is the real Music Man
Unlike Harold Hill, who employs the "Think System," Billy Liberatore actually knows all about music, although it didn't start out that way.
And no, he didn't sweep Marion the Librarian off her feet. Instead, Billy opted for the love of his life, Holly, whom he met during the mature period of the fifth grade, when they were both involved in the Children's Theatre production of "The Little Mermaid."
Apparently like Harold's Marion, Holly played a bit hard to get, and it took her singing performance in eighth grade for Billy to become completely smitten with her. And although I'm certain Billy has some secrets in his past, Holly didn't have to kiss any anvil salesmen to keep Billy's secrets from getting out. More about that later ...
I can't recall the first time I met Billy, but what I do vividly remember are his expressions. Much like my junior high school teacher Alden, Billy teaches high school by day and conducts/plays/amazes by nights and weekends. Billy has that very distinct expression that is born from being a longtime school teacher and parent.
You know the kind: Friendly, but not too friendly, with a bit of "What have you been up to, young man?" glint in his eyes.
I knew immediately during our first encounter that Billy is my kind of guy. And I'm obviously not alone in that feeling, since quite a few of the people who read my Profiles said "Oh! You're doing one on Billy Liberatore! WHEN?! I can't wait to read about him, he's one of my favorite people!!!"
When I asked him when he knew he wanted to play piano, Billy told me it was when he was in first grade, but his parents made him wait until the second grade before beginning his first formal lessons. His first piano teacher taught him about the notes on a music score, but nothing about the timing of the music! Huh? That's right, and when I asked him if she hummed the timing, he simply could not remember. Not to worry, Billy assures me he avoided the "Think Method" by switching teachers the next year. In third grade he switched teachers to Mary "the crazy Southern Lady." He remained under her tutelage from that year through high school. Well, based upon how he has done, Mary must have done a great job.
Billy was born to an Italian father and mixed Caucasian mother. His father worked in the steel industry, selling steel to manufacturing firms. To augment the family income (a no brainer as you'll read below), he bought a sheet-metal manufacturing company. With the exception of Billy and his Pop (who also played the piano), none of his siblings pursued the arts, and as he relayed in one story, "Mom didn't want me working in steel, because I may have hurt my hands."
Billy is what my kids refer to as a "townie," someone who lives in the same or close to the same town in which they were raised. Billy is number seven of nine children in the family.
Four girls and five boys from the very same Mom and Dad. Yes, I quizzed him about the common stereotypes, Mormon? No. Catholic, Yes. Italian, Yes! And if that was not enough, he can recall his parents having four or five foster kids in their home over the years, albeit not all at once. I'm certain that if his folks had me as one of their foster kids, that would have all stopped! And now, at last count, there are 23 grand kids. But check back tomorrow, that number is what most census counters consider "a fluid and ever-increasing number." All of his siblings live in California, and once in a while they all get together. In just a few years, I'm sure they'll hit up Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto for family meeting space!
Billy attended Ellwood P. Cubberly High School in Palo Alto. Due to declining enrollment and the resulting revenue from Prop 13, Cubberly was closed in 1979, and he finished his high school years at Palo Alto High. At 14 he got an actual payroll-toting job at the Palo Alto Unified High School District at De Anza Elementary playing for their musical. To his knowledge, he still holds the record for being the youngest actual W2 employee for PAUSD. Ah, but there's more. The ever impressive young Music Man had his first "paying" jobs playing piano as a rehearsal pianist for none other than Robert Kelley, artistic director of TheatreWorks, whose now famous company was only six years old when Billy first worked for it.
Kelley's payment to Billy for his rehearsal services? One free ticket to the performance he helped rehearse, "From Berlin to Broadway." And if that's not enough from the "it's a small world" category, he also attended school with Leslie Martinson, who was casting director and an associate artist at TheatreWorks for years, and who has recently been named associate artistic director of the troupe.
After high school he attended UCLA. Why UCLA? He said "All of my friends were going out of the area for college, so I thought I should too." Well, after one and a half years, Billy came back to our beloved Bay Area and finished his degree at San Jose State under the watchful eye of Charlene Archibeque. He holds Ms. Archibeque in extremely high regard.
