There is something incredibly irresistible about a piano. Almost as innate as the instinct to breathe, whenever there is a piano present, we just have to press a key. Any key. It also seems that instinct comes alive when we hear a master pianist at work. The same frequencies and sounds we all have access to are masterfully interwoven and connected in ways that evoke emotional and even physical responses when we hear them.
Jacquelyne “Jacqui” Silver is one of these masters. She possesses both precision from years of dedicated practice and a passion for music that is felt the moment you meet her. Whether immersing herself into a full concerto, or simply popping out a few warm-up chords, it’s immediately clear that you are in the presence of a truly great musician.
Passionate about keeping music alive, Jacqui teaches a wide range of students while continuing her successful lecture series at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library and other venues. She’s currently planning a home series that welcomes music lovers back after the pandemic, going back to the time when people played music in small, intimate gatherings.
Part interview and part music lesson, we sat at Jacqui’s beautiful mid-50s Steinway named Pia. Each part of the conversation was injected with some relevant piece of music, almost as if Pia herself had something to say.
However, it’s Jacqui’s charm and grace that will capture you long before she plays a single note. What she says will endear you to her forever. What she does when she graces the keys will inspire you to find music in yourself you never knew you had.
HERstory through Music
At just 14 years old, Jacqui left St. Louis by herself to travel to New York.
“I had no fear about the trip,” Jacqui says. “I was so excited about going to this ‘city on the hill’, and the magic that emanated.”
Unyielding and persistent, she went with the goal of getting into Juilliard, getting a scholarship, and studying with a very specific teacher, Rosina Lhevinne. She achieved all three.
Recalling getting accepted, she fondly mimics Rosina’s Russian accent, saying simply “I vill take her.”
With perfect pitch and rare natural talent, Jacqui dove headlong into her work, submersing herself into her music. Dedicated both musically and academically, she went to Juilliard for her music studies, only to cross the street to Columbia University for her academics, where she also excelled.
While living in New York City, Jacqui quickly made a name for herself, also touring much of the United States, Canada, the UK and France. She began giving concerts, often with history lessons told through the music that dominated the events which shaped our world. She has performed numerous times at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center, often to sold-out audiences.
“I got a call from my agent at the time, asking me not to sell any more tickets,” she remembers. “You’re sold out! Don’t sell any more!”
Throughout the years, Jacqui has played and collaborated with such legends as Leonard Bernstein, Luciano Pavarotti, Benny Goodman, Marilyn Horne, and Tony Randall. She has been a guest on The Tonight Show, The Dick Cavett Show and The Alan King Show, as well as countless radio and television specials.
Upon moving to San Diego in the mid 90s, Jacqui began her one-woman show. The show chronicles her own life as a musician from the time she was a baby.
“I would listen to my dad play ragtime piano on Sundays. I would sit under the piano with my five dogs and we would listen,” she recalls. “When he would make a mistake, I would climb up on the piano and point out the notes he was supposed to play.”
This show has been performed for sold-out audiences at The Cygnet Theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse and the San Diego Repertory Theatre as well as the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles.
She also produced a DVD of American History as told through music, directing a cast of young actors to portray significant moments in American history through dialogue and song.
A natural teacher, she continues her Music History Lectures at the Athenaeum of La Jolla. Subjects range from Broadway and jazz to classical and ragtime.
Keeping Music Alive
While clearly at home on stage, her passion also comes to life when teaching her students. Pianists of all ages and skill levels come to her for instruction, and it’s hard to imagine anyone getting a better bargain than a lesson from someone as gifted Jacqui.
Certainly, she is skilled in the technical aspect of playing the piano, but that seems almost beside the point. What she teaches most is finding the passion, feeling and energy of a piece, and how to extract every ounce of power from the hammers and strings.
“What I do with a student is second nature,” Jacqui explains. “They have to find the passion. To find the passion is just part of my makeup. Now that you’ve got the note, how are you going to play it? How many ways can you play it?”
Talking of music in general, you get a sense of her range and ability across all styles and genres. Without a trace of pretense, Jacqui discusses every musical form from classical and jazz to pop and rock-n-roll with equal insight and reverence. She describes the beauty and the genius of musicians as diverse as Mozart and Jimi Hendrix.
“Part of the magic of music is truly realizing the sheer genius of the composers,” Jacqui says. “We say ‘genius’ so casually, but when you hear it, it can bring you to your knees. It’s always fresh. I’m always rediscovering the passion of the composers.”
On the rare occasion when she’s not familiar with a piece of music, she can hear it simply from it’s description. Possessing the rare ability of perfect pitch, a simple mention of a B Flat Minor or descending arpeggios immediately fills her head with music.
“Music is gigantic. In its scope, and its ability to fill you with emotions and passion. Sometimes, it awakens things in us we never knew we had. Music is sheer love.”
As we talked on, Pia bellowed her heart out filling Jacqui’s living room as if it were Carnegie Hall.
For lessons or inquiries, email Jacqui at: firstname.lastname@example.org.