Veteran orchestra director shares his musical passion

Goodman brings international experience to the Hill


During alpha period on Feb. 11, Mr. Steve Goodman directs the orchestra, which practices in the basement of Cunningham Hall. Goodman brings a vast range of professional experience as a musician to the Hill to share with his students, who were practicing a piece called “No Bounds,” which the group would eventually perform with the jazz band.

Andrew de las Alas , Reporter

Jake Langdon

Anyone who’s walked through the Cunningham basement (when school isn’t virtual) in the early morning hours would be hard pressed to miss the sound of the jazz band or orchestra running through one of their pieces.

Mr. Steve Goodman directs both ensembles, but his musical background criss crosses the United States and Europe. Dedicated to the craft of violin, Goodman wields a staggering encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, technique and theory, but like many musicians, is driven by a passion for the music itself.

A native to Los Angeles, Goodman said he moved from South Central to Whittier in second grade. At Los Nietos Middle School, which he attended for summer school classes, Goodman was exposed to a life-altering viola presentation. “I had never seen someone play a string instrument at that level,” he said.

Fueling his newfound interest, Goodman’s mother purchased tickets for the pair to see Itzhak Perlman, an Israeli violinist with polio. “My jaw was open and I don’t think I was breathing for an hour and a half,” said Goodman. He said, “That’s what I want to do.”

As a 9-year old, Goodman played soccer and “was a hard-core science guy,” but after receiving his first violin he began integrating music into his schedule. “Starting from Day 1, I had to play an hour a day,” said Goodman. “I would run around, do homework, and just live, but it was a lot of hard work,” he said. At times his friends would come around, and Goodman would have to say, “I can’t play baseball right now, I’m practicing.”

Eventually his teacher, Mr. Jim Anoldi, would recommend another instructor, Mr. Robert Keane. However, soon after switching, Keane told the Goodmans that their son needed another teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Ivanoff Holborn, who was quite the distinguished musician, graduating from Juilliard and played in the Long Beach symphony, and serving as a staff member at the University of Michigan’s Interlochen International Arts Academy.

From California to Switzerland 

After college at the University of Michigan, Goodman began establishing himself as a musician, associating with networks of musicians all across the world. Still living in Los Angeles, Mr. Dale Hauskins, a guitarist friend from the Swiss progrock band Flame Dream, mentioned that his friends in the French folk group Al Pesto were looking for a violinist. The gig economy in California was difficult so Goodman and his new wife packed up, sold everything, and flew to Switzerland.

“They were the most famous folk group in Switzerland,” said Goodman. Swiss Air used to include Al Pesto’s music in their tourism videos, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of Goodman’s violin. However, before his grand European tour was able to begin, it was halted.

Arriving in Europe via air, Goodman then took a train to Lucerne where he met an Al Pesto affiliate for lunch. Goodman said, “I asked when the tour was going to begin exactly, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Oh it’s been canceled.’”

The stereotypical musician lifestyle commenced. Goodman, laughing, said, “I had $500.” With nothing to incentivize a return to the United States, the Goodmans were effectively stuck in Switzerland. 

To make do, Goodman said he played along the river Reuss  where the tourists were, but with little to no avail. “I met a friend one day, and he asked me how I was doing,” said Goodman. “I told him, ‘I’ve been eating rice for a month.’ He asked, ‘What!? How can you do that?’” Goodman told him that he’d use whatever he could afford to accompany it. “Rice with sugar, rice with salsa. One day I found raisins, so we had rice with raisins too,” he said.

Luckily, the friend gave Goodman some advice. “The Americans don’t tip,” he said. “If you want real money, you need to wake up at 6 a.m. and go down to the train station. You can practice your scales, studies, whatever. We Europeans know and appreciate our music.” Goodman, who had been making around 17 francs in five days along the river, brought in 45 francs in two hours, easily proving his friend right.

Goodman would eventually find a break and tour with Al Pesto (and started eating food other than rice). Faxed the music the night before he left, Goodman said that he had to learn it on the train ride to Stügart. “I set up a music stand in the bathroom and practiced all night. People would knock, use the bathroom, and I’d go back in. The odor was a bit interesting,” he said. 

While on tour Goodman had a multitude of television appearances and was hired to co-write music for the Maralam Theater group. Known as Sri Salami, the production was about Tamil asylum seekers, and Goodman was able to work with assistant director Mr. Anton Ponrajah, who now serves as a political liaison for the United Nations. Sri Salami would go on to win the Vesta Ag Culture Prize for theater and music.

Playing avant garde jazz

Independently, Goodman also started an avant garde jazz band, PaGo LiBre. Each syllable reflects the first part of each musician’s last name. Mr. John Wolfe Brennan, the “fantastic jazz pianist” for the group, heard how string quartets at the Lucerne Conservatory were struggling in their production of George Crumb’s Black Angels, and recommended Goodman.

“It’s a very tricky piece,” said Goodman. He was appointed the title of adjunct professor, and while unable to teach lessons, he coached string quarters and worked sound for master recitals.

Through a combination of Al Pesto, PaGo LiBre and Sri Salami, Goodman found himself as “the most famous American violinist in Switzerland.” To give an idea of who made up his audience, the former president and finance minister of Switzerland come close to the top of the list.

Fame lasted a lot more than 15 minutes. Driving back from the airport in a taxi to stay with a friend in Zurich, Goodman encountered his music in the wild. “It was a very warm day and someone had their window down, and I heard my music from Al Pesto playing,” said Goodman.

