Center for Musical Arts: Good morning! My name is Erica Reid, I’m the Marketing Manager for the Center for Musical Arts, and I have the enviable job of getting to talk to all of our faculty members to get to know them a little bit better. This morning we’re talking to Faye Nepon. How are you, Faye?
Faye Nepon: I am very well. Thank you, Erica. Good morning.
Center: Wonderful. I have another interview that I will link to in this blog post that talks a little bit more about your personal background, your time in Italy, your long tenure as an instructor and a musician, so we have that as well, but can you give us just a general introduction to your time with the Center and your time with music?
Faye: Oh, well, my time at the Center has been, well, I think 16 years now, right? I started in 2005. I had arrived in Boulder in 2004 and was thrilled to have found some people along my early journey here that led me to Peggy Bruns and Kathy Kucsan, who are the founders of this beautiful community music school.
So I’ve been with them again since 2005. Along the way, I have always taught individual voice and piano, and then I’ve had several groups. For many years, I had a women’s acapella group called Bell’a’Cappella. Then I had a group called Show Stoppers, another choir. And in particular, as you know, I have two wonderful adult musical theater and jazz voice groups. In terms of, you asked me my history with music?
Center: Yeah. I know that’s hard to put in a nutshell because it seems to me your life is music, but just a bit of your background.
Faye: Right. So I always joke with especially the parents of my young students, especially when they’re saying, “I can’t get them to practice.” So you walk the line between forcing a child, which you don’t want to force anybody to do anything, but not necessarily letting them stop on their first moment of difficulty or unhappiness with it, especially in piano that doesn’t give you the instant gratification that maybe studying voice does.
And the reason I say that is that I dearly wanted to quit when I was an adolescent in elementary/middle school. And my parents wouldn’t let me and I thank them to this day. I probably wasn’t too happy. I don’t remember that all that well, but I really have made a life in music. I’ve never done anything for more than a short period of time. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. You know, we had a piano teacher, the neighborhood piano teacher, who came around and really started me off on this journey.
Center: We have some pictures of you with your family performing show tunes. It seems like it must have been a very familial, and I don’t know, intimate thing for you growing up. Is that the case?
Faye: Yes, it was just beautiful. My family, I didn’t come from a family of musicians, but of music lovers and in particular standards, jazz standards. But you know we have standard songs over the thirties, forties, fifties, and musicals. Our dad would wake us up every Domingo with a different album of musicals.
And because I was the resident piano player, I sat at the piano and we all stood around. It’s something that I say to my piano students and teach them as well to learn chords as well as learning to read music, classical music, whatever, so that they can enjoy the piano as much as one does maybe a guitar, to pick up and strum. That you don’t only have to learn pieces from beginning to end, but you can pick up a songbook as I did of musical theater or the Beatles, or I don’t know, Lady Gaga, and accompany your friends or yourself or your family. Another thing to do instead of maybe turning on the TV, that you have music always with you.
Center: So that’s interesting to me because we’re going to talk today a bit about specifically with classes that you have now, Jazz for Singers and Musical Theater, which was previously called Broadway Boomers. But I want to ask first, what draws you to this sort of ensemble style of learning and sharing music? I mean, it seems related to me to the way you grew up, singing show tunes with your family, but what is it about that ensemble feeling that draws you?
Faye: Oh, well, I’m a people person [laughs], so that might be one of the reasons. I’ve also sung a lot in choirs, and while I love to sing solo things, the reality of making music with other people is it becomes bigger than yourself. You are a part of something big and that makes it bigger than singing on your own, which you would think is the biggest thing you could do, but actually…
And also the camaraderie. My groups, because I stress so strongly the need to create a safe environment, a nonjudgmental environment, I have groups, both of my Musical Theater and Jazz groups, where I have beginners, sometimes total beginners who’ve never set foot on a stage, to seasoned performers, some of whom sing in choirs around town, a couple voice teachers themselves, and the support and the joy in what everyone else is doing.
Not to mention, especially in Musical Theater, where we actually put together shows — and by the way, we have a show next week! Very, very exciting. Where everybody has also a little bit of input, in addition to getting coaching from me. The jazz voice group, we sing solos, but again, everybody works on their solos together, and just looking out at your comrades and seeing them smiling at you is just, I can see how gratifying it is for these folks.
Center: Well, those both sound like really welcoming and interesting classes. Can you, just to be clear, tell me who would be a good fit for each one of these classes? You’ve mentioned just recently that it seems like all abilities are welcome, but can you tell me a bit more about who might be drawn to these classes?
Faye: Absolutely. You probably need to be a bit of a ham, even if you’re shy, because you’d be surprised at people who say they’re shy, but people who love to put on a costume and to create dialogues and basically bottom line for musical theater, you have to love musical theater. We are mostly obsessed with musicals. [laughs]
And so we use songs, and we don’t write our own songs, but create the show. This show that’s coming up is we’re going to be strolling through the Ritz. So the backdrop is a fancy department store, so we’re going to deck out the stage as such. The piano will become the piano, you know how in Nordstrom there’s a pianist.
