World-renowned pianist Jody Graves returns to Wenatchee for performance

11/1/17: This story has been updated with the time of the performance.

 

By David Heiling
Empire Press Correspondent

The Wenatchee Valley Music Teachers Association will present “Heart and Soul,” a benefit concert Nov. 5 featuring former Wenatchee resident Dr. Jody Graves. (Provided photo/Jeff Schindler Photography)

Wenatchee-raised Jody Graves has done piano performances and speeches around the world. Now a professor at Eastern Washington University, Graves uses her platform to educate, enrich and please audiences from all walks of life. Empire Press Correspondent David Heiling talked with Graves about her upcoming performance in Wenatchee, as well as topics as deep as life itself.

Empire Press: When did you start loving the piano? Tell me the story of when you first started on the path you are currently on.

Jody Graves: I actually started playing when I was 3 years old. My mom is a pianist and a singer, she came to be my first teacher. It just seemed like it’s always been part of my soul, part of who I am. It’s not something I chose, it’s something that chose me.

EP: You are nationally recognized as a distinguished artist and teacher of the piano. How did you get to this point in your career?

Graves: I think a couple of things, No. 1, my willingness to say yes to the smallest concerts as well as the big ones. If there is a place to talk and sing, a place to interact with people about music, I’ve been raising my hand since I was in first grade. The traits that play very well into this is that I’m very curious, I’m self-directed.

EP: Do you have a special place in your heart for a place you have performed, maybe a favorite abroad destination? If so, why is that special for you?

Graves: For me, right now it’s the Middle East. I’ve been there on five tours, and to different parts of the region. I’ve been into Jerusalem and I’ve been into the Palestine area. Because of the nature of that region of the world that is full with conflict, it’s truly been a privilege to be an ambassador to that region and to be able to bring special attention to people who are hurting.

EP: You’re a critically-acclaimed musician and performer. You’re an adjudicator for piano festivals and competitions. You’re an MTA clinician. You’ve been a keynote speaker at conferences across the world. You’re an author. How do you balance all of it?

Graves: Ask my husband… Well, it is a balance between staying healthy, and being able to say yes to numerous organizations. I have to keep a few quiet moments for myself, meditation time, and I often ask myself, ‘How can I serve the people I meet today, how can I offer my gifts in the best way?’ What I was blessed with is something I am called to share. If it’s by me performing, teaching, giving a talk somewhere, I have been called to do it and I have been called to serve. I do have to build in time to sit in a hot tub or do something for “me time.” It’s a dance, but I’m so driven by the passion I have.

EP: You’ve been all over the world and are in high demand. Why do you always come back to Wenatchee?

Graves: Well, the main reason is that I grew up in Wenatchee. My father was the head of the art department of the college. My mother was a writer for The Wenatchee World. She was also part of music theatre. My training there is where so much of the abilities I have today were born. I am forever grateful to the people of the Wenatchee Valley. I think the community there is full of interesting and talented people who I consider to be a part of my artistic family.

EP: You are currently a professor at Eastern Washington University, what made you seek out an institution of higher education?

Graves: I’ve lived a lot of places, I lived New York for 15 years, all over the place. I really needed to come back to the Pacific Northwest because I’m a mountains and an ocean girl. I love the quality of life here. I live in Spokane and can see my family fairly easily and I can travel to beautiful locations from here very easily. That was a big part of why I chose this area. The university situation means I work with undergrads and grads in performance, and that is where I feel my talents lie. I love to be a guiding light, a part of their journey for them.

EP: For those who don’t know about you or your performance, what should attendees expect at your concert on Nov. 5?

Graves: Lets see, I am going to play all works that I love, I am going to talk about the music, and I am going to play some romantic, some Spanish … I interact with the audience, I have been known to bring pianists to play with me, I talk and banter with the crowd. I like to be spontaneous. If there is some kind of a personal connection or some story behind my performance, the listener is invited more actively into the experience. Human beings coming together for something lovely is so beautiful and that is my intention.

EP: Your concert, which will be part of The Wenatchee Valley Music Teachers Association’s presentation of “Heart and Soul,” is a benefit concert. Why is this important to you?

Graves: Because I believe that the study of any art, with that be dance, music, theatre, painting, etc., should be a right and not a privilege for every person young or old. If we put a saxophone or a guitar or a piano in the hands of these people, it means that it contributes to creativity and activity that promotes something deeper than just staying stagnant. Benefit concerts bring together people who want to study music who can’t afford it, and that brings me immense joy.

EP: What kind of advice would you give to young men and women who look up to you for inspiration?

Graves: I find that to be a heavy question. I think the responsibility to be an inspiration is one of the biggest joys in my life. I tell young ones to listen to the little voice inside their heads. Be creative and be curious. If you think of some crazy idea, explore it, find mentors, pursue it, do what makes you happy. Be true to who you are and whatever is coming up inside of you because none of it is wrong. When people come together in any sort of artistic experience, our life is changed and enriched.

Graves will be at Grace Lutheran Church, 1408 Washington St. in Wenatchee, on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m.