Faculty Friday: Mark Gasbarro — Renowned Pianist Brings the Best in Both Music and Teaching

by Megan Wilhelm '23

Star Trek Beyond, Jurassic World, Whiplash, Jojo Rabbit, and Tomorrowland, are just a few of the films professor Mark Gasbarro has worked on as a pianist. Along with these, Gasbarro has contributed to a number of TV shows, video games, and Pixar films, such as Inside Out, Ratatouille, Cars 2, Coco, The Incredibles, and Up as the film’s piano soloist. Gasbarro also has extensive experience composing, arranging, orchestrating, and producing. Amidst his many projects and career success, he also teaches in Azusa Pacific University’s renowned School of Music. As the director of undergraduate composition studies, Gasbarro conducts the studio orchestra and teaches applied composition, applied piano, and songwriting.

Before stepping into the world of teaching, Gasbarro served in various musical capacities. One of his first endeavors was playing in a pop band that traveled around the country for gigs — an experience Gasbarro wasn’t fond of. Fed up with his situation, he dropped out while the band was playing in Los Angeles and has resided in Southern California ever since. Since his band member days, Gasbarro has worked on countless musical projects, including several of Michael Giacchino scores for Pixar films, which Gasbarro described as glorious. “You never get over the little kid excitement of getting to play music for a living,” he said. “If working with music is in your soul, if that’s how you’re made, it becomes food. It’s just endlessly nourishing.”

Along with the magical moments of playing scores for many of Pixar’s beloved films, Gasbarro acknowledged that it’s the music itself and the people he’s playing with that make an experience memorable. “I’ve had some life-altering musical experiences playing with a couple of colleagues in somebody’s living room for no money at all, but they were profoundly rewarding and informative,” he said. Whether in a living room, on stage, or in a studio, it’s the music alone where Gasbarro’s passion lies. For the Pittsburgh native, there was music and nothing else. “I don’t know if an aspiration to play music is the right way to describe it. It would probably be more accurate to say, to me, it’s what there was,” he said. “It was all inner, unconscious momentum. It was always there and that’s all there was and that was it.”

Working at a university was not something Gasbarro envisioned for himself, but after meeting with friends and colleagues David Beatty, MM, MBA, and Joel Clifft, DMA in the Applebee’s across from Munson Chapel, Gasbarro was offered a position to teach at APU. He agreed, deciding it was time to pass on his knowledge to a younger generation. “At a certain age, you realize you may not know much about a lot of things, but you know a lot about some things — sometimes you don’t even realize how much you know,” he said. “I know a lot about the world of music, and I thought it’s important that I try to pass that on.” After 13 years at APU, it’s safe to say that plenty of students are interested in what Gasbarro had to offer.

Gasbarro benefited from the help of teachers in the past, crediting their guidance for much of his success and work ethic. Given the challenges of making a living in the music industry, Gasbarro hopes students will walk away from his classes with a desire to give their greatest efforts to each project they work on. “Every opportunity requires the absolute best you have to give,” he said. “If somebody asks you to do something free as a favor, you bring the best you have.”

Along with a stellar work ethic, Gasbarro encourages students to trust the Lord in all things, acknowledging that, much like honing one’s craft, it is a continual process that requires commitment, perseverance, and practice. “A mistake I made early on was allowing worry to be too big a part of what drove me. I would read Proverbs 3:5-6 (trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding), and yet, if I didn’t have a gig, I would be sweating bullets,” Gasbarro said. “I was a little too manic, and I should have been a little more trusting. That’s easier to say than do, but eventually, even the most stubborn of us starts to allow a little bit of that to happen.”

As an established musician with a prolific career, Gasbarro is, first and foremost, a follower of Christ. In the midst of much success, he remains humble, insisting that he is like anyone else pursuing a passion and honing a craft. After many years of experience, he says he continues practicing, studying, and learning. “You’re never going to feel like ‘I got this.’ You’re just going to keep rolling on,” he said. For those looking to become masters of their craft while pursuing Christ, Gasbarro serves as a wonderful example to emulate.

Megan Wilhelm '23 is a public relations intern in the Divison of Strategic Communication and Engagement.