BCCO couldn’t be happier that when Collin Whitfield was seven, his Dad’s friend needed to get rid of a beat-up, 90-year-old upright piano, chipped ivory keys and all. Collin, having watched, with great interest, as his church music director played piano, was anxious to get his hands on the thing now sitting in his garage, but had to wait until enough of his dad’s friends could gather to finally move it into the house.
And so began Collin’s music career, for which we are exceptionally grateful. His beautiful piano playing, and his easygoing temperament and extraordinary patience (whether innate or learned by waiting for that piano to be moved), have made him a wonderful accompanist for BCCO and a delightful addition to the BCCO family. His love of a wide range of music, as well as his proficiency in playing anything asked of him, made him a favorite at our spring retreat.
Growing up in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Collin considered becoming a concert pianist, but by his late teens realized that while he loved interpreting music, he did not want to spend his life playing other composers’ works. He started composing his own pop tunes, and by age 17 he was composing more serious works.
After working for a year as a high school choir accompanist and piano teacher, Collin chose to begin his college career at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he is now a junior. He was drawn to the Conservatory by its notable composition faculty, including David Conte, with whom he studied for two years, and Mason Bates, his current teacher. He was also happy to make his collegiate home in beautiful San Francisco, where he serves as a dorm resident assistant and loves to explore the city and hike the many trails in the Bay Area.
Collin’s composing résumé is already too long to list, though he is only 22. Very recently, his composition “Echo” was one of three winners among 20 entries in an art song competition held by the Conservatory. Based on a recommendation from Nick Benavides, a prominent and prolific composer and recent graduate of the Conservatory, Collin was asked to compose a piece for the International Low Brass Trio. He is particularly interested in composing classical vocal and choral music, and hopes to also learn more about electronic music.
Collin has been greatly enjoying his experience with BCCO, finding the group warm and inviting. However, he says, it is not without its challenges. While he has found Ming easy to work with, he has to adjust to other conductors, too. During our all-day rehearsals, once or twice a semester, Ming invites a guest conductor to work with us for the day. This spring, we were thrilled to have Vance George work with us on Verdi’s Requiem.
Maestro George is the much-recorded Grammy-award winner, and now emeritus conductor, of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, who, by his own count, has conducted Verdi’s Requiem at least 100 times. The maestro humored and cajoled us to sing like pros: he’s demanding and funny and spares no words. After Collin had just played an almost unplayable section of the “Dies irae,” with very fast descending scales originally written for violins, the maestro stopped everything and turned to him. Knowing the maestro could be rather direct, Collin had no idea what he was going to say. Maestro George looked directly at him and in his deep bass voice said, “I don’t think I have ever heard someone play it better.” Collin let out a sigh. We applauded.
Well-deserved praise. Keep your eye on Collin. He is just warming up. You can listen to several of Collin’s pieces on his YouTube channel (Collin Whitfield).