Piano player, teacher, and composer: Dr Amir Khosrowpour shares his talent with the school

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Neeva Patel , Staff writer

Whether he is synthesizing mundane sounds to create unique pieces of music, composing for a puppet show, or playing piano to accompany the school’s choir, Music Instructor Dr. Amir Khosrowpour loves the way music makes him feel. 

Khosrowpour grew up in Irvine, California, and began taking piano lessons at age six, right after his older brother started violin lessons. Because his father was such a big fan of classical music, Khosrowpour had the option of starting piano or violin, choosing piano simply because he did not want to copy his brother, he said. “I started playing once a week with a neighborhood teacher who lived around the corner, and then after a month, she said that I was progressing really well so I should move on to a higher level teacher.” He has also dabbled in drums, violin, and clarinet,   though not to the same extent that he has practiced piano, he said. When he was younger, Khosrowpour was often unmotivated to practice as diligently as his parents expected him to. 

Khosrowpour’s next teacher had a doctorate in piano pedagogy, or piano teaching, and had written a book on the subject, he said. Not only was his teacher excellent at piano, but Khosrowpour also admired his teaching methods because they helped with his progress. “If I were to go do a competition, he would ask me what I thought of my performance and what I thought went well or not, I liked how he made me evaluate myself and do a thorough self reflection,” he said. 

While his new teacher urged him to practice, Khosrowpour’s parents were also very strict about his playing piano everyday, he said. Although he initially had to practice the piece he was working on for only 15 minutes a day, as he grew older, his practice time increased to almost four hours per day. Because he attended a public school that did not give him a lot of work, Khosrowpour was able to fit practicing into his day, he said. Since his parents were still not home after he finished school, Khosrowpour crafted his own practice schedule. “After school I would often take a nap, wake up at around five, and practice for two hours, eat dinner, practice again, and then do my homework,” he said. Oftentimes, Khosrowpour would fall asleep with his bedroom lights on and homework papers sprawled across his bed. 

When Khosrowpour was in his sophomore year of high school in 1997, he won a piano competition and was able to attend a two-week-long sleepaway piano camp at the University of Kansas (KU), a program that his piano teacher directed. He found it extremely inspiring to be surrounded by pianists and got along with one of the teachers there so well that he was recruited to earn his bachelor’s degree at KU where he double majored in piano and composition. “Although I also had the choice to go to USC, I’m glad I chose KU because I got to get away from my parents for a while and I know they would have been asking me to come home every weekend if I stayed in California,” Khosrowpour said. 

At the age of 21, Khosrowpour entered the Steinway Piano Competition, a rigorous national competition with three rounds. The first was statewide in November, the second was regional in January, and the third was national in March. He ended up reaching the nationals round and winning the whole competition, Khosrowpour said. “The prize for that was a piano, and I always rented a piano growing up, so having one of my own was really cool, I still play on it to this day.” 

After studying at college for five years, Khosrowpour decided to pursue his master’s degree. Auditioning for schools like Juilliard, Rice University, and Peabody at Johns Hopkins, Khosrowpour eventually chose Manhattan School of Music (MSM) because it gave him the best financial package, he said. “I had a couple of lessons with a teacher there leading up to the auditions and we got along really well, so because I knew he would give me the attention and time that I wanted, I was also inclined to choose MSM.” 

After completing his master’s, Khosrowpour applied to a doctoral program. “I was still not ready to enter the world outside of school, so I auditioned for MSM’s doctoral program and got in,” he said. During this program, Khosrowpour took classes such as music theory and piano pedagogy, attended numerous masterclasses, entered competitions, and practiced constantly.   

After seven years of his doctorate, Khosrowpour officially graduated in 2013 and began freelancing in New York City by playing a variety of gigs including voice lessons, dance lessons, and concert series. However, in 2014, Dr. Kathy Tagg, a teacher at the school for private piano, contacted Khosrowpour and recommended him to play at one of the Horace Mann choir concerts. Here, Khosrowpour was able to meet Music Department Chair Timothy Ho. “I got along really well with Mr. Ho since we are both from the West Coast, but after that first holiday concert, I started to come in to play with the choir for semesters at a time,” he said. 

After a year and a half of working at the school part time, Ho worked to create a full time position for him, which excited Khosrowpour. “From the first time I walked in here I noticed how nice not only the facilities were, but also the students,” he said. “They are constantly smiling, as if it’s Disneyland.”

However, he often questioned himself and his ability to create with little time outside of school. “I think, as an artist, I would sometimes have those questions of, ‘what am I doing as an artist?’ and ‘Is it feeding my artistic self?’ because working at the school takes up most of my day,” he said. As a father of two children, Khosrowpour struggled to find free time to experiment creatively, and when he did have free time, he preferred to watch TV and relax, he said. He hopes to make a shift in his schedule so that he has more time to complete artistic projects and compose outside of school. 

Recently, Khosrowpour wrote music for a puppet show outside of school, and felt it was a perfect fit for his style of music since it was so theatrical, he said. “There’s a lot of atmospheric music and moods within drama that I really enjoy, and I love composing at the computer and manipulating sounds as well,” he said. Khosrowpour employs a process where he records himself playing ten different piano notes rapidly and synthesizes those recordings on a keyboard to create an instrument with a beautiful texture, he said. Khosrowpour would characterize his style of composition as heavily rhythm based, and long sections of his work contain motion sounds, but no melody or slow harmonic changes. 

Although working on projects outside of school does deliver Khosrowpour some satisfaction, teaching and playing alongside students at the school feels fulfilling, he said. “I know students at the school are stressed out, but they come into choir and just sing, and there is an element of therapy within that.” 

Molly Goldsmith (11), a student in both Concert Glee and Treble Choir, has been a part of the choir program since she was in Middle Division (MD) chorus and has gotten to know Khosrowpour quite well throughout her time, she said. “He cracks really funny jokes in class and he’s helped us learn music so effectively, I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in choir that we would not be able to perform at concerts without him.” Whenever Ho is absent from class, Goldsmith appreciates the way Khosrowpour steps in and takes class time to listen to how students are doing, she said. 

Similarly, Jared Contant (12), who is in Concert Glee, loves how Khosrowpour comes into chorus everyday with a positive attitude, he said. “He always wants us to succeed and is interested in us not only as singers, but also as people. Chorus would not be the same without him.” 

Khosrowpour appreciates the wonderful choral program Ho has created, and is grateful that he was able to join such a warm and welcoming group eight years ago, he said. “The best part is the adrenaline before our concerts where we are all waiting for the curtains to open, Mr. Ho is snapping selfies with us, and there is this amazing buzz in the air that I don’t feel anywhere else,” Khosrowpour said.