My return to China

Ellie Lin at the Piano
My son, Max was a member of the Texas Boys choir for five years. His time with the TBC unlocked a world of musical artistry that very few people may ever know. I am deeply indebted to his directors, Mr. Bryan Priddy and Ms. Ellie Lin for teaching him to strive for an extremely high level of musicianship. Along the way he also learned a great deal about being a part of a community of musicians. These years are more precious to him than almost any other experience and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. It has shaped him into who he is.

On a couple of occasions during his time with the TBC, I was able to come and play piano for the ensemble which offered me a front row seat to observe how this very special ensemble operates. This also allowed me to become very close to both Mr. Priddy and Ms. Lin.

Max and his friends on a break.
A year ago, when his voice began to change, his time with the TBC concluded with an amazing tour to Germany. It is a huge understatement to say that this ending and transition into a different singing ensemble was an emotionally difficult one for the entire family. When Max aged out it also seemed that my time with the TBC had also come to a close.

Max and I were very sad to hear of Mr. Priddy’s resignation shortly after spring break this year. His hard work and dedication to the TBC provided countless memories for Max and his departure would surely be a huge blow to the boys.  Ellie stepped in to fill his shoes in the directors position which left the seat at the piano vacant for their upcoming month long tour to 16 venues in China.

When Ms. Lin contacted me and asked if I’d be available to join her, it was incredibly bittersweet for me. Of course the opportunity to tour China with a world class ensemble and with a musician of her caliber was a once in a lifetime chance and a huge honor for me. However, to go without Max is heartbreaking to say the least. However, Max was incredibly supportive as was my wife, Mary.  They encouraged me to say yes and find a way to make this happen. 

Although my duties as a high school choir director are minimal in July, I still have 4 services to sing and play for at First United Methodist church each Sunday as well as a summer musical to music direct at Brookhaven College in Dallas. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sneak away from these commitments, but both institutions were overwhelmingly supportive in my seizing this opportunity to travel. Peggy Graff and Robert Stovall at the church were able to find pianists to cover for me there and wished me well on my journey. As for the summer musical – I was lucky enough to have a great friend and musical soulmate willing to take on the enormous task of playing and musical directing the show for me. I told director, Darise Error that my friend Debbie Pesnell and I share a musical brain and I truly believe she would do an amazing job picking up where I left off. It was a true act of faith and good will on her part to allow me to make this arrangement.

With all these loose ends tied up, I was finally able to say yes and sign on for this unforgettable opportunity to perform all over China.

I am incredibly excited and can not wait to see what unfolds.

Musical Elision

On March 6th, conductor Hans Grim and sixty plus talented friends and family will present choral works of Whitacre, Lauridsen, Elgar and more. The concert will also feature a jazz combo and solo piano performing works by Adam Guettel, William Joel and David Yazbek.

The concert will take place at 7:30 in Texas Wesleyan University’s Martin Hall at 1309 Wesleyan Street, Fort Worth, TX

The forty-six voice chorus has been rehearsing since October and will be presenting these eight gorgeous choral works:

Water Night – Eric Whitacre

“False Love” from Edward Elgar’s Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands

O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen

Ave verum corpus by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Give Me Jesus the Fleming arrangement

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled by Bob Burroughs

Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal, Shaw/Parker Arrangement

and premiering an arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird for Chorus and Timpani

Some of the choir's Headshots

An all-star jazz combo will feature an original tune by Cal Lewiston called “A Daisey for Annie” as well as some musical theatre songs by Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown and David Yazbek.

This will be a very special evening of wonderful music in a wide variety of styles. Please consider joining the fun at this free event.

RSVP – to see who’s coming at the facebook event page.

Welcome Home

It’s been a very busy summer and my son Max had just arrived back in town from camp with his cousins. My mom brought him to church in the middle of the service and he came down front to where I was at the piano. He gave me a big hug and I invited him to play a duet with me at the piano for the offertory music. I gave him an ostinato fifth to play on the upper half of the keyboard whilst I improvised underneath. The resulting audio below captures the feelings I had seeing my boy after several days of missing him.

Welcome home, Son.

Max on our annual end of school camping trip.

A Guide to Preparing Music for an Accompanist

Here are some quick tips on how I like to have music presented to me for work or performance.  There are several ways to prepare your music, but this is what I find most helpful to a good rehearsal and performance.

