Concert pianist and GC assistant professor of music Owen Lovell performed at the National Association of Music Merchants on Jan. 25 in Anaheim, California. NAAM is one of the largest trade shows in the world and attracts an audience of over 100,000 music merchants, academics and performers each year.
“When the call came that NAAM was going to have large ensemble piano performances, I jumped right at it,” Lovell said. “It’s an honor. Some of the biggest people in the music industry perform in the show. Just to be in the same breath as those people, even though I’m not sharing the same stage, it’s pretty fun.”
Lovell performed “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” for the Roomful of Pianos event, an unconventional show with 15 pianists in the same room.
This was Lovell’s second time performing in the “Roomful of Pianos” at NAMM after played at the same event last year. It was difficult to have 15 pianists play the same piece, but Lovell thought that this year’s performance was better organized.
“We were sent the scores and had to learn it independently,” Lovell said. “We had one rehearsal the night before for about 90 minutes, with the conductor and everyone trying to adjust the pianos to each other. It’s a little like herding cats, more artistic perhaps.”
Despite the challenges, Lovell was honored to play at the NAAM show. Other than performing, he said also enjoyed people-watching and seeing the latest music products.
The show included equipment and performers for nearly all genres, from classical music to electronic dance music. Lovell explained what it was like walking between different areas of the convention center and seeing the demographic shift between genres.
“The floor of the convention center where the pianos are kept is much more conservative,” Lovell said. “When you go downstairs and see what’s happening with the guitars, drums and EDM, all of a sudden the demographics skewers much younger and way more diverse.”
Lovell’s love for piano began when he was five years old. His mother’s racquetball partner, a music graduate from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, noticed him playing his grandmother’s piano. She gave him piano lessons, and music became one of the most important parts of his life, especially during his adolescence.
“I was a little bit socially awkward as a teenager, as many of us are,” Lovell said. “That [music] gave me an outlet to express myself that I couldn’t have in the normal way.”
In high school, Lovell decided that he wanted to become a professional musician. He was a diligent piano student, and his parents didn’t have to push him to practice.
“I was encouraged to take lessons, but I was never ordered to practice,” Lovell said. “I just liked to do it. By the same token, I was never encouraged to study music professionally as a career. It took a little while for my parents to accept the fact that I was going to be a professional musician. They’re proud now, though.”
Lovell attended John Hopkins University and earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in piano performance from the Peabody Conservatory. He also earned his doctorate in musical arts from the University of Texas.
Lovell started teaching at GC three years ago. He had no previous connections to Georgia, but he wanted to teach at a small liberal arts school.
“I wanted to work in a smaller department where I feel like I have a little more flexibility to have initiatives with my students and the community,” Lovell said. “I also wanted to be in an area where the success or failure in my area as keyboard coordinator was completely dependent on my effort.”
Lovell said he has enjoyed Milledgeville’s community. Faculty members, students and Milledgeville residents have welcomed he and his wife and made them feel at home.
“The people in Milledgeville have been super welcoming to my wife and I,” Lovell said. “The genuine friendliness and generosity of the community is amazing.”
Lovell plans to give back to the community. He said he hopes to establish an after-school piano outreach program for elementary school students. Lovell is currently looking for the right school to partner with.
With his teaching, 10 performances a year and committee work for GC and the Georgia Music Teachers Association, Lovell has to balance his time. However, he said his teaching always comes first.
“You can’t be great at everything all at once,” Lovell said. “The most important thing is to not let my teaching be affected.”
Charles Pepper, a sophomore music therapy major, described Lovell’s teaching style as hands-on, methodical and precise. For example, Lovell motivates his students to memorize pieces before attending class.
“Not only does it make learning new pieces challenging,” Pepper said, “but he really trains his students to learn their piece in and out before they have to perform in front of their peers and future audiences.”
Lovell has individual lessons with students, and gives them feedback and descriptive analogies to help them understand difficult concepts.
“He demands excellence but has so much patience with you,” Jake Thorn said, a senior music therapy major. “He has shown me on several occasions what it means to be professional in any situation and that no matter what goes on in life the show must go on.”
Lovell has also taught his students how to achieve a higher level of professional musicianship, motivating students like Pepper and Thorn to practice diligently and persistently.
“Hearing Lovell perform[ed] at a world-trade show doesn’t surprise me since he is extremely talented at what he does,” Pepper said. “It also reminds me that if he can do it with the practice, persistence and precision for wide audiences, so can I.”
Courtesy of Owen Lovell