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Meet Alma Batista of Dr. Batista Music Studio in Riverside

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alma Batista.

Alma, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My journey started in the island of Puerto Rico, where I was born and lived for 20 years. As a young girl, I would fall asleep listening to my older sister’s Spanish guitar practice. When I was given a toy xylophone I was able to play songs by ear on it, and when I was old enough to start music lessons and was asked what instrument I wanted to learn, to my mother’s surprise, I chose the piano. The funny thing is that we didn’t have a piano at our house. We did have an organ that someone had given us and I would spend time playing pieces by ear on it. For me it was a defining moment when I went to the piano store with my mom to pick a piano. I started piano lessons at 8 years of age with Alba Rosa Castro and from that moment on the piano became more than an inanimate object, it became my friend.

I went through the beginning piano books quickly because I didn’t want to be learning those simple pieces, I wanted to learn the masters; Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt. I wanted to be playing the big pieces of music I would listen to from my small recording collection. As I advanced in my piano studies, I had the opportunity to continue lessons with Prof. Cecilia Talavera, who guided and trained me to audition for the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music’s talented youth program at the age of 16. I was accepted at the Conservatory of Music and continued studying with her until I transferred to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1987. While I was still living in Puerto Rico, I would attend the Interlochen Music Festival (Michigan) and the Aspen Music Festival (Colorado) during the summers. At these festivals, I took classes from different teachers and broadened my horizons as a musician. At the Aspen Music Festival, I had the privilege to study with Ms. Edith Oppens, who recommended me to continue my studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

San Francisco has such a special place in my heart because I grew not only as a pianist and musician, but also as an individual. At the Conservatory of Music, I studied piano with Paul Hersh (Bachelor Degree) and Mack McCray (Master Degree), Laurette Goldberg and Gideon Meir harpsichord, 20th century music and techniques with Ellie Armer, orchestration with Conrad Susa, and electronic music with Alden Jenks among others. I loved living in a city rich with different cultures, great restaurants and magnificent concert life. Ms. Oppens didn’t want me to study in New York. She was very specific and wanted me to study in San Francisco. I will be forever grateful to her choice of city for me.

After graduating from my master degree, I decided to stay in San Francisco teaching and performing. I taught privately and at the San Francisco Community Music Center in the heart of the Mission district. Teaching at the SFCMC was a great opportunity in learning how to share my passion for music and the piano with students came from very different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. It opened my eyes to the reality that not everyone is able to afford music lessons and/or an instrument. It made me a better teacher because sometimes I had to “make do” with almost nothing. I specially loved that the student population was diverse.

While I lived, performed and taught in the city I still continued to take private piano lessons. One of my teachers was Barbara Shearer who was always very supportive and a great teacher. I also continued to take lessons with Edith Oppens whenever I could go to Aspen or New York in the summer. Searching for new direction, I connected with Paul Berkowitz who had just been appointed to teach at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Prof. Berkowitz invited me to audition to their doctorate music program to which I was accepted. At UCSB I studied with Prof. Berkowitz and with Dr. Betty Oberacker. Ms. Oppens had always encouraged me to go back to school and earn my doctorate degree, and so in 2002 I earned my doctorate of music arts from UCSB.

After graduating from UCSB, I chose to move to the Riverside, California. Here in Riverside I have continued to teach privately, perform and also compose. During all my years teaching privately I taught from my home, music schools, and at a music store. In 2010, I decided to open my own piano studio, Dr. Batista Piano Studio, where I would teach private lessons. However, piano is not for everyone and my clients would ask me about voice lessons or guitar lessons, so in 2015, I decided to move to a larger office and created Dr. Batista Music Studio where we now offer piano, voice and guitar private lessons.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Throughout my life, I have been very lucky to find people that have guided me in the right direction and helped me. I have been blessed to have had parents that nurtured my musical talent and supported me even when that meant I would be living far away from them. One of the biggest challenges that I have faced teaching in the Riverside area is the lack of understanding for the classical music arts. For this reason, I like to perform benefit recitals and lecture recitals to educate and showcase classical music to an audience that is not familiar with the genre.

Dr. Batista Music Studio – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The mission of my music studio is to teach the art of music making at the highest level. I offer a complete music education in piano as well as in theory, composition, music history, chamber music, music appreciation, and ear training. We also have professional music instructors in voice, guitar and composition. Each student is treated individually and each lesson is customized to their needs.

I prefer to teach private instruction because it provides an ideal environment for mastery of a musical instrument. Private instruction allows me to get to know the student at a more personal level and meet the unique needs and learning styles of each one of them. Although not every student wants to become a concert pianist, most students enjoy learning how to play an instrument and more importantly, they experience the many benefits learning an instrument gives to them. Among some of those benefits are: a higher self-esteem, fostering self-expression and relieving stress, enhancing coordination, improving reading and mathematical skills.

One of the things that differentiate my studio from others is my level of education and experience as an educator, pianist, and composer. The other instructors that teach at my studio have at least a Bachelor degree in music. Although I know of many excellent musicians without formal education that are great teachers, I believe that a formal education is very important.

This year has been very important for me since I started my studio because some of my students participated in different events and local competitions with great results. It was wonderful to see them achieve more than they thought they could achieve and it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to see them perform and be so happy and proud of themselves. I am also very proud that my studio has students from different ethnicity and cultures.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Throughout my career as pianist and educator, I have experienced many proud moments. However, having two of my compositions win first place in 2013 and 2016 at the Danza Composition Competition awarded by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in Puerto Rico has been a great honor.

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  1. Ed Genovese

    August 11, 2017 at 02:30

    Great Story Alma,
    I really enjoyed it. You are so deserving and gifted…
    As a composer and pianist,you are gracious and powerful.

    your students are so blessed to have you, and me to know you.

    God bless. Ed Genovese

    • Alma Batista

      August 12, 2017 at 17:58

      Thank you for your kind words Ed. I am very lucky and blessed to have my studio and students. Alma Batista

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