iPianoTeacher: Thank you Glenda for joining us in our premiere INTERVIEW MINI. Students all over the world have been inspired by your original music as well as your arrangements. When did you first know that music would be your life’s work?
Glenda: In elementary school, I ADORED my music teacher, Mrs. Phillips. She was my early piano teacher and I loved going to her home for lessons. She played by ear and I wanted to play like her. I enjoyed music, loved to sing, loved to play piano and really never thought of doing anything else. I wanted to be a music teacher, just like her.
iPianoTeacher: When did you first begin composing your own music?
Glenda: My older sister started piano lessons and I began picking out her little pieces by ear. Oh boy, that made her really mad! So I got to start taking lessons, too. I suppose playing be ear could have been considered composing, though it started by improvising. My parents did not play any instruments, but they both loved to sing. Carolina in the Morning and Peg of My Heart were two of the first songs I learned to play (by ear). They were favorites of my Dad. So we learned a lot of music from that generation. When I was about 13, I became the church organist at our small Baptist church.
My sister was the pianist and that was the start of us playing together in church. I credit playing all of those hymns in all keys, week after week for adding to skills of sight-reading, improvising, transposing and arranging.
iPianoTeacher: Besides writing and arranging piano music, please tell us about your career as a music educator.
Glenda: After graduation from University of Missouri, I married and returned to my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. I immediately started my career as an elementary music teacher. I enjoyed working with students in grades K-6 (6th grade was still in elementary back then!) While I used music books, I taught many songs that weren’t in the books. I thought there were lots of songs they should know that weren’t in the books and most of the songs were popular ones! So I just taught them, usually by rote. It was a lot of fun. I also had an elementary orchestra and a select choir. We did a lot of performances for local clubs, luncheons, etc. I’ve taught all grades ranging from kindergarten, middle school and high school choir.
iPianoTeacher: One of your famous mentors was the legendary William Gillock. We understand you will be presenting the showcase “Happy Birthday Mr. Gillock” for Willis Music at the 2017 MTNA conference in Baltimore on Tuesday morning. Can you give us a taste of what you plan to present?
Glenda: This July will be William Gillock’s 100th birthday! What a legend and how fortunate I was to know him. There really are no words to adequately describe what he did for me in terms of encouragement and support. I know I would not be in the world of composing were it not for him. That’s just how special he was to me. In Baltimore I’ll be playing Gillock, Gillock and more Gillock! (And maybe one or two Austin pieces!). I plan to highlight many levels, including some of my personal favorites, and there may be a story or two that goes with the music. There will be LOTS of playing, remembering, and a couple of surprises! It’s going to be a GILLOCK GALA PARTY!
iPianoTeacher: Do you have a humorous piano teacher story you would like to share?
Glenda: Hmmm…. not sure if this is that funny, but when I enrolled at the University of Missouri, I was assigned a piano teacher and we got along great. Toward the end of the first semester, we were going over jury pieces, reminders, what to do, etc. and I remember as an added comment she said something like, “…and don’t forget about the major/minor scales and arpeggios, hands together, 4 octaves up and down,” I said, “What are you talking about?” I had NEVER played scales/arpeggios in my lessons back home. So I had to learn them pronto and was I ever scared! I don’t remember how it turned out, but I guess it was okay. When I started teaching my little students, I made sure they would know what a scale was, and how to play one, at least with one hand.
iPianoTeacher.com: Do you have a particular piece or collection that you would deem your favorite? What makes it so special to you?
Glenda: Honestly, this is a tough question. At one time or another, every piece has been my favorite. But I suppose Jazz Suite 2 might be high on my list. It’s been very popular with students for several years. And it was written to honor Raymond Herbert, one of my teachers at the University. My teachers at home introduced me to light classical music but encouraged playing by ear and improvising–and I love that. But when I got to Professor Herbert, he really pushed me into some difficult literature. Before that, I had never really thought of myself as a ‘classical’ pianist. He convinced me that I could play music like Scriabin, Ravel, Schubert, and lots more. I think with the combination of teachers I’ve had, every angle has been covered and I wouldn’t change a thing.
iPianoTeacher.com: Thank you Glenda, for sharing your musical insight and heart-warming stories. Teachers will no doubt appreciate your music even more now!
Glenda Austin is a composer, arranger, and pianist from Joplin, Missouri. Ms. Austin is currently an active clinician for The Willis Music Company and has presented clinics and showcases regionally, nationally, as well as in Canada and Japan. Because of her close association as student and friend of the late renowned children’s composer William Gillock, she was chosen by Willis to simplify the popular Gillock series New Orleans Jazz Styles as well as to arrange the series as four-hand duets.