About Casey Robards
Pianist and conductor, CASEY ROBARDS has given recitals with singers and instrumentalists throughout the United States, Europe, Central and South America and Asia. Her repertoire includes art song, opera, musical theatre, spirituals and gospel, string, brass, wind and chamber music. Her Carnegie Hall debut recital was with baritone Christiaan Smith performing an original program of Top 40 pop songs sung in the style of art song.
Recent projects include conducting Three Decembers (South Bend Lyric Opera), Die Zauberflöte, La Boheme, La Traviata (Bay View Music Festival), music directing Water Riot: A Cyberpunk Rock Opera created by Derek McPhatter in Chicago; conducting participant in Opera in the 21st Century at the Banff Centre; and as pianist, performing concerts with the National Chorale and American Spiritual Ensemble. Robards was pianist for the workshop premiere of This Little Light of Mine (the story of Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer) with Kentucky Opera and rehearsal pianist/coach/conductor for the staged premier with Santa Fe Opera. 2022-23 recitals include collaborations with Ollie Watts Davis, Brian Downen, LaToya Lain, Kenneth Overton, Karen Slack, and Charis Peden.
Robards is featured on three new CD releases: “Figments, Vol. 3” with John Dee, oboe and Bernhard Scully, horn premiering a trio by Andrew LeWinter (Navona Records); “Botanica: music for oboe and English horn” with Sara Fraker featuring music by Pavel Haas, Glen Roven, Asha Srinivasan and others; and “Chinese Fantasies” with violinist, Fangye Sun featuring music by Bright Sheng. Robards has also recorded CDs featuring Negro Spirituals and music by female and African-American female composers with singers, Ollie Watts Davis, Angelique Clay, and Henry Pleas. She and her husband, Anthony Patterson form the Patterson Piano Duo.
Dr. Robards is currently on the faculty of the University of Illinois and just completed her 15th season as a faculty artist at the Bay View Music Festival where she is the MainStage Opera Conductor, Head of the Collaborative Piano program, co-creator of a two-week vocal and collaborative piano intensive (SOARS) and coach/pianist for the American Spiritual Intensive program. Previous appointments include positions with Indiana University, Oberlin Conservatory and Central Michigan University. In 2017, she served as associate music director of the University of Kentucky world premiere of “BOUNCE: The Basketball opera” co-produced with Ardea Arts. Casey is interested in the intersection of music and social justice and has led benefit recitals for Musicambia, a non-profit organization that creates music conservatories in prisons.
Robards received the Henri Kohn Memorial Award for outstanding achievement at Tanglewood Music Festival. She has degrees in Piano Performance, Piano Pedagogy and Vocal Coaching and Accompanying from the University of Illinois where she served as principal musician/asst. conductor of the University of Illinois Black Chorus under Dr. Ollie Watts Davis. Her doctoral dissertation was on the life and music of John Daniels Carter (1932-1981), famous for his Cantata, a setting of five Negro spirituals. Her professional memberships include IKCAS (International Keyboard Collaborative Arts Society), NATS, Maestra, MUSE, and National Opera Association (Chair, Sacred in Opera Initiative). She authored a chapter for the book “So You Want to Sing Spirituals,” published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019.
I encourage piano students to embrace a generalist path of study and am especially equipped to provide educational guidance in these areas: piano technique and musicality, elite ensemble and collaborative piano musical skills, and stylistic authenticity in classical and popular styles of Western music.
My approach to piano technique involves utilizing arm weight– a free flow of energy from shoulder to fingertip (no “holding tension” in the upper arm, forearm, wrist, or hand); a fluid wrist; gesture-based choreography at the keyboard remaining close to the keys with the fingertips which provide the “grip” and “specificity” for accuracy. I encourage a wide palette of color, tone and articulation at the keyboard, often found by imitating orchestral instruments and sounds. Of utmost importance is finding practice strategies and solutions that allow for learning repertoire musically and accurately in the least amount of time. My students regularly experience technical “breakthroughs” that allow them to play the piano with more efficiency, physical ease (no injury), endurance, and expressiveness.
It is vital for the student to have the very best musical models and refined sounds in their ear, for the inner ear is the source of a musical and expressive technique. To this end, a certain amount of demonstration, modeling, recording study, and especially live performance attendance is crucial for a student’s musical maturation. Informed by historical and stylistic traditions, a student must develop an equally inspired imagination and personal point of view regarding musical interpretation and artistry.
Essential musical skills for a collaborative pianist are dependable-to-virtuosic piano technique, above-average sight-reading, good ears, an ability to learn accurately quickly, ability to follow a conductor, transposition, improvisation, harmonization, an understanding of the repertoire and idiosyncrasies of each orchestral instrument, a basic understanding of healthy bel canto singing and aural differences of flow and inflection between various languages, sensible treatment of piano reductions, harpsichord and organ experience. Other vital musical skills include open score reading, vocal coaching, conducting, lyric diction study, early music performance practice, contemporary music skills, techniques for playing auditions, competitions, recordings, and experience in different musical genres, styles, idioms, and vernaculars. Technological demands also increase with every new internet capability, requiring mastery of new forms of recording, rehearsing, streaming, and capturing content.
Along with musical success, today’s collaborative artist must hone interpersonal skills and devote significant energy to qualities besides those related to performing on the instrument. These could include fluency in foreign language(s), time-management and organizational acumen, resourcefulness under pressure, public speaking, programming, research and writing tools, entrepreneurial initiative, administrative know-how, fund-raising, grant writing, networking and communication skills.
BM (Piano Performance); MM (Piano Pedagogy); DMA (Vocal Coaching and Accompanying, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)