Tag Archives: piano

Orchestrated by God, Encouraged by Parents

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At his first public concert, a benefit for disabled children in Ecuador, Washington Garcia realized that he was put on Earth to serve others through music. “It was a revealing moment,” Garcia says.

He was only 7 years old.

The next enlightening moment came when he was 10. He played and won his first national competition. The boy realized that he could earn money playing the piano.

Every step along his career has involved meeting the right people who could help at the right time. It’s something he and his parents believe God has orchestrated, placing him on a path that enables him to serve and give to a new generation of young artists.

That path led to Omaha in 2016. Today, the former child prodigy from Ecuador is the director of the School of Music at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He started down his musical path at an early age, reaching for the piano as an infant and trying to recreate music before he was in school. “It was natural when we were little, my parents wanted us to be involved in music,” Garcia says.

At age 4, he tagged along with his 6-year-old sister to the music conservatory. By the end of the school year, his sister’s teacher contacted Garcia’s mother, Miryam Eljuri, and told her that he was a prodigy.

Miryam knew at that moment Garcia’s wish to play music was something the family had to support.

“Washington’s success was achieved as a team,” Miryam says through her son’s translation. It was Miryam who helped him apply for the Kennedy Center cultural exchange program in his teens, Miryam who lined up an airline sponsorship to fly her son around the world for his concerts.

Garcia’s father, also named Washington Garcia and one of the most respected neurosurgeons in Ecuador, helped as well, driving his son to classes and guiding him to become a responsible young man.

At age 18, Garcia simultaneously graduated high school and college, earning a Bachelor of Music from the National Conservatory of Music in Ecuador. By then, he’d played with the national symphony and performed for a former Chilean president. He’d won first prizes at the Guillermo Wright-Vallarino National Piano Competition in Quito, the Elizabeth Davis Memorial Piano Competition and the 19th International Young Artist Piano Competition in Washington, D.C., the 2004 Baltimore Music Club Piano Competition, and the Harrison Winter Piano Competition.

Garcia was accepted into the Kennedy Center cultural exchange program, earning a $25,000 fellowship to help cover his master’s studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He graduated at age 20, returning later to complete a doctorate. At 25, Garcia became the youngest Latin American pianist to have ever earned a doctorate performance degree from the university.

Throughout his studies, he cultivated an impressive international concert portfolio, which up to that point, included performances and lectures in Asia and Europe. His desire to continue playing while helping students led him to a career in education. He taught seventh and eighth graders in Baltimore before taking his calling to a higher level.

Garcia became an assistant professor of piano at Texas State University. In nine years, he rose in rank to become the appointed chair of the keyboard area and then the assistant director. It was a dream position, allowing him to work with more people, fundraise, build relationships internationally, and play music. He knew his next step in life was to become a director of a music school.

He was hired at UNO in January 2016.

His career path has taken him around the world, and so, his choice to reside in Omaha has puzzled some people. He tells them that he fell in love with the friendliness of the city and the culture of the school on his first visit.

“The faculty at the school of music was so talented and so collegial that I fell in love with them,” Garcia says. “We have one of the best faculty in Nebraska. It’s a collaborative faculty, and this is huge, because it doesn’t matter how good you are if you cannot collaborate with others.”

Already, Garcia has helped establish an international concert series at the school. In the next year, he hopes to begin renovating UNO facilities, including adding another concert hall; start a radio broadcast program to showcase students; and increase community engagement with other organizations.

The School of Music already has a student recital series at First Christian Church and, in the fall, will begin another one at Gallery 1516. At the end of March, the school will be among many cultural institutions performing at the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping and FEI World Cup Dressage Finals at the CenturyLink Center. In 2019, he hopes to launch an international music festival in Omaha.

“My goal is to continue to establish Omaha as one of the most important cultural and academic destinations in the U.S.,” Garcia says.

It’s an exciting time at UNO, according to Garcia. And it’s exciting for his family. While visiting over Christmas to see Garcia and his wife’s newborn son, Garcia’s parents spoke about their son’s career.

“Obviously, he came here with a clear mission and vision from God,” Garcia’s father says. “I know that he is going to fulfill his mission here in Omaha.”

