If you’ve heard what sounds like an Irish tenor belting out “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” on a porch on Orange Avenue, or even on Main Street, you’ve heard Steve Gill.
An actor, director, singer and theater arts teacher, the longtime Los Altos resident has long known the power of song and the joy it can bring.
Gill has performed with TheatreWorks, American Musical Theatre, San Jose Stage Company, West Bay Opera Company and Foothill Music Theatre, as well as putting on his own shows with a variety of accompanists. After retiring from teaching at Menlo School, he estimates doing 300 shows at retirement homes, senior centers and private parties, as well as an annual show at Foothills Congregational Church for the past five years.
His shows range from those based on specific composers or lyricists such as Frank Sinatra, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to adaptations of popular musicals and a story of Irish immigration.
A singing debut
Born in Berkeley, Gill was raised in Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles High School, “a big performing arts school,” he said. After his early days as a boy soprano soloist at St. James Church making $3 a week – “which in 1948 was a lot of money,” he noted – he honed his opera skills at UCLA.
Serving in the U.S. Army from 1961 to 1964, he spent part of that time touring with a GI group in France and Germany. When he returned to California, he started back at UCLA and then worked at the Dunn School in Santa Ynez Valley. He met his wife, Nancy Ginsburg, through his younger sister; both were students at UC Irvine. Missing their Northern California roots, the couple moved up to Berkeley, attended Cal, married in 1968 and moved into their current house in Los Altos, where Nancy’s mother then lived.
Getting back into show business, Gill started performing with West Bay Opera and Stanford Summer Opera.
He then began his 27-year teaching career at Menlo School, where he taught such courses as English, theater arts, political ideologies of the 20th century, comparative religion and film. He also founded the school’s fine-arts program.
In the 1980s and ’90s, he worked professionally with TheatreWorks, American Musical Theatre and San Jose Stage Com-
Shining a light
When the their daughter Anne was in a debilitating car accident in 1997, the Gills soon discovered that while there were resources for the blind and for the brain-injured, for those who were both, as Anne now was, help was hard to find.
They discovered the weeklong Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, run by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which gives Anne a variety of fun experiences, including horseback riding.
Anne had always had a love of and gift for singing, and after the accident, the Gills discovered that she still did. She began studying with her former singing teacher, Sharon Jane Davis, whom Gill described as “incredibly encouraging.” Anne soon added her talents to the annual benefit concerts for LightHouse for the Blind that Gill started in 1999.
“When I was still working there, we used students at Menlo School (in the concert),” he said. “When I retired, we started bringing back students from the past – some are now professionals.”
Nancy, former director of Foothill College’s Writing Center, jokes that she has “not a musical bone in my body,” but handles the PR for the concerts.
Anne’s sister Samantha does not perform but comes for the concert every year.
“This last year, our granddaughter and great-granddaughter came,” Nancy said. “She’s only 4 months old, but she sat through the whole thing.”
The next LightHouse benefit concert is currently scheduled in January, but the state of the coronavirus may dictate a change in plans.
Although the shutdown forced Gill to cancel a half-dozen gigs this spring, he is still making music.
“Sometimes I’ll go out on my porch and sing ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,’” he said. “A friend (Bob Feiner) comes over and about once a week we make music in my driveway. … People come by and listen.”