From Ohio to Alaska to France to Virginia. That’s the path taken by New River Community College’s professor of music, Louise Billaud.
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Billaud moved to Alaska with her family when she was an adolescent so that her father, who would become a world-class specialist on moose, could conduct wildlife biology research there.
She began taking piano lessons at the age of eight and was hard pressed to find an adequate piano teacher in the rugged wilderness of Alaska 130 miles south of Anchorage. She sent an audition tape to Susan Starr, Silver Medal winner of the Tchaikowsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, USSR, and was accepted into her week-long workshop sponsored by the Anchorage Keyboard Teachers Association.
Starr saw potential in Billaud and recommended that she study under Jean-Paul Billaud (who would later become her husband). He was a master teacher of piano and full professor as well as chairman of the music department at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Jean-Paul Billaud had been sent by France in 1963 to represent his native country in the Alaska International Festival of Music. The University of Alaska asked him to stay and join the faculty at its Fairbanks campus. He said that he would stay for a year, but ended up staying for twenty, mentoring and teaching hundreds of piano students during his tenure at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau campuses.
Under her future husband’s direction, Louise Billaud’s skills as a pianist were developed and perfected.
“In any performance medium, it is who you work with, not what school you attend, that matters the most,” she says. “So, it was a privilege to work with Jean-Paul who opened the musical world to me in a way that I had never experienced before. The opportunity to work with a master teacher who had studied with the Polish pianist Auguste de Radwan and noted French masters Marguerite Long, Jacques Février and Alfred Cortot, was unique. Today my teaching style emulates Jean-Paul’s.”
Billaud graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alaska at Anchorage with a bachelor of music degree in piano performance. In 1981, the Billauds were married and in 1985, Jean-Paul retired from the University of Alaska and they moved to France for seven years. During this time, the Billauds traveled throughout Europe and participated as soloists with orchestras and at music festivals.
“I loved living in France. It was such a beautiful panorama filled with vineyards, lavender fields and endless stretches of sunflowers. Our home, in southeastern France, was actually next to the entrance of a castle, the Château de Grignan. My eyes were really opened to the world around me during those years,” says Billaud.
In 1987, Louise Billaud entered the Bartók-Kabalevsky International Piano Competition which was held at Radford University in Virginia. She won the competition and also established a relationship with the professors in the music department at RU.
In 1989, still in France, the Billauds’ son, Kéran, was born. Shortly, thereafter, Billaud became involved with the American Diabetes Association. She began performing benefit concerts for the association and one of these concerts led her to America’s east coast. While in the United States, Billaud called her friends at Radford University and scheduled a performance. It was at this time that she began thinking about going back to school and earning a master’s degree. Offered a graduate assistantship at Radford in 1995, she moved with her family to Virginia to begin her studies.
“We settled in Dublin, Virginia, because we found a large enough home there to house our four pianos,” she says.
Billaud earned a master of arts in music from R.U. in 1997 along with the university’s Award for Exemplary Performance and remained there to teach music appreciation, class piano, and piano lessons. In 1999, she came to New River Community College as an adjunct instructor in music appreciation. In January 2004, she became a full-time instructor, later an assistant professor and in 2010 associate professor teaching music history and music appreciation. During this time, she also recorded three piano performance CD’s: “Louise Billaud,” “From Bartók to the Popol Vuh,” and “Passion,” all under the guidance and direction of her husband who had retired from performing due to a serious muscle tear in his right shoulder area acquired while playing handball with their son.
Louise Billaud says, “I am forever indebted to my husband for having shared his gifts and talents with me.”
Along with teaching at NRCC, Billaud has also produced a lecture-recital DVD which was recorded live at the college. Entitled, “Mazeppa,” it is about the Ukrainian hero and his impact on the fusion of art, literature, history, politics, and music in nineteenth century Paris. A copy of this DVD has been sent by NRCC to every community college and university library in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Billaud earned her Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree in Music Education from Boston University. Her research focused on promoting participation beyond the classroom for those who discontinue music participation after high school graduation or for those who seek to begin at a later entry point in life.
While her degree took her into another area of music involvement and research, her heart remains firmly entrenched in broadening the horizons of her students at New River Community College. She says, “I’m here at New River Community College because I want to have an impact on people and influence their lives in a positive manner. If I can get my students, even for just a moment, to take a look outside the box and immerse themselves in something they have never envisioned before, then they can experience the world more deeply and even learn more about themselves.”
Revised and updated from the NRCC 2008 summer catalogue.
Faculty Profile by Susy Schumann