Introducing the first ever student-gone-teacher of Music Time, Christian Groneberg! With two musicians for parents, Christian’s virtuosity on both piano and clarinet comes as little surprise, yet was nonetheless an absolute joy to witness first-hand over his many years as a student here. Each of Christian’s concert performances would out-do the last, until when he left us, moving on to attend Santa Clara University. Now complete with a double Bachelor’s Degree in both music and business, we welcome Christian to the Music Time staff – I would say we welcome him to the family, but he has been a part of that for nearly a decade already! I hope this sets a trend for many more of our all-star students to one day return to help inspire the next generation! Thank you, Christian, for finding your way back home.
The beginning. My favorite place to start! I know that both of your parents are musicians.
Yes, my dad has plays guitar. He went to USC and has a master’s degree in music. He taught students for many years. My mom is also a guitarist, and plays bass.
Did your parents actually meet through music?
Yes! They met when they were both studying music at Northridge at college.
I would assume with 2 musicians for parents, you must have started playing at a pretty young age. What do you remember about when you first started? Or do you even remember?
Oh, yeah! I started music when I was seven. My mom taught me a song from The Aristocats movie on the piano, and then I moved on to taking lessons with a classical piano teacher. This is when we lived in Burbank, in Southern California. I kept going with the weekly lessons until we moved to Northern California, and I started lessons at Music Time.
Do you remember if you had your own interest in piano at that young age, or was it more of something that you just had to do?
I’ve liked music as long as I can remember! I remember asking my dad questions about it and being intrigued. We had an electronic keyboard somewhere in the house. Since I was curious about that, my mom just decided to start teaching me, and I took off from there! I played the recorder in elementary school, like most kids do, then eventually picked up clarinet in middle school.
It sounds like you mainly had positive experiences with music, and stayed pretty inspired, but I do know that you had some difficulty in lessons.
Yes. After we first moved to Livermore, I started taking lessons at someone’s home. I felt like the teacher was too strict and not really adapting to what I wanted to play. I just didn’t feel that motivated. Fortunately, I found a teacher here who would take me in the direction that I wanted to go, who was more willing to build a relationship with me, as a student. And so that’s really when my passion for music took off, I think.
So what exactly was the difference between the lessons? What was is that you wanted to do, and what sorts of things was your teacher trying to make you do?
Well, I wanted to play songs that I knew from video games, or movies, or stuff that my dad had been writing for me to play on the piano. The first teacher I had back wanted to be very strict to the method book, and liked having weekly homework assignments. Of course those are good, but I didn’t feel that invested until I got to kind of choose my own trajectory.
What do you mean that your dad was writing music for you? Was is music inspired by you, or music for you to play?
Well, kind of both. Of course he knew that I played piano, so he wrote a couple simple songs for me to play, just for fun. But now he mostly writes hymns. He also wrote a lot of rock tunes, back in the day, and did a lot of jazz gigs.
Awesome! Now how old were you when your dad was first writing these songs for you to play?
Probably 12 or 13.
Around this age, you must have been involved with music at school as well. How did you like music at your school?
The school music experience was fun! I started out with recorder, then clarinet. I did marching band every single year in middle school and high school, which was one of my favorite parts of it! And I did various concert pieces. For all 4 years in high school I played piano in jazz band, and in college as well.
What was it about the marching band that you liked so much?
I liked the discipline of it. It really teaches you steady rhythm! You get to physically move around. It just looks so sharp! At the end, you can really be proud of what you did.
I know my high school band got to travel a lot. We played so many cool places – different countries even! Did you get to play anywhere exciting? Do any performances stand out to you?
One thing that sticks out was going to Disneyland. We got to march down First Street, got to spend a few days at the park. We also went to a ton of band reviews throughout California, and we marched during the road Rodeo Parade every year.
So then between middle and high school, you did the Rodeo Parade 7 times?
Yep! 7 times.
Impressive. Now you said you preferred Marching Band over Jazz Band?
No, I liked Jazz Band more! I just thought the style of music was more fun, you really get into it. You get to solo! There’s a lot more freedom with what you play, as far as comping, especially on the piano.
