(image: Faye Nepon at left, Lisa Volk at right)

The Center for Musical Arts is proud to work with knowledgeable faculty with unique backgrounds. In this interview with piano and voice instructor Faye Nepon we explore her teaching style, her own musical education, her 25 years spent in Italy, and much more. 

CENTER: Please describe your role and history with the Center for Musical Arts. 

FAYE: I teach voice and piano, a musical theater class called Broadway Boomers and a vocal jazz class. I directed a women’s vocal ensemble, Bell’a’Cappella, for many years. 

I’d not been in Boulder long and was looking to join the local musical community when I first met my now dear friend Joan Huntsberry, who was teaching at the then Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts. She suggested I contact the women who founded and ran the school. I was greeted by Peggy Bruns and Kathy Kucsan with great warmth and genuine interest in my extensive background and experience. This was early 2005. I’ve been here happily ever since.

CENTER: How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

FAYE: I of course strive to help all of my students, be they piano, voice or ensemble, develop solid and healthy technical skills and a good knowledge of music theory and repertoire. I strive to nurture in them the sensitivity that will enable them to transform simple notes on a page into beautiful, meaningful sounds that can touch us in some way. And I strive to instill in them a love of music, in general.

I believe that when a serious study of music is balanced with the fun and personal satisfaction of making music, all of the above becomes easy. 

In short, I aim for my students to leave me with the skills, motivation and desire to keep making music, at whatever level of expertise, and with the love to support music in all its forms for the rest of their lives.

CENTER: What drew you to study, and later teach, piano and voice?

FAYE: I wouldn’t so much say “drew” as “pushed”! 

I was the youngest of four. Much to my parents’ dismay, all three of my older siblings had started and then quit taking piano lessons. I was my parents’ last hope! I started at six years old, and believe me, there was many a time I wanted to quit! But they would not let me, and I am beyond grateful to them now (which I do not hesitate to tell my students!). When it came time to think about college, my father asked me what I was planning to study. I hadn’t been thinking of college and at first was at a loss for words. In what am I interested? Well, it dawned on me pretty quickly – music, of course!

A young Faye Nepon singing “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story at her brother’s bar mitzvah

I did not think about teaching piano or voice until the late eighties, when in Italy. A woman approached me after I’d just finished a jazz concert and asked if I gave singing lessons? I said I didn’t and went on my way. But that opened a door in my brain and I began to question whether I should pursue it. I started and gradually grew a private studio and then joined the faculty of the Accademia Musicale di Firenze. And the rest is history.

CENTER: Have you ever had a mentor who helped shape your path? What did you learn from them?

FAYE: Indeed, I have. I was accepted into the Chicago Musical College (now the Chicago College of Performing Arts) as a piano major, and was stunned to see all the things my brilliant teacher, Abraham Stokman, expected of me! I thought I was going to be learning scales and pieces! “Sight-read this. Transpose this. Transpose this while you accompany me. Take these 6 notes and improvise a hymn, a waltz, a fugue, a jazz tune…”.  It was terrifying! And, it widened my view of the world of piano and of music in general more than I ever could have imagined. 

Professor Stokman had an all-encompassing, contagious love of music, of playing and of teaching. I am certain that his approach and his being had a profound effect on my teaching philosophy and style.

Professor Stokman also indirectly shaped my path down the road to jazz singing. I often had the opportunity to hear him improvise after completing a dazzling classical concert. It was mesmerizing. Of course, I had heard jazz, but had never heard or seen it created before my very eyes. I think that gave me a push towards a natural next step to take.

CENTER: You spent 25 years living in Italy. What is one thing (or just a few things!) that you learned about music while you lived there?

FAYE: Well, first of all, I discovered the vocal Italian music that was neither art song nor opera, but traditional folk songs of the poor and oppressed, of protest and peace, of work and the lack of it, of mothers and fathers, and of love and the loss of it. I have incorporated many of these tunes in my performances. I also learned some of the more contemporary songs, and perform Italian jazz standards to this day.

Learning this music sparked my interest in songs of other lands and I delved into the rich world of traditional ethnic song in its many styles and languages. For years I had the great fortune to perform this music throughout Italy and Europe.

So, while living in Italy, I learned and experienced countless times first-hand probably the most important thing about music. Music speaks to us all. Music connects us all, regardless of political or religious or racial or any other differences or strife. Through music, boundaries disappear. It truly is the universal language.

CENTER: When you are not teaching or listening to music, what else fills your life?

FAYE: First of all, when not teaching, I am preparing for teaching! 

Well, I spend a lot of time corresponding with my many beloved friends and family, both here and around the world. I love doing Pilates. I love listening to books on tape and to podcasts. I love watching movies. I love languages and am currently learning Yiddish. I love connecting with my daughter Rachel, who lives in Ireland. And I love hanging out with Calvin, my cat!