For the past fourteen years, Susan Boettger has been Professor of Music at Irvine Valley College (IVC). She is also Director of Keyboard Studies and Artistic Director of the IVC Piano & Chamber Music Series. And, she is the Founder and Executive Director at Junior Chamber Music in Tustin.
Let me briefly note Susan’s heritage. Both of her parents, John and Jane Boettger, studied music. In fact, Susan’s mother is a prestigious oboe player.
Over the past several years, I’ve enjoyed Susan’s performances at a number of IVC concerts.
On a sunny day in April, I had the pleasure of spending some time interviewing Susan and two of her daughters. With coffee, waffles and orange juice freshly delivered to our table, our discussion was focused on classical music. Or, rather, how to teach it. For a music lover like me, this interview was a delight from start to finish.
I learned from Susan’s daughters that life at home is a kind of music festival. For example, Susan and her 8th grade daughter Anna share the same piano for practice; 16-year-old Zara practices cello in the office area downstairs along with 11-year-old Lily, who studies violin. Zara went on a musical tour of Germany last year, and will spend this summer in Italy.
When asked who is the guiding light for all of this, Susan was quick to answer that she is: “Somebody has to get everyone going, otherwise, we’ll never get done.”
Let’s begin with Zara, a junior at Woodbridge High School. In its carrying case draped over her shoulder, the cello and Zara arrived just after her music lesson. I’ve actually heard Zara perform when she accompanied her mother on piano at an IVC concert in 2022. During that concert, wearing a brilliantly colored floral strapless gown, Zara stole the stage. If you’ve attended a live cello performance, you realize, when it’s played well, it can compel almost any emotion.
Susan had to briefly leave to pick up her youngest child, which gave Zara an opportunity to speak candidly. With one year remaining in high school, pursuit of early admission to a top musical university crowds most other thoughts in Zara’s head. She told me: “I don’t have this insane GPA that other kids have. So, I’m depending on my cello. I literally think about it every hour every day.”
I asked what sort of time commitment is required to perform a piece in front of a live audience. Zara’s response was illuminating: “I practice between 1.5 to 2 hours per day. It’s painful at first. This one section, I couldn’t play at first. It took me eight months to build up that skill. But it’s an amazing feeling when I’ve finally got it. So, it takes anywhere from one hour to two years. Yes, it’s true. I’ve literally learned a piece in one hour before I went on stage.”
When asked what’s it finally like getting on stage, Zara response’s was uplifting. She said: “I love performance! It’s not very interesting to be playing alone, you and a wooden instrument. That’s why I like performing the most because by the time you get there, you don’t have to worry. It’s already engrained in my mind so I can enjoy it.”
When she returns, Susan expresses a belief built from several years of hands-on teaching experience, saying: “I really have a massive problem with people saying that their kids aren’t talented. That’s the most nonsense I’ve ever heard.”
In her case, motivation comes from being a mother. “Getting your kid to play music is actually kind of a difficult thing to do. I just have to admit, as a mom, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I am super dedicated to having them learn music. It hits upon the joy of learning and beauty in the world. A musical upbringing transforms my child into an adult who can work through their life when it is gritty and boring. At some point, they find the confidence that they’ve done this in the past and, they need to do it again.” Susan continued: “The kids don’t always see it this way.”
On April 12th, Susan’s mother Jane, along with daughters Zara and Lily joined Susan on stage as members of the IVC Symphony Orchestra. It was fun picking them out from the audience, like an Easter egg hunt.
If you’ve enjoyed learning about this music festival, there’s more to come. I’ve got a second installment of their story coming out this summer.
Click here to learn more about Susan Boettger.
Click here to watch Susan and her daughter Zara performing at a concert.
- Meet Susan Boettger & Family: Life in a Real-Time Music Festival - May 20, 2023
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- Glancing Behind the Curtain: My Conversation with Annie Loui, UCI Acting Professor - June 5, 2022