The School Mourns the Loss of Beloved Professor Emeritus of Piano

Sam Vivano

The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music mourns the loss of Sam Viviano, professor emeritus of piano.

Sam Viviano
Sam Viviano

Viviano received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from The Juilliard School, where he was a scholarship student of Adele Marcus. He did additional studies with Madame Olga Stramillo in New York City. Before his invitation to join the faculty at Memphis State University in 1980, Viviano taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and Middlebury College in Vermont and was a founding member of The Orpheus Piano Festival at Johnson State College in Vermont.

Viviano made his New York debut at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1979 and his Washington debut at the Phillips Collection in 1984. The New York Times spoke of his “impeccable control” and “natural affinity for the music’s poetic content,” while The Washington Post lauded his “total conviction and mastery.” In 1986 he played a solo program of 20th-century American music at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall, of which The New Yorker cited his “sure fingers and large-scale control.” He has since been a soloist with the symphony orchestras of Charlotte, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Vermont, and Amsterdam.

“Sam was a beloved faculty member and friend to so many during his 33 years at the university,” said Kevin Sanders, director of the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. “His kind and gentle nature and creative approach to teaching and learning left a legacy that profoundly impacted a generation of music students.”

His artistic output is varied: piano compositions, particularly for left-hand alone, pedagogy books, teaching aids, musical artwork, CDs, and master classes or other instructional presentations.

Viviano’s musical artwork and teachings were heavily influenced by master teachers and poets. He hand-created mandalas that would share his favorite quotes, some related to music and others just sharing positivity with friends and former students.  He self-published his teaching aids under his own publishing label, PuffinTanz Press. Teaching aids like his iconic flipbooks focused on quotes that teachers could use to inspire themselves and their students. The flipbooks inspired and provided unique instruction to overcome musical challenges students often faced.

His instructional presentations extended beyond campus, often going to other universities and local piano teachers’ studios to share his knowledge and passion for creative arts. He was recognized as the Greater Memphis Music Teachers Association’s 2011 Teacher of the Year and also selected as Composer of the Year for 2007.

Viviano’s compositions were accessible to varying levels of performers, each composed to refine their artistry. Viviano’s attention to pieces for the left hand alone set him apart in this field and highlighted his dedication to inclusivity for all performers.

Viviano was a lifelong learner. Later in his career, he extensively studied natural, healthy approaches to the piano with Dorothy Taubman, Edna Golandsky, Sheila Paige, and Yoheved Kaplinsky at Juilliard.

Viviano influenced countless students during his 33-year tenure at the University of Memphis. His dedication to his students’ success did not end upon graduation. Viviano served as a mentor and teacher for decades to come.

One such student is André Duvall (MM ’10), who shared, “For those who were willing to accept eccentric and non-traditional approaches to a course, they were brimming over with practical application, not just to music study and teaching, but to navigating and building a life directed by love,” shares Duvall. “My paths with Sam Viviano extend far beyond those classes and my days as a student at UofM, as wonderful and helpful as those courses and his support of my performance work were to me. He listened and contributed from his wealth of observations and experiences, but ultimately empowered and trusted.” Read Duvall’s full tribute

The great loves of Viviano’s life were Genaro Santoro, his partner of 62 years, the relationships he built with his friends, the sounds of the piano, his beloved dogs, and sharing love and knowledge with the world.

A celebration of life will be hosted later this spring by his close friends. The School of Music will share details once released.

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