After 31 years, Professor Peter Gach sat down to play the piano April 15 in his last solo recital as a full-time Palomar faculty member to a sold out house at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
As he ran his fingertips across the keyboard, the audience was sent off on a musical trip of their own that inspired, soothed and even left some in tears. Palomar student Mary Beth Collom said that this performance was one of her favorites. She added that she was happy to have been able to see her teacher appreciated and praised in his last show knowing what a difference he has made in the music department at the college.
“That night I received 92 roses at the end of my performance and I was staggered by this,” Gach said. “It’s amazing to see how much I was able to touch the hearts of so many different people through my music.”
Gach announced he will retire from Palomar’s performing arts department in May. Although he will be stepping down from his duties as department chairperson, artist in residence and professor, he said he has no plans of retiring from the music world. Instead, he will be concentrating only on performing.
“When I was a college teacher, my first responsibilities were to my students, then to my art and finding the balance between those things,” Gach said. “But now that I’m retiring, I would like to focus more on personal life and art.”
Gach credits the other musicians he met during his postgraduate studies at the Warsaw conservatory in Poland for inspiring his interest in teaching.
“In Warsaw, I met a group of fantastic musicians who were also fantastic teachers and they became role models for me,” Gach said. “They showed me that being an excellent teacher and player can go hand in hand. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
For Scott Wolf, a former student of his and now part-time Palomar faculty member, Gach has had a huge impact on his career as a performing musician and teacher. “In my life, there have been few teachers whose words and ideas come to mind in moments when I most need advice or need to counsel my students,” Wolf said. “Peter’s invaluable suggestions and guidance continually return to me in practice or performing and perhaps often in my own teaching.”
As a teacher, Gach has taught beginning classes for non-musicians just learning to play piano, and courses for advanced music majors who were looking to perfect their performing skills for public shows.
“I teach people how to focus and how to step from the ordinary life into what I call the magical circle of performing,” Gach said.
He described this magical circle as the special relationship that is formed with the audience once a performer hits the stage. Gach still can remember the very first time he performed on stage.
“I was 18, studying music at Indiana University, and I had to perform my first piano solo recital by memory,” Gach said. “I think I was incredibly nervous; I broke out in a rash under my arms and my knees trembled so badly that I could see my pants shaking.”
Despite the nerves, Gach was able to finish the performance. He said that when performers get into the music, they can train themselves to remember that it’s about the music not how well they may be playing or what people may like.
That concept is something that is reflected in his courses and even explained in his books like “Practice Makes Perfect.”
But his work on campus did not stop there. Gach created the artist-in-residence position at Palomar in 1991. It was sponsored by the President’s college foundation and allowed him to present performances for students as part of his contract. “Peter’s excellent musicianship and work as a teacher have been tremendous contributions to our program,” colleague Madelyn Byrne said. “It is my understanding that he pushed for our program to include computer music and has been a great ally in building the program. He is also a great performer of new music and has performed as well as recorded music written by Palomar College.”
“Palomar is the only community college that I have been able to find that offers such a program,” Gach said.
Furthermore, he has served as the department chair for 10 of his 30 years finishing off what will be a three-year term. According to Gach, the department has big plans for May.
On May 6 and May 8, he will be performing Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto with the Palomar Symphony Orchestra.
And on May 10 there will be a reception held at 2 p.m. in his honor at the performing arts courtyard on campus, where the community will have a chance to say their goodbyes.
More details can be found at palomarperforms.com.