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PERPETUAL CHANGE — Sara Davis Buechner

| Feb 15, 2010
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Perpetual Change HeaderClassical music has been featured in this column before, and as a genre’, it’s probably received the least amount of attention in the transgender music community. However, that’s definitely starting to change.

Sara Davis Buechner is a concert pianist whose repertoire includes over 100 piano concertos, from Bach to modern composers. A Buechner concert is as likely to present music by Gershwin; some ragtime; or a composition from a Japanese composer as it is the classics.

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Sara Davis Buechner

As a composer, she has produced suites for piano, as well as music for chamber ensemble and voice. She has a huge catalog of CDs released under her own name, and has composed original scores for silent film presentations. A good example of this is the 150 minute score for the silent classic Ben Hur, which was presented at New York’s Lincoln Center. Her work has included composing for the Yamaha Disklavier and Piano Soft Disks, which are disks that can be played on Yamaha pianos equipped with Disklavier players and on Yamaha Clavinova and Grantouch Electronic keyboards.

Miss Buechner recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her professional concert debut in New York, with a performance this past November 11th, 2009 at NYC’s Merkin Concert Hall.

She is from New York, but lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she is the Associate Professor of Piano and Piano Literature at the Univeristy of British Columbia. She is also extremely fond of all things Japanese, and was in Osaka, Japan when contacted for the following interview.

Sara Davis Buechner is an incredibly gifted musician and has a lot to say about her craft and life in general. We’ve decided to present this article in two installments because of length, and it is an honor to introduce her to TGForum readers.

TGForum: You recently celebrated 25 years of your professional debut. Did you ever see your performing career reaching this milestone?

Sara Davis Buechner: I can answer that in two parts. (1) Of course any musician looks forward to a long career of performance and while I never specifically thought of x number of years, I naturally assumed that I’d be playing a celebration recital in Carnegie Hall at, say, age 96-like the great Mieczyslaw Horszowski. However, in my own life, part (2) of my answer would have to take into account some very dark years, circa 1995-98, just before and during gender transition, when there were many, many times I really wonderred if I could make that journey. As the years pass by, I realize that I was lucky to survive. Many of my trans brothers and sisters do not, as you know.

SaraDavisBuechner

TGF: Your performance repertoire and your discography include everything from Bach and Tchaikowsky to Gershwin and even Stephen Foster. That represents an incredibly wide range of tastes and styles. My question is: what criteria do you use in selecting material to record and/or perform? Are there things you will record, but not perform live, and perform but not record?

SDB: It’s probably impossible for me to catagorize what quality marks the music I choose to play and to record. Basically, it has to be something that appeals to my heart, brain, and soul, and in fact there’s not really a lot of music that fits that bill. But as a pianist I am lucky-we have an enormous repertoire. So there’s 450+ years of music to choose from. And I often choose music that is less known, or even wholly unknown to my fellow pianists. There are a lot of classical pianists who concentrate on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and there’s no disputing that’s a nearly bottomless well of inspiration. At the same time, there are composers like Martinu, Turina, Szymanowski, Toch, Busoni, Dana Suesse, etc., etc., ad infinitum-who those pianists just never even get to know.

In terms of recording, I try to save for posterity that which I know like the back of my hand, and love dearly. At times, that’s not possible, given the constraints of the recording industry. There is little interest by classical companies in another traversal of the Mozart Piano Sonatas. On the other hand, when I recently recorded piano music of Dana Suesse, the company wanted everything she wrote. And she wrote some pieces I wouldn’t necessarily program in a recital. However, for a coherent CD and for historical purposes, it was a good choice to learn those piecces and record them.

TGF: Do you have a favorite composer, or a favorite musical era/time period?

SDB: Well, from the previous anser, I guess you can tell that my anser is “No!”. But that would also be a bit of a lie. I tend to prefer classical (circa 1750-1830) and post-romantic (1880-1950) classical music over the more traditionally beloved Chopin and Schumann. And I really love ragtime and early jazz and big band music, too. There’s not a lot of so called classical music that fits that description, so some of the music of Joseph Lamb (rags), Gershwin and his contemporary Dana Suesse probably skirts the line of what people usually think of as “classical music”.

TGF: I know that you’re orignally from New York, but can you provide some more personal background?

SDB: I was born September 8, 1959 in Baltimore, Maryland. I began piano lessons when I was 3 years old, with a wonderful Hugarian refugee named Veronika Wolf. From age 6 to 16, I worked with a brillian Filipino pianist, Reynaldo Reyes. On my 17th birthday, my Dad drove me to New York and I began my college years at Julliard. There I studied primarilly with Czech concert pianist Rudolf Firkusay. Later I completed my doctorate (the degree in music is called a DMA) at the Manhattan School, where I worked with the legendary virtuoso Horowitz pupil Byron Janis.

