Sunday, December 3, 2017

Nasty Habit by Jason Heald

There are few composers who bridge musical genres as well as Jason Heald.  He writes just as well for musical theatre as he does for chamber music.  He writes choral music.  He writes cabaret.  In addition, he runs a music department, takes students on tours, performs, conducts...I don’t know when or if he sleeps.

Jason also allowed me to record one of my CD’s, A Spin On It, at Umpque Community College where he teaches.  In addition to pieces by Joel Pierson, Dana Libonati, and Dave Deason, I recorded Jason’s Suite for Guitar and Piano.  At the end of a very long afternoon, I knocked out this cabaret song because, after all, what better way to channel my inner Diana Krall?

Nasty Habit.  Get it here:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Autumn Hues by Dave Deason

Fall is my favorite season, and few pieces capture the visual beauty of turning leaves like Dave Deason’s Autumn Hues.  This lovely piano solo is part of Dave’s Oregon Impressions CD, and reflects his admiration for the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The long melodic lines of this composition require a fluid sense of time, while the left hand is the conductor that keeps the piece from devolving into sentimentality.  The beauty of the melody is balanced by an underlying sense of pathos and the inevitable passage of time.

To order a copy of this music, contact Dave at:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

In Time’s Unfolding by Chester Biscardi

In Time’s Unfolding, by Chester Biscardi, is a piece I never could have played when I was young.  I lacked the seasoning of years lived, loves, and losses that this gorgeous music portrays so poetically.   Only now, in my more mature years, can I glimpse a patience and optimism that comes from knowing that life is fatal, but not tragic—a sentiment I feel best describes my understanding of In Time’s Unfolding.

In Chester’s words, “In Time’s reflective—of the past, of one’s self—and celebrates the moment...Time unfolds over a musical landscape that is at once poignant and painful, lonely, celebratory, and heroic.  The title comes from the seventh section of Galway Kinnell’s eleven-part poem, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone.”

Biscardi’s performance notes encourage the pianist to take a flexible interpretation of the tempi—a suggestion I embraced whole-heartedly.  This video was shot by my friend, Bob Wall, in my home.  

To order a copy of this piece, visit Chester’s website:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Etude # 7: "I flew as in a dream..." by Scott Pender

This beautiful etude--the final of Scott Pender's collection--is a lush, sweeping, utterly romantic and soaring piece.  It's also technically challenging, which is why I worked harder on this one than any of Scott's other Etudes.  It's difficult, but it needs to sound as effortless as breathing.

In his performance notes, Scott writes that the title is a line from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. "I feel it captures the spirit of this etude," Scott writes, "perhaps my favorite of the set. The romantic middle section elaborates on the lyrical theme first heard in the fourth Etude.  I feel strong echoes of Chopin and Rachmaninov in this concluding piece."

As one raised on Romantic piano music and Victorian novels, this Etude has become one of my favorites as well.

To order the music:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Etude # 4: The Devil's Escalator by Scott Pender

Big leaps, thorny rhythms, breakneck speeds and huge dynamics--yup, everything you'd expect Satan's escalator to be.  It's also one of those pieces that offers ample room for theatrics and a few non-scripted tempo changes because, if it's devilish, you can't just follow all the rules...

According to Scott's notes, the title is an homage to Ligeti's fiendishly difficult etude, "The Devil's Staircase."  And, he suggests, "wouldn't it be just a little easier to have an escalator, even if it occasionally starts and stops, reverses, or collapses like in the cartoons?"

This performance was an informal one, filmed by my friend Bob Wall, in my home.  I've also performed it in concert; it brought the house down.

To order a copy, visit Scott's website:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Still by Dana Libonati

I met Dana Libonati when we both worked in the music department at Linfield College.  Dana taught vocal jazz.  I taught classical piano.  Very shortly after being introduced, we were friends and Dana was giving me jazz piano lessons.  Despite my strict classical "handicap," he helped me learn how to improvise and swing.  More importantly, the friendship we forged has lasted through years of working together (at Linfield, at Young Musician's and Artist's camp, and on joint projects), a divorce and remarriage on my part, a severe illness and recovery on his.  Dana's the brother I never had.

