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Kenn Gartner, Ph.D.
Pianist, conductor, high baritone. Nationally
Certified Teacher of Music in Piano and in
Voice ~ Music Teachers National Association

Today’s date: July 30, 2009



Contact info:

Phone:  (415) 444-0618

Immediate MP3 listen to Dr. Gartner as accompanist and teacher:  Dr. Gartner’s student, young tenor Alex Guerrero, sings “Auch kleine Dinge” from Book 1 of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook.  (P.S., have a listen to even more music links on Dr. Gartner’s website.)

Important to know, Dr. Gartner is available as a ring tone:  Under the baton of Dr. Gartner, the Flushing High School Chorus and Orchestra perform Mozart’s: “Ave Verum Corpus”

Tune into KQED and you just might hear:  Dr. Kenn Gartner’s recording of Ottorino Respighi’s “Notturno,” on hand at the station since September of 2008.  Put those requests in!

Education:  Doctor of Philosophy (Performance), Steinhardt School, New York University, 1979, studied with Eugene List; M.S. (Musicology/Music Education), Queens College, New York, 1970.  Kenn was a student at The Juilliard School of Music from 1960 to 1964.  He studied with Adele Marcus and Eduard Steuermann and received the Juilliard Artist’s Diploma (piano).  At Cornell University, this music and theater major studied with John Kirkpatrick (1956-1960).

What the critics are saying about Kenn on piano:  “‘Konzertstück in F minor, op. 79’ by Carl Maria Von Weber can only be played by someone who is at ease with gargantuan technique.  Welcome to the world of pianist Kenn Gartner.” – San Francisco Virtuoso; “Mr. Gartner dispatched each work with admirable energy.  He brings genuine commitment to his playing, a rare ingredient.” – The New York Times; “His Ravel was transformed in shimmering dream images and his Liszt was demonic.” – Berliner Zeitung (Berlin, Germany); “Unafraid of pyrotechnics that nearly made the grand all wobbly, Gartner put on a showman’s cap and gave his audience the novelty rag ‘Brass Knuckles’” – South Bay Spotlight.

Compositions and recordings:  “The Concerto for Piano and Synthesizer” (Memnon Recordings); “The Monster Concert” with Eugene List (Musical Heritage Society): “Richard Brooks: Sonata for Violin and Piano – with Carol Glenn” (ASUC Recordings); “The Right To Be Different, Cantata For Young School Children” (EKG Recordings).

Need a teacher who just happens to be listed on The Juilliard’s recommended list for teachers of piano and voice, located in California?  (Pssst, he’s the only one north of San Diego and the only Nationally Certified Teacher of Piano and of Voice in Marin County.)  Then sign up with Kenn for:  piano, voice, and coaching of performance practice for all instruments and voices.

Let’s break those teaching lessons down to specifics:  Accompanying, composition, ear training, French for singers, German for singers, historical performance, improvisation, instrumental coaching, Italian for singers, basic music theory, intermediate music theory, advanced music theory, classical piano, sight singing, vocal coaching, classical voice and Broadway voice.

Is there anything you would like to say about a few of your students?

Absolutely! My voice student Zachary Franczak was recently accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  Zak, who seems to be the sole Marin School of the Arts Graduate to enter the San Francisco Conservatory, is now ‘Tommy’ in Ray of Light’s production of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, (Victoria Theater, San Francisco) come October.  My voice student Brittany Newell received the Gold at the California Music Educators’ Association Adjudication Festival and, at age 14, now moved on to study with Pam Frey, head of the Voice Department, San Francisco Conservatory.  Additionally, both Brittany and Zachary were soloists at ‘Kenn Gartner and Friends,’ – Doctor Gartner’s Steinway Showcases sponsored by Sherman Clay, San Francisco.

Your early beginnings into music?

My mother was a violinist and I studied with her at the tender age of two.  But after I broke two violins, my mother thought I needed a bit sturdier instrument!  So at the ripe old age of two and a half, I began my lifelong love affair with the piano.  My dad had purchased a toy xylophone that came with a music book.  The xylophone soon broke, but I had noticed the grouping of two and three keys, the same as the piano.  I took the book to the piano and began to pick out the tunes using the black keys as landmarks.  Then my mother decided to give me lessons!