Garcia will debut with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra Oct. 8 at Joslyn Art Museum. He will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466 under the baton of maestro Thomas Wilkins. Visit washingtongarcia.com for more information.

From left: Miryam Eljuri, Washington A. Garcia, and Washington H. Garcia

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Meet the Maloleys

June 6, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A variety of sounds greet one at the front door of the Maloleys’ home. The sounds of a piano, at least one violin, and a cello come from different areas of their 1950s home. Something else sounds like a complete symphony.

l-r, Caroline, Jacob, Meredith, Zachary, Clara, and Sam Maloley

l-r, Caroline, Jacob, Meredith, Zachary, Clara, and Sam Maloley

“Oh, that’s a CD,” Julie Maloley says with a slight wave of her hand like it’s no big deal.

It’s a bit of a cacophony…but only a little bit. It is, however, everyday life for Maloley and her children. They all play the violin and the piano.  Sons Sam, 14, and Jacob, 8, play the cello.

Caroline, 13, practices the piano daily for approximately 30 minutes after breakfast, then moves to her violin. Sam practices cello after breakfast, then moves to the piano. Meredith, 17, practices the violin after she attends a math class at Millard North first thing in the morning.

For now, she’s the only one attending class in a traditional school building. Sam wants to play baseball in high school, so along with violin, piano, and cello, he plays on a select baseball team. And yes, he also studies.

Julie home-schools her kids using a curriculum called Mother of Divine Grace. The Catholic-based curriculum emphasizes liberal arts. Youngest daughter Clara comes in from the main room to the library, with its built-in bookcases packed with tomes on subjects ranging from literature to music theory to biblical studies, and plunks down at the table with a handwriting book and a pencil.

“It’s distracting out there,” she announces, proceeding to perfectly copy pages of cursive letters—mimicking skills learned in earlier decades.

Indeed. Youngest son Zachary, who turns 7 on June 2, practices piano with Caroline’s aid. Jacob stands around anxiously waiting with his cello.

“Jacob! Just wait!” Julie calls out as she hears a low note from the string instrument combined with the sounds of the piano. “Sam will be done soon.”

As Sam comes up from the basement, Zachary heads down.

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The chaos actually benefits the kids. They study under the Suzuki method, a theory of musical study started in the 20th Cenutry by Shin’ichi Suzuki. Central in this philosophy is that all people can (and will) learn from their environment.

The family’s affair with music began when oldest Madeline, 20, was 3. Julie’s nieces and nephews played instruments, so Julie and husband

Skip began violin lessons for their daughter.  The next year Madeline began playing piano.

“It kind of snowballed one right after the other,” Julie claims.

Madeline now studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney on a violin scholarship.

They aren’t always this anxious to practice. Today (April 13) is Clara’s 11th birthday, and they are all practicing willingly, because they are going to the zoo for her special day. Mom told them they need to finish practicing and schoolwork before they can leave.

Besides, a big event is about to happen. The beautiful, yet disjointed sounds of cello and violin heard in the Maloleys’ home are brought together along with violas and a stand-up bass that Friday night at the Omaha Conservatory of Music’s opening night gala. Guests sit in the new concert hall that once housed the sanctuary of Temple Israel, listening to the sounds of the Beatles performed by 30 young strings players. Five of those players hold the last name Maloley.

The group performing such well-known pop tunes as “Let it Be” is Frontier Strings, an ensemble at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.

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Aside from performing with the strings group, Meredith takes violin lessons from executive director Ruth Meints. She plays at Hospice House on Wednesday nights, (per mom’s orders) and teaches music to 16 students, who troop through the house one right after another each weekend. Her ultimate goal is to become a music teacher.

Sitting in the audience, often, is their father. Skip is the lead database administrator for Green Plains and owns Pacific Solutions Inc.

“Dad enjoys watching the kids. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Julie says of both homeschooling and allowing the kids to participate in multiple music lessons.

Julie herself doesn’t claim to be a musician, but is able to play piano and violin. She often practices with the kids, and sits in on lessons. One of the cores of the Suzuki method is that the parent be able to supervise instrument practice, and take notes at lessons in order to coach the children effectively.

She has coached them well. The perfect sounds of Bach’s Gavat come from Clara and Caroline’s violins, along with several other youngsters, as guests stroll through the executive suite at the conservatory’s gala. The Maloleys, along with all the children, are poised, eager, and happy to perform.