He's also writes some great stuff, mostly vocal jazz composition and arranging, but every so often he writes a piano solo piece.  This is one he wrote one summer while we worked together at camp.  He titled it Summer Camp and has recorded it under that title.  Well, I like my title, Still, better and he was gracious enough to allow me to record and release it as such. I've played and recorded quite a few of Dana's solo piano pieces and this one has always been my favorite.  It's an audience favorite as well, and has long been one of my "go-to" encore pieces (even at the end of traditional classical concerts).

To get a copy of the score, email Dana at

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Reminiscence (for Elvira) by Dave Deason

This beautiful piano solo, written by Dave Deason, is one of my favorites and has been in my repertoire for over a decade.  I've performed it, recorded it, and taught it.  It's elegant, intelligent, spacious, and touching.  My most effective performances of this piece have come when I'm willing to play it introspectively, with lots of respect for the space between the notes.

Dave let me title this piece, but not without joking that he'd first have to figure out how to spell it.  I was in the middle of learning Reminiscence when my beloved Grandma Rizzo died.  Elvira Rizzo was a 4'11" ball of Italian energy, and in addition to being a wonderful grandmother to me, was a true soul friend.  Reminiscence became part of my healing.  When I told Dave about this, he immediately pronounced that the name of the piece would be Reminiscence (for Elvira).

To order your own copy of this lovely piece, contact Dave here:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Etudes, No. 2 and No. 3 by Scott Pender

Scott Pender's Etudes are an on-going project for me--these beautiful pieces are the two latest that I learned and recorded.  They're both one-take recordings (no edits) due to Scott's expert use of the pedal and the fact that there are no rests in either piece.

Scott describes Etude No. 2, "Counterfeits of the Past" as having echoes of Chopin and Scriabin, "sounding slightly out of place, old and new at the same time."  The title comes from a quote by Victor Hugo: "The counterfeits of the past take assumed names, and are fond of calling themselves the future.

Etude No. 3 is an expansive, touching homage (in the form of variations) to the great American composer Lou Harrison.

You can order sheet music of Scott's Etudes here:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suite for Guitar and Piano by Jason Heald

I met composer Jason Heald because I was looking for a gig.  I landed the gig, and got much more than a concert date.  In addition to becoming one of my friends, Jason is a prolific and talented composer.  He writes musicals  He writes choral pieces.  He writes cabaret. He writes instrumental pieces. Jason does all this while maintaining a full-time job as as academic.  I don't know when (if?) he sleeps.

Several years ago, Jason wrote a five-movement suite for guitar and piano for my friend, classical guitarist Pamela Goldsmith, and me.  We've performed it many times, and several years ago recorded it.  The entire suite is lovely, but these two movements are my favorites.

There aren't enough pieces written for guitar and piano.  It's a tough combination.  Jason's suite is idiomatic for both instruments, and he has found a way to balance the two elegantly. He does all this while writing approachable, audience-friendly music.

To get a copy of this music, visit Jason's website:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gazebo Dances by John Corigliano

OK, this is for all you lovers of 4-hand piano music: the Tarantella from John Corigliano's Gazebo Dances.  It's the last movement of this suite, and it's a musical thrill ride for performers and audience alike.

My duet partner, Molly Wheeler, and I recorded this suite (along with Piazzolla tangos, and Barber's Souvenirs) several years ago on our album, "2 to Tango: Music for Piano Duet."  This Tarantella is one of the pieces we end up closing concerts with--even when we don't program the entire suite.

For those new to John Corigliano, he is an American composer who writes for a myriad of instruments, but is best known for writing the score to the movie The Red Violin. His compositions have won him the Pulitzer Prize, five Grammy Awards, Grawemery Award for Music Composition, and an Oscar.  Not too shabby for a composer who composes smart music with a great tune and a beat.

To order this piece (and to peruse his other works):

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Incitation to Desire by Chester Biscardi

This one had me at the title.  And once I heard Yvar Mikhashoff's recording of it, I special ordered the sheet music, determined to learn it as soon as possible.  Sadly, "as soon as possible" proved to be over a decade later, but it eventually found its way into my repertoire and I've performed it several times, most recently this concert recording.

Incitation to Desire should be played almost as an improvisation--just the same way that the Argentinian tango is danced.  It's the pianist and the piano and the interplay of notes--sensuous, slinky, unapologetic.  Chester Biscardi, the composer, asks for a flexible interpretation of dynamics and tempi.  In layman's terms, this piece needs to be played from the senses, not the brain; instinct, not reason.

