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Eugénie Rocherolle - An American Treasure

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"One of the fundamental problems," says Eugenie Rocherolle, "is the fact that music in America is viewed merely as an extracurricular activity. We teachers need to reframe it in the public mind as a noble subject which develops character and skill through self-discipline and artistic relations with other people."

A composer since childhood, Eugenie has touched the lives of countless piano students who have always gravitated toward music as a means of pleasure and personal expression. Her rich tonal palette and wide range of styles is evident throughout her catalog of over 600 titles, and her works have garnered praise and admiration from all corners of the piano world.

As she celebrated her 30th anniversary of publishing, Eugenie took the time to share some of her background with Clavier Companion. 

Celebrating 30 years of composing!

 

30th Anniversary celebration includes

• Recollections and comments from colleagues, friends, and former students of Eugenie Rocherolle

• A recent Eugenie Rocherolle composition in its entirety: "Easy Walkin' Blues" on pages 24-25 

Origins

As she reflected on her long and diverse career, she remembered her two most influential teachers: Attica Aitkens and Lucille Snyder Soule. While in high school, Eugenie studied with Ms. Aitkens, a friend of William Gillock. She thrived under Aitkens' energetic pedagogy. It was routine for her teacher to dance around the room to demonstrate a phrase while gracefully waving her arms and singing. Aitkens helped Eugenie develop a strong foundation by encouraging good practice habits. She learned to establish goals and rise to the high expectations of a demanding teacher who "would write out on those long yellow pads reams of instructions on how to practice and what she expected of me." With her natural talent and excellent training, Eugenie remembers winning local competitions at a young age.

In college Eugenie pursued her piano study with Lucille Snyder Soule, who was more relaxed, philosophical, and patient. If her freshman student became frustrated over a passage, Mrs. Soule "would tell me not to worry, it would all come together in time. If you keep practicing, eventually your fingers will deliver!" To this day, Eugenie fondly reflects on the special gifts of Mrs. Soule who "knew how to instill confidence by believing in her pupils' potential. She was warm and encouraging as well as a very fine pianist."

Before graduating from Newcomb College of Tulane University with a BA in Music, Eugenie switched her major from piano to composition. The dean allowed her to register for independent study with the choral director, who was also a composer. "My senior year consisted mostly of writing music for my graduation recital: a piano work, two songs, and a piano trio, the latter performed by my piano teacher and two members of the New Orleans Philharmonic."

A fifth-generation New Orleans resident, Eugenie began composing little pieces while in elementary school, but they were never written down or recorded. She wrote her first authentic piano composition, a fairly lengthy Spanish-style piece called Fantasia, at age 14. "I played it in recital and on local television and radio. Unfortunately, I never had a manuscript." It was recorded but no one knows the whereabouts of that ancient reel to reel.

From this relatively humble beginning, Eugenie has blossomed into a composer extraordinaire with eighty-one collections, six compilations, and seven sheets for a grand total of 603 titles. Her first published book was Six Moodfor Piano (Kjos) in 1978. Hal Leonard, Eugenie's current publisher, recently honored its senior composer with her own senes. 

Admiration for Eugenie Rocherolle

 

As part of the celebration of Eugenie's 30 years of composing, The Hal Leonard Corporation invited colleagues, friends, and former students to submit recollections and comments. Clavier Companion is pleased to present a sample of the responses.

When I started my own composing work for Alfred Publishing, Eugenie's fine craftsmanship served as an inspiration for my own creativity. Over the years, we have become good friends and I, like so many others, wish to congratulate Eugenie on this "milestone" in her musical career and hope that she'll be dancing, writing, and inspiring for many more years to come!

- Dennis Alexander, composer 


I have always been passionate about music, but I never wanted to dress up in a tuxedo and play in concert halls. I played for myself. I played because I enjoyed it. Mrs. Rocherolle never pushed me to do anything I didn't want to do, or play anything I didn't want to play. My favorite song I played with Mrs. Rocherolle was a duet she wrote that we played on the two pianos in her living room. It was so long ago that I don't even remember its name, but I can still play my part from memory, and I do so regularly. I saw something special in playing a song alongside its composer, and I credit my interest and success in composition to this experience.