“It’s not that I think they will be Juilliard musicians, but it’s something they can do for the rest of their lives.”

Early Music Education


December 3, 2013 by

Most students are introduced to band and orchestra in the later years of their elementary education. But that doesn’t mean they have to wait until those years to begin learning how to play an instrument.

Like any skill, playing an instrument requires time and effort. Ask most professional musicians, and they will tell you that they’ve been involved in music since before they were in school.

As a parent, you might be wondering when your child should ideally begin this education. The answer: Pre-K (ages 3 and 4).

Studying music in these developmental years is a great way to help children develop concentration and memory skills that prepare them for that very important first day of school. Not to mention, they can learn hand-eye coordination and alphabet recognition before kindergarten, which will put them ahead of their classmates.

“String instruments and piano are especially good for young children,” says Anne Madison, piano teacher with Omaha Conservatory of Music, who teaches musicians as young as 4. “There are so many benefits to music education for children that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Madison, herself, took piano lessons from a young age up until she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Baylor University. She even went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory in Vienna, Austria and teach on the faculties of the Carinthia International Piano Academy and the Tyrolean International Piano Academy in Austria. Today, she serves as Chair of the Piano Department for Omaha Conservatory of Music, where she has been a member of the artist-faculty since 2001.

“There’s a large and growing body of research that shows the significant difference that music can make academically and socially. But as a teacher, I am most moved by the impact that I see it makes first-hand in the lives of the students I teach.”

Some of the benefits Madison sees among her students are the ability to express themselves and work well with others, the development of self-confidence and self-discipline, and the ability to set and pursue long-term goals successfully.

“Even when they don’t always have immediate gratification, [it helps them] to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers; to explore the human condition as it has been expressed in music in different cultures and times; to become poised when speaking and performing in front of an audience; and to connect with the community around them and with something greater than themselves.”

Madison believes it is never too early to start building a child’s love and understanding of music. “There are even popular Kindermusik classes designed for babies!” she adds.

For children ages 3 and 4, Omaha Conservatory of Music offers private lessons on violin, cello, and piano. These lessons also follow the “Mother-Tongue” philosophy created by Japanese violinist and famed music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki.

In basic terms, Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy applies the processes of learning a language to learning a musical instrument. Young children are able to learn music in the same way that they learn their native language—through parent involvement, early beginning, listening, repetition, encouragement, learning with other children, graded repertoire, and delayed reading.

Creating an environment that is rich with beautiful sounds immerses children into better comprehension of music. Repetition is important as well. Just as words are repeated in early talking phases, pieces of music should be repeated in a child’s musical vocabulary. Also, the encouragement of the parent and teacher for each step of progress allows each child to learn at their own pace in a positive and fun environment.

Beginning a musical journey with your child during the Pre-K years gives your child the strongest start for future academic success and will give a lifelong gift—the joy of music!

Violin and Cello Sprouts classes are also offered at OCM throughout the year as an introduction to the instrument. This gives students a chance to try an instrument before signing up for private instruction. For more information about classes and lessons, visit omahacm.org or call 402-932-4978.

Play Me, I’m Yours

August 23, 2013 by
Photography by Omaha Creative Institute

Rogue pianos.

Those are not two words one typically finds sharing space together. It’s Susan Thomas’ fault, really.

As executive director of Omaha Creative Institute, Thomas is thrilled that local businesses and creatives around town are jumping on the bandwagon (pun fully intended) of Play Me, I’m Yours. The public art exhibit consists of 10 pianos decorated and placed around the metro. The Omaha take on the international project encourages locals to play anything from Chopsticks to Beethoven’s 5th between now and Sun., Sep. 8, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Except.

There are more than 10 instruments now.

“There are three rogue pianos that I know of,” Thomas says. “People heard about the project and told me, ‘we want one in our area too!’” Already faced with the logistical challenge of finding 10 pianos, artists willing to decorate them, and locations to stage them, Thomas welcomed interested parties to find and decorate their own pianos to sort of piggy back on Play Me, I’m Yours.

