By Cassandra Thomas
On a dim lit stage, one man was on the edge of his seat with gray socks and black clogs, while strumming his smooth brown guitar, a jazzy dude. The audience in awe was completely silent as joyful memories boggled inside their minds and danced with musical notes. Vibrations from the guitar were relevant to emotions they’ve experienced throughout their lives and helped trigger their thoughts to recollect moments of loneliness, broken-hearts, desire and serenity. There was a connection between this man and the audience – whatever he felt, they felt. Each thrust of the string gave off intensity and passion, which filled the air waves with soothing sounds massaging the ears of listeners. This is what he wanted: His spirit to be set free in the Krinovitz Recital Hall.
This was the 4th Annual Guitar Festival and Dr. William Pfaff, 49, Assistant Professor of Music at SUNY Plattsburgh, was performing his “Give Me an A” piece, which took him six weeks to put together and according to him, ‘it could’ve been polished.’ This musical genius hidden behind a desk was now on stage doing what he loved to do the most: perform. He knows his music has ‘the groove,’ but ultimately he is destined to ‘be one with the groove.’ This summer Pfaff attended inspiration boot camp, The Artist-In-Residence, at the Petrified Forest National Park in Holbrook, AZ, for two weeks. He wanted to be a part of the park rather than just be in the park: he decided to pursue artistic discipline while being surrounded by the park’s inspiring landscape.
Being a part of the park meant getting to know the people that run it and the resources that exist inside. Dr.Pfaff spent most of his time taking pictures of the events, the people and the scenery; however, he got the chance to create a hand-made instrument that resembles chimes (an instrument of the orchestra) out of petrified wood, which is found in the park. Learning to create beautiful sounds out of pieces of rainbow-colored crystallized logs, Pfaff translated the national park’s purpose: “a place of pleasure and preservation, into images which bring others enjoyment and a deeper understanding.” This helped Pfaff obtain spiritual peace artistically. He has learned to emphasize trying to get to know each individual piece of music through analysis and experience of it, which was taught to him by his principal teachers Martin Boykn, Yeduhi Wynerat , Allen Anderson and Niel Sir, while earning a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.
“The strange thing about music is it comes out people’s souls and spirits,” said Pfaff.
In an interview with Dr. Pfaff, I noticed his melodies reflected his overall character – spiritual and calm. Having to deal with stressful things as a professor, working on outside projects such as a piano trio for Kalliope; a solo piano work for Holly Roadfeldt-O’Riordan; and a CD of jazz tunes for a San Francisco jazz group, Atmos Trio, as well as maintaining a family with a wife, Stephanie Pfaff, and two ‘mentally whacked’ rescued cats, Syllo and Promise, a man needs some alone time in order to be optimistic.
Growing up in the suburbs of Southern New Hampshire and now residing in Plattsburgh, Pfaff has lived most of his life surrounded by breath-taking scenery, experiencing the great outdoors and being surrounded by artists of the different arts. On his spare time, in the comfort of his own home, Pfaff likes to write a lot of music, garden, read and help refurnish his home with his wife.
He puts emphasis on students in PSU, who are aspiring musicians, to broaden their horizons and expose themselves to many different things as far as music and life as a whole.
“There are plenty of things in life, try as many different things,” says Pffaf.
If a student has a strong belief in their talent or area of interest and a positive attitude that they bring to the classroom and the things they do, there is no telling what opportunities will lie at the front door, Pfaff believes. On a scale of 1-10, Pfaff gives his job a ‘8 solid’ because he’s engaged in music all the time and enjoys working with students college-age. He says they’re curious, ‘funky,’ and fun-lovely. It’s great to have a professor that supports his/her students and gives them space --Dr.Pfaff. But the students’ job is to “challenge themselves, and juggle the freedom, giving themselves limitations.”
Some of his friends, students and colleagues might say he’s a bit too quiet, but Pfaff knows the appropriate time to ‘push the envelope’, when it comes to working on music that is.
Pfaff said sometimes his friends admit to him, “You’re such a quiet soul, but man you need to turn up that f*cking instrument.”
Dr. Pfaff continues to learn every day since there is always more to gain and his opportunities continue to grow because his friends always request him to compose pieces for them. College is supposed to be functioning all the time, fresh and live; Teachers and students expand their knowledge and come to the classrooms to exchange. 10 years from now, he’ll still be writing, teaching and performing, so “right off the press, knowledge goes into the class.”