Alberto and Mary Gamez

A pediatrician and a pathologist make a perfect pair! What better place to meet than in a medical library squabbling over a textbook that Mary wanted and Alberto had already checked out? Mary was not pleased, but Alberto kindly agreed to share the book with her. They began studying together, and the rest is history. After 60 years of marriage, three children (two boys and a girl), and seven grandchildren, Alberto and Mary Gamez are inseparable. 

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1940, Alberto did not come from a musical family. His father was a journalist/photographer, and his mother was a painter. His siblings (two sisters and one brother) showed no interest in music. In fact, he was the only one who showed potential. Alberto was five years old in 1945 when he was accepted at the Caracas Conservatory of Music to study theory of music, sol-fa, and harmony under Master Vicente Emilio Sojo. Two years later in 1947, he started piano lessons at the Conservatory with Plinio Rodriguez and continued weekly lessons until 1958. Although Alberto’s parents weren’t musical, his grandparents were. His grandmother was a singer in the Zarzuela (a type of Spanish Opera) of Caracas, Venezuela, and her husband had a popular music radio program. Between 1952 and 1958, Alberto played the piano for the radio station, Radio Continente, in a classical music program named “Sunday Fantasies.” 

Though he loved music, Alberto had set his sights on becoming a thoracic surgeon and, at age 18, he was accepted into the School of Medicine of the Central University of Caracas. In 1964, with his wife Mary, he emigrated to the United States of America to continue his medical studies. He then switched from thoracic to pediatric surgery and was recruited by the US Army in 1972. He remained an army surgeon until his retirement in 2008. Throughout his career, Alberto continued playing the piano and took lessons whenever he could. He even found the time to learn to play both the harp and the ukulele. 

About nine years after his retirement, he stumbled upon the AMSF by chance. A priest in the monastery where he often played for mass, told him about a worthwhile piano concert. He attended that concert, and the program contained the performer’s biography which listed the AMSF. He contacted the organization and discovered that it offered numerous opportunities for performance. This is exactly what he wanted, so he joined the AMSF in 2017 and has been an active member since. Except for the pandemic years (2020 – 2021), Alberto has performed regularly at Community Outreach, Encore, Intermezzo and Prelude recitals. In addition to his AMSF activities, he also plays liturgical music on both the piano and the pipe organ for the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC. 

Alberto playing his 1946 Steinway

Alberto gives credit to his amazing teachers for his exceptional music ability. Growing up in Venezuela, he was most influenced by Master Vicente Emilio Sojo and Plinio Rodriguez. In the US, he feels particularly indebted to Wendell Margrave and his current Armenian piano teacher Naira Babayan, at Levine School of Music. These teachers have instilled in him a love for the music of the Great composers. His favorites are Mozart, Bach, and Chopin. He admires Mozart for “the logical way he writes his compositions,” and feels that Mozart’s works “maintain childish expressions” for example, his variations on “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman.” He likes Bach’s harmony and Chopin’s beautiful melodies and “very delicate expressions.” He also favors Debussy, Czerny, Haydn, Clementi, Brahms, and Beethoven. 

Alberto’s other hobbies include swimming, photography, reading, and making new friends. With respect to advice to aspiring musicians, Alberto had a lot to say, but he stressed that the most important thing is to “play the instrument and music you love and like.” Then he listed the following salient points: 

a.) Practice every day and learn to sing the melodies without the instrument. 

b.) Begin a new piece with separate hands slowly. Increase tempo over time and pay attention to the composer’s expression. 

c.) Familiarize yourself with the personality, character, temperament, problems, illness, and life of the composer. 

d.) Heed details like articulation, tempo, expression, ornaments, dynamics, rests, accidentals etc. 

e.) Use the Taubman approach to prevent injury from faulty posture. 

f.) Maintain a repertoire. Do not forget pieces you’ve already learned. 

g.) Recognize that music (particularly performing), has health benefits such as stress reduction, coping, self-discipline, building confidence, easing pain, fostering positive moods and emotions, maintaining memory, and helping interpersonal bonds. 

h.) Remember that music requires time and effort,so make sure to include some form of physical activity either before or after practicing.