Monday, November 19, 2018

"Author, Author" podcast with Ed Goldberg of

Over the years I've had a long relationship with AllClassical radio, a Portland, Oregon station that is broadcast locally and streamed globally.  In addition to providing me with my morning soundtrack, they've been extraordinarily supportive of my performing--both by playing tracks from my CDs occasionally, and featuring me on two of their popular Thursdays@Three live performance programs.

The station's support continued when I wrote my novel, The Waco Variations when announcer and author Ed Goldberg read my book and invited me to be part of his long-running "Author, Author" podcast series.  We met at AllClassical's studio where we discovered that we had shared interests in baseball, writing, and the music of Bach, among other things.  His insightful questions (and my nervous answers!) can be found here:

No artist succeeds without help from others.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to AllClassical for what they do to champion classical music and musicians in a world that says this music is no longer relevant.

Monday, November 12, 2018

An International Review of 'The Waco Variations'

‘The Waco Variations’ – a novel by Rhonda Rizzo

A review by Frances Wilson (aka "The Cross-Eyed Pianist") 

On April 20, 1993, sixteen-year-old Cassie watches her world burn to the ground. A week later—far from Waco, TX and the Branch Davidean fire that claimed her family, friends, savior, and the only life she had ever known—Cassie enters a new life—a strange new ‘normal’ life after being ripped from a cult and forced to function in routine society with little knowledge of how to navigate reality.
Cassie has just two goals: to play the piano and to learn how to be normal. Her love of music, especially the music of J.S Bach, is her only thread to a past she buries under her “normal” façade, the thread that holds her together where therapy and religion fail. But Cassie’s habit of using music to hide from her emotions fails her and she must grieve the truth about losing her family and her world in the Waco fire and begin to let time, and Bach, heal her. And only through Bach’s music can she dare to feel the loss of her parents.
When US authorities raided cult-leader David Khoresh’s compound in February 1993, it led to 10 deaths and a 51-day standoff that ended when a fire killed more than 70 men, women, and children. Those who survived Waco were forced to confront the dark things Khoresh did: narcissistic and abusive, he was deeply controlling yet charismatic and personable.
This well-crafted and sensitively-written novel by American pianist Rhonda Rizzo does not shy away from presenting Khoresh and his cult in unsentimental terms, but rather than offer long descriptions, small disturbing details are slipped into the narrative in the form of flashbacks by Cassie, the protagonist, as she tries to come to terms what has happened to her and her family, and comprehend her parents’ life choices. The complex story of Cassie’s struggle to process the trauma of Waco and resulting PTSD, and the extraordinarily closed world of a religious cult, is told in unsentimental, vividly realistic terms, and Rhonda Rizzo’s own musical background brings an authenticity and authority to the descriptions of the music, including the experience of studying and performing music, the hot house, competitive atmosphere of music college, and the special pleasures (and difficulties) of playing with other musicians.
This is as much a coming-of-age novel as a book about recovery and renewal, and Cassie’s naive, tentative entry into a normal teenage girl’s life of fashion, boys and alcohol is presented in bold, believable terms: her relationships are not always straightforward and her attempts to fit in, despite her unusual background, are familiar to anyone who has felt like an outsider.
In one of those serendipitous encounters which sometimes happen via my blog, the author contacted me out of the blue to ask if I would review her book. I’m so glad I agreed, as I found The Waco Variations a real page-turner, and, ultimately, a wonderful celebration of the restorative powers of music. The novel offers a universal message – that music has the power to touch our souls, to heal and calm, and so much more…..

Friday, November 2, 2018

"Meet the Artist" Interview With Frances Wilson (aka "The Cross-Eyed Pianist)

Full confession:  it took me several months to get my nerve up to contact the author of one of my favorite music blogs, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and ask her if she'd be willing to read and review my novel, The Waco Variations.  Pianist, writer, concert reviewer, blogger, and music lover Frances Wilson's blog is followed by over 8500 people and as such is one of the top-rated classical music sites in the world.  Well, Wilson couldn't have been more gracious.  Thanks to my other favorite piano blog, Piano Addict, she'd already heard of my book and was eager to read it.

Wilson's "Meet the Artist" interview series is a popular element of The Cross-Eyed Pianist.  As my resume is much more less illustrious than many of the pianists she features, I was surprised and thrilled when she asked me to be part of this series.  Her questions and my answers can be found here:

And while you're on her site, peruse her writing, read other interviews, and (especially if you're a pianist), follow the blog.  I have for several years; it never fails to inform and inspire.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Musical Soirée with Widney Moore, Pianist

Long ago, before concert hall and YouTube performances, piano music was presented much the same way that it is in this video:  at home and for friends.  There's an intimacy and communication that more formal performances can't duplicate, and sometimes (as in the case of this performance), you get lucky and the magic is captured on film.

