Dr. Carmen Wolthuis Hall: A homecoming on the keys

Cory Frye

Dr. Carmen Wolthuis Hall has been many things in her illustrious career: an exceptional pianist, award-winning performer, educator, speaker and collaborative artist. 

But she has local bona fides, too, an esteemed ex-resident with deep roots. She’s the daughter of beloved retired dentist and frozen-treat magnate Henry Wolthuis — co-proprietor, with wife Mollie, of the Fire Haus Ice Cream Shop — as well as a 1987 Sweet Home High School graduate. (A respectable athlete, she ran track under Dave Martin and Alan Temple.) 

“Sweet Home was a great place to grow up,” she said in an email interview last week. “We got to participate in so many things at the high school because it was smaller.” 

And she’s coming home for a concert at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20, in the auditorium of her alma mater at 1641 Long St. 

The evening program will feature interpretations of three 19th-century Frederic Chopin studies, Étude Op. 25, No. 11, better known in English as “Winter Wind”; Étude Op. 25, No, 1, or “Aeolian Harp”; and Étude Op. 10, No. 12 (“The Revolutionary”), followed by Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, a piano solo composed in 1834. 

“The pieces are written to represent people attending the festival, which was held before Lent,” she explained. “Some of the people are Schumann’s friends; others are theatrical figures.” 

The performance will conclude with pieces incorporating elements of jazz. 

Admission is free, although donations for humanitarian projects sponsored by Rotary International and the Sweet Home Oregon Coalition for Artistic and Scholastic Enrichment will be welcomed and accepted. 

Hall has spent most of her life involved in the pursuit and study of music, having grown up in a household devoted to such expression. 

“My parents play the piano and organ and value music education,” she said. “All of us [five children] took lessons.” 

She retains a special affection for her piano teacher, Virginia Buhn, whose husband, Edward Buhn, served as Sweet Home’s mayor from 1971 to 1975. Now 94, she resides in Eugene. 

“We were able to walk to Mrs. Buhn’s home until she moved to Eugene [in the mid-1980s], and then we drove to lessons once a week,” Hall recalled. “My time to practice was 6 a.m. each morning. I would wake up my mother and she would practice with me. I sure appreciate the sacrifice. We participated in lots of competitions and festivals throughout the state. I performed with an orchestra in Eugene when I was about 14 years old.” 

Hall left Sweet Home to attend Brigham Young University, graduating in 1992 with a Master of Music degree in piano performance and pedagogy (teaching), working with late Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition founder Paul Pollei.

She also taught group and private piano lessons at the school for two years, continuing a tradition she began when she launched her own ongoing studio for students in 1988. 

She continued sharing her knowledge, expertise and talents with others shortly after leaving BYU, establishing Young Pianists International in 1996, an organization that has shared cultural experiences and performances with students in such countries as China (1996, 1997), Japan (1997, 2014) and Mexico (1998), in addition to Oregon (2002, 2009 and 2016) and Washington, D.C. (2018). Next year will find them in Ghana, Africa. 

Among Hall’s numerous accolades include first-place teaching-video and collaborative victories in the 8 and 2019 SummerArts competitions at the University of Utah, where she completed her doctoral degree in piano performance under Dr. Vedrana Subotic earlier this year.

She’s also earned permanent certified membership status in the Music Teachers National Association and serves as the Theory and Ear Training Evaluation Chair in Utah’s Encore Music Teachers Organization. 

An avid chamber musician, Hall presented her first such recital at the university in 2020, an evening that included performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio, No. 1 and Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor. Today, she’s a faculty and board member of the Draper, Utah-based Mountain Springs Music Festival devoted to chamber music. 

Hall recently secured a grant to launch the Timpanogos Chamber Music Series in American Fork, Utah. Its inaugural 2021-22 season will include performances from string players, a piano quartet, a baritone singer, jazz dancer and a piano trio featuring oboe and bassoon. 

Hall currently resides in Utah with her husband, Bruce; their sons, Jared, Bryan and Andrew, are all multi-instrumentalists themselves. In addition to music, she’s an avid cycler and has completed five marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2016, where she happened to participate with retired Sweet Home High School track coach Billy Snow. 

“It’s always great to come to Sweet Home and see the improvements that have happened,” Hall said. “Of course, I always love getting ice cream at Dad’s shop!”