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Composer and wife like the Valley’s friendliness

by Merrie Leininger

Ted Dollarhide is a composer who has lived all over the world teaching and promoting music through his jobs as a college professor and a symphony composer.

Since moving to Gardnerville a few months ago, Dollarhide and his wife, Susan, hope to find their niche in small-town life. He hopes to find enough private students in piano, brass and composition, so he could leave his teaching job at Lake Tahoe Community College.

The couple came to Tahoe at the beginning of the year after Ted decided to leave his position as composer-in-residence at the Santa Rosa Symphony.

They both loved Tahoe and were married there last December. When he was offered a job at the community college, they moved.

However, once there, they said the community didn’t fit them and on a drive in the Valley, decided Gardnerville was the place they wanted to live.

“We didn’t feel plugged in there and came down here one day and just thought it was darling,” Susan said. “We started looking around and just loved it. We really feel connected.”

The friendliness of the residents has really impacted them, Susan said.

“We were at the grocery store the other day and the checker talked to us for 10 minutes about flowers. In Santa Rosa, it’s rare they even look up at you,” she said.

n Musical upbringing. Dollarhide was brought up in a musical household in Santa Rosa. His mother played piano, his father played the trumpet and the whole family sang and performed. He began piano lessons at 4 years of age.

“Like most artists, I always knew I could do it. It wasn’t until high school I realized everyone could not,” he said.

The tuba became his instrument of choice in the 7th grade when he was watching a parade on television.

“I saw this big instrument and I said, ‘I bet people really notice you with that.’ So, I switched to the tuba, thinking I would be popular with the girls,” he said with a smile.

The tuba led him to his true love, composing.

“Because the tuba doesn’t play a lot in the orchestra, only once every 50 bars, I would get a chance to listen and see what instruments work well together,” he said.

He went to Santa Rosa Junior College, then San Jose State with the intention of becoming a high school band teacher, but an instructor made him realize he could make a living as a professional musician.

It was also at that time he began playing with the San Jose, Santa Rosa and San Francisco symphonies and composing for small groups.

“I felt I had something personal to say,” Dollarhide said.

Composition students generally study one-on-one with a professor, he said, and his composition instructor changed his point of view and put him on the path he is still on today.

“He literally changed my life. He introduced me to all kinds of music I had never heard. He opened up a whole new world of music. He exposed me to things,” Dollarhide said.

He continued his studies at the University of Michigan and earned his masters and doctorate degrees there before winning the Fulbright Scholarship that allowed him to live in Paris for a year.

After finishing his graduate studies, he accepted a 1-year position at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

n Improv in Australia. There, he was able to design the whole first-year curriculum for composition students.

“The students didn’t have much music background so I exposed them to a lot of things like improvisation and the textures and colors of music,” he said. “Students were able to listen and evaluate and bring their skills to the concert hall when they formalized their training.”

Enjoying his job and his students so much, he decided to stay for two more years. At the end of that stay, he was offered a position at a sister school, Yonsei University in Korea.

In Korea, he taught one-on-one with students more and got to know the individual students.

Student unrest over lack of democracy was at its height while he was there, and student demonstrations – and the military use of tear gas to break them up – were common.

“My office became a kind of refuge where they would come and wash their faces after they were hit with the tear gas and sit there and recover, then go out and do it again,” he said.

The experience forced him to think about his rights and responsibilities as an American.

“Some of them felt so deeply about their right to vote, I thought, this is what we only read about in history books. So I decided I wouldn’t stand in the way, short of getting in trouble,” he said.

He said the same students demonstrating would have to serve their obligation in the military and they would be breaking up the demonstrations.

The situation inspired a composition called “Dark Horse” that was a finalist at the Kennedy Center Awards.

n Inspiration. His surroundings generally are what inspire his music.

“It sounds simple, but just my surroundings (inspire me). I think My number one inspiration is my feelings and my strongest feeling is love,” he said.

Susan and Ted met in 1996 while Ted was working as the composer-in-residence at the Santa Rosa Symphony, where he worked for eight years.

She was in charge of getting speakers for monthly service club meetings and when a speaker backed out right before the meeting, Dollarhide stepped in.

“Cloud of the Night,” is a composition he wrote during their courtship, he said, and has special meaning for both of them.

“My earliest memories of him is ’49ers games and pages of that piece taped to the table as he worked on it,” Susan said. “As the relationship grew, he finished the piece.”