As I was on a much-needed break from school this January, I had the pleasure of seeing a newly renovated, state of the art recital hall at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. Its newly finished wood floors and acoustic paneling along with a beautiful Steinway B sitting in front of a modest but elegant arrangement of tiered seats was just another exclamation point in the long journey of progress this place has undergone over the last decade plus. The Pasadena Conservatory of Music was my musical home for 12 years. Sitting in this newly constructed hall, one would never have guessed the conservatory’s humble beginnings as just a collection of small houses adjacent to a church up on Lake Avenue. But these little cottages were where it all began for me back when I was a 6-year-old boy, enrolled in my first piano lessons.
Since attending PCM from 1995-2007, I went on to complete an undergraduate degree at the USC Thornton School of Music. Los Angeles was my home for my whole life up until my graduation from USC, at which point I decided to abandon the decadent weather in LA to pursue an Artist Diploma for two years at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Ontario. I remained a Canadian for just the amount of time needed to finish my studies there, and then I decided to move once again, this time to New York to start a Master’s Degree at The Juilliard School. In between and along the way, performances have earned me the great privilege of traveling and seeing new countries, cities and cultures, and meeting a wide variety of people. As unpredictable as a life in music may be, both personally and financially, it has had so far some remarkable rewards (FYI most of these don’t fall in the ‘financial’ category).
One such reward for me, however, has always been PCM. Yes, it was where I started my formal training as a musician, but it’s a great deal more than that. Even since its quaint beginnings, PCM provided me an outlet for expression at every turn. I was always given the chance to perform in front of people as frequently as my heart desired, from the days when my feet didn’t reach the pedals to when I began seriously learning advanced repertoire in High School. During the summers as a kid, there were festive ice cream socials, where students performed and the music was as cool a prospect as the consumption of sugar. And during the regular school year, individual lessons were held in rooms donned with names of famous composers (mine happened to be the Ives room). Each year there were student recitals nearly every week in one of the PCM cottages, attended by other students, parents and friends. It was without a doubt a special environment.
But in 2001, major change came and PCM relocated to a beautiful building with Spanish architecture situated on Hill Avenue near Pasadena City College. One of my fondest memories of my time there was playing for Dave Brubeck, whom the conservatory invited as an honorary guest to the inaugural concert celebrating the opening of the new location. It was an unforgettable experience, particularly for my 13-year-old self, meeting, hearing and playing for a jazz icon like Brubeck. Around this time, I was becoming increasingly serious about music in all aspects; In addition to my private lessons, I enrolled in theory classes after school at PCM, started composing, and most notably began playing in chamber music groups with other students there. Every year up until I left in 2007, I was enrolled in a different chamber group, took composition lessons, and had one to two private piano lessons each week.
As reluctant as I was to be an academic student during my normal school days away from PCM, when I arrived there in the afternoons, I never felt my presence there was obligatory or unnecessary. Music never appeared to be a ‘study’ in the traditional sense. It was just about having a good time, playing with friends and exploring great music. As I became more serious about my goals as a pianist, I was afforded the opportunity to perform on a weekly basis, either as soloist or chamber musician, play in masterclasses for guest artists, and learn from and alongside my peers. PCM to me was synonymous to preparation and opportunity, and as I like to tell people, the amount of performing opportunities I got during my 5 years at USC was just a fraction of what I was able to do during just my High School years attending the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.
Since I left PCM, I’ve had the occasional pleasure of returning to give recitals and perform at various alumni and student functions. Each time I return, I notice the enthusiasm of students of all ages there continues to reach new heights, and the development of the facilities and curriculum expands faster than I can keep track. Whether from the frigid winters of Toronto or the whirlwind of activity in New York, I’ve been able to witness the exciting evolution of the Pasadena Conservatory. It brings me a lot of pride to see the ways in which the dedication of the faculty, administration, and board members have come to fruition and to know I have been apart of this terrific fabric of people.