For my final interview of 2012, I want to introduce you to a dear friend of mine: Brittany Montoro. Brittany has also appeared on this blog under the alias “my accompanist,” and has not only put up with all my performance-related anxieties but been a fabulous cheerleader and an awesome friend. She’s a fabulous musician and a wonderful creative spirit.
Brittany, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Brittany Ann Montoro. I’m a pianist, organist, music director, instructor, accompanist and vocal coach. My professional website is www.youtube.com/britandveg for my organ, piano, conducting, and lecturing videos. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a southerner that has moved up north to build my professional life in music. Ever since I sang in choirs since the age of six, I knew in my heart I would be a musician. I didn’t know I would turn out to be the one thing I thought I could never be, a professional musician specializing in the things I love most, choral and organ music. I couldn’t read music for most of my life until I went to college but the hard work paid off!
How did you discover your creative dream/passion?
It wasn’t that I discovered it; it was that it was in me the whole time and I brought it to fruition. My father always played music on the piano and guitar growing up and jamming out with family has always been a favored past time (and still is!). Many of us didn’t read music and often considered that there were plenty of people who played notes in the world but not music from the heart. I had a revelation at 17 after listening to the Mozart Lacrymosa—singing it in choir and watching Amadeus at 12 A.M.—and God I feel pushed me in the direction, saying “You were meant to do this.” Sure enough I buckled down at undergrad and studied piano, organ, and composition and all things music and really built up my skills at a very fast pace to make up for the lack of any real formal training. It proved to pay off and I am glad for that.
Tell me about an important teacher/mentor, and how s/he helped you.
As a musician I cannot limit to talking about one teacher or mentor, so unfortunately I will forsake brevity and talk a little bit about my private lesson teachers and experiences, first from Lynchburg College. Dr. Esther Olin was my first real piano instructor. She was a tough as nails old school conservatory type who hit my hands when I made wrong notes, but I needed her so much to make me work. She instilled in me a work ethic and commitment to musical excellence I carry each day as a result. My first organ teacher, Johnson Scott, taught me about bringing beauty and personal experience to expressing music. He also was the campus music student therapist so we all went to talk to him about life all the time when the going got tough. He was always generous so I want to have his generosity as well as Dr. Olin’s ferociousness.
At Westminster Choir College, my two private teachers, Ken Cowan and Steve Pilkington, were close friends to me. They taught me about bringing sacred music, choral and organ music, to excellence everywhere I would go and I am grateful for their constant willingness to help me discern my path as a musician. I miss listening to Ken practice his scales at 200 mph and drinking coffee like he needed an IV, though. I learned more from him as an organist and professional musician practically in 2 years than I would in a lifetime I’m sure.
What’s been the biggest surprise in your work so far?
The biggest surprise I’ve encountered is how well prepared I really am for most situations even when it seems like every new musical endeavor is coming into the foray all at once. I worried when I was younger that I would never be prepared even to sight read since it took me so long to learn a piece of music but it seems the more I do it, the more comfortable I get, and that makes me truly happy.
How has your creative dream evolved over time?
I have expanded my interests in music over time moreso than I imagined I would. Professors in my undergraduate who wanted me to “hone down” a specific field of music (well, they really wanted me to do music education, but that’s not where my heart was) didn’t understand I was becoming a music educator in my own right, just not in the public schools. I work with community members discovering their musicality, young beginners, adult amateur choristers, and anyone who needs my help, even some of my colleagues who need help with analysis or conducting. I get to do everything and I love it. I would not trade that for the world no matter what my main position or interest in music happens to be.
What’s the biggest or most surprising thing you’ve learned from your students, or through the process of teaching?
I have learned that I am more like my parents than I give credit for and I am emitting all the same things my teachers said to me as a musician. It makes me feel old, and I am 24, and that is practically like a child. The rewarding feeling of seeing a student complete a musical work and the joy on their face from knowing they accomplished something difficult makes me so glad. I’m giving them the musical upbringing I chose not to have before I went to college. I’m giving them what they need in an economy that is struggling and a school system that is cutting music programs where people like me have to fill the gap. It’s a sacred obligation, this thing called teaching.
It sure is. Who or what has been the biggest influence on you?
God and my family. Blood is thicker than water and they are so proud that I’ve decided to do music and I want to carry a torch for our family name in doing such an enriching profession. The fortitude I have with my foundation in faith has kept me going through everything.
When you started out, did your family/friends support you or try to stop you? What about now? How has that affected your work?
My father was shocked that I wanted to become a professional musician and would have preferred I went into finance, business, or accounting, which all screamed of boring, boring, and more levels of boring. When he saw opportunities grow for me, he wasn’t worried anymore about the financial aspects. My extended family is so happy for me and I look forward to playing my Mom Mom (grandmother’s) piano for fun or practicing when I go to visit. When she enjoys my music getting to play on the piano she grew up with, that means I’m continuing a legacy of our family’s love for music and bringing that love of music to everywhere I go. It makes everyone a part of my family.
What inspires you?
The goodness inherent in other people and the talent and hard work they bring to art every day is what inspires me to do what I do.
Are there any other creative dreams you hope to get to someday?
I have decided my midlife crisis will be to abandon everything and follow a major conductor around the globe until I’ve learned everything about orchestral conducting and then become a famous conductor for a well-known orchestra. Whether or not this happens I do not know, but I envision myself as one of those crazy geniuses flailing about in front of the symphony one day.
What’s the best side benefit that’s come out of your creative process/creations so far?
I get to make more quirky friends than I had in school.
Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in? Do you embrace that feeling or try to overcome it?
I’m glad I don’t fit in. I’d like to keep it that way!
What’s your favorite way to get in touch with your inner kid?
I still watch cartoons and I am not ashamed.
Excellent—me too! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight with us, Brittany!
You can watch one of Brittany’s favorite performances below, and if you’d like to hear one of her fabulous improvisations, you can do so here.