The second occasion occurred with a theater group near the Italian border. “We were on TV once a week and on the radio about five times a week,” said Goodman. During a break from media appearances, he once again heard Al Pesto playing during lunch.  “You know you’ve made it (when you hear your music in public). I can’t tell you what it sounds like,” he said.

Eventually Goodman made his way back to the United States. Embracing the double job life, Goodman became a waiter at a Tony Roma’s in Moreno Valley while also working contractually with Warner Brothers. One day while waiting tables, Goodman overheard a conversation between two producers, one by the name of Mr. Johnny Oliver. Goodman introduced himself and asked if they were hiring violinists. Overjoyed (and dismayed) that Goodman was already making the commute to the Warner Bros., Oliver was able to secure Goodman a spot on a Frank Sinatra miniseries.

Coincidentally, Goodman would run into a former mentor, Mr. Arty Pinkus, who had helped at the Los Angeles Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. Pinkus was also working with Warner Bros and was able to expand Goodman’s position to an immediate second, someone who walks around in the background. “I had one scene where I had to look sweaty after being on a long bus ride. They came around to all of us and started messing with our collars, pulling on our clothes. They also wiped Vaseline and grease on my head and dumped water on my face,” said Goodman.

So with his jazz-infused, prolific, continent spanning career, how did Steve Goodman end up at Cathedral High School?

Mrs. Ford is calling 

While spending a weekend at Lake Monroe south of Bloomington with his family, Goodman said, “At 7 in the morning I get a call from (math teacher Mrs.) Lisa Ford asking if I could become a full-time instructor.” Up until then Goodman had made his way up the Hill only intermittently, teaching strings and coaching the jazz band. “I told her I didn’t want the job, and she, unhappy, told me this: ‘Think about it.’”

Years ago, Holborn, Goodman’s third teacher, berated him endlessly about teaching. “She would say, ‘You need to teach.’ And I would refuse.” And on it went.

Goodman said, “Once when I was 16 she handed me two application sheets and said, ‘These are your students.’ One was 19 and the other was 21.” Goodman responded that he would, like every other time, not be teaching. Holborn told him, like Ford, that he should “think about it.” She gave Goodman an ultimatum: he can choose not to teach, but if he did not, she would no longer teach him. She said, “At this stage, what you need is to teach.”  Angry, Goodman snatched the applications and began his first instances of teaching.

Nevertheless, Goodman, decades later, still didn’t feel like he was really a teacher. Perry Meridian High School didn’t seem to think so and two hours after Ford’s call, they asked if Goodman could fill their orchestra position. Caving, he accepted an interview, and called Ford back to let her know he would also be willing to do an interview for Cathedral. “Good,” Ford told him. “The phones have been ringing off the hook with jazz and orchestra parents insisting that we get Steve Goodman to teach.”

Offered the position on the Hill, Goodman resumed his teaching career. “You learn a lot,” he said. He said that Holborn would always ask him if he was teaching, and if he wasn’t, to do so. “Someday, you’ll understand,” she’d say.

And one day, he did. “It was during my first year at Cathedral, after a really great jazz band and orchestra rehearsal. I was hit when I was buttoning up my coat: ‘I’m supposed to be here,’” he said.

And his students agree.

Senior Gabriel Tice, who plays jazz alto saxophone and is one of the three drum majors this year, said, “Working under Mr. Goodman has been a blast. It has made getting to school at 7 am a bit easier knowing that I will get to learn from an amazing teacher like him.”

Senior Andrew Marcou said, “Mr. Goodman is a groovy dude. Playing the drums for him is pretty neat and it has allowed for me to broaden my knowledge.”

Sophomore Tony Arroyo, jazz tenor saxophone, said that working with Mr. Goodman has “been challenging but exciting and beneficial.”

Sophomore Zach Hopkins, jazz tenor saxophone, said that it’s “definitely challenging, and he has pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. A great learning experience and a peek into the world of music.”

Junior Jasmine Zimmer, jazz and orchestra violin, said, “I really enjoy working under him. He’s a great teacher and I’ve been able to learn a lot from him since he covers a lot in class and is always helping us improve.”

At home in Indiana, Goodman said that he’s fortunate to have established himself as a teacher.

However, he still spends a tremendous amount of time and effort outside music education. “It’s a hustle. I’ve been doing the gig economy since I was 20. Some weeks go by and I don’t have a gig. And then when you least expect it, you get them,” he said. In the stretch from December 2020 to January 2021, Goodman judged for the Indiana State School Music Association (as one of the only certified judges for jazz strings), wrote a program for United Methodist Church, rehearsed, recorded, dress rehearsed and played for Christmas Eve. All of Goodman’s albums are on Spotify and Apple Music. 

Goodman has experienced some amazing moments as a musician. While playing with PaGo LiBre, he recalls a particular incident. The night did not necessarily go as planned. During the sound check Goodman was swarmed with mosquitos to such an extent he had to go to the infirmary, and during his solo his violin string broke and slapped him across the face. Nevertheless, the newspaper wrote high praises and he was rewarded with a standing ovation from 4,000 people.

Opening for such a diverse crowd, from Chick Corea to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Goodman said he still feels extremely connected to his students at Cathedral, Perry Meridian and every other high school and middle school at which he has instructed. Goodman said, “It’s things you hear often. It’s not always about making money, it’s the joy of what you do.”