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Shining Stars: Robert Lopez-Hanshaw

Robert Lopez-Hanshaw, left, conducts members of the Temple Emanu-El Teen Choir. (Courtesy Temple Emanu-El)

Robert Lopez-Hanshaw’s passion is writing music. He has been involved with music in one way or another since childhood. Along with being a composer and conductor, he is the choir director for Temple Emanu-El, and a sound designer for Winding Road Theater Company. He has had choral and instrumental works performed by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, University of Arizona Symphonic Choir, Tucson Girls Chorus, AwenRising concert choir and various religious organizations around Tucson.

“It is amazing to bring into the world something that has not been heard before,” says Lopez-Hanshaw. “It also brings me much joy to work with the musicians who bring my work to life.”

A native Tucsonan, Lopez-Hanshaw, now 30, sang in choirs as a child. When he was 11 years old he liked the music of Britney Spears and NSYNC, but at age 13 he discovered the “Planet Suite” by Gustav Holst. “I was just thrilled by this music,” he says. “It was immersive and played on my emotions, especially the Jupiter movement. I got to know the music so well that I could ‘hear’ the music in my head while lying in bed.”

His guitar teacher was his sixth-grade math teacher, Steve Schulman, who died in 2013.  Schulman, a well-known guitarist, loved to teach music, he says, was member of the Avanim Rock Band and worked with Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon to develop the Shabbat Rocks service at Temple Emanu-El.

Lopez-Hanshaw started writing music in high school. Initially inspired by a friend’s music theory textbook, he decided to take the class. During his senior year he had the opportunity to participate in the Tucson Symphony’s Young Composers Project. In weekly classes, he learned technical aspects of music, including instruments and writing music.

“A piece I had written was performed by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and I considered it a great honor,” says Lopez-Hanshaw. “I was very lucky that my parents put me into the Young Composers Project.”

The high school years brought Lopez-Hanshaw another link to music — he became friends with Sam Golden, also a musician. After graduating from high school the two friends joined a band, which went through a series of incarnations with five different names and musical focuses. For eight years, Lopez-Hanshaw played and toured with four of the bands: Grandpa Moses, folk; The Killed Men, experimental folk rock; Boreas, art rock; and Sun Bones, soul influenced indie rock.

He wrote rock music for the bands, but these days he writes mostly modern classical, and wants his music to be “worthwhile, accessible, and intriguing.” Some of the music he writes is inspired by Dan Asia, composer and professor of music at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, who was Lopez-Hanshaw’s composition teacher at the university.

For five years after college, he taught pre-K through 12th grade at Satori School and Kino Learning Center. “It was an incredible learning experience,” he says. “I developed a profound appreciation for using music in ways appropriate for each grade level.”

Lopez-Hanshaw and his wife, Elise, have two children, a daughter, Avey, 9, and a son, Ari, 6, who both like to sing. Avey is in the Tucson Girls Chorus and in the Temple Emanu-El youth choir, where she is always amused at her father’s “teacher voice.” Ari will be joining the Tucson Boys Chorus.

Like many artists, Lopez-Hanshaw has another job to help pay bills. As a metalworker, he has done steel fabrication, but now works at a bronze foundry where he casts sculptures. Although the work is very labor intensive, he likes the opportunity to bring the art of sculptors to life.

One of his favorite music-related experiences is as a member of a local group called Camerata Sonora, a recreational ensemble of professional musicians. He says they came together on a whim and gave a concert at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in April 2017.

“We do music for the fun of it, and the group has connected so well,” says Lopez-Hanshaw. “I treasure working with them.” The group will be performing “Around the Black Sea,” music from the Balkans, Caucasus and Turkey at the Tucson J on Nov. 18.

A Hanukkah Cantata is one of  Lopez-Hanshaw’s current projects. He is writing a new cantata based on Hebrew texts, which will bring together cantors and cantorial soloists from Reform and Conservative synagogues in Tucson. The concert will be Dec. 8, the seventh night of Hanukkah, at the J. See more at www.LopezHanshaw.com.

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