Challenger composition by Robert De Gaetano, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, Robert De Gaetano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten

A tribute to the late, Robert DeGaetano, classmate, NYC High School of Performing Arts

Bob DeGaetano screen shot

“Bobby” as I remember him at “P.A.” (nickname for the FAME school that hadn’t yet acquired Broadway, TV, or movie status) was a shining light among stage-struck students, some of whom swished down the hallway in first position, ballet style, while others in the drama department audibly cajoled each other, wise-cracking their way through academics. One of them would sneak drop a thumbtack on a sub teacher’s chair, inciting a chorus of laughter, while the elderly mentor was in obvious pain.

The music kids seemed more sedate, less involved with displays of attention-getting antics, and more likely to be found practicing in musty rooms with less than perfectly maintained pianos. A few stayed after school for extra coaching. Among them, “Bobby” was one of many gifted P.A. pianists who was constantly honing and refining his skills. He had a sunny personality and an engaging disposition. I remember Joanne Salamone and Carol Lian tagging along with him, part of an inseparable trio.

One afternoon as I was packing up after 6th period, prepping to take the IRT North bound subway home, I was distracted by the strains of Schubert’s Eb Impromptu emanating from one of the practice rooms. It was Bob DeGaetano playing in the presence of Murray Perahia, (PA ’63) who was coaching him to finite detail–a peak level music-mentoring experience worth a memory treasure.

That same year Bob had won an audition to play Beethoven’s Bb Piano Concerto at the School’s Winter Concert and soon after, he made a Town Hall appearance, broadcast on WQXR F.M., which was a feather in his cap. (PA sent its finest to this event, after grueling auditions with Nadia Reisenberg, Abram Chasins and other music notables) Leonard Bernstein was on PA’s Board of Directors and may have snuck in a back door visit here and there.

After graduation everyone dispersed, marrying, having kids, teaching, some performing, yet somehow we managed to keep up with each other through e-mailed newsletters and reunion announcements.

I blogged about P.A. recalling my personal journey with added alum updates.

Note Bob’s photo in the H.S. Grad Yearbook:

Robert DeGaetano PA grad yearbook pic

What I should have included, (a glaring omission) was Robert DeGaetano’s moving tribute to the Challenger astronauts that captured the hearts of a nation in mourning. In this memorable interview DeGaetano spoke about his composition and played an excerpt from the score. (a section devoted to Christa McAuliffe)

Bobby’s own creations and his many performances of masterworks will always be cherished.

“May his music continue to nourish the world and live on forever.”

R.I.P. Maestro DeGaetano….

Robert De Gaetano

“DeGaetano was born in New York City. He graduated from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Adele Marcus and Rosina Lhevinne. He received a Rotary International scholarship, which enabled him to live in Paris and continue his studies with Alexis Weissenberg. Recommended by David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter, DeGaetano became a concert pianist under the auspices of Sol Hurok.

“In the mid 1970’s DeGaetano made his performing debut in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In 1975 DeGaetano met Samuel Barber as DeGaetano was preparing to perform Barber’s piano sonata at Carnegie Hall and they became close friends for the five years that he lived. He has credited Barber for inspiring him to compose, when he visited him in his Santa Cristina chateau in the Dolomites.

“DeGaetano made his New York recital debut at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Alice Tully Hall. His orchestra debut was with the San Antonio Symphony. He toured all fifty states and the major music capitals of Europe. DeGaetano was a frequent guest soloist with US orchestras, including those of Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego and the Boston Pops. In 1986, DeGaetano premiered his first Piano Sonata in New York City, followed by a domestic and international tour. He then was commissioned by Michigan’s Jackson Symphony Orchestra to compose his first Piano Concerto, which he premiered in March 1989.

“In November, 1987 The Challenger, a suite for solo piano which Alice Tully had commissioned DeGaetano to create in tribute to the astronauts killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, premiered in the presence of the astronauts’ families at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The performance was filmed live for television, featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kurault, broadcast over WQXR in New York City and radio stations nationwide. It played on concert tours across three continents.

“In 1999 DeGaetano made his Carnegie Hall recital debut. The same year on Memorial Day he played Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s ‘L’Union’ and ‘The Banjo’ at the Green-Wood Cemetery gravesite of the composer with the Goldman Memorial Band.

“DeGaetano created nine albums, playing Chopin, Beethoven, Gottschalk, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, 20th century composers and his own compositions on the Crystonyx label. His latest album was the premiere recording of his Piano Concerto No.1 and the Chopin Piano Concerto #1 in E Minor with the Moravian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra on Navona distributed by Naxos Records.”