I am a returner.
I started violin lessons and piano lessons at the age of 5. When I left home for college in 1983, I kept up with piano as a staff accompanist in the Music Department at Hope College, and as a jazz performer, mostly in a trio with a great bassist (my brother Francis) and a very fine trumpet player (Kevin Watt). But at that time I gave up the violin entirely.
In 2009, when my daughter started violin lessons, I decided to pick it up again and see what might be possible within the constraints of career, family obligations, and continuing involvement in the local music scene as a jazz pianist.
I now enjoy the violin thoroughly, partly because the quality of instruction that I (and my daughter) receive is so much higher than what I received as a child. I have performed several pieces in mixed "adults-only" type recitals and I feel that I should be able to put together some kind of recital. But when?
I have also performed occasionally in community orchestras (as a violist and violinist with Blacksburg Community Strings). For exactly one semester I played viola with the New River Valley Symphony, but then the pandemic hit, and the orchestra emerged from the other side with a new director who has decided not to accept auditions from community members; my daughter is among their violinists, so I can only enjoy that particular activity vicariously. I have performed as a violin soloist with Blacksburg Community Strings, too. I played the Beethoven F Major Romance, and earlier this year I performed the entire Bach Double with a skilled violinist who was also a student in one of my classes at Virginia Tech -- that was tremendous fun.
I have taught jazz piano in the past, but I don't really need more to do right now.
I live in Blacksburg, Virginia, where my wife and I are both members of the Virginia Tech chemistry faculty. I teach our first-year laboratory course for chemistry majors and an advanced-topic graduate course. My research areas are organic chemistry and polymer chemistry. My wife's expertise is in X-ray crystallography. We have two daughters, one who plays violin (as already mentioned), and one who plays cello. I have accompanied their performances on the piano, and we have even played a few chamber pieces together for informal recitals, etc. During the pandemic we spent some time working on the Beethoven Op. 3 string trio (I played the viola part).
Under the "Highlands Jazz" brand, I perform regularly, mostly in trios (piano/bass/sax or piano/bass/drums) or duos (piano/bass). The Highlands Jazz Quintet recorded a CD in 2012. We perform regularly at Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, VA, which is where "Dirty Dancing" was filmed.
Several years ago my friend Justin Craig (a standout professional guitarist in Blacksburg) had the idea to put together a different kind of trio in which I play violin including some jazz improvisation. Our book is all Brazilian tunes (a lot of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but also quasi-classical tunes by Celso Machado, Astor Piazzolla, etc.) This kind of music is a little easier to improvise over than swing-type tunes, so it's a good opportunity to build my skill. The trio is rounded out by Bill Ray, a local pro who is Principal Percussionist of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. We have played a handful of gigs together, but again all of that is on hold, and in fact even before the pandemic the number of local venues that were offering live music has dwindled to almost nothing.
My most recent venture is chamber music. I've joined a lovely group of mostly retired pros who enjoy getting together on Saturday mornings and playing mostly quartets -- although we were able to play a couple of cello quintets one day with my daughter as the other cellist. I'm also involved in a piano trio as the pianist which I'm hoping will revive some of the modest technique I had long ago.
Obviously I spend a lot of my spare time on music but I also enjoy hiking, family-style cooking, and woodworking (furniture, built-ins, home carpentry, etc.)
Feel free to contact me at my regular email:
pdeck AT vt.edu