Finger Lakes Times Sunday Editor Louise Hoffman Broach is considering taking some piano lessons at St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy in Geneva, which led her to Troy Slocum, one of the founders of the organization. The academy has made it possible for scores of children and adults, to experience music and dance in an inclusive atmosphere. Here’s what Troy had to say about teaching piano and other aspects of his life. The interview was conducted by email.
LHB: Where did you grow up?
TS: I grew up in Portville, NY.
LHB: What was your childhood like and how did you first get interested in the piano?
TS: I had a great childhood living in the country in the Southern Tier. My parents were supportive and taught me the value of hard work and persistence. My grandparents were very musical. My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher and she loved to play the piano and my grandfather played guitar. My favorite memories from childhood are of Christmas time when my grandparents would play music and we would all sing along to Christmas music and some popular music of the day.
LHB: How old were you when you first sat in front of a keyboard?
TS: My grandmother started teaching me when I was 5 and then I had piano lessons from my local school music teacher for a time. I had several teachers growing up with varying styles of music. I had lessons with a gentleman who played cocktail piano on cruise ships and restaurants and I learned how to improvise. I studied with a teacher who was a classical pianist and also one who was in a local band. I also was a member of my high school band program and played tenor saxophone both in grade school and college.
LHB: I know that you studied at Nazareth and then later at Syracuse. Did you envision a career like the one you have now?
TS: I first started college at RIT in biotechnology for two years and I played cocktail piano for various on-campus functions. My plan initially was to be a research scientist. I did very well and was accepted into a research lab on campus and after a period of time I realized that it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career. I had friends at Nazareth College who heard me play and encouraged me to audition for the music program at Nazareth. I did and was accepted into the Music Education program and after the first year I realized I just wanted to be a pianist.
I never anticipated being a piano teacher, but my second year at Nazareth my piano professor found me a job teaching at a piano studio in Greece (Monroe County). I began working for Mary Ann Bruce who had a small studio in Greece. She was very influential in my becoming a piano teacher. Mary Ann and her husband Larry were like second grandparents to me at the time and I taught with her and her granddaughter for 10 years. At the 10-year point, I decided to start graduate studies at Syracuse for piano performance and I moved to the Geneva area.
LHB: How did you get involved with St. Peter’s?
TS: While I was working on my graduate studies, I was recommended for adjunct piano teaching at Hobart and William Smith. While at HWS, I met Wendra Trowbridge who told me about St. Peter’s Church and their idea of starting a music academy. I met with Father Jim Adams and his wife Sue and I knew that I had found a place to start teaching piano. Sue quickly turned an unused basement room in the church into a teaching space with freshly painted walls and nice furnishings. I moved my piano in and the studio was born. They were so welcoming and supportive and within a year I was teaching about 20 students.
LHB: There were a couple of groups in the community before — so St. Peter’s kind of morphed into a community of its own, is that right?
TS: The idea for the Academy was a vision that Fr. Adams and Sue had after seeing string lessons having been taught at St. Peter’s Church for many years by a group from Ithaca Talent. I believe that this organization had decided to pull out of the Geneva area and Jim and Sue wanted to keep music instruction alive for the families of Geneva. The addition of the piano studio — the string studio that was already here with the three children’s choirs that Wendra Trowbridge directed at the church formed the core elements of the academy at the beginning. The church wanted to share all its resources both historic spaces and personnel with the community. They believed that outstanding arts education would enhance the life of the community.
LHB: Why has it been important for a place like Geneva to have an arts school like this?
TS: The academy provides the community with outstanding arts education that has changed lives. Many of our students have gone on to pursue degrees in music performance and music education. One of my students, Changhee Lee, who was a piano scholarship student of mine at the academy, went on to the Eastman School of Music and completed BMUS and MM degrees in piano performance. He then completed his DMA in piano performance at the University of Montreal. Chang is currently a professor of music and is sharing his gifts with future students. The academy also has given opportunity to students with varying challenges and it is great to see that all students have a supportive place to experience arts education.
LHB: How has it grown and changed over the years? I saw you did a similar conversation with the FLT in 2003. What are the biggest differences since then — I know that moving the piano instruction out of the basement is one.
TS: We have grown both in our programs offered at the Academy as well as our new physical space next to the church. The Academy has added a thriving dance studio with Alaina Olivieri who is one of the outstanding teachers in New York. We also added guitar program and the strings program has doubled since the beginning. We are also partnering with the Geneva City Schools to offer North Street School students weekly 45-minute beginning group classes in guitar, piano, violin, and dance. This class is free of charge and is funded by the 21st Century grant. This program provides enrichment opportunities for students in the district and is a great introduction to the many offerings of SPCAA.
LHB: About how many students are there now?
TS: The Academy provides nearly 300 individual lessons per week across all of our studios. We have cello, community choirs, dance, guitar, piano, violin, voice and musical beginnings and string explorer classes. The piano studio has 85 students and is one of the largest and fastest growing studios at SPCAA.
LHB: Do you have a lot of adult students either picking up an instrument for the first time, or like me, thinking about returning to music?
TS: Adults are very welcome to take lessons and many of our adults are beginners and are trying out an instrument or dance class for the very first time. We also have very accomplished adult students who are continuing on their lifelong performing arts journey.
LHB: Selfish question, I know — it is harder to teach adult students than children?
TS: Every student has their own strengths and weaknesses and we try to encourage every student regardless of their age to reach their goals.
LHB: You perform on your own and have a career away from the school. Tell me about that; what kind of things do you do and who have you performed with over the years?
TS: I have performed many times as part of the Geneva Theatre Guild and other theater groups in the area over many years. I have also in the past performed with the HWS Chorale for tours to Boston and New York. I have also performed solo and collaborative recitals at the Arts Academy for its concert series. I have performed at the Smith Opera House for their fundraising program for the Smith’s Steinway Concert Grand. I am currently playing weekly with the Geneva Quartet which is a group of pianists playing eight-hand piano music.
LHB: What is your favorite part of St. Peter’s? Where do you see it maybe 10 years from now?
TS: My favorite part of St. Peter’s is the many terrific students and families I have met over the years both through the academy and the church. My colleagues at the academy are also a fun group to work with and the support we have from the academy and community has been a true blessing.
I believe the academy is still in a growth phase and we are currently looking for a third piano teacher due to the high demand for lessons from our successful program. I believe all of our programs are in an upward growth phase and I think our future looks bright.
LHB: When you are not playing music, or teaching piano, do you have other hobbies?
TS: My hobby other than piano is jogging. I love jogging in the morning and seeing all the progress Geneva continues to make. We truly live in a special place.
LHB: Do you play any other instruments?
TS: I play the saxophone, but haven’t done so in many years.
LHB: What might someone be surprised to know about you that they might not?
TS: I love football and watching the Buffalo Bills. I played football all through elementary and high school.