Remembering John Oliver

I joined John Oliver’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 2006. Having recently graduated from MIT, where I sang in the Chamber Chorus, I auditioned for the TFC to simply keep up a musical hobby. Little did I know that John Oliver would change my life.

Although I spent my entire childhood training to be a pianist, including three years in the Juilliard Pre-College program, by my undergraduate years I had no intention of pursuing a professional music career. During my years in the TFC, however, I finally fell in love with music.

A master pedagogue, John had a gift for inspiring vocal technique by evoking musical ideas and intent, all with a generous dose of wit. He had great pride in the varied backgrounds of his chorus members and allowed our lives and occupations outside the chorus to color our voices within. Sharing an almost-psychic connection with my fellow singers, I experienced performing from memory neither as a feat nor a requirement, but truly “by heart.”

John took a particular interest in my singing, and over the years I performed several small solos at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood. In later years, he invited me to serve as the chorus’ rehearsal pianist as well. Because John believed in me as a musician, I began to believe in myself as a musician. In 2010, I quit my corporate job to become a full-time pianist.

Beyond inspiring a new career, John demonstrated the ability of music to create community. As he wrote to the chorus when he announced his retirement, “It is the music that binds everyone together in [the chorus] room, those who otherwise might not be bound together. Maybe we need more music in this increasingly brutal and awful world…” By teaching the next generation of musicians, I aspire to honor John’s legacy with more music and, hopefully, more peace.

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