CAPMT Celebrates 50 Years of Excellence

Noreen Wenjen, Christopher O'Riley and Gary Ingle Credit: Salvador Ochoa

Noreen Wenjen, Christopher O'Riley and Gary Ingle Credit: Salvador Ochoa


Despite its humble beginnings in 1968, the California Association of Professional Music Teachers, also called CAPMT, evolved into a powerhouse that currently boasts 1,043 members from nine districts and seven collegiate chapters throughout California. The all-volunteer organization offers programs, competitions and scholarship opportunities for students of all instruments, including voice and composition as well as the James Ramos International Video Competition.

CAPMT is affiliated with the respected Music Teachers National Association and both use the Royal Conservatory of Music Certificate Program with its wide-ranging curriculum that helps students achieve a high level of proficiency through evaluation. This year’s CAPMT Golden Anniversary celebration was held October 19-20 at the up-scale Torrance Marriott South Bay in Redondo Beach – a lovely venue that provides indoor/outdoor heated pools, convenient meeting rooms facilities and other creature comforts. 

The two-day conference turned into an upbeat musical happening where high-end panache and professionalism pervaded a variety of aesthetic, theoretical and performance activities. Another key aspect of the conference was the down-home, natural way in which the guest artists interacted with members and participants – always finding time to answer questions, offer encouragement or just hang out with ‘those music teachers.’

 The erudite event was sponsored by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, Yamaha and the Southern California-based Keyboard Concepts who provided the pianos, of which two Boesendorfer grands were used – a rarity in this country.

Highlights include a master class and concert by Sean Yow Chen, Crystal Award winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and the presence of Christopher 0’Riley, the former host of National Public Radio’s From the Top (a venue that promotes young classical music performers) who gave talks and interviewed student performers. O’Riley also received CAPMT’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his impact as teacher, media personality and pianist in the areas of classical music, jazz fusion and rock – as shown by his stylish arrangements of songs by the British band Radiohead.

Also front and center was the world premiere of Joy? by R Riley Nicholson, a work commissioned by this organization and recitals by talented winners of CAPMT’s Honors, Contemporary Music and Concerto Competitions as well as from the Young Professionals Leadership Network. These young artists played a stunning array of works such as Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, Kupferman’s Found Perspectives, Bacewicz Sonata No. 2 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata Op. 36 No. 2.

Each morning, wake-up sessions energized members with gracious greetings and reportage from CAPMT President Noreen Wenjen, Music Teachers National Association Executive Director Dr. Gary Ingle and Keynote Presenter Christopher O’Riley. An overriding theme of ‘Follow Your Heart’ seemed to tie together the montage of events and coalesce in Dr. Ingle’s comment, “Most got to Carnegie Hall because of dedicated music teachers.”

O’Riley’s morning talks began and ended with enlightening and inspiring musings about his musical background, thoughts on having a career in music and a free association of ideas about composers such as Scriabin, Beethoven or Stravinsky. No doubt his outside the box approach makes him a brilliant, natural-born storyteller eager to share artistic and practical experiences with others. “We define ourselves by the diversity of interests and tastes,” he said, which in his case includes an open mindedness for new music and a rapport with compositions of Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett.

O’Riley mentioned that he once programmed Beethoven’s piano sonata Op. 111 alongside his arrangement of a tune from Jerry Lee Lewis, which caused some to accuse him of betraying tradition. During Friday’s session, he played several short pieces of Scriabin and his arrangement of the Marche au supplice from the Berlioz/Liszt Symphonie fantastique – turning the kitschy piece into a new age kind of tour de force.

During a master class session with two accomplished students, Sean Yow Chen showed off his detail oriented teaching. He mentioned with persuasive enthusiasm tips about sound production, articulation and technique, particularly in Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1, Op. 20 where he suggested a student use an overlapping legato to connect the sonority of each note. “Make the piece your own,” he told her.

Chen did just that and more in a Saturday night recital that left virtually every person there in a state of admiration for his introspection and pyrotechnical savvy. The intriguing program, called Homage to Chopin was delivered on the stage of a ballroom filled with tables of hungry music teachers who sat in awe during the performance. He gave a brief explanation about the works and then the musical magic began - which was captured on monitor screens that projected a close up of his hands.

Chen’s playing has a quality of subtle virtuosity that allows phrases and melodies to unfold in an atmosphere of tenderness and ferocious pyrotechnical aplomb, when needed – as in Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin, Op. 22 which contained breathtaking jeu perle fingerwork and dramatic vigor. The program also included an on the spot improvisation based on Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op. 22, in which he created a dreamy soundscape a la Michel Legrand; Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2 (the composer was a fan of Chopin); Chopin-Godowsky Etude for the Left Hand, Op. 10 No. 12, (the so-called Revolutionary), played with a fiendish amount of steely mano sinistra dexterity and Six Chants polonais, S. 480 of Liszt, given a caressing touch and lilting rubato in all the right harmonic places. By the way, Chen is on the faculty of the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

There is always a sense of anticipation when hearing a work for the first time and such was the case in D Riley Nicholson’s Joy? for piano quintet and conductor. He is the Project Manager of Center for New Music in San Francisco but was in the audience for this work’s world premiere. In fact, during a pre-performance interview with O’Riley, he commented that inspiration for the work was derived from aspects of the American Dream. Nicholson seems a composer with fine potential as Joy? contains an engaging upward inertia where a bouncing pendulum of tonal motives and block chords become progressively more complex as they zigzag and intertwine with fragments from cello, violin and viola. Kudos to the students who performed the tricky work with total conviction.

Other interesting lecture-recital sessions include Gyeseon Choe’s Thirty Etudes in Major and Minor Keys, Op. 26 of 19th century French pianist Louise Farrenc, Sarah Chan’s Approaching the Instruction of Piano Technique through Tone and Tonality that featured the topics, What is Technique, Tone and Physiological Considerations (Chan is Head of Keyboard Studies/Music Theory at California State University, Stanislaus) and Dmitry Rachmanov’s Alexander Scriabin: The Russian Prometheus. Rachmanov is Head of Keyboard Studies at California State University, Northridge and touched on Scriabin’s stylistic uniqueness in addition to playing selections from such works as sonata Nos. 2 (Sonata-Fantasy), 4, 5, 9.

The outstanding conference concluded in the ballroom with remarks from Dr. Gary Ingle and Christopher O’Riley again reinforcing their premise that teaching represents the best example of humanism. CAPMT President Noreen Wenjen presided over an awards ceremony where some members were called to the stage to receive certificates and flowers in deserving recognition of their work - which took place during dinner and before Chen’s recital. And there was more: a short but sweet and sultry onstage performance of Autumn Leaves, sung mostly in French was belted out while everyone ate yummy fish, chicken or vegan entrees. Tres chic.

Interestingly, one CAPMT member was honored for her 50 years of service to the organization and remarked that she attributes her success in teaching to having a positive attitude and eating chocolate. Advice we could all take to heart. Bravo CAPMT and here’s to the next 50 years and beyond.