Following college he worked for 20 years at the former American Musical Theatre in San Jose. After AMTSJ's financial demise, which Billy foresaw long before the theatre's closing, he approached TheatreWorks about enlisting his skills whenever they may be needed. He is now TheatreWorks resident music director. Billy's current full time job is as musical director at Gunn High School in Palo Alto. But as most of you know, he is all over the Bay Area musical theatre scene, conducting, performing, amazing audiences all across the Peninsula and South Bay. And that's certainly lucky for all of us who get to hear his talent.
In most years Billy takes his music students on a trip, this year to Spain and France. In years when money is tight, they go to Disneyland, but more about that later. During the summer after I graduated from ninth grade, two of my teachers, Alden and Joe,l took 50 boys from L.A. to spend a week in San Francisco. We literally worked from 7th to 9th grade selling candy, fruitcake and running car washes to save the money. To this day, so many of the experiences and memories from that trip stay with me. I can say with certainty that the countless trips Billy has taken with his school kids will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In some cases, some of our most important life lessons come from educators who took the time to show us the world. I'm absolutely certain such is the case with Billy's students.
Speaking of Disneyland, Billy and Holly's home is almost a shrine to that institution. A curio cabinet in their living room is filled with Disney figurines. Their refrigerator magnets display numerous Disney visits and as he put it, "We love Disneyland!" Huh, I couldn't tell ...
I've always felt that I'm a pretty good judge of character. Meeting Billy and getting to know him on a cursory basis over the years reinforced my view. But as a father, I'm particularly impressed when I encounter a man who cherishes his family through his actions. For in all the world there is nothing more important to me than family. It's as obvious as my bald head that Billy's kids adore and are so proud of him, and vice versa. I got to interact with his children during the interview, and actions speak volumes in regard to how kids feel about their parents and nothing warms my heart more than to see how they both react to Billy. Enough said.
Oh, and for those of you who are thinking "Hey, I thought these Profiles were only of people behind the curtain." here's my answer; for the most part, all we ever see of Billy is the top of his head sticking out from the Pit. Be thankful he has a full head of hair, so the follow spot glare does not disrupt your view. And yes, technically, he has appeared on stage for TheatreWorks productions as well as for Symphony San Jose, but so what? They're my Profiles and I get to make exceptions for those who truly are exceptional. Rant over ...
I had mentioned early in this Profile that he met and was smitten by Holly when he was in eighth grade. As he puts it "Our relationship pairing was inevitable." In 1986, he and Holly were married. At the ripe old age of 24, he and Holly got their first and only mortgage for a home they've occupied in Mountain View for the past 27 years. They have two children, Ryan, 17, and Emily, 14. And while on the subject of Holly and Ryan, you may ask why their photos are absent from this Profile. Well, I consider myself a ninja, but both Ryan and Holly make me look like a poser in that regard. Ryan much more so than Holly, as he would dart about, hidden in plain sight. Holly simply threatened me with foul play should I publish any photos of her. Enough said! (Let's hope pictures of family refrigerator pictures don't count ... gulp!)
Although I didn't get to hear Holly sing which is one of the primary reasons Billy was originally smitten by her, I'm assured her voice is exquisite. Holly was purposely avoiding me at every turn since my little Fuji camera was in my hand most of the time. In her words, "Oh no, this is all about you and Billy, not me. This is your time."
So I enlisted Emily to sing for me as her Dad played the piano. Her voice is silky smooth and it's obvious that the influence of both Billy and Holly are evident in her art. She has an undeniable effervescence to her personality and it was a joy to meet her.
Hobbies? Billy doesn't really have any he's aware of. But he makes up for that with some quotes I can post here:
"We all need to realize that all life is temporary. What we are doing now won't be happening for us in ten years."
"I like to be bossy!"
Coffee. Watching detective shows like "Elementary"; no sci-fi, please.
At the end of our little interview I told Billy (actually had to use my inside voice so neither Holly or the kids would hear) some of my own father's famous quotes, none of which are repeatable in print or mixed company. The one bit of wisdom I didn't mention to him that day was this one, "Boy, sometimes you'll meet a man whose character is great, and when you do, cherish that moment. Men like that are few and far between, so honor that time. Now get out and mow the lawn the way I told you! Last time you did a shitty job!"
Not only am I honored to know Billy, but what he has done for the community in which he resides as both a father, teacher, husband and artist is something for which each one of us should feel honored; townie or not!
Me: "Emily I want you to tell me the most embarrassing story about your Dad that he'd never want anyone to hear!"
Billy: "Emily, do you ever want to sing in one of the school performances ever again?"
The Dog: "Photographers are bad people!"