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Bob Swift: Creating and Expressing Through Music

Bob Swift, known as ‘Mr. Bob’ to his students, an instructor at Allegro Community School of the Arts, has a passion for music. The experience of creating (composing) and expressing (interpreting) the art has always been his favorite part of this industry. “After years of supervising large, complex music departments, I am enjoying the luxury of private teaching at Allegro, perfecting my pedagogic skills to engage others in the joys of ‘making music’,” he explained.

Swift moved to Warrenton in July 2015 and soon after he began teaching at Allegro in November 2015. Ten years earlier he retired from a long career in the DC area as music administrator, organist, choirmaster and pipe organ recitalist.

He obtained a Bachelor of Art’s degree in Music from Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, studied piano pedagogy under Henry Black, and pipe organ under Gerald Brown. “I studied voice and choral methods under Jerri Ann Bond of Catholic University, Washington, DC. and advanced training in Kodaly and Orff teaching methods from the Academy of Music in Vienna, Austria,” Bob detailed.

Bob concertized as pipe organist, harpsichordist, pianist, and baritone vocalist throughout Virginia and the DC area. As teacher, he served as a faculty member of Woodberry Forest School in Orange and the Potomac Organ Institute in Washington, DC., and held executive positions with the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. For 33 years he was a full-time organist/choirmaster, certified music director/administrator, lecturer in hymnody, consultant in pipe organ design, and composer of numerous symphonic works for double choir and orchestra – all in Northern Virginia.

In his free time, Bob enjoys antiquing, gardening, and tending to his West Highland Terrier, named Frostie. He also mentioned that he “enjoys entertaining at home: formal dinners, followed by piano or pipe organ concerts in the music room,” and day trips to areas of historical interest.

“My elementary and high school piano teacher was a major influence,” Bob explained. “She was a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music back in the 1920s, which meant by the 1950s and 60s she was retired and teaching privately in her home. I loved to hear her performance stories from the 20s. Somehow, I'd like to think today's children enjoy my music anecdotes of the 50s.”

His love of music is evident, and shares this passion with his students. He noted, “Bach said the purpose of music was for ‘the refreshment of the soul; the permissible delights of the soul; the recreation of the soul.’ I interpret this to mean that music brings joy (and other human emotions) to both the performer and listener.” His teaching priority is to create a positive, pleasant learning experience for the student. “Only then can music's nuances engage the student's emotions and promote a love for the instrument,” he described. “I seek to instill within the student an appreciation of music's history, culture, and traditions. Also, I must encourage the student to explore, to inquire, and (yes) to compose, applying rudiments of theory and compositional forms.”

When asked about his most memorable teaching experience, Bob states:

“There have been so many memorable teaching experiences at Allegro. For example, the time when a young pianist shouts ‘yes!’ after conquering a difficult scale passage; or the time following a studio recital when parents realize their child really likes piano.”

He shared, “I feel people should know of Allegro's and my love of the arts; all those extra dimensions of human expression. Because Allegro's founders and I believe these arts are precious gifts, we strive to promote their development and share them with the community.”

His favorite song is not really a song which can be sung. It is a major organ work by Mozart, Fantasie in F, composed for a musical clock in Vienna Austria. “Listening to a recording of this music as a teenager determined my decision to major in pipe organ at the conservatory,” said Bob. “As of today, my performance of this work on YouTube has over 308,000 hits.”

It is no surprise that Bob’s favorite instrument mirrors his favorite musical piece. The pipe organ is his chosen instrument, but also enjoys others. “Since retirement, I have spent some quality time revisiting an old harpsichord, piano, and vocal works.” Also, Bob enjoys all genres of theatre: drama, comedy, and musicals. ‘It's difficult to select a favorite. I love the music from Gershwin, Porter, and Kern, as well as today's composers,” he noted.

Bob’s specialty is in piano – improvising and stylizing of movie music themes, music of the 20s and 30s, and love ballads, amongst others. Prior to retirement, he was performing an average of 10 major concerts a year. “On one occasion, I neglected to place a copy of Mozart's four-hand, two-piano sonata on the piano rack during the pre-concert stage preparation. A woman in the audience saved the concert, coming to my rescue and providing a copy of the music. It seems she had brought a score to follow along during the performance. As it happened, I had to sight read an unfamiliar edition of the Mozart piece with the duo pianist before a live audience.”

Children watching piano player.
Bob plays on the donated piano at Eva Walker Park surrounded by the Boys & Girls Club students.

His students study Bach, Beethoven, Bohm, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Grieg, Handel, Haydn, Joplin, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Pachelbel, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Schubert, and Schumann. The First Fridays at Noon series is open from October to May. Bob holds these at Allegro’s Cellar Door, and even offers a faculty performance recital from 12:10 to 12:40, followed by a “Bach’s” lunch. This faculty program is separate from student recitals and is focused on community outreach and is tailored to the Warrenton office workers and/or retirees to study (especially during the morning/mid-day hours).

Sharing the arts, and communicating its importance is important to Bob. He said, “Music is like a close, personal friend; it never leaves you, nor forsakes you. Its charismatic spirit becomes an extension of your inward self, while it’s contagious appeal remains a mystery. As a teacher, I seek to instill within the student this extra dimension of self, moving beyond rudiments of technique to achieve mature expressions of the art.”

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