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1971 - 1975
Boston Conservatory of Music
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Minor:  Piano Performance

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LEIGH WEIMERS column, San Jose Mercury News

YOU COULD call David Dumont Silicon Valley's piano man.

If there's a piano keyboard around, Dumont is likely to be involved - playing (he has performed as a soloist and band member here since 1978), teaching (he has classes in his Willow Glen home), providing (he lines up top-quality concert pianos for symphony soloists, performance venues and hotels), selling (he has led sales for Stevens Music, San Jose Music Co. and Sherman Clay), organizing (he's a co-founder of the Steinway Society of the Bay Area) and evangelizing (you want to talk pianos and music education? Dumont is your guy). Odd, then, that his favorite instrument once was the trombone.

''I started playing trombone in high school, and really liked it,'' he says. ''In New York state, I won the highest student rating you could get on the trombone: 6A. And I also studied the baritone horn and the euphonium. I guess I like the bass instruments.''

Physically, though, the instruments didn't like him. Dental problems eventually forced Dumont to give up the big horns. But by then, he already had been exposed to so much music in the home and at school that focusing on another of his instruments - the piano - wasn't a problem.

''When I was born in 1953 at Rantoul, Ill., my dad was in the Air Force,'' says Dumont, ''but he'd always been a musician. He wanted to go to the conservatory when he was young, but never could afford it so he got into the Air Force and ended up spending about 30 years, working on space programs: Gemini I and II; Mercury I, II and III; Titan I, II and III. I grew up going to those programs with him. It was really kind of an interesting life.

''But all along,'' he says, ''my dad always kept up his music. He was always playing violin. I'd go to sleep at night, listening to him practice.'' Dumont chuckles. ''To this day, when I hear a violin, I start nodding off.''

The senior Dumont shared his love of music with his five children - including David, who was given violin lessons starting at age 3. That didn't take.

Finding his own way

''You know what it can be like when your father tries to teach you something he loves,'' Dumont explains. ''It's really hard to do. He was very demanding. There I was at 6 and 7, practicing two hours a day. C'mon! So I gave up the violin at about 8 and started taking lessons on piano with a friend up the street.'' That took.

By this time, the Dumont family had moved from Illinois to Colorado to Kings Park, Long Island, N.Y. ''The junior high glee club needed a piano player, and there were a lot of girls in the club,'' Dumont recalls. ''I really got into playing piano seriously.''

As a high school freshman, he was good enough to write the music for the senior class play and was asked to perform at the commencement exercises. He also had that dalliance with the trombone and larger horns.

''Then we moved to Rhode Island, and I got involved with the band,'' he says. ''I was the drum major - the guy with the big hat. It was a pretty cool school.''

To make spending money, he also worked as a dishwasher at a Rhode Island country club and played piano there for $5 an hour during cocktails and dinner.

Serendipitous serenade

''One day, before the cocktail shift, there was nobody around and I was a little bored, so I went out into the club and played some piano,'' he says. ''I heard two ladies coming, talking in the foyer, and here I was in my kitchen grubbies. So I beelined it back to the kitchen. The manager comes in and shouts, 'Who was playing that piano?' I thought I was going to get into trouble, but he says the ladies wanted to talk to whomever it was that was playing the piano. I went out, apologizing for my appearance, and they said they liked what they'd heard and asked me to play more. After I did, one said I should go to the Boston Conservatory of Music - and that she'd help pay my tuition.
'I'll give you $1,000 a semester.' ''

The offer ''lit a fire'' under Dumont's musical ambition, he recalls. He'd previously been thinking only of trying classes at a community college, but now he launched into extensive practice sessions in preparation for the conservatory's auditions. He passed, qualified for admission, and then disaster struck.

''Two weeks before I'm supposed to go to the conservatory, I woke up and couldn't feel my toes,'' he says. ''I couldn't stand up. I had no sense of balance.'' He had contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, a viral neurological infection also known as ascending paralysis.

Career put on hold

''I went to a neurologist, and he said, 'If I were you, I'd cancel anything I was planning to do for the next couple of years. You've got a pretty severe case, and you're going to need a lot of rehabilitation. We really don't understand this disease too well.'

''I was so freaked! I called the lady, thanked her for her generosity, but said I couldn't use the money.'' Then he began to battle his illness.

''Luckily, I eventually overcame it,'' he says. ''Time and rehabilitation therapy and a lot of my mom's prayers. I was fortunate to make a complete recovery.'' And he was awarded a state rehabilitation scholarship that enabled him to resume his musical studies and enter the conservatory.

Dumont honed his musical skills at Boston, developing a particular love for a new (in 1974) instrument: the synthesizer. ''One of my fondest memories is of talking with a big Russian artist who'd come in to lecture. I asked him what he thought of synthesizers, and he said, 'Absolutely a waste of time! They will never replace the musicians!' In fact, in his lecture the next day he singled me out and made a point of saying the synthesizer would never catch on. Of course, we know history has been different. He played with touring bands for a few years, and then came to California in 1978, joining Stevens Music Co. as a salesman and eventually moving up to keyboard manager and vice president.

''We did innovative programs back then with the public schools,'' he recalls. ''We brought in keyboards, and the kids just loved them.'' The buying public also liked his style. ''I've sold a lot of pianos to people around here '' Dumont says. I've always been successful at selling pianos - because it's something I love.''

He also became involved with the valley's performance scene, doing synthesizer versions of ''The Star Spangled Banner'' to open both of Steve Wozniak's US Festivals. And he joined with another performer and teacher, saxophonist/flutist David Ladd, in the early '80s to form the Li'l Big Band, which still plays at major events and clubs today. ''If there truly is a Mr. Holland,'' Dumont says, ''it would be David. He's a tremendous teacher who really has affected a lot of people.''

Turning heads - and ears

In 1992, Dumont and one of his students electronics executive Billye Ericksen, decided to form a Steinway Society in the Bay Area after reading of similar societies in New York and Chicago. Its goal: to get more people to appreciate the piano - any piano, not necessarily a Steinway.

''Back before TV and radio, people would gather around the family piano on Sunday afternoons and they'd listen and appreciate art and have conversations,'' Dumont explains. ''We thought it would be cool if we could reinstitute the salon piano recital.'' To date, the society has had a number of such recitals, featuring artists including Ramsey Lewis and Kyoko Tabe, and has a series of performances scheduled through spring.

''We need more listeners,'' Dumont says. ''We need more people to take the responsibility of participating in the listening process. And part of that responsibility is the support of art. It's more than just sitting.

''Education is everything,'' he continues. ''A lot of people buy an instrument and think it's going to have its own life. You have to have a teacher. It's really fortunate for us that we live in an area that has a high Asian-American population. Many of them have adopted a music system that's totally Western and seen how important it is. Their children end up learning music, learning discipline, learning that practice does pay. They see their confidence levels go up.''

And Silicon Valley's piano man doesn't do so badly himself.

Copyright (c) 1997 San Jose Mercury News