Musikal Journeys: The Story of Diana Galindo
I met Diana Galindo years ago in conjunction with my work as Piano Coordinator for the Los Angeles Suzuki Institute held in Claremont, CA. The two of us quickly became close colleagues and friends.
Diana Galindo is a teacher unlike any other. Her unique approach, particularly of story-telling woven into her teaching, was instantly mesmerizing to both me and the students at the Los Angeles Suzuki Institute. Unpredictable props, such as photos from her home (once even of Santa Claus) to further illustrate the wild tales make appearances throughout her classes. In one particularly memorable instance, Diana told my former student Lucy about “Beethoven’s First Date” a fictitious account of Ludwig courting a date at an amusement park. The story was told as part of a lesson focusing on Beethoven’s Sonatina in G, anh. 5, Romance. In the beginning, Beethoven strolls into the theme park with his date (G Major chord), but realizes it’s suddenly raining (E Minor chord). During the development (middle section of the sonatina), Beethoven and his date experience a wide array of emotions. In the coda, rolling LH chords are transformed into the ferris wheel ride, going around and around and around. By the end of the short masterclass, Lucy’s understanding and playing of the piece was greatly elevated and the mood made all the more jovial from everyone laughing so much.
As a person, Diana is also one-of-a-kind. I’ve been lucky to enjoy dinner with her and her warm and hilarious husband, Harold, at their stunning Flagstaff home. There, she tells me about popcorn night with her studio, movie nights with the teenagers, themed recitals, and plans for further improvements to the already gorgeous piano/voice teaching area. Diana is a gift to our community of educators and it’s a great honor to share her Musikal Journey with you all today!
-Samantha Steitz, MH co-founder
MH Advisory Panel member Diana Galindo has indulged us by sharing vivid stories from her own Musikal Journey and we're happy to share the inspiration they bring!
I’m proud to be part of the Advisory Panel of Musikal Husky. I found this questionnaire such an indulgence to be talking about myself and my musical path in such detail as if it could be relevant to anyone else. Here goes. - Diana
Where were you born? San Antonio, Texas
Where do you live? Flagstaff, Arizona
Every journey has a beginning. When did your musical journey with piano begin?
My mother, Iva, was brought up on a ranch in Texas Hill Country and my grandmother, Eoline Kowierschke, was the church organist. Apparently one of my great-great ancestors on that side of the family was a church organist in Leipzig. Having grown up this way, my mother thought every proper household should have a piano. She bought a tall upright with a mirror across the top – a model which had probably been used in a bar. My father played records of all genres and provided me with a complete Big Band education. He would research who the drummer was in this particular session and I listened endlessly to his records. One day he brought home “Meet the Beatles”. Music had a high value in our home. I think after hearing Mary Poppins or some such musical, I begged for lessons to show me how to play the music I loved so much. At the age of four I started taking lessons from a college voice major across the street who taught me on her breaks or weekends home. I adored going to lessons because not only did I take to John Thompson, I loved her big Hershey bars at the end.
I was fanatical about all radio pop music of the 50’s and 60’s. Soon my mother realized I needed a steady teacher and a serious approach. My next teacher offered too much fluff. The next listened to me play Clementi Sonatinas from her kitchen and laundry room. Finally, I was fortunate to land in the studio of Mrs. Dorothy Doll, a career pedagogue who was a protégé of the Guild system out of Austin, Texas. She had a gift for teaching sequentially through technique and advancing repertoire. The former mayor of Houston, Bill White was in our studio and we all aspired to play as well as him! I adored summer lessons, practicing by the air conditioner, when she let me choose pop songs to play.
Did your journey have any unexpected turns or interruptions?
Yes, in about 9th grade, I decided that I wanted to try out for the cheerleading squad, which in Texas is a very big deal. My parents had a rule that we four children could only do one extra-curricular activity; they didn’t see how piano could work with cheerleading. So I did quit piano for a while but soon went back to it. Texas cheerleading is thrilling, by the way. Almost as much as playing the Pathetique when you’re 16.
When I returned to serious piano study in high school, I had a wonderful college professor who let me ride my bike eight miles through heavy traffic to lessons. He truly nurtured and inspired me. His praise and encouragement have stayed with me to this day.
Another unexpected turn came in college when I had to choose an instrument in which to minor. While on that path, Barbara Doscher, suggested I become a voice major. I never had the opportunity, but subsequently moving to Europe and later to Philadelphia, I performed vocally probably more than as a pianist. I’m very grateful for all of the great works I’ve been able to perform.
Who or what has been your greatest source of inspiration and motivation?
My greatest source of inspiration and motivation was without a doubt listening to great classical music and attending concerts played by masterful artists. The family of one of my best high school friends owned the chain of “Record Town” stores in San Antonio. Through Bummy I could get ANY record. I got volumes of Glenn Gould, piano concertos by the greats, and listened to them with headphones and the volume turned up in order to hear every nuance possible. Once I went camping with a group of friends (probably my first and last time camping), and I insisted that because I was learning a Mozart concerto at the time I couldn’t take a single day off from practicing. So in lieu of practicing, one friend set up speakers the size of an elk and powered them up in the Texas countryside with K. 488 blaring out into the dark silence, followed by Led Zeppelin. I would listen to recordings over and over like a good obsession until I internalized not only the music, but the feelings.
