A solo piano album of reflection and hope

Retreat coverAs I write this, staring at the wall weeks into a stay-at-home order, I pray it helps bring some empathy, comfort, and maybe even a little hope to all of us trying to collectively dodge the grips of this dreadful disease.  May we all stay well and remain cheerful when we finally venture from the shadows.

All of the music on my solo piano albums start out as free improvisations.  Much of my written music starts out that way as well, but music for my piano albums are recorded in MIDI and stays that way.  As a composer, I have written music in a number of different ways, some more traditional and some more unusual.  I settled on improvisation for inspiration because I found that it encourages me to be more original.  Many musicians find that when they improvise, they tend to use musical styles and formulas that they know well; I find that for me, the opposite is true.  Though I indeed use some of the musical syntax I have gathered from a lifetime as a classical musician, I find that improvisation challenges me harmonically and stylistically to follow paths I wouldn’t normally try. 

One of the advantages of being a career symphony musician is that you have a lot of time off in the summer.  So I would use my summers to record my improvisations, often early in the morning before my children awoke.  I did this continuously for three or four weeks.  I wouldn’t listen to them right away.  In fact, I didn’t listen to them until at least a year later.  I wanted the music to be fresh when I heard it, so that I could give it an unbiased listening.  I would throw out some that I didn’t like, or that I thought were not interesting enough.  Sometimes, I would do some rough editing – split them in two if they were too long, chop off an unrelated opening; different pieces would suggest different processes.  This would often take several months for a summer’s worth of recording.  Then I would let them sit again, for a while, before doing the final editing and mastering.

I started doing and releasing these piano recordings in 1998, and have been self-releasing them since 2002.  Though I did not record every summer, I did record most summers from then until 2016.  Some summers I produced up to ten or eleven albums worth of material, while others not so much.  I have been trying to release them fairly regularly, but for various reasons that doesn’t always happen.  Still, Retreat, will be my 26th piano album, but, as you can imagine, I have a lot of music accumulated and I have fallen behind.  Retreat was originally recorded in the summer of 2012.  One of the questions I get most often is, “Why are you doing music from so long ago?”  The simple answer is that I am behind, but I also take quite a long time working on them.

When I do the final editing for an album release, though the music is still a MIDI file, I go over it with a fine-toothed comb.  I not only get the music just the way I like it, I often must adjust the file to a different sampling program.  Just as classical pianists adjust their performances slightly to different pianos and performing spaces, I adjust the MIDI file to ever-improving collections of piano samples and software.  When I first started releasing my albums, I called them improvisations, but in fact, after all the editing I do on them, they are not.  And any jazz enthusiast would say as much.  This is why, even though they start as improvisations, I consider them Classical music.  Both Jazz and Classical music are great art forms and can display considerable emotional depth.  Classical music brings the depth of reflection, as all musical relationships can be pondered and altered.  The depth found in Jazz, on the other hand, is a depth of experience, as every decision is made in the present moment.  I attempt to bring both to my music, a musical hybrid.

When I first started putting together Retreat, I was thinking of the title as more of a spiritual retreat.  The first track, Enlightened Moment, fits this mold rather well.  (Watch Video)  However, as I got further into the album, the title came to mean more of a personal retreat.  With Romance, it becomes a retreat for lovers.  I’m not sure what type of work I was thinking about for Work Song, it must have been more mental because it doesn’t seem to be very physical.  With Mourning Music, the character of the album changes as this is definitely music that accompanies personal tragedy.  This event then overshadows the rest of the album.  Heebies and Jeebies deals with the uncertainty that follows such an event.  Finding Our Way is an attempt to come to grips with the situation.  Silk and Incense is an another attempt at healing.  With Morning Music the couple begins to start anew on a new and different life. 

Retreat was recorded and edited at my home in Phoenix, Arizona.


An album examining impermanence and the process of healing

RecoveryThis album is about healing, it’s not intended to be able to heal. Music can be soothing, and many aspects of music can be therapeutic. I participated in a music therapy project a couple of years ago with Alzheimer’s patients, and learned first hand the kinds of effects music can bring to those suffering and struggling to maintain their basic humanity. But that is a different subject and not what this album is about.

By comparison, my musical intention is more mundane. It deals with everyday recovery from everyday loss by everyday people. Impermanence is a fact, but it is the fuel upon which life (and nonlife) sustains itself and moves on. Being attuned to the impermanence of beauty, happiness, and peace is a gift, and it teaches valuable lessons for dealing with ugliness, sorrow, and conflict.

  1. Song of Longing. Loss is difficult; it always leaves a hole that takes time to fill. Though it brings emptiness, it also brings a flood of memories that are often beautiful. Loss does not bring happiness, but the sorrow it brings is the result of happiness.
  2. 3am, Wide Awake. Recovery can make sleep difficult, even frightening. When I am awake in the middle of the night, it is more often from anticipation than reflection. But this is not the case with everyone, and for some, sleep brings no peace. That doesn’t mean they don’t get tired.
  3. Underwater. Recovering often seems like you can’t breathe.
  4. Death of a Bumblebee. (Apologies to Rimsky-Korsakov.) Living in the desert, most of my homes have had either a pool or, in one case, a fishpond. Bees come to the water for moisture, and sometimes they end up going for a swim. Not a good idea. I save them if I can.
  5. Just Not The Same. A friend told me this once after a terrifying event with one of their children. What we miss was sometimes not there to begin with. That doesn’t make it any easier.
  6. Just Suppose. Guilt.
  7. Sleeping Dragon. Sometimes the best we can do for a while is to put the dragon to sleep. We tiptoe around and try not to wake him up. Woe to those who wake him up for you.
  8. Sleeping Princess. Where there is a sleeping dragon, there is also usually a sleeping princess. We may try to ignore everything for a while, but closing up to sorrow and ugliness is also to ignore happiness and beauty. She can awaken too, and she is not always happy about being ignored.
  9. Confession. More guilt.
  10. Bounce.  The lessons of impermanence are patience and timing. Peaks and valleys are part of everything. On the way down, knowledge offers resilience, and we bounce instead of crash, usually.

The album was recorded at my home in Phoenix AZ in November 2010. It is Album #20 and was released on June 25, 2018 by SMS Recordings SMS021.