Dr. Scott Beard, dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education, is one of three academic deans at Shepherd who has a musical background. Beard, a graduate of Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, literally began pursuing his first career, as a pianist, when he was a child.
“Apparently I would pick out tunes on the piano at a very young age,” Beard said.
Beard grew up in Rockville, Virginia, which is about 22 miles northwest of Richmond. He describes it as a small town with one grocery store, two gas stations, a post office, and a library.
“It was a really great place to grow up. It’s very rural,” Beard said. “It’s still mostly that way today although the west end of Richmond has encroached on that a little bit. I lived close to my grandparents and spent a lot of time with them.”
Beard said his maternal great-grandmother was also a pianist who attended the Peabody Conservatory. She had a big heavy upright piano that Beard was eventually given.
“My dad and about five of his friends went up to get it and somehow got it on the back of a pickup truck and were going down the road playing the piano and singing songs,” Beard said, smiling as he recalled the memory. “So my dad, even though he wasn’t formally trained, had a great ear and could sing.”
Beard began taking piano lessons with a teacher who lived down the street when he was in second grade. By the time he reached high school, Beard had started practicing more seriously and was entering competitions.
“I had a teacher in high school who was really influential that I’m still in touch with today,” Beard said. “She sold me one of the grand pianos from her studio and having that piano really lit the spark that this was what I wanted to do.”
During high school Beard practiced piano four hours a day. His goal was to attend a conservatory in a big city. He also started working when he was about 15 as a music director, playing the organ and directing choirs at a church to earn money for college. Beard worked as a church musician throughout college, a pursuit he continued until he was 30.
“I tell everyone now I’m retired from that,” he said, laughing. “Working those church jobs was an incredibly creative and really fun experience. I thought of it as having a performance every week, trying to make each worship service really special and making the music great. So I look back on all that with great fondness.”
After “retiring” as a church pianist, Beard took a job in arts administration, becoming the librarian and personnel/general manager for what was then the Georgetown Symphony (now the Capitol City Symphony) in Washington, D.C. In that job he did everything from writing radio ads and press releases, to hiring and managing personnel, to cataloging the library and writing grants.
“I credit that with being one of the most useful jobs that I had in preparation for being in higher education, and I would say specifically now administration,” Beard said.
Studying abroad and pursuing a music career
When Beard was in graduate school at the University of Maryland, he spent several summers studying in France at the French Piano Institute, where he took part in a festival and competition.
“I really learned so much,” he said. “It was just inspiring to be there in those buildings full of history.”
Beard, a self-described Francophile, participated for several years in the France Piano Internationale Festival and Competition at the Schola Cantorum, a private music school in Paris. He has won several awards, including the Roussel Foundation Prize for the best performance of that composer’s work.
Beard said over the years he has had opportunities to play with orchestras and chamber groups and has worked with incredible singers. He was once the associate director for a small opera company in Washington, D.C., which gave him the chance to perform at many embassies and work with singers and conductors from the Metropolitan Opera.
“I think people are born with these innate gifts, talents, or desires, and then meet important people in their lives who spark something and who guide and mentor them.”
Some of the more interesting concerts he’s performed include one in Canada that was recorded and broadcast on the radio and another in France in the Salle Cortot, which Beard said is like the Carnegie Hall of France. Beard said one of his most challenging performances took place in Quito, Ecuador, which is 9,350 feet above sea level, at the American ambassador’s residence.
“I had just played in New York about 36 hours before that,” Beard said. “I guess I was feeling kind of like a rock star going from concert to concert. It was challenging because the altitude was really something. Giving a concert and performing is a very physical act and so by the time I got to the end of the program I was so tired.”
Beard can’t put a finger on anything specific that made him want to become a pianist. As a child he never dreamed that he would have the opportunity to study in France or play concerts in about 10 different countries.
“That wasn’t even within my realm of possibility,” he said. “I think people are born with these innate gifts, talents, or desires, and then meet important people in their lives who spark something and who guide and mentor them.”
A new career in higher education
Beard came to Shepherd in 1995 as an adjunct music professor just as he was finishing his doctor of musical arts degree. In 1999 he became a full-time professor, and from 1998-2011 he served as coordinator of keyboard studies. Beard was named the 2006 West Virginia Music Teacher of the Year and was runner-up for West Virginia Professor of the Year in 2009.
One composer Beard has become an expert on is Theodor Leschetizky, who was a 19th-century Polish pianist, professor, and composer. Beard’s doctoral dissertation, which included a CD recording titled Leschetizky: Piano Treasures, was one of the first major research projects that focused on the composer’s work. Beard has performed Leschetizky’s music and given lectures about him throughout the East Coast.
Beard said pianists are lucky because there’s a vast repertoire to choose from, including Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Brahms—but he pointed out there are also other terrific composers, like Leschetizky, who are less well known.
“I’ve made a little mini career from playing some of these obscure things like contemporary Chinese piano music,” he said. “It’s beautiful music, and people really love it.”
After serving as interim dean in 2010, Beard was named dean of graduate studies and continuing education and associate vice president for academic affairs in 2011, an opportunity he said presented new challenges.
“I found that I was good at coordinating a lot of ongoing projects, working with social media, and basically it was a place where I could learn a lot about the institution on many levels,” Beard said. “I’ve had great opportunities. Shepherd has been a really wonderful community to, in a sense, grow up in terms of my career in higher administration. Everybody’s been extremely supportive.”
Beard said in the 20 years he’s been at Shepherd he’s seen a lot of progress and change.
“Who could imagine that we’d be starting our first doctoral program, or that we’d have five masters programs, lifelong learning for community members, or that we’d open an additional location in Martinsburg,” Beard said. “I think all of those things have been exciting to witness.”
A well-rounded life
But Beard didn’t completely leave his career as a pianist and professor behind. He still teaches the senior seminar and capstone courses in the music department, gives private lessons, and performs on occasion.
“I still love the challenge. I especially love performing chamber music,” he said. “I work with a violinist and cellist periodically, and I find that’s really, really fun because piano is such a solitary endeavor, so making music with other people is fun.”
Beard has also compiled and co-edited four collections for Alfred Publishing, Essential Two-Piano Repertoire, Essential Keyboard Trios, and two volumes of Essential Piano Duets, with his friend and fellow Peabody graduate, Dr. Lucy Mauro, associate professor of piano at West Virginia University.
And Beard’s life has come full circle in another way—he’s living a rural lifestyle again. When he’s not teaching and working at Shepherd, or performing, Beard helps out at Ridgefield Farm and Orchard, which he co-owns with Alan Gibson. The two bought the historic farm in 2003.
“I am the number one weed puller on the farm,” Beard jokes. “I think it’s immediately gratifying to see the result of your labor; however, there’s a lot of property to maintain, so the work is never done.”
Beard said the farm is really a community space in a way.
“Many families, their children, and now the children’s children come there for apples, pumpkins, flowers, and Christmas trees,” he said. “Plus we end up employing many high school and college students in the season. We get to know them and their families and in turn we get to help them with what is often their first job.”
Listen to the interview with Scott Beard HERE.