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May 2, 2019

Faculty Spotlight: Michael Van Allen, M.M., Assistant Professor of Music


  • M.M. in Jazz Piano Performance | New York University
  • B.M. in Music - Jazz Concentration | State University of New York, Binghamton

What brought you to Roberts?

After finishing grad school in 2002 with a degree in jazz piano performance from New York University (NYU), I moved back to Rochester in search of a job and Roberts happened to have an opening for a jazz position in the music department. How serendipitous! I interviewed and got the job. I have loved working here over the last 17 years.

When did you start becoming interested in jazz piano?

I started taking piano lessons when I was seven, but I didn't get into jazz piano until I discovered the genius of Oscar Peterson (a Canadian jazz pianist and composer) when I was 13.

Share an interesting fact about yourself…

I can draw pretty well. If I hadn't found a career in music, I would have pursued architecture.

What are your recent accomplishments for music?

I just finished recording my second album with Al Chez, longtime trumpet player for the David Letterman show. I'm also Music Director for RnB Classics Live, a local performance group that recreates live versions of classic studio albums by some of the great R and B performers of the 60's and 70's. We currently have a Marvin Gaye show and a Stevie Wonder show.

Share about teaching and spiritual formation...

Because a large portion of my teaching is done during private one on one instruction, I get to know my students a bit better than if I was just their classroom teacher. I have seen a number of students over the years come in as freshman with a very shaky belief system, and by their senior year leave Roberts as faithful servants of God. I see these students as a reflection of my own faith journey.

What is the most helpful advice you have received?

The English proverb, “You can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

What are your interests outside of teaching?

I like to play golf and tennis.

Share a highlight from your time at Roberts:

Getting to perform my Stevie Wonder Tribute Concert with my 18-piece band on stage in Hale auditorium.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Introducing students to some of my favorite jazz artists!

Student Insight:

William Minchella’19 (Nursing)

"Throughout my four years at Roberts, I've had the pleasure of playing in the Jazz Band and Jazz Combo under Professor Van Allen. As a professor, he is extremely knowledgeable and shares his expertise with students to help them grow. As a nursing student, fitting Jazz into my schedule has been a struggle, but Professor Van Allen has been extremely accommodating. He is passionate about teaching music and has challenged me musically in the same way that I've seen him challenge many other students. Regardless of skill level, talent, and previous training, he is always ready to teach and build rapport with his students. In these ways, Professor Van Allen fosters creative expression in his classrooms and ensembles. As graduation approaches, I have to say that he has been one of the most impactful professors I've had at Roberts, as well as a good friend."

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