administration and we performed for the ladies and wives of the diplomatic corps. The President was going to come down to meet with us, but it was the day the helicopters crashed in the desert during the Iran hostage crisis. He was unable to meet with us for obvious reasons, but Roslyn had planned a lovely reception for us after the concert. She was very gracious and I spoke with her for several minutes. Since their daughter Amy was studying violin with one of Mrs. Lists’ former violin students in Washington, Amy came in and chatted with us when she came home from school. I still have a picture of my husband and me on the White House portico. I was seven months pregnant with my first child, and remember I could barely walk off the plane when I returned home because my feet were so swollen!
How did you initially get into music publishing?
I was doing pedagogy classes for area teachers in my home, at their request, and several suggested that I publish my technical ideas because they felt they were unique and helpful to them. Shortly after that, I met Denes Agay, and we co-authored a beginning technique book. He was quite elderly at the time. When I had the idea for the “spirit” series, I talked with some people at Alfred at a national MTNA conference. Shortly after that E.L. Lancaster approved my proposal, and we have had a wonderful working relationship for more than 15 years now.
You wear so many different hats in the world of music education. What role gives you the most joy?
I think I the combination [of teaching, publishing and presenting] is perfect for me. My teaching becomes a laboratory for my publications, and I have always loved making presentations to teachers. It all works together beautifully.
You’ve written and educated extensively on all periods of music, art and history. Do you have a personal favorite period?
As a pianist, the romantic period is when the instrument became what we have, and love, today. This is also where the beautiful literature developed, and probably where my first love of music began. Although the romantic and early 20th centuries are my favorite, we need variety in our diets, and I wouldn’t want to play or teach only one style period. I think what I love about the 19th century is that there are a myriad of colors and sounds we can produce on the instrument, and the emotional range is enormous.
Do you have a favorite composer?
I went through a period where Debussy was definitely my favorite, but I find that at different times, I prefer different composers. It may be what else is happening in my life, my moods, and what I am experiencing, or that I just need variety. But that is the beauty of the piano literature, no matter what our technical level may be, the piano repertoire is so vast, everyone can find something they are capable of playing beautifully and artistically. Music truly expresses the entire gamut of human emotions, and that is one of the reasons it is so compelling, and has “hooked” so many of us.
What do you do for fun that is not music-related?
I enjoy cooking and entertaining guests in my home, and visiting and spending time with my grown daughters. It is wonderful how this relationship changed as they grew and matured. I loved those years when they were at home, and now we are friends and enjoy them as adults. Due to distance, we don’t see each other as often as we would like, but when we are together, it is wonderful. We are looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild (a boy) in late October.
Thanks for talking with us!
Click here for more information and to register for any of five piano teaching workshops given by Ms. Bachus around the U.S. during the week of August 13, 2012.
Click here for Nancy Bachus’ Exploring Piano Classics series
Click here to view The Baroque Spirit, The Classical Spirit, The Romantic Spirit, and Beyond the Romantic Spirit piano anthologies, authored by Nancy Bachus.