Friday, October 18, 2002

Harmony In Our Lives

Stephen Peithman is not a music teacher. He doesn't play a musical instrument or lead a band, so he is a little confused about why he is being given the "Harmony in Our Lives" award at this year's Davis Music Benefit show on November 3. "I'm delighted," he says, "but it never occurred to me that this would be something that I would win."

However, when one examines Steve's life, especially his life in Davis over the last thirty years, one can see that his whole life is "harmony"--musical experiences, musical interactions, musical contributions, musical colleagues, all blend together into the harmony that is Stephen Peithman's life.

The son of a physics professor and a university librarian, Steve grew up in Humboldt, surrounded by music, from the classical music and show music his parents enjoyed, to a grammar school that encouraged and nurtured students' interest in music. "Everyone was encouraged to be in the band. If you didn't have enough money for an instrument one was loaned to you. I think that's really important. You learn and appreciation of music and you learn about the fun of music."

Steve played the trumpet, but his strength was singing. "We sang all the time when I was in school." In the 8th grade, he played the Major General in a production of "Pirates of Penzance," (a role he reprised at Humboldt State), a foreshadowing of his involvement with the Davis Comic Opera Co. years later.

Armed with a degree in English and French, and backed by a promise by his father to pay for any graduate school he wanted to attend, if he would complete his undergraduate work at Humboldt State ("I was a faculty brat"), Stephen headed to France, where he spent his first graduate year in Aix en Province, after which he completed his graduate work in journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Through the influence of his high school music teacher, he interviewed with the editor of Sunset magazine and ended up on the staff of the garden department, where he spent his time "thinking of new ways of writing about worms and snails." (His experiment with snail races still stands out as one of his favorite projects!) But while he enjoyed the job, he did want to get a PhD in American Literature, so he gave up the position and came to UC Davis ("It seemed like a good place.")

He completed his degree in 3-1/2 years "...and it was a real joy." While at UCD he performed with the ASUCD musical theatre, where he first worked with Harry Johnson and Alan Stambusky. "Harry Johnson directed a production of "Sweet Charity" with Lenore Heinson (then Turner) as Charity and Alan Stambusky directed "Man of La Mancha"--I played the villain in that one."

It was the beginning of Stephen's thirty-year involvement in and influence on music in Davis. "In May or June of 1973 I saw an item in the Davis Enterprise that there was a new group starting up, and it didn't have a name yet. It was the Davis Comic Opera Co. and I did the first show that summer in Wyatt Pavillion." Steve would go on to perform in and direct many shows, as well as serve on DCOC's board.

By now he had finished his PhD and found a job with San Francisco Magazine, but it was music that drew him back to Davis. DCOC founder Bob Cello recommended him as editor of the now-defunct quasi-independent publication "The Spectator." "It's interesting that all these things have come through at various times rather miraculously, but oftentimes I think it's through the network and people you know."

Stephen has had his finger in a number of musical pies in and around Davis for the past twenty years. In addition to helping to found the Davis Comic Opera Company, he has directed musical comedies for over 25 years for other groups in the region, including the Woodland Opera House and the Davis Players. He is also editor of the national community theatre magazine, "Stage Directions" and hosts his own weekly musical program, "Musical Stages" on public radio KXPR. ("Musical Stages," highlighting one or more recordings of stage productions, the famous and the flops, is a natural for someone who has "well over 1,000 recordings" of musicals in his own personal collection.)

However, perhaps his most visible involvement for the past eleven years has been the Citizens Who Care benefit musical program, highlighting various American composers. "That's been one of the great joys of recent years. And the cause is so great. But just working with that group of people." Stephen has worked with former Harmony in Our Lives recipient Martha Dickman at organizing the program, and his narration and anecdotes about the spotlighted composer have been the glue that have held the show together.

"Davis really is a wonderful community and very collaborative, very cooperative," Stephen says. "I think that's one reason why I've enjoyed living here and don't really want to live anywhere else. It's that community that I've really appreciated. I guess if there is music in my life it's been for lots of reasons, but it's been mostly because of other people, beginning with my parents. Maybe I had a natural interest and maybe an aptitude, but you have to have encouragement, which goes back to music in the schools. I had such a good experience when I was growing up."

"The joy of making music--that's the key. People need to be exposed to it, even if they don't become singers or instrumentalists, they can understand the fun and I suppose the dedication of the people who do that stuff," he states.

Stephen has been making music all of his life, his voice and his talents blending together with those of others to make beautiful harmony.

There will be two benefit performances of the 14th Harmony in Our lives, with proceeds benefitting the Davis School Arts Foundation to support music education in all Davis Schools. Sunday November 3, 2002 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Veterans' Memorial Theatre. The 1 p.m. show will feature the North Davis Elementary school chorus, the Emerson Junior high chorus, the Davis high concert choir and treble chorus, and the West Valley chorale (barbershoppers). The 3:30 p.m. show will feature the Marguerite Montgomery elementary school kindergarten chorus, the St. James school choir, the Holmes Junior High chorus, the Davis high madrigals and jazz choir and the West Valley chorale. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students (or both shows for $12 adults and $7 children). Tickets are available at Carousel Stationery, 2nd and F Standard score, and at the performance.

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