Mark Gionfriddo - Mount Holyoke College
I wear several hats at Mount Holyoke College. I began here as an accompanist for voice lessons back in 1986. I did that for nine years as an independent contractor, then was asked to also accompany for the choirs. In 1998 I became a staff member and founded the Jazz Ensembles. I also began teaching jazz piano.I continue to do all this for the Music Department, and for the Office of Religious Life I serve as Catholic Music Director. I love all of my jobs!
I originally answered an ad in the newspaper. MHC was looking for an accompanist for a theatre musical. I applied for and got the job. Then I went over to the Music Department to inquire about work and they hired me on the spot.
I love it! The students are wonderful to work with, and they inspire me to be my best.
Looking back at Hampshire College:
It's become a little hazy in my mind, but I believe I was [at Hampshire College] from circa 1992-2000. I probably have journals from that period that would solidify the dates, but they are in a box somewhere as I havemoved recently. I was the accompanist for the Hampshire College Chorus, directed by Professor Ann Kearns. I learned a lot form her. I feel when I'm playing for a conductor I try to study there techniques and support them the best way I can. The cool part about it is I can see as they work. I try to take the best things Ann did and incorporate them into my own directions now that I'm a director. I learned a lot from her as far as expressive ways to conduct. I studied the ways she conducted and incorporated them into my technique. It's different for jazz Directors. The way they conduct a band is a lot different than an orchestra conductor. There are not as many tempo changes. That said, I learned a lot from trying to get the best from my musicians by watching the way she got the best out of hers.
Hampshire students were interested in 'world music' way before it became in fashion, so the repertoire that I got to play was always very interesting. The I was working there I was working there supporting Ann as accompst for choir. I found students to be very engaging and I think that, they approuched music and education in vernal from a different perspective. They liked to combine paths of things which makes it really interesting.
I stuck more or less in the Arts Village where I worked most of the time. It's a very serene setting like it is now. For me it was nice to go up there, it was almost as if I was going on vacation there. It was nice to work with the Hampshire students who were different from the Mount Holyoke Students. It was like getting away. I worked there Monday's and Wednesdays.
This was before the jazz ensembles were formed at MHC. I formed the jazz ensembles in 1999. I decided it would make sense for me to leave my position at Hampshire. And Ann was retiring. I couldn't see myself working with another conductor because I really enjoyed working with her. I felt it was time to pass my piano duties to someone else. I knew the new choral director would want to seek out her own accompanist.
I pasted through sometimes at Hampshire. I taught a few Hampshire students piano [at MHC]. I have four Hampshire students in my vocal jazz ensemble. I'm still aware of Hampshire and still working with them albeit differently. I enjoy the interactions. I might have passed through a couple of times when I took my niece to the Eric Carel museum.
I think was happened was Ann Kearns came to a MHC performance and approached me afterwards and asked me if I would be an accompanist for her. I hear about her and knew she was legendary like the conductor I was working for here, Cathy Melbourne, she was the professor of music and director of coral music from 1972 to 2006.
I was playing for the course and Ann invited me to play at Hampshire. At the time, this was pre-jazz ensembles day and I was looking for work. And I took up the offer. I tried it for a year and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for a number of years
Ann Kearns was a brilliant conductor and a great choral director. I learned so much watching her conduct.When I started the Jazz Ensembles, I often sought her advice when I would work on music thatI needed to conduct. She was very inspiring to me, and I really miss her.
Mark Gionfriddo is the Director and Founder of the Mount Holyoke College Jazz Ensemble, Music Department Staff Accompanist, and Senior Instructor in Jazz Piano.
He has been working at MHC for over 30 years.