John Harlander, a senior double major in civil engineering and music, says that he came to SCU because of Boepple. “The breadth of his knowledge is astounding. He has a real sense of not only the stylistic context of a piece, but he also incorporates his amazing understanding of the music’s architecture,” Harlander says. “He challenges his students to blend reason and emotion.”
Harlander, a Minnesota native, has been playing since second grade. At SCU, he has given annual recitals, performed with the SCU orchestra, and he won the 2004 Music Teachers Association of California Concerto Competition. He is just one example of Boepple’s successful students, who collectively have won more than 100 state, national, and international awards.
Nurture and nature
Among the influences on Boepple’s career, the earliest and perhaps most important was his mother, who was a nationally known violin prodigy in the 1930s. “Ours was a musical family,” he explains. “My mom’s ears were always listening. She was always barking things—G Sharp! G Sharp!… She knew right notes from wrong notes.” In addition, Boepple stresses, “she was good at finding good teachers.”
Boepple began playing piano when he was 4, and he studied with top teachers in New York and Los Angeles. But perhaps more important than his teachers are Boepple’s own natural gifts. He has extraordinarily large hands: with one, he can stretch an octave and a sixth (from C to A)—a distance of nearly a foot. This enormous hand span makes even the most difficult pieces easily within his reach. And he has perfect pitch, meaning that someone can play a few notes, or a chord, or a whole piece of music, and he can tell you exactly what notes he heard. This ability, he says, “helps to memorize large amounts of music.”
Boepple and his wife of 35 years, Bryn, have three children, and though none of them are pianists (the youngest, Saer, 18, plays guitar), Boepple’s playing and teaching have had a profound affect on them. His daughter, Christine ’95, who was an art major at SCU, says “falling asleep to Tchaikovsky or Chopin playing at the other end of the house most nights of my life was a very special thing….Learning to be a careful listener is very valuable to me in my adult life.” Christine is the West Coast operations manager for Acoustiguide, a producer of interpretive audio tours used in museums.
Her brother, Morgan ’01, ’03 teaching credential, says his father’s example likely influenced his own decision to be a grade school teacher. “His discipline and tenacity as a teacher were very ingrained in me,” says Morgan.
Boepple says his own youth was filled with all kinds of music, not just classical. “I listened to rock and roll all the time I was growing up, still do,” he says. “I always found curious what I considered to be a disparity between the natural energy of pop and the fact that classical musicians didn’t seem to have that same character of energy,” he muses. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the way people play Beethoven’s music could have…the same sort of explosive energy that one hears in good pop?”
To hear an example of what Boepple means, listen to one of his performances, which crackle with passion and fervor. In a review of Boepple’s October 2004 recital at SCU, the San Francisco Classical Voice, a Bay Area journal of classical music criticism, said Boepple’s playing “swept the rapt audience with its ferocious intensity,” while other passages were “quite startling and profoundly beautiful.”
Play all day
For Boepple, it seems that the most difficult part of being a musician is when he has to stop. “When I get an hour to work on music by Mozart or Chopin, it’s just palpably difficult to close that score and have to answer e-mail,” he explains. “Being a musician is something that I would like to do 12 hours a day.”
Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly ’93 studied ear training and music theory (and even performed once) with Hans Boepple on her way to earning her minor in music. She is the associate editor of Santa Clara Magazine.