We recently caught up with cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf (DMA ’07) on a range of topics—from her role with the College of Music National Alumni Council (COMNAC) to the impact of her College of Music experience on her freelance career to her recent performance at the Birdland Jazz Club & Birdland Theater in New York City.
“It took the better part of 20 years to make my life in the states possible,” says the Scottish-born alumna, who has performed in major venues of Europe, Asia and the United States as a classical soloist and chamber musician. Highlights include performances of the Saint-Saëns, Elgar and Dvorak Cello concerti. “In 2013, my husband [saxophonist Marc Phaneuf] and I bought a home in Westchester and in 2016 I became a U.S. citizen.”
Dorman-Phaneuf has also been a featured performer with John Pizzarelli, Jeremy Jordan and Jason Robert Brown, and she’s appeared in multiple TV broadcasts—including these “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcasts: Lang Lang’s New York Rhapsody and Joshua Bell with Friends @ The Penthouse; as well as Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin' To Do on “Great Performances.”
“Only after I’d started playing shows on Broadway, I learned that both my mother’s father, Robert Marshall, and my father’s mother, Marie Dorman, had played theatrical productions professionally in Glasgow,” she continues. “I guess theater-playing is in my blood?”
Indeed, on Feb. 4 in the Big Apple, Dorman-Phaneuf hosted “More About the Melody: Celtic Night Songs of Ireland and Scotland.” With a traditional Celtic band and co-hosted by Steve Gibb (guitar) and Ben Power (Irish flutes and pipes), the show presented Broadway’s Scottish- and Irish-born singers in their interpretations of songs inspired by the ancient melodies.
“It was a mixture of Broadway tunes from shows like ‘Once’ and ‘Brigadoon,’ alongside more traditional Celtic melodies. I was excited to be able to perform them with other Celtic-born folk,” adds Dorman-Phaneuf, who has held chairs in 16 Broadway shows—including “The Bridges of Madison County,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “My Fair Lady.” Off-Broadway credits include the premier productions of Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” and the 2013 Classic Stage revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion.”
Reflecting on COMNAC, she says, “It’s comprised of an amazingly diverse group of alumni, and I’m honored to be included.
“I had the benefit of a teaching assistantship for most of my time at CU Boulder, which made my studies financially feasible, so I’m glad to be able to give back in this way. I think it’s vital to connect current students with professionals, in whichever field they’re interested in pursuing—which is an important part of what COMNAC is all about.
“As a performer, nothing beats hours and hours of practice and training during college—becoming the best musician you can. But once you get ‘out there,’ why not have the benefit of others’ experiences to guide and maybe inspire you? I look forward to seeing how the COMNAC group grows and expands.”
Upon receiving an associate degree at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Dorman-Phaneuf earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the College of Music.
“My biggest influence was my teacher, [Professor Emerita of Cello] Judith Glyde,” she says. “I had graduated from a conservatory in London that held a very strict standard for technical training. It nearly broke me, as I’d always been more expressively inclined, but Judith helped me find my emotional ‘feet.’ She also taught me to see the big picture of the pieces I was playing, which was supported by the musicology studies I took.
“Specifically, I loved [Associate Professor of Music Theory] Steve Bruns’ courses. I’d previously always hated analyzing music—who wants to dissect a frog!—but he taught us different methods, like Schenkerian analysis, which I found helpful with regard to conceptualizing the entire piece.
“I was also able to gravitate toward studying the great ‘Lied’ composers—Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler—which was a foundation for understanding song-writing. Another practical skill was preparing for recitals. For a dozen years, I needed to prepare at least one full recital as part of my course requirements, and ultimately, lecture recitals for my doctoral studies.
“Being comfortable introducing your performance is a very useful skill. I’d certainly encourage younger performers to get in the habit!”
When Dorman-Phaneuf moved to New York in 2002, she didn’t know anyone there from CU Boulder. “I reached out to the contacts I’d made through working professionally in Denver,” she says. “But it would have been very helpful to know someone living and working here in New York.
“That’s why I think it’s wonderful to have this connection to our amazing alumni. Music Buff Connect is an incredible resource.”