- Brandon Steinberg, former pupil


I've been playing piano for 27 years, and at no time in my life did I grow more than under Mrs. Rocherolle's study. And I mean this in a way that goes beyond

fingering, how to manipulate the pedal, rhythm, notes, everything on the page. She taught me music as a language and an art, made it so every time I sat down at the piano in her living room for a lesson or at home practicing, I treated this time like a performance. To this day that is still how I play. She gave me the confidence and knowledge to treat music both lovingly and seriously. The same way she treated me. 

 - Alex Bloom, former pupil (currently Creative Director at a NYC ad agency


Compositional approach 

Given the natural and easy flow of Eugenie Rocherolle's music, Clavier Companion readers might be surprised to know how organized and systematic she is when writing music. "I have always composed at the piano. Prompted by a mood, a topic, or sometimes even a title, I go to the keyboard and begin. I often start with a left hand figure to establish the rhythm and harmonic structure, which will in turn inspire a melody."

She works quickly and legibly - neat enough that she still presents handwritten manuscripts to her publisher. (Eugenie confesses that the software she ordered last year is still in the box.) By compo ing at the piano, she feels her compositions are more pianistic. Even if she is writing choral, chamber, or band mu ic, she goes to the piano first. She depends on a critical ear to judge the results until she is satisfied.

A typical day is divided into three parts. Eugenie explains, "I have always used the mornings to compose (responding to publisher deadlines and commissions first) and the afternoons to teach. The evenings are to recuperate and recharge my batteries." By choice, Eugenie kept a small studio of fifteen pupils to save her creative energy for composing. "Sometimes when my first pupil would arrive after school, I was still working on a new composition, often without having taken time for lunch!" Recently retired from teaching, she keeps her hand in current trends with the weekly instruction of her two youngest grandchildren.

Eugenie noted that although a good number of collections have been popular, "I think I'd have to say my signature piece seems to be "Le Salon de Musique" from Souvenirs du Chateau, 1992 (Kjos). Chateau de la Rocherolle was built in the 15th century and sits on 450 acres. There are 13 bedrooms in the main residence. "The big draw," Eugenie says, "is the music room in one of the round towers off the living room with a Pleyel concert grand." The chateau was purchased by Eugenie's husband's paternal grandfather in the late 1920s after he learned there was a property for sale that bore his name. The Rocherolles now use it for vacations.

Aside from the influence of her piano teachers, Eugenie credits master composers who lie deep in her thoughts. "To pick a favo ri te would be like picking your favorite child," she says. Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Ravel, DeFalla, and Gershwin have all left their mark on her compositions. 

Wide-ranging influence

Turning the tables, what impact has Eugenie Rocherolle had upon her fellow composers? One of her numerous fans is Dennis Alexander, himself a renowned composer. His favorite is a collection entitled Instrumental Inspirations. His pedagogy students at the University of Montana found the entire set inspiring and addictive. "Eugenie's writing, even at this intermediate level, just seemed to connect with their heart and soul." He also endorses her collection The Way Wi? Danced, a composition for two pianos, as "way LOO much fun." Alexander's students were especially motivated to learn the "jitterbug."

Ernest Kramer, Professor of Music at Northwest Missouri State University regards her as the "most talented female composer living in America today. I have studied, admired, and publicly performed many of her compositions for nearly fifteen years. As a matter of fact, I frequently use examples taken from her compositions to point out to my university theory students Eugenie's command of the same solid harmonic progressions and logical motivic development used by the masters."

It is easy to explain such high praise when the composer herself delights in the way the keys feel beneath her fingers. Professor Kramer adds, "\X1hen my own inspiration while composing becomes blocked, I find that playing Eugenie's music for a few hours helps my creativity to flow again."

Advice

Over the years, Eugenie has mentored a number of composition students including winners at the state and national level. Eugenie's advice to budding composers is to keep writing for the joy of it, because breaking into the world of publishing takes patience and stamina. She submitted her first composition to Kjos because she knew the name Jane Bastien. The timing was right since Kjos was looking for new composers, and a career was launched.

