Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Romantic-era Russian composer, conductor and piano virtuoso, whose works include Piano Concerto No. 2, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Isle of the Dead, once said, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”
That is the favorite quote of 27-year-old pianist, instructor and educator Steven Schaefer.
“You can spend all your days listening or studying or performing music, but it’s not enough, because we don’t have enough time for everything,” Schaefer said. “I feel like amidst everything, [music is] a good thing to be dedicated to and fill your time with.”
Since age 11, Schaefer has dedicated his studies to music, taking up piano at first. Then he started drumming, becoming a drum major for his high school marching band, and choir singing. After being one of the selected finalists during a concerto competition and graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental performance, Schaefer landed a job at the Montessori School of Flagstaff as an elementary music and Spanish instructor. Now, he works as the choral instructor at Basis Flagstaff charter school. In only his third year with Basis, Schaefer has helped expand its enrollment from 90 choir students to more than 200.
Schaefer expresses concern for how music is taught in public schools, saying that, because some teachers have little time with students, their curriculum becomes more of a general music class.
“I have much more time with the students to build direct literacy, really learning how to read music, assessing it in a seriously direct way,” he said. “We’re more able to be a music education classroom and a performance classroom.”
Like music, teaching came naturally for Schaefer.
“When I got my first teaching job out of college, it was the most natural thing to do, making music with people. My job is never boring. Every day of the week is a different musical and choral experience,” he said. “I like setting [my students] up to have a better experience later. We might not be able to perform Mozart operas now, but if they’re getting solid foundations of literacy skills now, then when they’re in high school they’ll be able to learn music easier. I like being a part of the legacy of their lifetime.”
Schaefer also works as the artistic director for the Flagstaff Youth Chorale and is an active member of the Master Chorale of Flagstaff, which begins its 2017 season Monday with its Go for Baroque concert.
“With the Master Chorale, we try to bring people together to sing every week with a varied background of singing experiences. Some people are retired music teachers. There is this girl who said she was a rock star in Memphis. Some people are college kids who are just looking for another outlet to sing and perform,” Schaefer said. “There is something about being a part of a musical group that makes it feel like another family. I’m a part of so many different little families. It’s really healthy and supportive.”
Originally from Scottsdale, Schaefer has lived in Flagstaff for almost a decade. He praises Flagstaff’s musical community and the natural beauty of the San Francisco Peaks.
“The sight of the Peaks is so grounding, and it keeps me present. At the same time, it’s like an escape,” he said. “There are so many things I want to do and places I want to explore. It’s like this never-ending adventure here. Music, like the mountains, is a constant. I’m a chorale educator, a performer and a pianist. It’s all different shades of the same thing, and I love it all. But it’s like that Rachmaninoff quote. I can’t experience it all, but I hope to experience as much of it as I can.”
More than anything, Schaefer wishes to continue to enrich the lives of those he teaches with the wonders of music.
“I used to think I wanted all the attention and all the glory of being the soloist on stage. Then I really got into conducting the church choir, then this teaching job rolled into my lap and now this directing job at the Youth Chorale. For me, it’s way more satisfying to help other people find that enthusiasm of reading music or playing music or singing music.”
As for the future, Schaefer appears content with the varied communal pockets he’s a part of. From playing and teaching music to rock climbing, he’s made Flagstaff his niche, interweaving all of his different interests and communities into one big home. Schaefer has plans to continue his music education and has applied for NAU’s choral conductor master’s program.
“There’s just a never-ending opportunity to perform and to create. So I can see myself doing this until I’m in my 90s. There is a famous conductor, Weston Noble, who just passed away. He was, up until a year ago, I think, still conducting ensembles in his 90s. It’s just like, ‘hell yeah.’ That’s what I want to do.”
Schaefer will be performing with the Master Chorale of Flagstaff during its Go for Baroque concert Monday night at San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church.