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During my senior year of high school, a wise teacher gave me a single piece of advice: “Make your life music, not music your life.” In other words, use music to express your life experience, not as an abstract end unto itself. To date, this remains the best description of my journey as an artist, a pianist, a composer, and an educator. Starting from my early childhood, as a Faneuil Hall street musician, my life has been an ever-evolving soundtrack that ranged anywhere from Beatles covers and American folk-dance music to jazz jams in local coffee shops and classical concerts in beautiful recital halls. Improvisation has become my way of reflecting on the eclectic musical experiences of my childhood, and ultimately blending them into my own personal style.
I gravitated towards the piano because it was the instrument I heard my father play at jazz brunches and rock concerts. There was a bright-yellow grand piano in his attic (which we affectionately named the “banana piano”), and my goal for a long time was to learn to improvise the kinds of funky grooves I heard around the house. As I studied, I became determined to play Chopin alongside Joplin, and Beethoven to contrast the fiddle tunes my father played on his bright-red vibraphone. A few of the rags that we played together peaked my interest in jazz harmony, so I added separate jazz lessons to my demanding classical ones when I was in middle school.
I balanced my classical, jazz, and folk playing through high school and college, eventually choosing to attend Lawrence Conservatory for both its outstanding jazz faculty and classical piano department. Plus, I could still take Shakespeare courses at the college across the street. While I ultimately had to choose one genre for my master’s degree at Eastman, I still consider myself a “liberal arts musician.”
Inspired by the gentle and accomplished musical mentors who continue to guide me in my life, I hope to be a teacher who sees each student as an individual with a unique voice to express. I try to draw on all of my musical experiences to best suit the needs of each student. Some people learn best by ear, while others respond best to the types of technical advice a classical teacher would offer. Many older students are best motivated when they compose their own exercises or write their own tunes to play. I certainly did. Regardless of age or experience, I seek to foster a safe, creative space where students can learn about who they are as musicians, and as evolving people in the world. I hope that by the time my students leave the studio, they feel inspired to forge their own path and make music in their own way.
Remote Learning Guide: If your lessons with Jonathan Fagan are being held remotely, please review these set-up recommendations and technology requirements.
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