Getting to Know You: Francis Lees

Francis Lees Performing May 2023

Whether you’ve been part of the LIHSA community for decades or for just a few months, there’s a good chance you know Francis Lees. Or at the very least have heard his magical piano playing. Francis has been at LIHSA for 35 years and we are so lucky to have this talented musician making his mark on the keyboard and in our hearts.

Francis grew up in East Meadow, learning to play the piano in his childhood home by ear by the age of 6 or 7.  His early repertoire – all self-taught ranged from pop to classical. As he attended high school in Uniondale he also attended Julliard’s pre-college for three years and was told he had perfect pitch and knew this was a gift. He received formal training to really learn classical music – from Bach to Brahms, he played with orchestras as well as leading solo concerts at Julliard and beyond.

After high school, Francis headed off to St. John’s but music called to him, so he redirected to Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queens College where he received his BA and studied under the great Jimmy Heath. It was a rigorous program and set Francis up for success, even winning a concerto competition.

Upon graduation, Francis entered the music scene performing pop and jazz music at clubs and restaurants around NYC and elsewhere. About two years later, he heard about an opening as a dance accompanist at LIHSA – then called the Nassau BOCES Cultural Arts Center. He had accompanied some dance classes as a student at Queens college, so he applied and got it. Working with LIHSA Dance Faculty Lessons Shirlene Blake, Ho­­­­rtey Loeb, and Bunty Kelly. Francis stretched just like the dancers he accompanied: first learning ballet terms and French words, then modern dance and styles. He then was asked to work with the drama classes and worked with Pat Michaels’ classes, and then onto Musical Theater and Vocal and Classical Voice classes. He worked for many years with Rob Kramer who was both a LIHSA alum and teacher and together they launched twelve years of students’ culminating cabaret performances at NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama.

In his 35 years, Francis has worked with different principals, seen the school get its CTE accreditation, been immersed in so many different styles and classes, taught the cabaret class and piano labs, and been able to be creative with other creative people. He enjoys the variety and the collaborations, including working with Kimberly Larkin on the Audition Songbook class so students are prepared to work with an accompanist.

Francis enjoyed this year’s debut of Now.Here.This  by Jeff Bowin based on songs that are interrelated and predicated on the thinking of the philosopher Thomas Merton – philosopher.

Outside of LIHSA, Francis stays busy, he works with Michelle and Jerome Vivona’s studio two days a week and performs concerts two or three times a month with some bands.

He met the love of his life – Mary Gibbons-Lees who is also a musician – in the Catskills and the pair were married in Ireland in 2002. It was a beautiful weekend and especially meaningful for him because several of his U.S. based relatives attended, including his grandma and uncle who were in their 90’s and thrilled to celebrate such a special event in Ireland.

Francis says, “LIHSA has enriched my life. I love working here and hope it keeps going.”

So do we!  Thank you, Francis, for all your talent, enthusiasm, and brilliance you bring to LIHSA!