Pianist Marilyn Thompson studied at the Conservatory with Adolph Baller, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in 1964. On June 29th, Marilyn visited our archives to record an interview for the Conservatory’s Oral History Project.
While a student, Marilyn lived for several years in a house behind the Conservatory that faced out to 20th Avenue:
There were six girls living upstairs in this house, and downstairs was the house matron, who was Winifred Jones. Two of us shared a room, and the rest had their own room. There was one shower room, which had maybe three shower stalls, and toilets, etc. And then there was a tiny Pullman kitchen about three feet long which had a refrigerator, a stove, and was always filthy!
Marilyn remembered listening to Adolph Baller perform with the Alma Trio:
It was always that non-percussive style (I was listening to the pianist of course, mostly). That beautiful, mellifluous sound that he had. It matched the string sound so much better – there was never any percussion to his playing. When he was teaching, the way he would achieve that with the student was to say, “Close to the keys.”
Of the Conservatory’s auditorium that was used for performances before Hellman Hall was built, Marilyn remembered:
There was a funky organ in there…. And there was a Bösendorfer on stage…. It was my first encounter with a Europen piano, and I thought it was just like butter, it just melted as you played it, it was wonderful.
But it wasn’t all perfect:
The hall had radiators, and right in the middle of a performance they would start popping. It was very loud, and there was no way to turn them off because it was water heating. It wasn’t pretty.
Today, Marilyn teaches at Sonoma State, where she has been on the faculty since 1976. Marilyn’s advice to young musicians is:
Always keep the glory of music as your guide. Give a lot of heartfelt thought to the music you are playing. Develop your own signature interpretation, and stick to it. It then becomes your personal story.
We are grateful to Marilyn for her stories and advice! Read and listen to the interview through our Oral History Project.