This short performance features Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's Für Alina  and Spiegel im Spiegel, along with two short Debussy selections.  Für Alina, dedicated to a friend's daughter, was written as a consolation for Alina's mother when Alina left home to live in England with her father.  Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in a mirror) was originally written for piano and violin, although it has been arranged for many other instruments as well.  Both pieces reflect Pärt's unique composition style known as "Holy Minimalism" or "Mystic Minimalism," and both require the pianist to settle into stillness, accept the beauty in simplicity, and play the space around the notes more than the notes themselves. When performing them (or listening to them), there's a sense of time both standing still and expanding simultaneously.  I suppose that could be one of the reasons why the music of Pärt is so frequently requested as deathbed music.

The pianist Widney Moore had a long career as a gallery owner and an award-winning textile artist. Later in life, after reading Noah Adams' book Piano Lessons, she decided to learn to play the piano.  Each year she prepares a program to take to Sonata--the Vermont piano camp for adults that Adams made famous in his book--and she plays the pieces for Portland friends before she leaves.  And while she would never describe herself as a professional pianist, she's a true musician who plays with tenderness, beauty, and peace. When she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer last November, we feared she'd not live to play another program.  Yet, miraculously, here she is, playing better than she ever has--playing with the simplicity and clarity and gratitude that only a life well lived can bring to music.

While I watched Widney play this program last month, I was struck by the power of Pärt's and Debussy's music in the hands of a pianist who has lived the depth of every note. This simplicity, this calm acceptance--this is the "holy grail" we all seek in our playing: true purity of heart.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Modal Preludes, Opus 30 by Alexander LaFollett

Did you know that there are 462 heptatonic modes?  I didn't either, until I saw Alexander LaFollett's modal system.  Do you know why you should care that there are 462 hetpatonic modes?  Because Alex writes beautifully constructed pieces in many of these modes and yet somehow each piece is both accessible and foreign at the same time.  I always think of them as communiques from another sound universe.

These three pieces are the first set of Modal Preludes that Alex wrote for the piano.  They're youthful works, composed when Alex was a teenager (he graduated from college at age 16--no, that's not a misprint).  I've had a long relationship with these pieces, both as a performer and a teacher.  They move from a quirky, almost mime-esque first prelude to a stormy second prelude into a raucous third prelude that is anchored by an almost jazz LH rhythm.  All three preludes reflect the capricious energy of youth.

Alexander has written for strings, winds, soloists, small ensembles, and (luckily for me), piano, including more Modal Preludes which will  appear in the blog on a future date.  All this information, along with his bio (and his explanation of his modal system), can be found on his website.  Most importantly, the website is where to order these fantastically fun pieces.

To order:

This casual home performance was filmed by Bob Wall.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Something Close to Tango by Jennifer Griffith

What do you get when a classical pianist/jazz vocalist/composer/lifelong player of Nazareth tangos gets commissioned to write a 1 minute piece for piano?  Something Close to Tango, of course.

In Jennifer's words, "tango for me conjures up music of Ernesto Nazareth whose tangos brasileiros my mother loved and often asked me to play for guests."  Juxtaposing rhythms and styles from Brazilian and Argentine tango, this one-minute gem is like a stolen glimpse into the lives of others--perhaps seen through an open door or spied from the window of a moving train.  We can guess at the story behind the scene, but it always remains tantalizingly mysterious.

I've been lucky to have known Jennifer for decades.  We first met in a piano master class for professional pianists and we bonded over a shared love of music, books, and the world of ideas and beliefs.  Her compositions include operas, choral works, chamber music, orchestral pieces, art songs, and a few piano gems such as this one.  She brings her fierce intellect and passion for beauty to everything she does.

To order this tango (and learn more about Jennifer), visit her website:

This casual home performance was filmed by Bob Wall.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


When I started the No Dead Guys blog a couple of years ago, I thought I was the only blogging pianist with a mission to champion living composers by putting out videos of their music.  Last week, thanks to the wonder of modern networking, I found MOVING CLASSICS TV which does what I've been doing on No Dead Guys, only bigger and better.

A musical internet channel founded by Munich-based musicians and enterpreneurs and run by classical pianist, Anna Sutyagina, this site gives contemporary music a creative face on the Internet.

In their own words, "MOVING CLASSICS TV stands for zeitgeist, creativity and new ideas. We present new music videos and interviews with composers from all over the world every week. It is an invitation for all listeners to make a new image of our present times with contemporary music: discover the beauty of contemporary music, listen to our times and experience what we call „echt zeitgeisty“. For the composers from all over the world MOVING CLASSICS TV is a unique platform to present their music, to get exposure and feedback from listeners and sell the music sheets. We are using Social Media for the promotion of Moving Classics composers."

Several of the videos presented on No Dead Guys have been included on MOVING CLASSICS TV,  and I look forward to many happy hours perusing and listening to the wealth of beautiful piano music featured on this site, especially those recorded by the expressive Anna Sutyagina.  The introspective video I chose for this blog--"For Mattia" by Douwe Eisenga--is a gorgeously-played example of the music featured on MOVING CLASSICS TV.

To visit the site: