Andover Piano Instructor Stephen Porter Combines Classical and Modern Music

C.Waggoner/The Phillipian

Though Stephen Porter puts on faculty recitals every year, he only started including comtemporary pieces in his programs last year.

Stephen Porter, Adjunct Instructor in Music, played a few slow and mellow notes before breaking out into the soaring, thundering melody of Philip Glass’ “Mad Rush.” Then, all of a sudden, the piece became quiet again, returning to a quiet refrain.

“I was mesmerized by ‘Mad Rush,’ by its repeated notes,” said audience member Jason Huang ’21. “When the music suddenly dimmed out, I went back into reality.”

This performance by Porter occured at his faculty piano recital Friday in Cochran Chapel. In addition to classical pieces composed by Mozart, Chopin, and Liszt, Porter included this piece by contemporary composer Glass in his repertoire. According to Porter, the piece was written for the first public address of the Dalai Lama in the United States.

Porter said, “Glass is a composer of minimalist music, based on very simple patterns, lots of repetition… So, you have to change your perception of time, not be in such a hurry to go anywhere… The title perhaps has something to do with the balance between a Buddhist sense of calm and the mad rush of our contemporary society.”

Wendy Heckman, W.B. Clift Music Librarian, has attended all of Porter’s faculty recitals over the past decade. According to Heckman, Porter does research on each piece he plays, which allows him to convey a narrative through his music. 

“Music has a story to tell, if you listen to it. And [Porter] feels that story in himself, and he tells the truth of that story, whether it’s a sad story or a happy story, or a story about a place… And it’s interesting – I don’t know if you’ve heard a pianist who’s just playing. Steve doesn’t just play. Steve just tells the story. It’s beautiful,” said Heckman. 

Something that set Porter’s concert apart from other classical music performances was his commentary between pieces, which gave context to each work.

“[Classical pianists] usually never [speak before each piece]. Usually it’s a very grim affair; a person sits down and plays for two hours, and doesn’t say a word… Not everyone sitting out there is an expert in classical music. Most people just want to hear some nice pieces, so if you tell them the story behind some of the pieces, it can be much more rewarding for them when they listen,” said Porter.

Porter encourages all students to attend faculty recitals, and hear professional performances by their own teachers on campus.

“There are so many pianists and violinists here, so they should have the opportunity to hear some great music like this… Classical music sometimes gets the bad rep of being really serious and solemn, but it’s always very beautiful. And if it’s done well, you can really connect to the audience, and anyone in the audience should be able to enjoy it,” said Porter.

Audience member Carmel Fitzgibbon ’22 added, “A lot of the time we get to see students and what they can do, but we also need an appreciation [of] all the talents that the faculty has.