Keys to Success: Pianist Dan Overly wraps up his second summer as a Tanglewood Fellow

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Dan Overly (on right). Photo by Alex Cooke

As a child, Dan Overly told his father he wanted to be a professional trombonist just like his dad. The problem was Overly wasn’t quite old enough to play the instrument, so his father told him to take piano lessons first.

That turned out to be great advice.

Overly, a pianist from Greenville, is spending his second summer as a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced musical study.

Be that as it may, Overly never abandoned that childhood dream. “I still pull out the trombone occasionally, but only for family members,” he said.

Tanglewood has provided Overly with the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s best musicians. The school’s alumni include Leonard Bernstein and Wynton Marsalis. Meanwhile, about 20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras, and 30 percent of all first-chair players, have studied at Tanglewood.

“All of the faculty members I work with are legends in their fields,” he said, “and I work with them closely, not just 20 minutes in a master class.”

This summer, Overly has already performed with pianists Lee Musiker in a tribute concert to Ella Fitzgerald and Alex Smith in a concert that explored humor in song. Overly has also performed with mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Blythe and Kelly Newberry, as well as prominent baritone Sanford Sylvan.

Being a collaborative pianist has forced Overly to broaden his repertoire. Soloists even in the most intense competitions may have three or four concertos ready at a time. Collaborative pianists often have different full recitals every week. “The volume of repertoire they play all the time is staggering,” Overly said.

Tanglewood is known for its support of contemporary music, and Overly said he’s had to learn some “gnarly music.” Last year, he had to learn four large contemporary pieces in one week.

“You have to learn incredibly quickly and at a high level of refinement,” he said. “A collaborative pianist needs to be as strong or stronger than the other partners.”

Some composers, Overly said, write their absolute best music for piano in sonatas for violin, cello, or clarinet.

“There’s an endless amount of music to explore,” he said.

Overly, a Bob Jones University piano performance graduate, received a Fulbright scholarship and earned a master’s degree from the Vienna Conservatory in song interpretation and opera coaching. He graduated with honors from the Cleveland Institute of Music. As a chamber musician, Overly has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford upon-Avon, England, and the Mozarthaus Vienna. He recently appeared in recital with Karl-Heinz Schutz of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

In the fall, Overly will participate in a fellowship for collaborative pianists at Yale University that is designed to help launch their professional careers. There, he hopes to expand his repertoire, refine his skills, and make career connections.

Eventually, Overly hopes to have a position where he can both perform and teach, something he said he appears destined to do. “Both my parents are teachers and three out of four of my grandparents are teachers,” he said.

Overly said in some ways being a Tanglewood Fellow is stressful; two weeks ago he played in four different recitals. “But it never feels stressful because there is so much support,” he said. “The encouragement from faculty members gives me the confidence that maybe I’m not just pursuing a mirage in the desert, that I can have a professional music career.”

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