Spotlight on the Artist: Doris Stevenson

What attracted you to the artist-in-residence program here?

I was thrilled to be asked to teach here. One of the nice things about it is I that part of the job is playing concerts, which is not the norm in college jobs. I also teach piano and coach chamber music.

What’s being a pianist like?

I’ve spent more time collaborating with other artists than playing by myself. It can be a lonely life being a pianist, you sit in a practice room all day all by yourself and you go to the concert. You go all by yourself, and you’re alone afterwards. But when you play with other people, you’re together to rehearse, you give input, you get input, it’s better.

How is it different for you, teaching versus performing music?

It’s nice to have the balance, because you can kind of go nuts if you spend all your time trying to perfect your performance. It’s nice to have other things in your life.

Why do you love music?

I guess it takes you out of yourself, and you’re reaching for something higher than yourself. Great music, you’re always seeing new things in it, like studying a great text. I love Beethoven, but right now one of my students just did a Bach concerto (and that’s a fabulous piece) so right now I’m really in love with that Bach concerto, the one that Sarah Song did. I tend to fall in love with whatever pieces I’m doing. Recently I did have to do some second-rate pieces though.

What do you think of being a musician living in NYC?

Well, it’s the place to be for musicians; there’s so many great musicians around. You walk down Broadway and you can generally find a musician to talk to about the music you’re working on.

There’s always stimulation, and so many concerts you can go to; one can keep up with trends in new music. I like to go the some of the smaller halls, like Alice Tully Hall. It’s nice to play there too.

Have you played there?

Yes. The acoustics are perfect, the room always makes you sound better there there than you do at home. People don’t realize that rooms can do that. Chapin does that.

Could you describe the piece that you played for the 20th century music concert?

It’s quite weird. It’s supposed to be a spoof on film music, on cliches used in writing film music.

What are some of the challenges, the questions that your students come to you with?

Well, everyone wants to improve their technique. Everyone thinks that’s what they want the most.

But is it really?

It’s true you can get bogged down in that. Lately I’ve been thinking that sometimes if you just plant an idea, of some mood that you can reach, then they come back and they’re able to do it.

What do you hope to do for your students at Williams?

I’d like to be getting the students together to include music in their lives more. Except that they do include it. People say the arts are dying, but teaching here has restored my faith in the arts. Students come and say [of music] “I need it to get away from the stress of life at Williams.”

That’s very reassuring. That’s contrary to a lot of the general assumptions about arts here.

I’m impressed. I think the arts are alive and well. There are lots of people who make the music center their home, their hangout.

I notice that you’re all in black. Do people say anything to you about the correlation between wearing black and being an artist?

I thought it was wearing black and living in NYC.

Do you consider yourself an artist?

Yes, yes, I guess so. I hope so. I don’t go around telling people I’m an artist. I guess I can say I’m a pianist, which is part craft and part art. It’s irritating to me when people say, “Oh, I’m a concert pianist,” it sounds so pretentious. But I am a pianist, and I do play concerts, many times a year, so I guess it’s really the case.

What would you see yourself doing if you weren’t doing this?

Everyone graduates from here and goes to work at an investment bank. It’s tempting to just go get a job doing something else. Just to have done something else.

Yeah, but not I-Banking.

That’s right. Talk about giving up your life.

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