Collaborating in Life and Music
by Bob Muckenfuss
Steven Rainbolt and I are a family. At least we consider ourselves a family. We’re certainly not typical, but we do have two miniature schnauzers who are our “boys.” We live in a beautiful, quiet, suburban neighborhood with terrific neighbors who accept us as long time partners. And we have a comfortable home, a couple of cars, a beautiful yard, and a great life. We enjoy the fruits of many years of hard work acquiring doctorates in music and the good fortune of having positions teaching in the same school, the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Our life together, for 23 years, has been filled with challenges and blessings. It is through hard work and devotion to each other, and our careers, that I believe we have been able to weather the difficulties that many professional musicians face in developing careers and in establishing and succeeding in a same-sex partnership.
I met Steven in 1987 while working as the head coach and accompanist for a small opera company in West Virginia. The conductor, stage director and I needed to release a singer and Steven was hired overnight to replace this baritone. We immediately became friends and throughout the rest of the year we visited and deepened our friendship, even though I was living in Ohio and he was in Maryland. Within 6 months, Steven had moved to Ohio and we began our life together.
Steven is a baritone, and I am a vocal coach and collaborative pianist. There can be strong challenges when both people in a relationship are musicians, but the singer/coach relationship has been a very good part of our situation. After many years, we have landed at the same school, teaching in the voice department, and working with the same students, sharing studios and lunch breaks.
Throughout the years we have both made sacrifices for the good of our family. In 1990, I resigned my position with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra so that we could relocate to New York City. Steven’s management needed him in New York, and I wanted to try my skills in the opera world. After a couple of years, we made a move to Baltimore so that I could complete a doctorate and Steven based his performing in Baltimore, while teaching in Pennsylvania and Virginia at the same time. We later reversed roles and he finished a doctorate while I taught.
Collaborating as performers has been a wonderful and rewarding part of our family life. It is certainly convenient that I have a ‘live-in’ baritone with a beautiful voice, and he has a ‘built-in’ coach and accompanist. But this has never meant that we agree on all aspects of interpretation. In fact, it is more of a challenge to disagree and come to a musical compromise, because at the end of the rehearsal, you go home together. We have often had differing views on matters, but over the years, we have managed to work through these issues and find solutions that allow us to collaborate even more successfully than ever. When it comes to student problems and job-related issues, we often agree. But when we do not, we have developed ways to make it work even if we disagree.
The overwhelmingly good part of our family life is that we understand each other and our business. We speak the same language in all aspects of our career and life and we offer strong support and advice in our careers because we are informed of our individual personal strengths. I believe we complement each other in our performances as well.
My affection for Steven as my partner for 23 years is inseparable from my admiration and support of his singing, musicianship, and fine teaching skills. Our personal life is entwined with our professional world, but I would not want it any other way. There have been countless challenges, sacrifices, and blessings along the way, but it has been worth the journey. We both consider ourselves very fortunate to be a part of such a high art, to collaborate together in music and at work, and to have a solid family life. And it is wonderful to work in a profession where alternative lifestyles is generally not an issue.
Robert Muckenfuss is beginning his twelfth year on the voice faculty of Peabody as vocal coach. He coaches a full schedule of over 40 students and teaches a performance class in American and British Song. He has served as pianist and vocal coach for the Cincinnati Opera, Nashville Opera, West Virginia Opera, and the New York Pala Opera companies. He has also been a vocal coach, chorus master, and pianist with Wolf Trap Opera and Music Administrator and Assistant Conductor at Glimmerglass Opera. Most recently he was the Coordinator of the Young Artist Program and Head of Music Staff at Lake George Opera in Saratoga Springs, NY. He has also served as a voice coach for the Washington Opera Institute for Young Singers and has been an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland, College Park, for the Maryland Opera Studio.
Dr. Muckenfuss received his Bachelor of Music degree in Piano from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, and his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Ensemble Arts from the Peabody Conservatory. He embodies a wealth of experience as a collaborative pianist, and has accompanied, in concert, renowned singers John Shirley-Quirk, William Sharp, Benjamin Luxon, and Phyllis Bryn-Julson. He has also enjoyed extensive coaching and repetiteur work with notable performers including David Daniels, Benita Valente, Vinson Cole and Frederica von Stade. He has served as a resident vocal coach at the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in Maine, with Ms. Bryn-Julson, and accompanied Mr. Shirley-Quirk on a recital tour of Hawaii and in master classes in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Dr. Muckenfuss is regularly engaged by the Kennedy Center in Washington serving as pianist for their productions of Words and Music and the Broadway musicals Titanic, and The Dead. He has also enjoyed a long tenure as an orchestra musician, and has played a vast repertoire of orchestral keyboard music and chamber music. He was principal pianist and organist for the Cincinnati Symphony and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestras for twelve years. He was frequently featured as organ soloist in concert and on several Pops compact discs on the Telarc label. Recent recordings include Dominick Argento’s A Waterbird Talk and Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night on the Koch label with John Shirley-Quirk, and a recently released recording with Peabody voice faculty member Steven Rainbolt, entitled The Rogue & the Romantic on the Viva! Productions label. His work with master teachers includes Ellen Mack, Samuel Sanders, and David Bar-Illan.
He is very active in the community life of Peabody having just completed his second, two-year term as Chairman of the Peabody Faculty Assembly. He is the organist for the First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, Maryland.