Chet and I had a brief email exchange shortly after I first posted this video to another website.  He wrote to thank me for my performance of the piece--a gracious gesture from a composer who has had his music played and recorded by fine musicians all over the globe.  My next Biscardi project? Learn his In Time's Unfolding. 

To purchase Chester Biscardi's music (and to learn more about him), visit his website:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Etudes, No. 1 and No. 6 by Scott Pender

I've known composer Scott Pender for over twenty years, but we've never met.  I first heard one of his pieces, "Ms. Jackson Dances for the People," on a fantastic compilation CD of piano tangos entitled Incitation to Desire.  At that time, "Ms. Jackson" wasn't published, so I wrote to Scott and asked him if he'd sell me a copy.  He obliged, and since then, I've played almost everything he's written for the piano, including the world premier of his Three Impromptus in 2015, on a live radio concert on  During that performance, I was given the chance to interview Scott on-air, over the phone.  It was the first time we ever spoke to each other.

Scott writes music that contains elements of minimalism, romanticism, and thorny, modern rhythms.  He has a gift for melody.  Over the past few years, I've been adding his Etudes to my repertoire.  These two are the first ones I learned; the rest will show up in future blogs.

Both of these pieces were recorded in concert, and both were well received by a largely non-classical audience.  Etude No. 6, "North Train", was a particular favorite.  Scott's pieces appeal to trained musicians because it is sophisticated and well-crafted; they appeal to the average listener because they contain great tunes and funky beats.

To order copies:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Circle-Maker by Joel Pierson

In 2009, I had the life-changing opportunity to work for 4 months as a piano instructor on a world cruise.  In addition to seeing Fiji and Russia during the same trip, meeting friends who are still part of my life today, and having more fun than should be legal, I discovered a composer who writes the sort of music I love to play.

Joel Pierson was the ship orchestra's pianist and in that capacity performed everything from classical to show tunes to pop, to jazz .  His compositions reflect his eclectic influences.  Case in point: Joel currently lives in New York City, where he's formed a group that performs his jazz arrangements of (wait for it) cartoon music.  Check them out at

I've performed quite a few of Joel's pieces, but The Circle Maker is my favorite. This video is one I put together shortly after I recorded and released A Spin on It.  The glaciers?  Shots I took from the deck of the ship when we were in Glacier Bay, AK.

To listen to more of Joel's music, or to order copies:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Oregon Impressions by Dave Deason

When composer Dave Deason first contacted me, years ago, about recording a CD of his piano music, I was both flattered and confused—flattered that he considered me a good “voice” for his music and confused as to what he heard in my playing that caused him to choose me.  Within a few months of working together it became apparent that we not only shared a love for music that borrows from many different styles, but we also have the same wicked sense of humor.
Dave’s CD project became my second CD, Oregon Impressions: Solo Piano Music of Dave Deason.  Since then, I’ve gone on to learn (and record) many more pieces by this remarkable composer whose music has been performed all over the country—including Carnegie Hall.  Each time I return to one of his compositions, I’m struck by how compact, well-crafted, and lyrical they are.
Dave and I are both “transplants” to Oregon, but I feel he does an excellent job capturing the beauty of this state in his pieces.  Perhaps it’s only now, as I apply for a long-term visa in Ireland and prepare to move away from Oregon, that I can appreciate the poignancy in Dave’s music.
To order sheet music:
To order CD:

Gustav Le Gray by Caroline Shaw

Composer Caroline Shaw describes Gustav Le Gray as “a multi-layered portrait of [Chopin’s] Op. 17 #4 using some of Chopin’s ingredients overlaid and hinged together with my own.”  To me, Gustav Le Gray feels like time travel.  We leave the present, return to the elegant world of Chopin, and then come back to the present, only to find it is now weighted by our encounter with the past.
This recording of Gustav Le Gray is a live, one-take, performance of the piece, recorded in my dear friend Dana Libonati's home on his beautiful 9-foot concert grand.  It has all the immediacy of a live performance, including a few smudged notes, a squeaking piano bench, and (if you listen closely), the sounds of Dana’s dogs scratching on the hardwood floors in the next room. It also has the warmth I felt when playing a piece I love for a friend I love, on a cold, foggy, end-of-December day.
Gustav Le Gray caught my imagination first time I heard it on Shaw’s website and I immediately purchased a copy of it.  Currently, this is the only piece she’s written for solo piano. I’m an evangelist for new music and love sharing my finds with other pianists. Perhaps if enough of us buy the piece, she may be encouraged to write another.