Whitley continues to give the gift of music to the community
Jun 15, 2018 12:04PM
● By City Journals Staff
Students from Whitley’s Music Studios with new classical piano instructor, Dr. Ran Duan, and Dan Whitley. (Christy Jepson/City Journals)
By Christy Jepson | [email protected]
It all began in 1981 when a young 8-year old boy, Danny Whitley, begged his father to teach him to play an instrument. It was an earnest plea — Danny wanted to be like his dad and be with his dad during the short amount of time he had to live.
At age 6, Danny was diagnosed with brain cancer. After what they thought was a successful initial brain surgery, the cancer returned two years later. It was then that Danny was given only a short time to live and he wanted nothing more than to follow in his dad’s musical footsteps.
“Knowing that his time with us would be short, there was no other option for me,” said Dan Whitley, his father. He started right away teaching his son the drums. Since the Whitleys didn’t know of any kids who could play a band instrument that were Danny’s age, the father and son duo decided to “set up shop” and start their own band. They called it the Foxes and the Hounds after the Disney movie.
Being in his own band was the mental and physical break Danny needed to cope with all the challenges of having cancer. Whitley recalls that it was everything he needed to feel like he was getting better. A few years later, their band performed at Danny’s sixth-grade concert at his elementary school in Cottonwood Heights. Danny played a drum solo with one foot and one hand. His classmates loved Danny and his new band.
“The parents and their children flocked to Danny. He wore his little red hat and smiled all the time, he finally had his own group,” said his dad.
Four brain surgeries later and a miraculous six years of being the star of his band, Danny passed away at age 13.
“I started teaching Danny back in 1981 and haven’t stopped,” said Whitley. That was the beginning of Whitley’s career of teaching music to kids. His passion for music and his professional music experience in his early adulthood years was the foundation for starting his own music studio.
As a child and teenager, Whitley studied piano, trumpet, tuba, guitar, banjo, bass, drums and mandolin. In high school, he loved to sing while playing the guitar. “I fell in love with singing harmonies in folk groups, which were popular during the 1960s, mainly because it was simple melodic music and invited sing-a-longs,” said Whitley.
In 1965, Whitley moved to California and became a bass player and background vocalist for “the Lettermen” vocal group, who had a contract with Capitol Records. Following going on tour with them, he created his own performing group, the Justus Brothers. He worked with this group for nearly 10 years in Southern California. He released a record of original songs and soon this group became a full-time job.
Nearly 20 years later, Whitley now lives in Draper and has a professional recording and music studio and continues teaching music to children. “Danny lives on in my memory as I do repeat performances with group after group today. Teaching him for those years turned my life around,” said Whitley.
The Whitley Music Studios offers private instrumental lessons, instrumental vocal group lessons, private vocal lessons, recording consulting and producing, and reading therapy. Whitley also directs and teaches a folk band performing group, a vocal group and a prodigy jazz band.
About four months ago, Whitley met Dr. Ran Duan, a professional concert pianist from China, when she came over to play a piano she was interested in buying from Whitley. Dan calls it no coincidence that two professional musicians from different continents who have similar musical goals met. After talking to Duan, Whitley quickly realized and could see her talent, passion and experience in the music field was “amazing” and was just what he wanted to add to his studio.
Whitley loved the idea of adding classical piano lessons to his list of classes he offers. In April, Dan offered Duan a teaching position and now she is a private piano instructor at his studio in Draper. “I have very talented students. I’d love to know more young pianists in this area and help them develop their own music language,” said Duan.
Duan received her bachelor of music with honorable mention from the China Conservatory, her master’s of music in piano performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and her doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Utah. She currently teaches college-level piano for major and non-major students at Utah Valley University and pre-college programs at the University of Utah and also teaches privately. She has been featured in many concerts halls in China, Italy and the United States. She has been a guest soloist with several symphonies and orchestras around the globe.
“I love the fact that every student is different. As a teacher I need to think about different approaches to assist them,” Duan said. She hopes her international experience makes her a unique teacher. “I hope I can bring more diversity to the music society,” she said. Her dream is to bring more Utah musicians to the global level and more talented Chinese musicians to Utah to enjoy this music environment.
“It is the happiest thing to see all different level of students grow and develop their own talent,” said Duan.
Whitley’s teaching career that started long ago because of his son today has a much bigger influence. Over the years, thousands of students have come in and out of Whitley’s Music Studio. His influence is felt throughout the community, all because of his love of music and his love that he has for his little boy, Danny.