David Strouse is if nothing else an iconoclastic individual. When he isn’t investing in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan with welcomed and much needed renovation in the real estate of is historic neighborhoods or performing his duties as VP FInance for CBS Television in Los Angeles, the 1973 Arthur Hill High school graduate invests his energies into his artistic passion as a consummate pianist and organist that has traveled and toured stages throughout the world.
And now people will have a chance to marvel at his expressive musical abilities when Strouse performs at a Special Benefit Concert Performance at First Presbyterian Church, 121 S. Harrison St. in Saginaw on March 30th at 3:00 PM where he will tackle the works of Eugene Gigout, J.S. Bach, Max Reger, Henri Mulet, Beethoven, Chopin, and Enrique Grandos. Suggested donations are only $10.00 and will go to the musical ministries at First Presbyterian.
Strouse links his earliest recollection regarding the strong bond music has forged within him throughout life to his mother. “She was a marvelous pianist and once told me I took my first piano lesson at the age of four before I even attended school. It’s like imprinting because I remember her practicing every day. She was a music teacher and taught all her children to play when we were kids. Honestly, I probably heard her playing the piano back when I was in the womb. She was a very big influence.”
While he was attending the University of Michigan Strouse managed to come home every weekend to play organ at St. John’s church. “That taught me commitment and also helped pay the room and board while I was away at college,” reflects Strouse.
Apart from this weekly church gig while he was attending college, during the summer months while off from college David also sold pianos at Grinnell Brothers on Washington Avenue and worked as an in-store piano teacher, while also enjoying the memorable experience of playing organ at the Temple Theatre in-between movies. “I love performing on that Barton organ,” he reminisces, “and probably saw the beginning and ending of The Omen about 35 times but never the entire movie.”
David admits his passion for music has focused primarily on the piano & organ. “I played the violin a little bit as a kid and trumpet a little in college. I have both a Rogers Church organ and a Yamaha grand piano at my home in California - but what’s really cool is that here at Television City down the hall from Studio 33 here at CBS is this studio that contains a Steinway ‘C’, which they don’t make anymore, that is Judy Garland’s old concert grand. The weeks when The Price is Right isn’t shooting I usually go down there on my lunch break and play it for an hour. They don’t make the Steinway C anymore – it’s considered a concert grand for a smaller space like a TV studio. It’s probably about 7 feet 5 inches long and is a lovely instrument that we take very good care of.”
As for his relatively rare Saginaw appearance at First Presbyterian, Strouse says that he phoned Gregory Largent, Director of Music Ministries at First Presbyterian to offer his services gratis. “I knew without even asking that funding church music programs is a challenge,” states Strouse, “so told him that if it wasn’t too early in the season I would do this performance as a fundraiser to help fund his music programs. All the donations from this concert will go to help maintain the magnificent instruments they have there at First Presbyterian.”
The musical selections Strouse has hand-picked for his program are both varied yet thematically and symbolically tied together, including works from J.S. Bach, Rax Reger, Henri Mulet, Beethoven, Chopin, Enrique Granados and others.
“The Bach F Major I chose because I studied that with Dr. Long and have also performed it at a concert in Miami and one in France at St. Michaels’ Cathedral. I’ve not played the Fugue publicly since I was at St. John’s Church, which I left in 1977 when I graduated and moved onward. But I’ve managed to dust it off and this will be the first time I performed it after all those years.”
“The piece by Mulet that I’m performing is the Carillon Sortie which is a series of musical reminiscences involving the pealing of bells and was written as a post-exit for leaving, so I will probably play that last because it’s an ‘exit’ piece.”
“The selection of Gigout that I’ll be doing involves this great organ chorus dialogue, which will open the concert; and then I will be including Eugene Granados, who was a Spanish pianist,” continues Strouse.
“He was terrified of water and never wanted to sail and wrote this back in 1916 around the beginning of World War I. He came to New York City to play a recital and was invited by the President to play at the White House, so he missed his ship to Spain and sailed to London instead. When he was catching a ship from across the English Channel to the mainland, his ship was torpedoed and he drowned upon his return to Spain. I’ll be performing Lament of the Maiden & the Nightingale, which is a very romantic work and a spectacular piece of music that ends with the replication of birds and a nightingale doing its dialogue.”
“Those are the organ pieces and then I’ll be doing a set of piano pieces,” notes Strouse.
“I’ll perform Chopin in A-Flat major and the Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, which is where Beethoven moved strategically from his earlier writings and started doing things that were never heard in Beethoven before, but which are common to us now. Beethoven moves right into some very distant keys with this work for and was really experimenting when he wrote the Waldstein. It represents a turning point and what we hear a lot today in terms of harmonics. It’s a delightful piece.”
Given the rigors of his daily schedule at CBS Entertainment, Strouse still finds time to practice both organ and piano daily. “I have a fixed practice schedule,” he explains. “My Rogers organ is electronic so I can use headphones with it. I had a pipe organ once but it wasn’t practical because there was no volume control – you either played it or you didn’t. It was hard to live with me when I had that pipe organ,” he laughs. “So now every morning I get up, put on my headphones, set my coffee mug next to the keyboard, and am usually wearing my bathrobe and organ shoes – at which point I practice the organ one hour every morning before going to work.”
“I go through a repertoire of about 60 pieces and then cycle through stacks of music in my cabinet; and then when I get home after work every day I set aside an hour to practice the piano, unless I take the hour during my lunch break when Judy’s Concert grand is available down at Television City.”
As much as he enjoys public performance and musical expression forges a pivotal part of his life, Strouse admits that he doesn’t have the time or temperament for more than a dozen performances per year. “I played a recital last week in Sao Paolo, Brazil and did one in South Beach back in January, and will do one more in San Marino in April. But I simply don’t have 8 hours per day to take on more than I already mange.”
Given the intensely personal relationship Strouse has managed to forge with his musical pursuits, as we wind-down our conversation he makes both an intriguing and revealing point: “There’s this book called The Master & His Emissary that is about the two sides of your brain that we use; and there is a chapter about music and musicians. It has to do with how the left and right sides of our brain meld together to create our perception in the world.”
“The interesting thing is relationships that we forge with people are determined by the left side of our brain and mechanical relationship are forged on the right side of your brain. So you can work at a machine shop or at a computer for your whole life and ride your bike or drive your car and the control for that thinking process is determined by the right side of the brain, with one exception – a musician and his instrument. In this one singular instance that relationship is forged by the left side of the brain, the same side that we use for personal relationships.”
“I find it fascinating that the only example of a human interaction with an inanimate thing on the left side of the brain occurs with a musician and his instrument. To me this explains why we miss our instruments if we don’t play them – we literally get lonesome for the instrument.”
In conclusion, Strouse encourages people to attend his performance, not only for the beneficial fundraising involved, but because “Non-church going people are now aware of how spectacular that organ at First Presbyterian truly is.”
“When you think of an organ like that you usually think of big city churches. Many churches throughout the city have similar treasures; and for a city the size of Saginaw to have these instruments is unusual for a city of it’s size….and very special.”
Pianist & Organist David Strouse will be performing at First Presbyterian Church, 121 S. Harrison Street in Saginaw on March 30th at 3:00 PM. One performance only. $10.00 donation suggested.
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