I now realize as a teacher that giving a student the technical skills and musical mind to play great music is the real essence and service of a great teacher.
Life as both a teacher and a mother can at times be quite demanding. How do you foster balance in your life?
I’m not sure I do very well at it. I am definitely lopsided in my pursuits. My husband and my kids understand me and let me get away with quite a bit of erratic, musical life nonsense that only a musician understands, including staying up late. I feel that I did a lot of performing and traveling before I had children. When I finally settled, I took being a wife and mother as seriously as I did any endeavor. The real secret to fostering balance in my life is my husband. It’s his personality that takes my intensity down a few notches. He cannot stand conflict in the home of any sort, therefore we all work for peace and balance as much as possible. Because of all I had learned about how children develop talent, it has become a wonderful journey to be on with my own children. Even now, our travels revolve around our children and their concerts, events, and performances. Two of my three children are professional musicians.
What encouragement can you give to parents and teachers striving to cultivate musical children?
It’s all worth it! Enjoy the ride! Start early. Develop genuine love for music. Children ride the wave of the parents. What are the chances a girl like me would ever seek out a baseball game? From the exposure of my dad’s love for this all through my life, I enjoy the sun, the crack of the bat, the field, the smells, the stands. Your children will seek out music if you make it a high value in your home. Above all, make lessons, listening, practice and recitals a priority in your household life. Scheduling everything else around these things became a secret of our success.
What are your top three must-haves in your studio?
Bendo – Grits the Cowboy. He rides the range on your wrist and peers over cliffs – as your wrist flexes and rises – to search for any lost cattle that may have fallen down. The flexible wrist is the main key to relaxation and creating a full, rich, rounded sound from each key.
What would you be if you weren’t a pianist?
My husband thinks I would have been a great lawyer, like my father. Yeah, maybe, but I wouldn’t have had as much fun.
I did want to be a nun for a while after seeing the Sound of Music. Escaping the convent, singing with kids, falling in love, having a sumptuous wedding with that organ, speaking German, singing on a mountain top and spinning around.
I think I would love to be writer for SNL, but I probably have no talent for that.
How do you best prepare (yourself and your students) before going on stage? Can you share any tips on how to clear your head? Do you have any greenroom mantras?
From my own experience, the best preparation for stage is thorough practice.
One mantra I say before going on when nerves overtake me, “You want to be here. You signed up for this. People listening want you to do well. They are as excited to hear you.”
This is a little exercise I do with students at group lessons in preparation for performance. It was taught to me by my college professor, Paul Parmelee. You play while another colleague stands behind you. At a random moment, that colleague will give a loud clap which signals for you a memory slip. You must stop at that moment (as happens with a memory slip) and move immediately to the next section. This activity trains awareness of where you are. It forces you to know sections of the piece and how and where to begin them. Most of all, I’ve found it creates confidence in performing. When I go into a solo performance knowing that I can get through the maze to a safe, secure next section, I can hold my head high and move forward beyond the nerves.
What do you know now that you wish you had known during your first years of musical education? What do you know NOW as a teacher you wish you had known when starting out with your first pupils?
Educating the parent is foundational to the young student’s success. The parent must be genuinely excited and interested in the musical development of their child and make it a priority. Without this, only a truncated experience can result. I still can’t believe my mother who adores the symphony and who shook her head disapprovingly when I played the White Album, took me to my first live concert. It was Diana Ross and the Supremes. Later, my parents took me to see Van Cliburn in concert. What that did for me is immeasurable!
The development of foundational technique is essential. Reading skills are fundamental and need to be taught systematically. I divide these into melodic and rhythmic reading, as well as combining both. Sequential repertoire is needed. Listening to music is essential. Performance opportunities are critical. Above all, a consistent warm, nurturing environment with high standards in which to learn is needed.
How do you encourage studio camaraderie?
First, I model an attitude of respect for each student and their parent. I only allow positive comments to be made toward a performance. I tell them any negative comments or feedback will be left to me and I really make it a point not to do that in front of their peers. I also announce an individual student’s accomplishments such as an ice skating performance, winner of the county spelling bee, etc. I try to celebrate each child’s successes. I also make a very big deal of graduation recitals from one book to the next. We throw a big party. Food, parties, fun, performance – it all combines to make a wonderful learning community.
Opera: Manon – Massanet
Symphony: Brahms #3, 3rd movement – the longing, the hope!
Restaurant: Prague – French Restaurant. One of the best meals of my life. https://www.francouzskarestaurace.cz/o-restauraci/
Color: Teal Blue
Meal: My husband, Harold’s gazpacho, paella, followed by his marzipan cake with chocolate ganache icing.
Scent: After an afternoon summer rain in New Mexico mountains – juniper, pine, moist earth, rain
Vacation spot: Anywhere there’s a beach and an umbrella.