And so we have solos and duets. So people really get to know each other and to perform for families and friends. So I would say that that is the type of person that would draw, that wants to be on the stage and strut their stuff.
Center: It’s based more on passion and interest than on skill level.
Faye: Oh yes. [laughs] Their skill level. I mean, the classes are structured so that it’s kind of like a masterclass where everybody gets their own moment to work on their piece, which grows from the beginning, from them not knowing it, or maybe having heard it.
The pianist is an integral part in supporting and creating this safe environment whereby yes, to explore and allow your passion to come forward. So many of these folks had been told in, I don’t know, in high school, “Well maybe you should lip sync.” And with us, with me, it’s not about talent. It really comes from passion and desire and each person at their own level always grows.
And so, yeah, passion is always the bottom line, as it is for the vocal jazz group. There again, you would need to have an interest in or a passion for jazz, which is a huge, huge term. And I would narrow that down to the jazz standards. Again, just to say a few names, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, that kind of music where we start by singing the songs and listening to others, but then making it our own.
So exploring what it means to vary a melody. And then of course, to get to the world of scat, which is to improvise, but it’s not necessarily a part of it. And we will have a show in a couple weeks and there we make the hall into a cabaret with tables and serve nuts. So it’s not a concert as the Musical Theater is, but just like a… I don’t want to say speakeasy, but..
Center: Yeah, that vibe.
Faye: A jazz club. Right.
Center: So both of these classes are for adults, is that correct?
Faye: Yes, they are for adults. In particular, the first one that I did was the Broadway Boomers. The reason it was called that my dear friend and colleague Lisa Volk and I had this desire to do musical theater and to invite those who, they’ve raised their kids, they’ve put in their time and now they want to devote time to themselves in the world that they love either to go as theater goers, and that is musical theater.
So originally it was for Boomers, which I am, and you are not. [laughs] I think it was from 55, then it became 50 up. Then it was 45 up. And now that we have a 28-year-old man, we have changed the name from Broadway Boomers, which is now misleading, to a Musical Theater class.
The jazz class, really I would say from 18 up. I mean, it can be, generally speaking, we have older adults, but have people in their 30s and they’re all, absolutely all, welcome.
Center: So the sense I’m getting is if you are an adult who’s hearing this and even thinking, “I might be interested in this,” you should try it. You should come, you should meet the people and see how it feels.
Faye: Yes. You know, Erica, I always invite people to come and sit in on a class because I could describe it forever, but until you come in and feel the welcome and the laughter and — we can be very silly. It’s really funny to see our 28-year-old doesn’t always understand our humor. [laughs] We have such a great time. So anybody is welcome to come by.
I always ask to have a conversation first with the new member again, so that I know a little more about them and they know what they’re walking into. Often they know because they’ve come to shows because they’re friends of people in the groups.
Center: Well, wonderful. Thank you so much. And I will share some information in our blog about how you can reach out about those classes, if you’d like to sit in on class, or where you can find a list of our upcoming events in case there’s a recital or a concert coming up that you want to sit in on and see what it’s like.
Thank you so much, Faye. In closing, I would just like to ask, is there a Broadway musical or a jazz standard that you just can’t get out of your head these days, something that’s really speaking to you?
Faye: I would have to say, and I would have responded differently a week ago, that we just lost one of the greatest, if not the greatest, composers and lyricists of musical theater. He changed the tapestry, the world of musical theater. And I’m referring to Stephen Sondheim.
And I have, since being a young adult, loved him pretty much more than all, and his musicals. And so I’m thinking of him and of the musical Company in particular, which is in the process of… It’s on Broadway. And it’s a remarkable revival. If anyone knows Company, the protagonist is Bobby, a young man who doesn’t want to get married and all his friends who unveil their relationships and their thoughts. And for the first time, this time Bobby is a woman. “Bobbie” still. And Sondheim went to the preview just a few days before he died and he loved it.
And so we’re all just heartbroken. Thank goodness we had him for 91 years and his works will continue to help us grow as humans and as musicians. So yeah, I would say Stephen Sondheim.
Center: Absolutely. I think that’s the perfect, perfect answer. I just watched Tick, Tick… Boom!, the other night on Netflix, which has some Sondheim references and even a little Easter egg appearance from him. And I think that we’ll feel that loss for a long time, and maybe we can look forward to a sort of Sondheim revue from some of your performers in the future.
Faye: Well, actually, I’m creating that as we speak! Some of the “old” Boomers, previous Boomers, many of whom have done many Sondheim songs. I am going to create a celebration tribute concert.
Center: Perfect. I look forward to it. Well, thank you so much for talking to me this morning, Faye.
Faye: It was a pleasure. Thank you, Erica.
Center: Thank you.
Faye: Have a beautiful day.
Center: You too.