I met Chris Allen in January of 2003. I had just started the undergraduate program at San Diego State University’s School of Music & Dance and he was the pianist for Laurinda Nikkel’s vocal studio. Chris played piano for me in my lessons, at my juries, and for a few of the ensembles I performed with at SDSU. Chris was my first real intense experience of working one on one, consistently, to prepare and perform a piece of music with another person. I was so green at the time I didn’t even realize that I supposed to pay the pianist for playing at my lessons. I’m sure I still owe Chris some money for a few of those lessons and coaching sessions and juries.
My relationship with Chris was not especially distinct; Chris played for a several of the vocal studios, and many of the young singers at SDSU developed personal and long-lasting relationships with Chris. In addition, Chris directed the SDSU Concert Choir from 2007–2011, and performed with dozens of groups in the San Diego area. San Diego has a fairly insular community of musicians, so if you were a professional, semi-professional, or an amateur, you probably knew Chris Allen.
On April 29, 2016 Chris died of congenital heart failure. As the obituary published by the San Diego Union~Tribune states: “Skilled musicianship earned Mr. Allen respect from his peers but it was his wit and humor that made him a favorite with students and colleagues.” This is so true — his irreverent humor is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Chris.
My most vivid memories of Chris was in 2006 when I was fortunate enough to have Chris play piano for my song “Beloved,” which was performed at a recital at SDSU. He was coaching Tamaron Conseur (the vocalist for the performance and on the recording) and he was working on the phrase “with ever changing, changing flow,” and his advice and interpretation brought out things in my music that hadn’t occurred to me at all. At the time I was still quite inexperienced as a composer and musician. Only many years later did I realize how lucky I was to have him perform my work.
Chris’ life and work have profoundly affected the lives of uncounted musicians, who then have gone on to lead successful careers as musicians or otherwise. When I look back at the time I shared with Chris, I see how his work as a musician reaches out through his students and colleagues and continues to make a lasting and positive effect upon the world. This isn’t something that’s immediately apparent to teachers while they’re in the midst of their work, but it’s the truth. It’s my hope that all of us who survived him can see the wide-ranging effects of his life and work. It’s a powerful testament to the fact that no matter where we end up as musicians or as individuals, we affect the lives of all those around us, and the things we do truly matter.