Profile: Kristin Vining, Whitman College music assistant

Alyssa Fairbanks

On a rather gray day in November, The Pioneersat down to chat with Kristin Vining, music assistant here at Whitman College about teaching, composing, and musical inspiration.

Contributed by: Kristin Vining

Upon approaching her office, the sound of piano music fills the otherwise quiet hall. Sitting down to talk in Vining’s cozy office makes one forget about the damp day outside. Despite housing both a baby grand piano and an upright piano, the room does’t seem crowded. Scattered on the walls are posters and flyers from different performances. The bookshelves are stuffed with music books and mementos from France.

Pio: I know you were a student here at Whitman. Could you could tell us a little bit about your background?

Vining: I started out at Walla Walla University for one year and I was there studying piano with Leonard Richter. And then what happened was I transferred to Whitman because I also wanted to study French. I took a French class at Whitman and loved it, so I ended up coming here full time. I studied French and music until my senior year when I dropped my music major and only did French. I thought I was going to be a French teacher.

Pio: Clearly you are not teaching French. What happened?

Vining: I went to France for a year and taught English in the French school system. I came back to Walla Walla and after about a year I started teaching piano at Whitman, Walla Walla University and the community college. So I’ve been teaching here since 2000.

Pio: What inspires you to teach?

Vining: Well, I do love playing piano and I do love teaching piano and I love teaching music. But my friend Julie Jones said something about my teaching that I would like to define me: She told me that I teach people, not piano. And I think that’s true. I really teach individuals . . . my approach to each individual lesson is different with each person. I would really like that to be the definition of my teaching style: I teach people and not piano.

Pio: I love playing the piano, but composing seems so foreign to me. What is the process of composing and what inspires you?

Vining: I think again, I am the most inspired by people. My composition is relationship-based. For example, I write a lot for students. . . I had a student who could not use her fourth finger on her right hand. So, I wrote a piece for her to play in a style I knew she would like where she would never have to use that finger. She ended up learning that piece and playing it for juries. Then it’s an easy process for me to write when I have that kind of inspiration, especially when it has to do with people I know.

Pio: How has your work with the Summer Dance Lab program inspired your music?

Vining: The friendships and relationships I have with dancers has led to new types of compositions.

I started writing pieces for ballet class that were based on the Cinderella story. In the fall of 2009, Julie Jones at the Community College asked if I had anything original I was working on that could be for singers. I thought of the Cinderella pieces and that they would be perfect for singers. I started working with those pieces and expanded them into the operetta, the French Cinderella operetta, “Cendrillon.”

That was such a rewarding experience and it got to involve a whole community of people: it was this really great community project that really inspired everyone involved. So we have continued that tradition and every winter quarter we do an original operetta. So now we’ve done “Cendrillon,” “Cartes Postales,” the Paris operetta and then this winter quarter it will be a coffee themed operetta!

Pio: What have been some of your favorite pieces that you’ve composed?

Vining: Last spring I had the opportunity to write a set of litanies for the Choral Society, so these were a set of Latin prayers. One of my favorite pieces I have written is the ubi caritas from that work. The Latin text for that prayer is where charity and love are God is there. There was just something about that piece that created a certain atmosphere. I felt like I wanted to stay in that atmosphere, be in that atmosphere as much as possible.

The “Cendrillon” operetta was really special because that was the first operetta I had written and in French. It combined my love of the French language, my love of music [and] my love of people all in one big project. I would say that it was the first time I felt like everything that I love to do and am inspired by came together in one big project. It combined language and music and art and sparkles; there are always sparkles in the operettas, always.

Pio: Are there aspects of the Walla Walla community that you like to incorporate into your work?

Vining: I love this community. I love just spending time downtown and at the Roastery and at the three schools. And, as much as possible, as much as I can bring in members of the community, as much as I can connect students from the different schools. That is what I really love to do. I like being a bridge between the community and the different schools.