What was it like, as a piano player, to go from playing just mostly in private lessons and then transitioning into a jazz band, group setting? I bet a lot of music time students are considering making that transition.
At first, I was a little afraid. I actually just sat-in on the class, just to get used to it. I figured out, all I really had to do was just jump in, play along and have fun. It was low stakes! I got a lot of chances to practice, so my soloing got better and then, eventually it became second nature.
Were you the only piano player in the band? Was it very competitive?
Usually we had two or three piano players and we rotated. We just we kind of split the songs. In high school, being able to play jazz piano was a rarity. There weren’t very many people willing to try it! The piano players in the group were close friends. We weren’t that competitive at all. We actually asked each other for advice. Very friendly.
Any recommendations for somebody considering trying out for piano in jazz band?
I just recommend some exposure to the style, so it’s easier to jump it. Jazz is a lot different from classical – you have more freedom! Be ready and able to go out on a limb! You need to become more confident. Just be willing to try!
So true. Now after high school, you went on to study music in college?
I actually got a double Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Business, from Santa Clara University.
Let’s talk about what you College Music Education was like.
In college, I still continued doing my weekly lessons. I got to learn from some really professional players, a jazz pianist and a classical pianist. I did the traditional music theory training and musicianship training. I also had a small combo that I performed with. I had a successful senior recital as well, where I put together a 30-minute program.
Your recital was not too long ago, correct?
It was actually on June 1st of last year!
Wow! Congratulations. Now what all did you have to do for your senior recital?
It was a big process! A lot of prep. I definitely had to pick out the right songs and make sure I had them mastered, and memorized! I had to create a program that was approved in the right format. I had to contact my family and friends with all the details like, parking directions. I had to reserve time in the theater, all that.
How exactly does a senior recital work? How does it tie in to your grades?
I was graded on my performance. We had a dress rehearsal, and we also had a pre-recital hearing. If the teachers decided that you weren’t ready at the final hearing, then you probably wouldn’t pass the class or get your units. Mine ended up being a success! I had a cello player along with me, and we coordinated it well. It’s definitely something that I’m proud of when I look back.
It was just you and one other musician for the whole performance?
It was me and a cellist, and then for the final piece, my teacher played along with me as a duet. So it was two pianos. That’s a lot of keys!
What was one of your favorites from the recital?
I really liked the Prelude in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Volume One, I played the original form of it, and then the cellist came on stage and we did an arrangement from Gounod that was created in the 1800s, where he added a melody to it. People really like that one a lot, too.
So that was just in June, not that long ago. What do you have in mind for the future?
Right now, I just want to teach piano, and to do what my teachers have done. I want to try to inspire kids and students with that same passion that I have!
What phrases or sayings from past teachers over the years still jump out at you?
I’d have to think about that more! One thing that my band teacher always said was, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”
Classic. So how has your practice been lately?
Right now, I’m really trying to improve my hymn playing playing, like in a Congregational Church setting, trying to make more for use of the full keyboard. There’s always more room for improvement, doing more improvisational stuff, too.
I think it’s so great that you finish college, but you still continue to learn and grow!
Oh, yeah! I started taking lessons from a professional classical player, in about January, Before then, I hadn’t really focused on Classical very seriously. Over the last eight months, my playing has really improved! She pointed out things that I had been overlooking, like fingerings, dynamics, posture. I felt really silly, because those are the things that you learn as a kid! I really appreciate her help with that. I’ll be using it in my teaching as well.
Besides teaching piano currently, you’re also playing at a church?
I’m the music director at my church. I get to play the piano every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Thursday night. I play all the hymns. It’s really fun! It’s a different style – more jumpy, more playful. I also get to organize the special performances, all the Christmas services, all the music. It’s really fun!
How exciting! I’m sure that your students will be able to feel your genuine excitement about piano, and about music. Any final words to leave us with?
With piano, anything is possible! You can play virtually any type of music with it. Be inspired! Just try your hand at whatever you want. The possibilities are endless!