Alumni Profile: David Piper

Piper’s passion in music theatre has lasted 30 years

As a musical director, pianist, composer and educator, David Piper has been a leader in the music industry in Australia for the last 30 years. Classically trained, he achieved early success as a national finalist in the ABC Young Performers Award (1990) performing piano with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, until he found a home in musical theatre.

He has worked with great australian and international performers and musicians such as Rhonda Burchmore (Mamma Mia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Natalie Basingthwaight, Paulini, Alex Lewis, Sylvie Palladino (Chess), Lucy Durack, Jemma Rix (Wicked), Hugh Jackman, Todd McKenny, Chrissy Amphlett (Boy From Oz), Anthony Warlow (Annie, Fiddler on The Roof), Marina Prior, Phillip Quast, Judi Connelli, Debra Byrne (Mary Poppins), many high profile Broadway and West End creative teams, and most notably, Brian May (Queen – on We Will Rock You), and Björn (ABBA – Mamma Mia).

David has recently returned from a national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after an 18 month pause due to Covid. He was most recently the Musical Director for the acclaimed national tour of Chess (by Storeyboard Entertainment).

It all began for David with piano lessons in 1973 at the Wollongong Conservatorium.

“I started piano lessons with the wonderful Nan Price when I was 5 years old in about 1973, and at 10 years of age, I added cello lessons with Louise Butler.”

Soon afterwards, David began playing in a string orchestra at WollCon in 1980 with conductor John Stender, and then in a quartet with John’s step-daughters Alexandra and Angela, and Matthew Hindson on viola. But it was performance & music theatre that caught his interest the most.

“I’ve always had to arrange music in the work I do. I started writing small things for piano whilst at school, but am now focussed on original material for Music Theatre, which is the world I mainly occupy these days.”

“I have always loved music theatre, and indeed all music. I was never just focussed on the classical studies – much to the horror of my ‘old world’ performance advisor at university.”

David started working in music theatre in 1991 and has essentially never stopped.

He’s been the Music Director for The Boyfriend, for the original Australian tour of The Boy From Oz, for the Gold Coast Arts Centre on Jesus Christ Superstar, Miss Saigon and Mary Poppins, and for Playking and National Theatre of China on Cho Cho.

“While it was nice to be nominated for a Green Room Award for CHESS (2012 – The Production Company), I think the work I’m most proud of is The Boy From Oz, because it’s just brilliant theatre, local and homegrown. We don’t get a chance to do our own stuff very often which is sad.”

He believes there is a lot of risk in working in the Arts and the world of commercial Music Theatre, and the last two years have certainly illustrated this.

“After the pandemic was announced in 2020, actors, musicians, and other practitioners were left high and dry, while the government acknowledged, understood and gave money to most of the rest of our workforce – including Arts administrators. The actual artists were ignored. Incredible really, as the Arts contribute more than sport financially to this country. The Arts has always been misunderstood in Australia and so to invest in this career is a huge risk.”

David works fairly frequently at several institutions in Melbourne as a casual tutor or lecturer, including the Victorian College of the Arts, Australian Institute of Music (AIM) and APO Arts Academy.

His teaching helps prepare students to work at a professional level in Music Theatre. Coaching singing, teaching repertoire, accompanying, audition prep, performance masterclasses, and musical directing staged showcases, cabarets and other performances.

“Most tertiary institutions have a stable of academic staff, and then call on working industry professionals to offer the students some real time experience of what is expected of them should they be successful in being cast in a show.” Said David.

“I love teaching and find that it just enhances my other abilities and avenues. I’ve just finished 2 national tours (Chess and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in the middle of a pandemic (which in itself was a miracle), and already I’ve been back in at AIM. I want to generate more work that’s home based for a while.”

He has many wonderful memories of WollCon and its people, and to a large extent the teachers and quality of tuition in Wollongong have made him the musician he is today.

“Nan Price, was a HUGE influence on me. I studied with her from age 5 until the end of high school (age 17), and then studied for a BMus at Sydney Uni studying piano with Elizabeth Powell at the Sydney Con.”

“Also, the exquisite location at Gleniffer Brae gave us all a very independent haven from the rest of Wollongong. And I still love the beaches.”

Reflecting on his 30 year career David says there are certainly ‘pinch me’ moments working in musical theatre. “Particularly performances where everything seems to be in flow and you can stand back and just love the collaborative energy of a wonderful show. I know I do something I love, but it is also a job!”