“Hello, Dolly!” “How ‘bout Seasons of Love?” “Could you play something from Les Mis?” Each month a crowd gathers by the piano at Showtunes & Cocktails, sharing a drink and a song, belting and stretching their high notes, and beckoning their requests to the man smiling behind the ivory keys. Glenn Pearson, phenomenally accomplished musician and long-time theatreWashington Board member, is always happy to oblige, bringing a passion for music and years of unbridled experience to his monthly appearances.
Pearson was raised on music. He was just seven years old when he first started tapping out tunes in his family’s home in Pensacola, Florida, and by age ten he was taking lessons from his aunt.
“I would listen to her piano students play and then play everything they did, but by ear.” Not knowing how well that perfect pitch would serve him, Pearson griped about learning proper technique from his aunt and playing piano and the organ for Sunday masses at his family’s church. The training paid off, however, when a band director saw a spark of a promising career and brought Pearson to New York and Baltimore to audition for Julliard and the Peabody Conservatory for his senior year of high school. When he was offered a spot at the Peabody Preparatory, he again was not all too keen on the idea of moving to Washington to pursue the music. But his mom convinced him.
“Mom knew if I went out that door, I’d never come home. She was right.”
While attending the Peabody Preparatory, Pearson also maintained a full senior year course load at Woodrow Wilson High School, and played the organ at his uncle’s Episcopal Church every Sunday. He went on to attend the Peabody Conservatory for concert piano performance for his four-year undergraduate career as well as for two years of his graduate work.
However, playing classical music seven days a week was never enough for this music man. With a few high school band mates, Pearson “ran away to Washington to play jazz on the weekends.” Knowing no bounds of musical genre, Pearson and his band became instant DC favorites. From a few small gigs, the group grew into the dance and social band known as the Floating Opera – one of the most highly regarded social orchestras in the area playing together for more than three decades. They have been requested by the National Symphony Ball, at embassies, by Bill Clinton twice to play at the White House, and by Queen Noor of Jordan for her own birthday party.
“I had never been overseas before. And they really rolled out the royal treatment for us while we were in Jordan. Playing for Queen Noor was a once-in-a-lifetime experience”
No stranger to royalty, Pearson has also played for the Queen of Sweden, Prime Ministers of Great Britain, and a host of other notable dignitaries. As a the head of the Helen Hayes Awards Orchestra for many years, he has accompanied Liza Minnelli, Pat Carrol, and Tyne Daly, to name but a few.
“I could be playing for hours,” he says, “but it’s when someone starts singing with me that all bets are off. That’s when the story begins. That’s when the connection is made.”
Pearson is not merely a talented and overbooked pianist and music contractor. He also is a devoted mentor. Pearson currently coaches young high school students through the DC College Access Program in preparation for the DCCAP All Star Competition & Gala held at the Kennedy Center every year. A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping DC high school students realize the dream of attending college hosts the competition each year to start youngsters on their way to a college, and perhaps a professional career in the performing arts. Pearson is one of several mentors who encourage these students as they learn that music is just as much about work and preparedness as it is about passion.
“But these kids are good. And some of them are really good. It’s wonderful to watch them grow.”
For Glenn Pearson, there is nothing that can bring people together quite like music. Whether the band mates and instrumentalists he has played with over the years or the devotees of Show Tunes & Cocktails each month, music, and Pearson’s playing, have brought together the most interesting of musical company. As he unwittingly drums along to the beat of the song playing over the Starbucks muzak, he explains, “There’s an honesty that music has that will enhance everything you do. Music is something we get, but also something we give. It’s one of the few last things we have that touches us all in all parts of our life.