  • Double sided with page numbers in the proper corners (publishers often spread out the measures in such a way that page turns are not awkward – photocopying music and messing up this left-page right-page rhythm can throw serious curve balls at your pianist.  Just make sure your page numbers are in the outside corners of the pages when they are in a notebook)
  • 3 hole-punched NOT in plastic sleeves.  Plastic sleeves are really awesome.  They are slick, protect your music and also allow for last minute re-pagination.  However… Since the point of a rehearsal is to coordinate between accompanist and singer – you want to remove obstacles to that process.   Plastic sleeves make it difficult to make markings on the music.  A good accompanist should know when you take your breaths, how many times a repeat happens, where you slow down and speed up, where its loud and soft, etc.  Now maybe he has an amazing memory – but I do not.  So I mark everything important on the music. However, in rehearsals – time is money – and to make one mark takes about 20 seconds if the music is in a sleeve as apposed to about 3 otherwise.  This time adds up and also has the effect of discouraging customization.
  • Make sure all of the music is on the page.  Everything is important, including those little chord symbols on the top. (I know this sounds funny, but publishers make their music books a little bigger than an 8 1/2 x 11 page – so when you photocopy your music – try reducing the zoom down to about 94% to make sure you get it all.)
  • Lyrics – if you are singing a different lyric from what is on your music – scribble the correct lyric in.  It gets really hard to follow someone if they are singing lyrics that don’t appear on the music.
  • Tempo Marking – This can be as simple as “FAST” or “SLOW” or as specific as “quarter note = 120”  Here is a website that will allow you to tap a tempo in and readout what tempo you are tapping. I always have a metronome with me (iPhone app)
  • Transpositions – Having a song in your key is a very helpful thing – however if it hasn’t been transposed by a pianist (not a computer) it may cause more problems than it solves.  Musicnotes.com is an excellent source for music and often offers several transposition options.  If you can’t find a suitable version already in print – David at inyourkey.biz does an incredible job at a fraction of what I would charge for my time.  Other sites including most in-store services just butcher the transposition – often spitting out almost unreadable music laden with confusing enharmonics and excessive ledger lines.  Finale and Sibelius are two software packages that do an excellent job of transposing, but don’t automatically take into account questions of register and clef and if you misidentify a key signature as major instead of the relative minor the enharmonics are atrocious.  Just keep in mind transposing a piece is not always as easy as a couple of keystrokes.   If you see more than three ledger lines on a transposed piece – things are probably less than ideal.
  • Feel free to mark anything you think the pianist might need to observe.  Highlight dynamics (if you actually observe them) but don’t over do it.  A really important repeat with yellow highlighter can be very helpful.
  • I would also suggest writing your name at the top of each first page and maybe your phone number/email depending on how well you know your pianist.
  • If this is for an audition put your music in a 1 inch or smaller, hard backed 3 ringer binder (Don’t use a floppy sided binder – they are very slippery!)

This is a rough sketch, but I think it shares some helpful insights in preparing your music.  If you pay attention to these 9 points you’ll definitely be one of my favorites.  There’s just nothing more frustrating than not having a good clean peace of music to work from.  Thanks for checking these suggestions out.

Big Bend Inspired Piano Improv

The Lost Mine Trail - Big Bend National Park

The Sunday after my trip to Big Bend – I was playing in church (as I do every Sunday) and I had to improvise something to cover the time for communion.  This is a recording of that improvisation.

I’m not saying the whole 6 minutes is riveting – it’s not, but there are parts of it I actually like a lot.  It is always amazing to me how much more free my creativity is when I return from a trip.

[mp3-jplayer play=”true” dload=”true” pos=”rel-L”]

Starting a Private Studio

Beginning in January 2011 – I will open a private piano studio in my home. I have been a professional pianist for 20 years and bring a wealth of experience to my teaching.  (Read my Bio)

I like to tailor lessons to each student and find a teaching method that grabs their attention. This past year I taught an overflowing piano studio at All Saints’ Episcopal School and I have decided to go ahead and offer lessons to the Aledo community from my home.  I also teach a couple of students in the Ridglea area on Wednesdays and am looking to add a couple more.

Lessons are Mondays $25/half-hour payable by the month with a recital each quarter or at your home in the Ridglea area $30/half-hour payable by the month.

If you are interested in more information, please fill out the comment form below or call 903-484-4267 and I will visit with you about the possibility of teaching you or your son or daughter how to play the piano.