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So if playing on an “authorized” piano at 2 a.m. in a public space isn’t rebellious enough for you, feel free to seek out one of the following:

  • The Sweatshop Gallery in Benson. This piano is the brainchild of Sweatshop Gallery founder Kim Reid Kuhn and artist Stephen Walsh.
  • Modern Arts Midtown at Midtown Crossing. Owner Larry Roots has selected a piano that will be painted in stages while it’s out in the spotlight.
  • Bruning Sculture at Hot Shops. Les Bruning has made a miniature grand piano out of metal. He’s put an electronic keyboard inside it, and it’s portable. “If someone’s having an event, he’s more than happy to take it there,” Thomas says.

“The great thing about this,” she adds, “is that it’s so multidisciplinary. People will say, oh, isn’t it about the art, isn’t it about the music, isn’t it about the people. Well, actually, it’s about all of that.”

For a complete list of the 10 locations planned by Omaha Creative Institute, visit streetpianos.com/omaha2013.

Keith “Keymaster” Martz

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Talent can present itself in many forms. For some, it’s through an aptitude for academics; for others, it’s via intellectual curiosity. But for Keith “Key Master” Martz, it can be found on the 88 keys of a piano. Inspired by every genre from classical to modern jazz, the 29-year-old Omaha native has the gift of music that stems from an enthusiasm and passion for the art itself.

“My music has its own style,” he says. “What sets me apart as a musician is that it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.”

Mostly self-taught, Martz was encouraged by his mother to take up the piano when he was about 7 years old. He received some formal training until the age of 9, but it was minimal. Later, as a student at Millard South, he joined the high school band where he once again played the piano.

Martz’s approach to the form is unique. He says he’s a slow sight reader, meaning he plays faster than he can read music notes. For this reason, and because of his love of improvisation, Martz doesn’t play sheet music and instead creates new songs each time he sits down to play.

“If I was asked to play music by other people, I couldn’t,” Martz says. “I play from my heart, and I play my own type of music.”20121127_bs_5679 copy

When he’s not pounding out melodies on a keyboard, Martz stays plenty busy working two full-time jobs, during the day at specialty grocery store Trader Joe’s and at night at Lakeside Hospital. Luckily, Lakeside Hospital has a piano in its lobby, and his coworkers often ask him to play for them when he’s not occupied with his duties as a valet.

Christie Abdul, manager of volunteers and business innovations at Lakeside, oversees the valet services where Martz works and has had the opportunity to work with him.

“Keith is someone who is very warm; he greets everyone with a positive attitude,” she says. “I truly believe he cares about every single person he meets. His happiness is kind of like something you want to catch. It’s contagious.”

“What sets me apart as a musician is that [my music] doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.” – Keith Martz

Abdul says that Martz goes out of his way to embody the hospital’s “every patient is my patient” philosophy. Even if a car isn’t using the valet service, she says, he’ll run to the car and open the door.

“He’s genuinely a warm and caring person and just gentle,” she says.

Paul Lukes and Kyle Eustice, regular customers of Trader Joe’s, say they look forward to seeing the kind and chipper employee during their shopping trips. “The first time I came across Keith, it seemed like perhaps he was just having a really, really good day,” says Lukes. “Then I realized, after shopping [there] for so long, that he’s always having a good day. That’s Keith.”

“His positivity is contagious and I would challenge anyone to leave a conversation with him without a smile on their face,” adds Eustice.20121127_bs_5753 copy

As any artist would, Martz gains inspiration from other talent and his list of favorites is quite eclectic. Some of the performers he regularly listens to include Mozart, Coldplay, Hans Zimmer, U2, and internet sensation Ronald Jenkees.

“I only listen to music once a week because my own music satisfies and comforts me most of the time,” he says. “I love listening to music from scores like Bourne Supremacy, Batman Returns, and Inception.”

Martz is planning to record a CD of his music and one day, he’d like to tour. Until then, music lovers can listen and watch him perform on YouTube with the search terms “Keith ‘Key Master’ Martz.”

But the promise of fame or fortune isn’t what pushes Martz to continue his art. Rather, the sheer pleasure of playing is enough for him.

“One time I played, I played until my fingers bled because I was just pouring myself into it,” Martz says. “I get really itchy feet, and I just let it all out at once. I love expressing myself like that in the music that I play.”