Excellence in Artistic Activity
Excellence in Artistic Activity
Dr. Kenneth Boulton
Assistant Professor of Piano, Director of the Community Music School
Five years ago, Southeastern’s Department of Music and Dramatic Arts was looking for a professor to teach piano and direct the Community Music School.
Not everyone would relish that combination of duties, but it was Kenneth Boulton’s dream job.
Although his own artistry as a pianist has earned him the 2008 President’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Activity, teaching heads Boulton’s “most rewarding” list, along with the joy of sharing a concert stage with his wife and fellow pianist JoAnne Barry, and his “ecstatic, humbled, honored, floating five feet off the ground -- all those things at once” experience of being nominated for a 2008 Grammy.
Boulton modestly maintains that he was no piano prodigy just an ordinary third grader in Arlington, Wash., who began taking piano lessons “as a fun hobby.” But by junior high, his talent began to shine. He was motivated to take music seriously when he realized that performing with and for others was fun.
“I had the chance to do chamber music with some string students in the next town,” he said. “We would play for wedding receptions, put on concerts. That gave me an idea of how music could be a really social activity.”
His keyboard talent came to the attention of faculty from Washington State University who gave him lessons several times a year. “I just loved and admired the way they thought about music, communicated about music, worked with music,” Boulton said. “They were the kind of people I really wanted to emulate.”
Boulton’s goal of being both performer and professor was reinforced when he began teaching privately as an undergraduate at Washington State and graduate student at the University of Maryland.
“I was absolutely captivated by the communication and the satisfaction I got from my students,” he said. “Teaching is extremely rewarding. In working with kids, you’re not only working with the child, but you work with their parents and really make the goal of developing the student a true team effort.”
So, when Southeastern put out the call for a piano professor who could also recruit and direct the expanding CMS program, which offers individual and ensemble music lessons to both children and adults, Boulton -- then head of the piano/keyboard department at a large community music institution in Wilmington, Del. -- knew it was for him.
“I had been searching for several years for a higher education post, something at a place that I could perhaps call home for the long term,” he said. “I knew this was my chance to stay involved with music education for children, even though I might have to take myself out of the teaching role.”
While his Southeastern students are young adults, not youngsters, “They have given me so much pride and gratification,” Boulton said. “It’s not like taking them from baby stages, which is kind of what I was doing before. But they are childlike in the sense that they really don’t know the work ethic that is needed. I try to show them from my own work the time and passion they need to give to their music to succeed, not only here, but in graduate school and beyond.”
Boulton’s “own work” encompasses hundreds of solo and chamber music performances, clinics, adjudications, competitions and awards, including his 18-year keyboard collaboration with his wife, a classically trained organist and musicologist. Averaging at least one performance a year up next is a Fanfare 2008 recital “We’ve maintained a very active duet and more recently piano duo performance career, and there is a lot more we want to do,” he said. “Every program that we’ve played we experience something special, something distinctive, something unique. I just find it one of the most fulfilling things I have ever pursued and I know she feels the same way. We just relish it.”
Boulton’s accomplishments also include eight recordings, with the latest being his Grammy-nominated album, Louisiana—A Pianist’s Journey. The album “rescued from obscurity,” as his department head David Evenson said, classical piano works by composers who were inspired by Louisiana and New Orleans.
Boulton did not win the ultimate prize, but he and his wife did get to experience the glamour and glitter of the Grammy week. Boulton also had the honor with a nerve-wracking three weeks notice of being invited to perform for the 2008 Grammy Salute to Classical Music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“Yes, I did the red carpet thing with the photographers and the cheering gallery,” he said, laughing. “Of course when I passed through, they didn’t know me from Adam. You could have heard a pin drop.
“It was a really, really wondrous experience,” he added. “Just to be recognized by your peers as belonging to that select club is remarkable. I don’t think my feet ever touched the ground, red carpet or not.”
Next on this musical plate is an album of Carnival-inspired music. He is proud to be involved in projects that spotlight Louisiana-related music, especially since the shock and devastation of Hurricane Katrina crystallized the fragility of the state’s unique culture.
“Being a resident of Louisiana and someone who wants to be here for a long time and really cares about the cultural and economic health of the region it means a lot to me personally,” he said. “I feel like I’m here to stay and I couldn’t be happier with that prospect.”