Meet ACMP Pianist and Educator James Daly

Pianist and educator James Daly

You may have been wondering about the people I featured in my mockups for ACMP’s new Timbre app-in-progress. AI was not involved in any way – all those people are real members of ACMP with profiles in our Directory of Chamber Musicians. I am always amazed at the amazing people in our directory, who will be even easier to find and “save for later” in the new app. Speaking of which – there are two days left in February, and anyone who makes a donation to ACMP this month will have exclusive first access to the app, the opportunity to test it and offer feedback – and – a special badge in the app once it is fully developed and released.

Show ACMP some love this February

Meanwhile, the California-based pianist and educator James Daly is the man in the header image for my blog article about Timbre. Read all about his path to becoming a musician and educator. I did not know about his powerful story and I must admit – I chose him for his T-shirt!

And now, ACMP members can enjoy a 20% discount on any merchandise in James’ Powerful Piano store. James designs the T-shirts himself – Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Liszt – and he just released a new series of T-shirts representing African American composers. The Powerful Piano site also includes a free and fascinating pedagogical tool – James’ “StaffRunner” game for teaching people how to read music.

Claim your discount on James’ Merchandise

And now – read all about James and The Powerful Piano

The Beginnings

James grew up in a musical family, with a piano teacher for a grandmother and a violinist mother, starting his own piano journey at age three. Despite a love for music, life’s challenges led to a troubled path in his youth, like so many other children of color from his neighborhood in West Los Angeles. This culminated in dropping out of high school at 16 and facing the realities of adulthood prematurely when he was kicked out of his house to live on his own shortly thereafter. Music was always a part of his life throughout. Yes, he had to stop taking piano lessons at 11 because his mom could no longer afford the financial and time cost to drive him across LA once a week but he continued to play piano, branching into learning bass, guitar, drums, and composing in the DAW Fruity Loops, he ‘found’ on the internet for free.

While living on his own his focus shifted to working and paying bills as best he could. But he was determined to reconnect with his musical roots, James took an entry level music theory class to improve his ‘for fun’ compositions at a local community college. This decision and the amazing teacher who taught the class (shout out Professor Douglas Dutton at Santa Monica Community College) reignited his passion for classical piano and set him on a path of hard work and perseverance. Balancing full-time work with night classes, James dedicated every available moment to practice and study, driven by a dream to pursue music formally. It was challenging not just in terms of time commitment but also because he had forgotten how to read music! There were many nights he went to sleep almost in tears because he couldn’t ‘be better’ like his peers who had enjoyed uninterrupted musical training all throughout their youth.

Yet he continued on. With a new found purpose he went from a drop out to a straight A student in junior college. Yes, his music reading was still a ‘work in progress’ (IE: terrible) but knowing he wanted more than to simply live to barely pay bills was a powerful motivator. By the end of his two years at Santa Monica Community College he was able to memorize enough contrasting pieces to record and submit to music departments around the country. Of course, if they had an in person follow up that included aural skills and sight reading, he immediately would be dropped from consideration. This was hard and at times soul crushingly embarrassing but he knew some school would take a chance on him if just for his grades and raw playing ability.

This relentless dedication paid off, earning him a full scholarship to UC Berkeley for music. Being self conscious about the gap between himself and his peers, he turned up the dial on his focus and dedication. Now that Berkeley had paid for his studies and his lodging he could worry only about practice. And practice he did. Every day he sat in those fluorescent-lit rooms without reprise, chasing his dreams one note at a time. Quite often reaching over 8 hours of cumulative practice room time every day. Then he would study and compose. It was a life solely dedicated to music. Yes, it was lonely. Quite lonely at times, but education was showing itself to be a path for his success. He knew so many people from his home that had been arrested, overdosed on drugs, been involved in illicit activity (to put it mildly), and more. His classmates couldn’t even comprehend what this was like, let alone live through it. James knew there was no future where he had come from and music education was the only way out of that. This sense of quiet desperation to never go back to that became his superpower. He couldn’t come up short because failure for him meant something far different than it did for everyone else.

Being nurtured at Berkeley by amazing educators truly transformed him. The musician that graduated from Cal was unrecognizable from the one that entered. He had completed the highest levels of theory from Wagnerian to advanced 20th century, performed historically challenging pieces such as Chopin and Liszt etudes to great reception by his faculty and peers, and composed an entire senior concert worth of works including a string quartet, piano and cello duet, art song for mezzo soprano, and more.

Music education had fundamentally transformed his life internally and externally. Immediately after graduation, his new goal became championing the power of classical music and mentorship and as such he fell into teaching. His previous struggles that had before tormented him now made him an excellent communicator of technique, music theory, and most importantly perseverance to his students.

The thing that had hurt James the most in his journey was the elitist (and often subconsciously racist and classist) nature of many classical music practitioners and educators. He often says ‘Beethoven is awesome because Beethoven is awesome. Not because someone else told us so.’ and he firmly stands behind that in how he approaches pedagogy. His holistic approach of inclusivity was a breath of fresh air to students and why he was able to grow a very large private studio in a short period of time. The experiences that once held him back now propelled James into the musician and educator he is today, leading him to establish his companies, San Ramon Academy of Music and Powerful Piano.

San Ramon Academy of Music: Cultivating Musical Excellence

In 2018, after almost a decade of teaching, James founded the San Ramon Academy of Music, a pioneering institution dedicated to providing top-tier music education. The academy is not just a school; it’s a community where students of all ages and backgrounds come to learn, grow, and express themselves through music. With a commitment to accessibility and excellence, the academy has quickly become a cornerstone of music education in the region.

What is Powerful Piano?

Powerful Piano emerged in 2021 from James’s desire to extend his impact beyond the walls of the academy. By offering resources like the Musicians Notebook and their free to play note reading game ‘StaffRunner’, James aims to make music education accessible to everyone, everywhere. The initiative reflects his journey and the belief that financial or logistical barriers should never hinder anyone’s musical aspirations.

Non-Profit Chamber Ensemble Program: Building Community Through Music

A hallmark of the San Ramon Academy of Music is its non-profit chamber ensemble program. This program not only offers young musicians the chance to perform and collaborate but also serves as a vehicle for outreach, bringing music to schools and communities across the Bay Area. Through this program, James and his team work tirelessly to ensure that classical music is a vibrant, living tradition accessible to all.

Supporting Musicians Financially and Logistically

The Powerful Piano and San Ramon Academy of Music together strive to remove the barriers to music education. Proceeds from both initiatives support scholarships for lessons, instruments, and more, embodying James’s vision of a world where every aspiring musician has the support they need to succeed.

Embracing Community and Diversity

For James, diversity and community are not just part of the mission; they are the mission. His initiatives challenge the stereotypes within classical music, promoting an environment where everyone is welcome, and every voice is valued. Through outreach and education, James is changing perceptions and inspiring a new generation of musicians.

A Call to Action: Join the Movement

We invite ACMP members to join us in this mission to make music education accessible and inclusive. Engage with The Powerful Piano and San Ramon Academy of Music by joining our mailing list, using StaffRunner with your students, and supporting our scholarship initiatives through merchandise purchases with the ACMP exclusive discount code which you can find by logging into the ACMP website and checking out this Member Benefit.

How to Get Involved

To learn more and contribute to our cause, visit The Powerful Piano and San Ramon Academy of Music online. Your support can help us continue to break down barriers and build a more inclusive musical world.

Together, let’s ensure that music education is a right, not a privilege, for everyone.

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