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Liner Notes

Siegel celebrates 30 years of keyboard conversations at Arvada Center

New season starts with Bernstein show


It seems like everybody took a piano lesson or two in their lives.

I did for years, learning how to play some of my favorite Vince Guaraldi “Peanuts” songs, as well as the piano versions of some of my favorite pop songs at the time — stuff like the Dave Matthews Band.

As with everything, it all comes down to having a great teacher. I certainly did.

And for the past 30 years, Jeffrey Siegel has served as a proxy piano teacher to hundreds who came to his Keyboard Conversations at the Arvada Center. But instead of teaching how to play, he gives audiences a window into classical music and composers.

“Thirty years is a milestone in this disposable society,” Siegel said with a laugh. “They haven’t disposed of me yet.”

An internationally known pianist, Siegel has been a soloist with many of the world’s top orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Moscow State Symphony, Munich’s Bayerischer Rundfunk, and the Amsterdam, Oslo and Stockholm Philharmonic.

Siegel kicks off his 30th season at the center on Oct. 4 with a focus on Leonard Bernstein, and will be hosting programs on music inspired by the night, storytelling through music, and the repertoire of masters like Beethoven, Liszt and Prokofiev during the season.

But it’s not only about the performances for Siegel. It’s about the whole picture. He answers audiences’ questions, gives history and context to composers, pieces and musical eras, and shares stories.

Think of it as a one-off music education class. I know I always find more in a piece of music, classical or otherwise, if I know what the musician intended, or was experiencing at the time.

“Sometimes people have very specific questions, but often they’re happily general,” Siegel said. “So many would like the opportunity to ask a question of the performer on stage, but that opportunity never happens.”

Classical music can be particularly intimidating for the uninitiated, which is why this guided approach is so effective for Siegel. And it has led to some of his favorite memories at the Center, like when students, who normally wouldn’t be the interested in classical, came backstage to share how much the music moved them.

“I was so touched the music brought them backstage,” Siegel remembers. “Classical music can be like water on the desert. Even if a person isn’t a sophisticated concert goer, the music still gets through to them.”

The interaction with his audience is what has kept Siegel coming back for three decades, as is knowing he’s giving people an entry-point to a genre that is all about humanity. And in an age of digitalization when everyone has their eyes on a screen, that matters.

“We’re living today in the most robotic society ever. For a thinking, feeling person, there’s a greater need for something that really touches one, moves one, that cannot be gotten off a screen,” he said. “It’s about, as Bernstein called it, the ‘transformative power of music.’ It’s more necessary than ever before.”

Clarke Reader’s column on how music connects to our lives appears every other week. A community editor with Colorado Community Media, he would totally sign on for a Keyboard Conversation on Vince Guaraldi. Check out his music blog at calmacil20.blogspot.com. And share how you got into classical music at creader@coloradocommunitymedia.com.


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