Recital Series: Kaleidoscopes

Kathryn Shaffer, flute; Tennille Taylor, violin; and Kristen Chen, piano, perform works by French and Russian composers Mélanie Bonis, César Cui and Gabriel Fauré. (St. Mark’s Recital Series)

Kathryn Shaffer: I’m so glad the flute found me. It wasn’t my first attempt at a musical instrument; actually, my twin sister Kristen and I began our musical life with piano lessons in the second grade. We both loved piano; our teacher was a riot. I later learned that his enthusiasm was directed toward my twin (who took to piano quickly) when my mom demanded that he cease giving her longer lessons while ignoring me. My second chance at music came in 4th grade when I took home a permission slip to sign up for band. I considered the list of instruments and calculated which one would be the smallest to tote home on the bus: the flute. And so my flute studies began.

The flute quickly turned into an obsession, and piano fell by the wayside. I fervently listened to cassette tapes of Jean-Pierre Rampal and preferred to stay home on Friday nights to practice flute rather than join in social activities. I dreaded the summers when my flute teacher would take a holiday from teaching.

Growing up in San Jose, California, I attended San Jose State University, studying with French flutist Isabelle Chapuis. Often speaking her native French language during lessons, she poured the inspiring French flute tradition into her students. I continued my studies with Robert Willoughby at Longy School of Music (Cambridge, Massachusetts) earning my master’s degree and three months later, giving birth to our first-born.

Moving to Durango in 2002, our family grew to four children and my focus turned toward home, hoping to pass on to our children my love for music. As they grow into musicians themselves, my own obsession for music-making continues as I relish 13 years with the San Juan Symphony, engross myself in inspiring students at Fort Lewis College, and gratefully performing with friends in recitals like this.

Tennille Taylor: When I was four years old, all I wanted was a purple leotard and a violin. I got the leotard for dancing classes but had to wait until I was six for the violin. I always loved playing and often had to be told to stop practicing. In high school, I loved orchestra and I was also able to play with the San Juan Symphony for a few concerts during my last years of high school. Now I have been a permanent member of San Juan Symphony for 19 years. I attended Arizona State on a swimming scholarship and studied music therapy. I fell into teaching which led me to two years of long-term Suzuki Violin Pedagogy at University of New Mexico. I opened Tennille’s Violin House in Farmington in 2004. When Kristen Chen contacted me about teaching her daughter in 2004, we talked about playing chamber music together. We also learned that we shared the same favorite piece of piano music (Brahms Intermezzo in A Major op.118, no.2), and the same favorite ice cream (orange chocolate-chip from Durango Creamery). In addition to playing and teaching, I have the best Dobermans named Sentry and Penny (siblings), I enjoy baking bread, gardening, restoring old houses, sewing, reading and training for marathons with my husband, Ryan Niehaus.

Kristen Chen: I was hiding under the dining room table. It was the best place to hide: I could hear everything that was going on, yet I was unseen when he arrived. At 6, I was afraid to meet the piano teacher, yet I begged my parents for lessons. As it turns out, I had no reason to fear – this guy was fun and he played the ACCORDION. What’s not to love?

That was the beginning of my life-long love affair with the black and whites. I was that kid who never had to be told to practice and who, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, only ever had one answer. Pianist. There was never any other way for me. College major? Piano. Master’s Degree? Piano. Profession? Piano. Forever ’n’ ever.

Along the way, I picked up the viola because, well, it’s super fun to play in a group. Not to mention the repertoire! I wasn’t willing to miss out on all the symphonies to experience in this lifetime. (You just can’t get that on solo piano, as much as I hate to admit.) So now, I hang out with the San Juan Symphony in my spare time.

A couple afternoons each week are spent teaching kids, mostly because I want them to love music as much as I do. They don’t always understand what it takes, so I encourage my piano mommies to bribe their kids to practice. Candy, whatever.

My husband and I have made Durango our home since 2002, never looking back after our escape from California. We have three kids, and yes, I forced them to study music. (Bribes.) We also have a Golden Retriever who is not musical but lies at my feet as I practice. Which is enough for me.

And, if you must know, Brahms.