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Shandra Love: Hitting a high note

Shandra E. Love sits at her piano at Ashburn. Love teaches students every day from one to two hours, five days a week. Times-Mirror Photo/John Flannery
Since she was a child, Shandra E. Love of Ashburn has run her fingers in play along black and white piano keys, striking small wooden hammers upon taut steel strings that sound audible frequencies, the notes and tones that stir our souls to joy and awe.

Love's sound is so pleasing she’s performed at the Kennedy Center.

She's at the keyboard every day for one to two hours, practicing herself, when not teaching others to play the piano.

“I have students from 5 years of age to students in their late 50s, and I’m teaching every day of the week, more than 40 hours a week and at homes from Loudoun County east to Alexandria,” she said. “I love it. It’s my passion. It brings out so many emotions. As a teacher, I really want my students to have a joy for music.”

Love has 60 students and more who are wait-listed to study piano and flute.

“I don’t find it tiring. I’m really into teaching,” she said.

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Love's mother, Winnie, started flute lessons as an adult and thought of a career in music. By her mother's example, Love discovered her passion for the piano.

“I was 8 years old and began playing late as compared to when some others begin to play,” Love said.

“I studied with the Pasadena City College Conservatory, first in group piano lessons and then was taught by Moacir Santos, a Brazilian jazz composer, when I was 10,” she added.

Santos was a noted composer who played many instruments and taught some of the greats; one Ellington-like composition, later named, “Nana,” was recorded by 100 artists; Wynton Marsalis played in Moacir’s final album, “Choros & Alegria.”

Love appreciated she had a talented teacher.

“He was very strict about piano technique,” she said. “And very tough. He made me cry.”

As for Love's students:

“No, I don’t make my students cry,” she said with a laugh.

“I learned to perform because my parents would invite people over, and I’d always play for the guests. My favorite selection was the “Spinning Song” by Albert Ellmenreich, a standard classical piano piece that a lot of children play,” she said.

Her current piano teacher, Julie Hahn, Love said, “is very strict, focused on technique and the sound. My sound had a lot of tension and was harsh. I’ve released the tension, and now the sound is just rich and warm.”

In August, Love was selected to perform at the Kennedy Center on the Millennium Stage by a panel of judges as part of the 2013 Washington International Piano Festival.

“I performed Alberto Ginastera’s “Danzas Argentina,” the first and second movement,” Love said. “I didn’t know I had been selected for two days.”

“I chose this contemporary piece, it spoke to me, it makes you want to get up and dance. I thought of Flamenco dances. I tried to look the part. I wore a dress to put me in the mood of the piece. The second movement is a slower movement, it’s the vision of a woman standing on a beach, shaking, rocking, reveling in her beauty. I fell in love with the music.”

When Love was preparing to “go on,” she studied the score back stage, getting into the dance, thinking about the rhythm.

“When I bowed on stage and looked at the audience it was a full house. Some were standing up. It was the largest audience I ever had,” she said.

It was well received and, to her surprise, her own students, Peyton and Caroline Berg were there with their parents.

What’s next in store for Love? “I’m going keep practicing and building my repertoire, get a program together,” she said. “My ultimate dream is to perform at Carnegie Hall.”


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