Robert D. Vandall, prolific piano composer and devoted teacher, died February 9, 2017, at the age of 73. Known throughout North America for his incredible output of arrangements and piano compositions for students of all levels and ages, Bob published for Myklas Music Press, and most recently, Alfred. He and his wife Karen established their own piano studio in New Philadelphia, Ohio, where they taught students for thirty-eight years.
It is a great honor to write about my beloved piano teacher, Robert Vandall. When I was in third grade and my parents were looking for a teacher for me, someone in our small Ohio community recommended the Vandall Piano Studio. For most of my childhood, we had no idea what a famous figure Bob was in the compositional world of piano pedagogy. He was a very humble man.
Studying with Bob was fun, encouraging, and inspiring. The Vandalls really wanted their students to enjoy playing throughout the year, and put enormous amounts of thought into planning recitals and events. For instance, each Halloween, they hosted a “Masquerade Musicale” where students dressed up in the mood or theme of their piece title, and the audience would guess which piece aligned with which student. They also planned unique concert experiences, like playing outside at a local park amphitheater, and putting on a monster concert with other teacher/student groups in the area. Many summers, as rewards for achievements in a particular aspect of piano progress, Bob and Karen invited students out to their house in the country, where we would play games outside and make homemade vanilla ice cream, which was Bob’s favorite treat.
Although I loved playing Bob’s pieces as a child, and now teach them as an adult, he always exposed his students to many kinds of music. Once, Bob told my parents they were paying for lessons for their children for pedagogical instruction and not to serve as guinea pigs for his unpublished compositions. He had a rule that none of his students would study one of his pieces until after it was published and then, the student would select it from a large list of options from various educational composers. Despite this, I frequently chose Vandall compositions! From playing his “Crooked Run Rag,” based on the curvy farm road he lived on, to a Christmas trio arrangement of a popular hymn with my two sisters, I felt proud seeing my teacher’s name in music stores and collections.
Bob and Karen also believed in the importance of nurturing well-rounded musicians. In addition to studying pieces, Bob had me working on technique, sight reading, ensemble, theory, and ear training in nearly every lesson. Bob and Karen were both singers, and encouraged all their students to sing in a choir throughout our lives.
The Vandalls always supported their students in whatever career they chose to pursue. When I was in high school, they took me to concerts so I could hear famous pianists. One summer, we drove together to a Goshen College workshop that Marvin Blickenstaff was leading, and Bob was the honored composer. Little did I know Bob was introducing me to another famous teacher who would become my colleague at the New School for Music Study nearly twenty years later. When I moved to Barcelona for five years, Bob would write and ask about my life, and he and Karen always took me out to lunch whenever I was home to catch up. One time, Bob wrote to two sisters who were my students to congratulate them on playing his duet; he was always interested in what pieces my students were playing, and was very supportive of my career. Not only did Bob touch so many teachers’ and students’ lives with his wonderful compositions, he is the reason I am a piano teacher today.
I would like to share a link to an interview Bob did in his home city with an orchestra conductor. That city’s mayor declared a “Robert Vandall Day” for all of New Philadelphia, Ohio when the orchestra and two young pianists performed two of his concertinos In the interview, Bob talks a little about his background, and about being a composer. I hope you enjoy it!