A New Music Chair for the Academy


Music is Idyllwild Arts Academy’s biggest arts department, accounting for more than a quarter of the school’s roughly three hundred and twenty students. The Academy’s last two Outstanding Artist Award winners have been Music majors, and the Music Department has recently sent graduates to Juilliard, the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (part of the Amsterdam University of the Arts), the Eastman School of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and too many other élite music programs to name.

This year, the Music Department has a new Chair, the Academy’s longtime classical piano instructor, Dr. Jeanette Louise Yaryan.

“Any time there’s a change in leadership,” she points out, “people get a little nervous about what will happen. But my position is that you don’t want to fix anything that isn’t broken.”

Yet Jeanette’s drive to achieve perfection has earned her two Master of Music degrees, a Doctorate of Musical Arts, and numerous prizes in classical piano competitions. So even something as unbroken as the Academy’s Music Department can do better.

The Math of Music

Jeanette is passionate about many aspects of musical training, particularly Music Theory. In her determination to give graduating Music majors “multiple career options,” she has already implemented more coordination among the Academy’s handful of Music Theory teachers.

“Our Music Theory classes give an understanding of the form and structure of how music works,” Jeanette explains. “You could call it the ‘math of music,’ and everyone who teaches it here does a great job. But I’d like to see them working more in tandem on exactly how and what they teach so that all our Music majors get the same experience.”

From talking about the math—the eternal present—of the artistic discipline she loves so deeply, Jeanette moves on to talk about its history and the critical role that improvisation has played in that history.

History Lesson

“The great composers like Beethoven and Mozart were great improvisers. And if you think about it, why wouldn’t they be? They were passionate about music, living and breathing it all the time.”

The interviewer mentions the memorable scene from Amadeus in which Mozart, at a party, drunkenly improvises in the styles of Bach, Beethoven, and Salieri. Jeanette counters by recalling Mozart’s earlier humiliation of Salieri, when he embellishes the latter’s “March of Welcome” in front of Emperor Joseph II. She adds that one of her own favorite musical pastimes is improvising with friends in different styles, and that a favorite memory is of improvising at a dinner party with a violist, in the style of a Baroque Chaconne.

“Obviously people like Beethoven and Mozart would noodle around,” she continues. “They’d try this, try that, always looking to see what would work and what wouldn’t. Then, in the twentieth century, students of classical music stopped being taught how to improvise. . . for reasons that are too complicated to get into.”

Jeanette pauses. She knows the history of classical music inside-out and would take pleasure in explaining what happened to improvisation. For the sake of her students, however, she needs to focus on the future.

“But we’re going to change that here. I want all of our musicians to get some improvisational experience. It’s another way to give them more career options in a constantly evolving musical landscape.”

An already superb department, with plans to do even more to prepare its students for a fluid, uncertain future. Exactly what Idyllwild Arts Academy as a whole is about. Exactly what makes the Academy an outstanding school.

And exactly what suggests that Dr. Jeanette Louise Yaryan will make an outstanding Music Department Chair.