In New York, I taught at both the Manhattan School and New York Univeristy. I never attended NYU as a student. I was an adjunct professor of piano, circa 1994-2003.

TGF: What were your musical influences growing up? Who do you listen to now?

SDB: I was raised wholly in an environment of classical music, going to piano recitals and concerts of the Baltimore Symphony and National Orchestra (D.C.). We honestly never listened to anything else in our house. Nevertheless, through movies on TV and rummaging in my grandparent’s basement, I found and developed a love for 1920-1930 jazz. So at age 14, begging and whining, I got my parents to drive me to the summer festival at Wolf Trap, Virginia, where we heard Benny Goodman and his orchestra. It was one of his last live appearances. A few years later in New York, I heard the legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham at a jazz brunch.

I had a very brief interest in rock music, circa 1969-70, when I listened to Casey Kasem. I liked the softer stuff that few around me admired-Carol King, David Gates and Bread, Anne Murray, the Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel. My classmates were into much harder stuff.

Around 1972, I just stopped paying attention to rock. I just hated disco, and do not understand rap music at all. If it’s not a singable tune, I just don’t relate to it very much, and melody always trumps lyrics in my head. It’s why I always place Gershwin far above Cole Porter on my American Song mantle.

In terms of non-classical music that I listened (and still listen) to, I turned to big band and jazz: Ellington, Goodman, Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald. Also, Puerto Rican and Dominican band music like Tito Rodriguez and Celia Cruz. I do love Gloria Estefan. This is what I listen to at home, when relaxing. Not classical…that’s work for me!

Classical music needs many, many, MANY more young fans. This is great and impassioned and spiritually galvanizing stuff, and most people just think it is stuffy, highbrow, unintelligible. The music will die out because of those unjust labels. The fight against those monikers needs my attention, far more than the rock world needs me.

TGF: I found that you live in Vancouver, Canada, and teach at the University of British Columbia. How long have you held your postion and how do you coordinate your teaching duties wit your recording and performing dates?

SDB: I moved to Vancouver in 2003, happy to find a University that would hire me. As it happens, it’s an excellent University, one of the best in Canada, and I would call it the top piano faculity in that country. I bagan as an Assistant Professor, got tenure last year, and am now an Associate. I teach piano lessons, chamber music, and a course in Piano Literature (history of piano music) there.

It’s not always easy balancing the teaching and performing careers. It might be impossible without my spouse Kayoko, who is my life support…and I, hers. The University expects its music faculty to play concerts, yet at the same time you are supposed to be around town when they need you. I count my blessings that the Univeristy is very supportive, and seems proud of my busy concert activity. It reflects well on them, after all. My students know that when I am back in town, I am very available to them.

TGF: You’re obviously very drawn to Japan and all things Japanese. I see that you’re a rabid Japanese baseball fan. I wonder if you’ve ever considered working with traditional Japanese musicians.

SDB: Yes, I’ve loved the image and reallity of Asia from earliest memory. It’s hard to explain that, but we’ll just say that I am naturally drawn to the exotic and esoteric. It was in the midst of my transition, when work was getting near impossible to find, that I had the time to begin taking Japanese language classes. It was probably the first time in my life that I found myself eager to spend as much time on something non-musical, as on my practicing. At one point, I actually put in an application to become an English teacher to children in Japan. Fortunately that school considerred me too old.

Indeed I have enjoyed working with many Japanese people, including composers from whom I’ve commissioned new piano music, like Kyoto based Yukiko Nishimura who is writing a set of ten Etudes for me. And I include in my repertoire some very great piano music by Japanese comosers virtually unknown in the West.
In Vancouver, I’ve done several interacitve dance projects with a great artist, the Japenese mime/dancer/mask-maker Yayoi Hirano, and her dance company. She’s a remarkable woman.

For more information on Sara Davis Buechner, and for links to access and purchase her music, please go to www.sarabuechner.com

ALSO THIS MONTH

Coco Peru will be performing at the University of the Pacific as part of the conference “It Takes A Rainbow Bridging The Mountains To The Bay 2010”.
address is: 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211
7:30 p.m. in the Faye Spanos Concert Hall, tickets $15, students $8
(http://lgbtqia.pacific.edu)
And, Coco will also be at the Seacost Repertory Theatre Annual Fundraiser, April 18
address125 Bow St., Portsmouth, NH 03801 603-433-4793
(www.seacoastrep.org)

The Cliks’ frontman Lucas Silveira has been voted Canada’s Sexiest Man. check out www.popularpublicity.com for more information on Lucas and The Cliks.


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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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