Her greatest concern for piano teachers today is the decadent entertainment that permeates and threatens our American culture. "The quest for instant gratification is a terrible detriment to the idea of working hard to achieve a goal, especially in the art of mastering a musical instrument." Eugenie believes a teacher's secret weapon is that uncanny ability to keep a student balanced between comfort and challenge, to know when to cheer and when to cajole, and to help each student navigate through all the twists and turns of waning motivation.

Eugenie draws on a personal experience with bittersweet memories. Nadia Boulanger accepted the young Eugenie Ricau into a score analysis class of twenty in Paris following her college graduation. "This tiny woman was intimidating to say the least, so I never raised my hand to be called on. Mlle. Boulanger was not at all interested in my compositions. One day when class was over, she asked me to stay for a few minutes." In a pleasant voice she said, "Mademoiselle Ricau, you are a very pretty girl. You should go home, get married and have children and do your music on the side." In due course, Eugenie did exactly what the teacher recommended, without ever compromising the central role of music in her life. If Boulanger were alive today, she would find that Eugenie Rocherolle's compositions come with a guarantee of adoration and success by hundreds of students and teachers in this country and abroad.

In 1994, Eugenie and I were scheduled to meet at the MTNA National Convention in Washington, DC. The evening before our date for lunch on March 16, a plane crash in New Mexico changed the course of the ensuing week as well as the rest of my life - my two older sons died in the accident. A telephone call cancelled our rendezvous but increased the depth and warmth of our friendship. Not only did Eugenie keep in touch with me day after day during this painful time, but every year since that fateful day, in mid-March I have received a handwritten, snail mail note from her, reassuring me that she never forgets.

In 1999, Eugenie Rocherolle wrote "Elegy to Marc and Kirk Elvy, in memoriam. " The piece, published in Romancing in Style: Music of the 21st Century, Level VII (Kjos), not only captures the spirit of the New Mexico landscape where Marc and Kirk died, but its alternating F-sharp minor and F-sharp major (with a major second embedded in it) chords personify desperation of loss and loneliness, but at the same time hope and assurance that life remains good and productive. One of my greatest treasures is Eugenie's handwritten original manuscript of this piece, which she gave to me.

- Celia Wyatt, teacher for 50 years and founder o f Music Educators of Greater Annapolis 


During my lessons with Mrs. Rocherolle, I loved sight-reading her new music. Instead of struggling through sight-reading both hands at once, Mrs. Rocherolle and I would sit side by side on the piano bench and I would play one hand's part while she played the other. I really enjoyed this, and looked forward to finding new music on her piano. I f there was something I had not seen before sitting there, you can be sure I would pick it up and try to play it!

Not only is Mrs.. Rocherolle a highly accomplished pianist and composer, she is very special person, highlighted by the fact that so many years later, we are still in touch. She helped to give me a firm grounding in music. While these days I only dabble on the piano for lack of my own instrument, when I do touch a piano it is the pieces that I memorized with Mrs. R that first come to my fingers. I am happy to have had the chance to study under such a lovely, personable, and accomplished woman, and look forward to staying in touch with her for many years to come.

- Neesha Ramchandani, former pupil


I was honored to be asked by Eugenie to record her music, four albums, to date. This venture began in 1992 when I played a concert of music by American women composers in Washington DC. While rehearsing, I saw Eugenie wave and call out from the back o f the hall, "I'm looking forward to hearing my music!" She gave no instructions, trusting that my interpretations would be to her liking. After that, we met only once more before the recording began. I literally got to know

. Eugenie through her music, since our communications were long distance, from Kansas to Connecticut.

As I played music she mailed to me for the recordings, there was an immediate connection with the heart: Her heart, so deeply invested in the music, and my heart, so affected by it. A second connection was to the gracious refinement of the classically inspired forms in her music, from elegant waltzes to cheerful sonatinas. Even the smallest piece was carefully crafted and musically sensible. The third connection was to the "down-to-earth, high-spirited Eugenie," who wrote New Orleans jazz, gospel, blues and boogies. It is rare that one composer encompasses such a rich array of sensitivity, craft, and authenticity. If you know her music, you know Eugenie. And no one who plays the music ofEugenie Rocherolle is untouched by it.

- Julie Rivers, Concert Pianist 

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