Key People: Robert Vandall, Part 2


Last month, we presented Part 1 of our interview with Robert D. Vandall.  This is Part 2.  Robert Vandall is one of this country’s most prolific and popular composers of educational piano music.  He and his wife, Karen, operate a thriving independent piano studio in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

What aspects of your compositional style resonate most with students?

I hear from teachers their boys really love what I write.  All composers have two sides, a lyrical side and a very driving, masculine side, if you want to use that word.  So I think that element of what I like to do comes through with the boys.  I also hear from my lyrical pieces there are a lot of girls who like those types of pieces.  I really work to make my pieces feel comfortable, and I think students recognize that.  Teachers have said they can teach some of my pieces very quickly, sometimes almost by rote.  And the kids pick them up quickly.  I write in patterns because I don’t want to introduce myriads of patterns in one little short piece.  So I think the fact I think in patterns makes the learning process much easier.  Plus the piece has to sound good.   It doesn’t matter how perfect everything else is, if there is nothing attractive about it to get the student interested, they are not going to want to practice it.

If it’s not confidential, will you share with us news of any new compositions on the horizon?

There are five books called Play Hymns.  Melody Bober and I collaborated.  I did about 5-6 hymns per book and so did she.  I love hymns and I have students who play hymns at church.  So now I have a ready-made body of literature to use with some of my own students, starting at the first level and working through level 5.

Then there is the Music Teachers National Association commission for the 2011 conference in Milwaukee.  Since this is the year of collaborative music, MTNA wanted a piece from me for trumpet, piano and another brass instrument of my own choosing.  I chose trombone and wrote a piece for those three instruments.  It’s called Fanfare Allegro.

When giving a master class or piano teaching workshop, is there anything, above all else, you hope participants and attendees will take away?

If we’re talking about a master class, we’re talking about working with students. When I do a master class I always, always try to make the students as comfortable as possible.  And I always then include the audience with what I’m saying.  There is nothing worse than being in the audience of a master class and being ignored.  So basically, I have a conversation that goes both ways — me and the student, me and the audience, and then lots of three-way communications.  And I look both ways.  I look at the student.  I look at the audience.  So, basically, that’s what I’m after.  And then with the student, I’m after positive change:  ‘Gee, this needs more staccato.’  ‘How about that were more forward?’ or ‘Maybe it should be more delicate here.’  Then I ask the audience to evaluate, ‘Was that better?’  So it keeps the audience listening and it keeps the student listening too.  And I always shake their hand.  I always make sure I know their name.  I always make sure I’m on time so that every student gets his or her due of time.  I try to have fun.  I try to make the student laugh a lot and have fun with me.

In workshops, I like to talk about teaching, the relationship between the teacher and the music, and then the student.  So I try to be as practical as I can.  I use little snippets of music to illustrate my point.  I always focus on the music and what we can do to make the music sound better.  And how we can make it flow technically.

What is one thing folks might not know about you?

The “D” in my name stands for Dennis.  Nobody calls me Bob in my family, they all call me Denny.  Karen is the only person in my family who calls me Bob.  And I have two daughters-in-law;  they call me Bob.

Something I’m proud of, I ran a half marathon last spring.  I’m getting ready to do another one.  I learned I never want to do a whole marathon.

Do you have a composer you find most inspiring?

I have a special love for George Gershwin.  I love his music.  I am always sad he died so young.  But I also really like Beethoven’s music because he, better than practically anyone, knew what to do with the motif.  He could take the littlest idea and just make it into something wonderful.  And I, a guy that works with small motifs, can’t aspire to what Beethoven did.  But whenever I hear his music, I just marvel at what he could do with that.

Is there anything you’d like us to ask you about or something you’d like to share?

When I started writing music, it was just a hobby.  It was sort of a solitary me type of thing.  I am amazed that so many people appreciate what I write.  I am very, very thankful that people like what I write.  It has changed my life.  For instance, doing an interview like this — I am amazed people are interested to even care what I think about anything.  I am just amazed and thankful that this outlet, which we might call composing, has grown like it has.  I do hope I always continue to be amazed because I don’t want to become blasé or big-headed about it.  I want to keep my head and always be truly appreciative.

Visit our site for all published collections and single sheet pieces by Robert Vandall.

Click here  to read Part 1 of this interview.

Cindy Harrington
Professional pianist. Spent many years teaching private and group piano lessons at all levels.

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