Frank Contreras, now retired from full-time teaching, was an associate professor of piano, music theory, and composition at Oakwood College, now University, from 2000 to 2006. He continued to teach in those areas as an OU adjunct faculty member after retirement.
Contreras, an Episcopalian, was born and raised in Silver City, New Mexico. Growing up in a musical family, from the beginning he displayed a gift for music, playing by ear at an early age. He began piano lessons with his sister but shortly after started taking lessons outside the home. He also had an interest in organ and was hired as an organist in a Lutheran church when he was in the eighth grade.
Contreras continued studying music locally until he graduated from high school. He won a scholarship to attend Millikin University, a Presbyterian school in Decatur, Illinois, from the National Federation of Music Clubs. He majored in piano performance at MU, supported by scholarships from either NFMC or General Motors. Immediately after completing his undergraduate study in 1965, he was given a graduate fellowship at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where he completed a master's degree in piano performance the following year.
After one year of teaching, Contreras was drafted into military service for two years and spent fifteen months in Vietnam as a radio operator. When he returned, he resumed graduate study in music at West Virginia University, where he subsequently completed a D.M.A. in 1978 in piano performance. He also holds an Artist's Diploma from the American College of Musicians.
While he was pursuing his doctorate, Contreras took time out to teach at Alderson-Broadeus College, a Baptist school in nearby Phillippi, West Virginia. After completing graduate study, he accepted a position at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, to teach piano, music theory, and organ. During his time at UAH he also taught Spanish for one year, an experience he particularly enjoyed, given his background, study in language, and interest in linguistics.
Contreras soloed twice on piano with the Pittsburgh Symphony while in graduate school, and subsequently on five occasions with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. He is also a keyboard performer with the HSO, assisting as needed on piano, organ, and keyboard percussion instruments.
He is the organist for the First Presbyterian Church and the Temple B'nai Shalom in Huntsville. An accomplished accompanist, he has collaborated with a number of singers and instrumentalists.
During all of his music study, Contreras took additional classes in music theory and composition. He is an active composer and has won composition contests, a particularly memorable competition being one judged by Norman Dello Joio, where he placed first. He also enjoys doing improvisations on the organ in his church service playing.
Contreras has traveled to Europe over twenty times, both as a performing musician and as a tourist. The main purpose of these trips in recent years has been to attend an annual choral festival held in southern England, an experience he particularly enjoys.
Source: Interview with Frank Contreras, 2006.