Published: April 17, 2017 By

patti petersonThese days, Patti Peterson is known as one of the College of Music’s longest-serving professors, her name synonymous with the college’s trailblazing vocal pedagogy program begun by Berton Coffin, then passed to Peterson’s mentor Barbara Doscher and eventually Peterson herself.

But she’s worn other hats since the 1970s. She was a graduate student here back then, first in piano and then in voice. Along the way, she also picked up the title of published writer.

After May commencement, she’ll become Patti Peterson, the cook and artist.

“I’m ready for something new and different,” says the Berton Coffin Faculty Fellow. “I’m ready to be free to travel, to see this beautiful country, to go on more hikes with my dogs.”

This spring, after 25 years on the College of Music faculty, the associate professor of voice will retire. She says it’s time to move on—and hand over the reins for the next chapter of singing at CU Boulder.

“It’s good for the department when people who have been there a long time leave and allow the young members of the faculty to make changes and shape what’s next.”

Though she leaves academia behind, Peterson will continue to lead a life in music. Since beginning piano lessons at the age of 8, she never doubted that she would be a musician. After earning a bachelor’s degree in piano from Salem College, Peterson came to Boulder to continue studying piano.

“I was accompanying singers and I thought I’d take some voice lessons to see if I could develop more empathy for them.”

This new hat seemed to fit well. Peterson, a poet always enamored with the written word, came to singing naturally.

“Singing became my thing because of the words,” she says. “I’ve always been a literary person, so this was kind of a natural progression for me.

“There’s also something much more visceral about singing. It involves your guts. I like the physicality of it. It really spoke to me in a different way.”

Enter another new hat. Peterson fell in love with art song and spent time teaching and performing around the U.S. and Germany. Early in her career, she also worked often with contemporary composers.

“One of my most wonderful performing experiences was when George Crumb was here,” she recalls. “I love collaborating with composers and giving them feedback as they write. It’s lovely to take a piece that no one else has sung and see what you can make of it.”

Back in the classroom, Peterson uses her experiences as a singer as another way to make music: inspiring and training the next generations of musicians. She does that by imparting on budding singers and teachers the importance of the physical side of performing.

“It’s important to understand the science and acoustics of how the voice works, so I teach a lot of anatomy and how the voice functions,” she says. “Singing is difficult to teach because each person is a different instrument, and you can’t see your instrument and you can’t take it apart when it’s not working. You’re stuck with what you have, so you have to treat it right.”

Peterson continued to delve into the physicality of singing, but says she was continually drawn away by another emerging passion. She uses oil pastels to paint landscapes, flora and other beauties of the natural world.

“It’s become almost a second career,” Peterson explains. “I really enjoy it. I’ve even sold a few pieces.”

As her teaching career comes to a close, Peterson has plans to move to New Mexico, where her surroundings will offer her plenty of inspiration for her art.

What’s more, the desert will allow her to more fully indulge in yet another interest.

“I love to cook, and New Mexico is a great place to test out all those different chiles. That’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to about being retired.”

Peterson says her educator hat will probably always be within arm’s reach: She’ll of course have her piano with her in the desert and may take on some private students down the road.

And her memories of four decades in Boulder won’t be far away either.

“I’ll miss the students. That’s always been the bottom line for me. I love how they’ve changed over the years. Generations come and go and they all have a different personality and it has always kept me on my toes.

“I think teaching became my passion because of the debt I owe to the teachers who were so patient and helpful to me. I’ve always been incredibly lucky to stumble upon fabulous and generous teachers, and Barbara Doscher told me that you need to give back what people have given to you. I hope that’s part of my legacy.”