Piano Inspires Podcast: Susanna Garcia

To celebrate the latest episode of Piano Inspires Podcast featuring Susanna Garcia we are sharing an excerpted transcript of her conversation with Luis Sanchez. Want to learn more about Garcia? Check out the latest installment of the Piano Inspires Podcast. To learn more, visit pianoinspires.com. Listen to our latest episode with Chee on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!

Susanna Garcia and William Chapman Nyaho after their performance at NCKP 2023: The Piano Conference.

Luis Sanchez: So let’s fast forward to Susie today. You’re involved in so many wonderful things with eNovativePiano, with your work with Nyaho. How are you—or your work—changing our world?

Susanna Garcia: Well, it helps to be retired from your academic job.

LS: I was wondering that!

SG: When you’re working a full-time academic job, your commitment is to that job. I mean, that’s your obligation, that’s your responsibility. Your work should be about your students, nurturing them, giving them what they need to be successful in whatever they do, whether it’s music, or they change their majors and go to psychology. You still are there to nurture that. You’re helping to build the school, to build the reputation of the school, to support your colleagues. The school that I retired from—the University of Louisiana at Lafayette—that music school has a phenomenally collegial and supportive culture, which is one reason I stayed there my whole career, because I could thrive. The faculty, the middle administration, the upper administration, I just had support all the time, and you don’t hear that said very much.

LS: It’s true, yeah.

SG: And so it was a good place to work, but all my efforts really were on my obligations to the students, and frankly, building my resume. As a young professor, I had to have resume items. I always chose projects that I was interested in, I never did anything just to do it, you know, just for the resume item. So, when I retired in 2021, in May, I thought I had all the time in the world to take on all these projects. So I took on kind of a lot of projects.

SG: I think I’ll start with the eNovativePiano for just a second because it is a business, it’s a group piano multimedia curriculum. It’s a business that grew out of two teachers that wanted to improve their students’ experiences. Group piano is hard. It’s hard for college music majors because they have to get proficiency in something fast that they may have had no experience in. And that’s a big ask. We were not satisfied with the progress our students were making towards proficiency. I mean, they could pass their proficiency, but we didn’t really feel like they were really proficient, that they could leave the group piano classroom and use piano as a tool professionally as needed.

LS: Which is the goal, right?

SG: Which is the goal. The goal isn’t the proficiency. The goal is you are the band director or choir director you need to plunk out parts. You need to be able to read a score, you need to—maybe you are a music therapist, and you need some keyboard skills. You need these skills. So, we just started making materials that we thought—videos and audio tracks—that we thought would help. This wasn’t about starting a business. It’s nothing about the business. We started and we would post them on our LMS. And we just started noticing real progress, quick, and also a much higher motivation level. Students were having a sense of fun. You know, they were they’re enjoying the process, and they were more engaged. So we took these first five videos that we made to a conference, and people said, “Where can I get these videos?” So we thought, okay, well, maybe we should commercialize it. So we did. And it’s been a long process, but that’s eNovativePiano. It really grew out of a need to serve our students. To me serving your students is changing the world. I mean, I think that’s, we have to remember that that’s what we’re doing. If I’m creating more ease, for someone who’s going to be a music professional to go out and do a better job more easily, I see that as changing the world. That’s changing the world like one-by-one, which is important, of course. But then the other projects—and this is why I love working with The Frances Clark Center, because The Frances Clark Center has a really global vision. The Frances Clark Center wants to make big changes, you know. So it’s great to be doing the one-to-one change, but I also like being associated with an organization that’s trying to do things in a bigger way.

SG: So my other current project is researching the music of Thomas Henderson Kerr, Jr. who, if you don’t know his name, when you’re listening to this podcast, I hope you will in another year. So briefly, Thomas Henderson Kerr, Jr. was an African American composer who died in the 1980s. He was a professor at Howard University for mostly his whole career. Well, he composed a lot of pieces, piano works, choral works, organ works—he was also an organist. None of his piano works—and very few, just maybe two of his organ works are appearing in anthologies—but none of his piano works have been published. All his music and his papers are in fourteen boxes in the Schomburg Center for Black Cultural Studies in New York City.

SG: The story of how I came to be interested in Thomas Kerr is too long to tell, but a manuscript came to Nyaho’s and my inboxes from somebody who had a 20,000 times Xerox version of this two-piano piece. And so we learned it and we loved it. It’s on our latest CD, but we’ve been touring with it, and it’s a concert scherzo, a set of variations based on the Negro spiritual, “Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel?” It’s a fantastic piece, it’s a fantastic piece. Where has it been? It was written in 1940! And it’s in a box. The crime here to me is that if there hadn’t been this accidental email, this piece would be completely forgotten history.

SG: So this is how I feel like I’m trying to change the world anyway. I’m not just bringing this piece to light, but with The Frances Clark Center, who is going to publish this piece, we’re going to also publish two more of his piano works. That’s, to me, a huge accomplishment, but what I want to inspire others to do is to understand that there are boxes like this, in every archive, in every library all over the world waiting for to be discovered. And you know, and there’s reasons this music wasn’t published, which I’m not going to go into, and I’m not even sure what the reasons are—I can just kind of guess. But I don’t know for sure. But I’m going to promise you that there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds, of African American composers whose music has never been published. This is why history is important, and this is why honesty about history is important. I do think it’s important to know why the music wasn’t published. I’m just not able to say for sure why that was. But I think that’s part of the research process. I hope, if you’re a young pianist, or young scholar, hearing this podcast and and looking for a topic for your doctoral work—

LS: To direct your attention to.

SG: You know, just going into these libraries and cataloging what’s in there for the world to see, would be changing the world and being truthful and honest about music history, and for African Americans, that experience in the United States. I think that history is a little bit under attack right now, and I’m going to be the first one to say, history is what keeps us moving forward, as a people, as a culture, as Americans. History is what keeps us grounded and tied to our past, and gives us the ability to have a future that is equitable.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Piano Inspires Podcast’s latest episode, listen to the entire episode with Susanna Garcia on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!


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