I also thoroughly enjoyed singing and when I was eight, I became a member of the Children’s Opera Company with all kinds of wonderful experiences, which included singing at the City Center, the Winter Garden and the Metropolitan Opera.

Is that where your interest in vocal conducting began?

Oh, definitely.  While there are some exceptions with the untrained voice, to me, a voice that is educated to follow the beauty of its register – there is no lovelier music experience.  I became extremely interested in the chorus through the efforts of Tom Sokol, the Choral Director at Cornell.  I was in every possible singing group, and conducted musicals for the Theater Department’s productions, including Amahl and the Night Visitors.

So what happened once you hit high school?

In High School, Staunton Military Academy, Staunton, Virginia, I resurrected and conducted a big band, the Blue Knights, for four years.  I played glockenspiel with two hands in the marching band.  I studied at Mary Baldwin College down the street and gradually began to enjoy what I was doing.  I won some contests, I started thinking this could be a career goal, and while accepted in Chemical Engineering at Cornell, I soon switched to a music major.  The music department asked if I would be interested in teaching piano as the two regular professors were full.  Thus, for four years, I taught piano to the overage of students not able to be absorbed into these professors’ classes.

How come, Cornell?

On the back of a record jacket, I read that John Kirkpatrick, who taught at Cornell, played the hardest piece in the world, the Concord Sonata by Charles Ives.  That was the sole reason I went to Cornell: if he could perform the hardest piece, he could probably handle the world’s hardest student.

The jobs, or a few of them anyway, of the choral conductor and voice educator from 2000 through present:  Choral Director and Music Theater Director, Marin School of the Arts; Founder and Conductor, St. Mark’s Chamber Orchestra; Organist and Choirmaster, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; and Founder and Music Director, St. Paul’s College Singers Professional Chorus which became The Kenn Gartner Singers in 2002.

How about work activity in the choral area prior to 2000:  Choral Director, Flushing High School (1992-1999); Teacher of Music, New York City Board of Education, Carson JHS (1991-1992); Supervisor of Music – Greeley JHS, Canarsie HS (NYC), Jackson High School (NJ); Copiague Public Schools (NY), Lexington Public Schools (MA) (1978-1991); Assistant Professor of Music, Hofstra University (1977-1978); and Teacher of Music, New York City Board of Education, Mann, Sands, Greeley JHS (1962-1977).

An abridged version of honors and accolades:  Elected Vice President of the Board of Directors of Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute (2008); Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano and in Voice (2008); Command Performance – Lenaea Festival, Sacramento State University, Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury” (2005); Honorary Inductee – Arista & National Honor Societies, Flushing High School (2000); “Who’s Who Among American Teachers” (1998, 1999); Conducting Fellowship, Columbia University (1995); “Who’s Who In American Education” (1994, 2000); “National Choral Society – annual $15,000 Grant for Choral Program (1993-1999); First NYC HS Vocal Chamber Ensemble (Canarsie HS a cappella) to perform at Lincoln Center (1988); and President Emeritus – The Conductor’s Club (1987 and continuing).

Now where might audiences have had a listen to you in concert?

I’ve played a few spots, and in more than 50 countries!  But off the top of my head I’d say: New York’s Town and Merkin Halls; San Francisco’s Herbst Theater and Victorian Englander House; Pacifica Performances, Pacifica; Redwood Performing Arts Center, Guerneville, CA; Finn Center, Mountain View, CA; J-B Piano, San Rafael, CA; the annual Steinway showcase sponsored by Sherman Clay in San Francisco; Berliner Hochschule fur Musik, Berlin, Germany; Dilegentia, The Hague, and Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands; The Wigmore Hall, London, Great Britain; the XIV Festivals der Zukunft, Ernen, Switzerland under Mm. Antonia Lavanne (didn’t I see you there, Jean!); and there was a command performance for the Mayor of Halifax in Nova Scotia.  They were all great fun!

So spill the beans. Have you ever given a master class in piano technique?

Yes I have: at the Shanghai Institute, Shanghai, China and at J-B Piano out here in San Rafael.  In this class, one “teacher,” who volunteered for a demo, stated to the audience that she had not “practiced for years!”

Favorite concert gig of all time?

