Festival Pianist for Twenty Years
By Liz Armstrong
The talented Doreen Woolley has been playing the piano in the lobby of the Randall L. Jones Theatre for twenty years now. She adds to the Festival experience by playing pleasant “lobby music” in the background before the shows.
“I love seeing and interacting with the patrons and seeing how they respond to music,” Woolley said. “Music is the great equalizer, and it just kind of brings everyone together.”
Woolley and her late husband retired to Cedar City in 2001 and began ushering at the Festival together. She learned that Scott Phillipis, former executive director, was looking for someone to play lobby music. “I improvised, I think I played something from Les Misérables. And I got about eight bars in and he said, ‘Nevermind how many days a week can you do this?’” Woolley laughed.
Ever since, Woolley has been invaluable to the Festival, not only because of her expertise tickling the ivories, but because of her dedication. Although there are several Festival pianists, Woolley plays the most at eight shows a week.
Woolley and Festival patrons shared a beautiful experience together several weeks ago, when a woman asked her to play “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. Per Scott Phillips suggestion years ago, Woolley avoids playing music that the Festival has onstage during the season, but the patron was adamant that she play the tune. So, Woolley began playing.
“She said it was too high for her husband to sing, so I played it at a lower key and he sang,” Woolley said. “And then she announced to the whole lobby that everyone should sing.” Soon, the lobby was filled with singing patrons as more and more began to join in, pulling up lyrics on their phones if they didn’t know the tune.
Woolley said this isn’t a rare occurrence, noting that she’s never played a show that she can remember that someone hasn’t come through the lobby singing.
“It’s important for Festival patrons, and that’s why I do it,” Woolley said.
But it’s important to Woolley too, as playing the piano at the Festival has become her “lifeline” since her husband passed away in 2013. “I’m really grateful to have this that I can go to and get lots of socialization,” Woolley said.
The virtuoso, however, said that before she came to the Festival, she hadn’t been actively involved in music for many years, besides playing accompaniment and at church.
Her musical journey really began as a college student when Woolley was hired to play for the Virginia Tanner Children’s Dance Theatre to improvise whatever movement was being performed. She put her husband through medical school and the rest of her own schooling doing this.
Woolley is a University of Utah alumna, but her education didn’t stop there. She received a master’s degree in counseling from Ball State University before going on to earn a PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Woolley was lecturing and active in the academic setting before she and her husband retired.
It’s hard to imagine what the Festival was like before Woolley’s piano music, but it just wouldn’t be the same without her. So next time you go to a show, stop by the Randall L. Jones lobby and take a second to surround yourself with Woolley’s music, it’ll be sure to amplify and enhance your experience.