Early on, Christopher Turbessi played percussion but quit after a couple years. ("I hated it; not for me.") Then he went on to the French horn and stayed with that for a while.
He finally found his way to piano when he was 12; he calls that a late start. He discovered he didn't just like playing the piano. He liked performing his music along with a number of musicians, which could be anything from several pianists playing together to a sonata for violin and piano or with singers. "I really like working with other people. I really prefer that."
In his senior year in college at the University of Michigan (where he went on to get a master's degree in collaborative piano), he was asked to play for an opera. That led to his being part of the young artists program in Syracuse, New York, for two years and another in Norfolk, Virginia, before arriving in Houston -- where he is a second-year member of the Houston Grand Opera's Studio Artists.
What he does: Turbessi accompanies singers on the piano during performances and in rehearsals. "The other big aspect of my job is vocal coaching, which is helping the singers learn a role, an aria, a song, whatever. I'll sing the parts that they respond to. I have to give them that experience so they can be prepared. Part of your job is to give them that experience but you also give them feedback." Language is another essential component, he says. "I have to know all the languages just as the singers do. I have to learn all their parts."
Why he likes it: I love about my job there's such a unique challenge because I spend the day pretending to be something I'm not. Because opera is in front of an orchestra. A huge part of my day is thinking when I'm in a rehearsal room and it's just me taking the place of a whole orchestra, how can you make that happen? How can you sound more like an oboe here, more like a string instrument and how can you give the singers the best facsimile of what they're going to hear.
What inspires him: "I'm really grateful to be able to do what I do. I think when you see someone and it can be anyone, another musician or I've been inspired by really selfless speeches or when you have that moment yourself when you are really able to get the ego out of the way and just really connect with the music in a way that's not about the amount of work that you have done, it's not about impressing people with what you can do or even what a singer that you've coached can do but you're just connecting directly with the music. Or you hear someone talk about how they connected with the music. That's inspiring to me. That's why I do it."
If not this, then what:
"I have this primal urge to organize and file things. I had this summer job once where I worked in the archives. I was in this room filled with files. And people would take things out and bring things in, and my job was to just alphabetize things and make sure things were in the right place. It was so satisfying. And it's weird because I'm in a job that's so kind of opposite of that. I feel like I would be doing something administrative."
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If not here, then where. "I've always wanted to live in New York City. I don't think I would want to live there my entire life."
What's next: When we talked with Turbessi, he was working on Otello as one of the rehearsal pianists and coaching some of the study covers. "I'm also playing in Die Walküre, which is part of the Ring, at the end of the year. We have rehearsals in mid-March. The goal is to get my name out there and play for as many people as possible."
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