That is very hard.  But the most recent one is the von Weber Concertstuck performance at Valley Baptist Church, San Rafael, California, with the San Francisco Concerto Orchestra, Geoffrey Gallegos, conductor, in which everything went very well indeed.  The audience actually jumped to its feet at the work’s conclusion!  I felt very humble.

What matters to you the most when you are performing?

I am nuts about performing the score as the composer wants it to be performed.  We performers are the vehicles through which a composer’s ideas are realized.  Nowadays, too many performers utilize the notes for their own pomposity and grandiosity.  It is OK for a performer to bring his experience to the table, but the score is first.  Franz Liszt comments that if you have a better note than his, you are free to put it in the piece: you are welcome to make changes.  But this carte blanche does not apply to all music.  The performer is NOT free to do anything he wishes: the composer is the final arbiter.  This means the performer must be aware of what was going on compositionally (with the composer), historically (within the period under discussion), emotionally (at the time a composer was writing), etc.  For example, so many young contemporary players perform Chopin mazurkas—arguably his best compositions—as if they were waltzes!  While the majority of the blame lies on the shoulders of teachers ignorant of mazurka rhythm, and therefore are unable to convey it to their students, the student should cultivate curiosity to determine her own more accurate interpretation!

As a teacher, what are you looking for in a student?

Curiosity is a primary trait. Students come not knowing they may be curious.  But if one is a decent teacher, it is possible to excite this facet of a personality such that the student seeks out the new and unusual.  When a student called to ask if I knew Fur Elise was not really a work in 3/8 meter but is really in 6/16, this was an ultimate satisfaction: the student had internalized the concept that the fifth and sixth notes in sets of six are the most important.  (Sextoles are not simply 123-123’s or 12-34-56’s, but are, in reality two-three-four-FIVE-SIX-One: one must go across the bar line.)

What should your student be looking for in you?

The student is my boss.  When we first meet, I explain it is his or her job to audition me.  If I pass, they make the decision to continue or not.  In the area of ‘voice,’ I explain that the student is renting my ears: what sounds good to a person internally does not necessarily sound good to those in the audience.  I make suggestions to help the student create the sounds the audience finds most appropriate.  We could talk for hours about this: I invite readers to contact me to explore these concepts further.

Is your goal to keep classical music alive and/or what are your musical goals?

I consider classical music in the same light as artisanal cheese and bread.  Authenticity is a primary goal and many aspiring musicians see sense in this approach.

Personally, I continue to improve my musicality and technique: technique is always subordinate to the music.  Indeed, it provides one the ability to transform the brain wave (thought) into actuality via the fingers doing their work on an instrument.  Any instrument!  Which makes the voice the hardest instrument, as one cannot do things with ones fingers.  Voice, more than any other instrument, requires tremendous brainpower to imagine the sound—which one cannot truly hear but only feel within the body via kinesthesia—that needs to be produced by ones vocal apparatus.  Further, the apparatus is what one is born with: it cannot be modified.

Do you consider yourself a teacher first or a pianist first?

At The Juilliard, Adele Marcus said to me, “Don’t teach so much!  You want to play, don’t you?”  I did not, at that time, regard teaching as the calling it was to become in my life.  And I did perform throughout a 34 plus year career in public and private education.  I was the first New York City public school teacher to perform at Town Hall, not once, but several times.  But the need to eat, in combination with a lack of a patron who could subsidize my career, probably held me back from a much larger concert career.  One of my students, returning from Vietnam, put it succinctly: “You talk the talk and you walk the walk!”  And, yes, I was to be a performer.  But there is no time like the present to continue what I started.

What are you particularly excited about musically in your future?

Everything!  But most especially I have a solo performance at Salle Cortot, the 400-seat French historic landmark in the heart of Paris.  Quel voyage!  There will also be a solo performance at the historic Flushing Town Hall in Queens, New York.  Additionally I’ll be premiering two new works at the San Francisco Music Community Center and everyone’s invited!  There are also a couple of CDs in the works.  One is a compilation from Town Hall, etc.  The second is to be freshly recorded, more mature interpretations of the music from a variety of composers.  Watch my website for details.

Kenn Gartner interviewed by Jean Bartlett forGrabIt