Behind the piano: Maria Grönlund

Behind the piano: Maria Grönlund

A couple of months back I wrote a little something about Maria Grönlunds (then new) single June and Me, and now it’s time to get to know Maria a little better!

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I am a Swedish pianist and composer, born on the island Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Nowadays I live in Stockholm.

How long have you been playing the piano?
We inherited a black and shiny upright piano from my grandfather when I was about to turn six. My mother had always dreamed of learning how to play but hadn’t had the chance to do that when she was a child. She found us a piano teacher and we started taking lessons at the same time, having a lot of fun playing four handed pieces together. She of course learned much quicker than me in the beginning, but there was a little competition between us (at least from my side) that spurred me to work harder, and I will never forget the feeling when I passed her in piano skills!

Tell us about how you started playing music.
Going to music lessons after the ordinary school was a big part of my childhood and young years. I just loved being in the world of music, everything about it. The sounds in the hallway from different instruments being practiced behind closed doors, the smell inside of an instrument case, the fascinating secret symbols and signs in the sheet music that tells you how melodies go even if it’s two hundred years ago that they were made up…

Do you play other instruments as well? 
I sing a lot, and sometimes I make compositions entirely out of my voice, singing harmonies and treating them with different kinds of sound design. Other than that I play the guitar, the accordion, a bit on flutes, and as a part of my education I have studied some drums, bass, recorders, harpsichord, trumpet and bassoon.

And sound design is fun, you can make music out of almost any kind of sound in a computer.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
Coming from a classical background, starting out as a very sheet music based musician, and also never having known anybody who made their own music it didn’t cross my mind that I could possibly make up music on my own. When I was at the Royal College of Music the composers education was something you might be able to enter after four years of education, if you’d pass the hard tests. I never even thought about it, I had my hands full with all the wonderful things that were offered to me to learn – playing different kinds of instruments, writing arrangements, learning the ins and outs of ear training and music theory, music history, singing and playing together and all the different styles of music. I have a very inquiring mind and loved every minute.

After the education I started to teach Upper Secondary students in music. I was amazed about their disrespect to what I (subconsciously) had learned about who was allowed to make up music. As soon as they had learned three chords on the guitar they wrote their own songs and saw themselves as the worlds greatest songwriters. And their eyes glowed with pride in a way I never saw in any other kind of school activities. It was like they discovered they actually had beautiful souls – how else could they have created something so good?

They gave me my life’s most important music lesson and inspired me to start expressing myself.

How long have you been making piano music?
In my chamber – for a long time. But I guess I never really took it seriously and never had the urge to become an artist, so I mostly kept it to myself. I guess shyness played a part in it too. 

I just started going out publicly with it, realizing music is to be shared. Someone might need to hear it. I get thrilled when people tell me they discovered it and that listening to it makes their lives a little bit easier for a moment.

I have composed and released other kinds of music in collaboration with others before though, mostly under the name Sounds like Friday, and I also make and record string arrangements for other artists.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I love the work of Ólafur Arnalds, Poppy Ackroyd, Analogue Dear and even though they are not pianists I also get very inspired by Zoe Keating and Imogen Heap. The album I’m working on will be piano centered, but also have some guest musicians and some electronica on it.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
I constantly ”doodle” – whether it is by unawarely singing or whistling to myself or by improvising on the piano. So it’s mostly different stuff, always mood based. But one piece I often come back to is Arabesque nr 1 by Claude Debussy. I have it in my fingers, and I just love his elegant winding Art Nouveau melodies and rich harmonies.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
The rule of the need to impress and be ’very good’, ’trendy’ or ’up to par’, and to play after someone else’s rules. Music is about communication, of speaking in this invaluable non-word language about all the secret wisdom about our lives and beings that we don’t consciously understand. It is about expressing what it is to be a human, and about sharing joy and hope and a sense of community.

Anything else you want to share? 
I am releasing solo piano singles with about a month between them during the spring, and will release my solo debut album Songs of a Sad Sailor after the summer. I also pop up solo piano covers of songs I like on my social medias every now and then.

The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 
This is by far the best question of them all. I actually have written a whole song about it, after having listened to Ingmar Bergman’s radio ”Summer talk”, where he asked the same question.

It comes from the shining stars
from open air over the oceans
It comes from the rolling meadows
and flight of the birds towards free skies

It comes from the place of rest
from peace in the light of fires
From glimmering eyes in dark nights
and deep rolling belly-warm laughters

And the music lights up your heart’s deepest corner
plays on your hidden strings
Of the secrets beyond the words and the reasons
is what the music sings

It comes from the memories
from those you forgot that you have
It’s speaking of all that you know
and such you didn’t think there is

It comes from the arms and laps
consoling and stroking your cheek
It’s telling that joy is still here
it’s telling that love does exist

And the music lights up your heart’s deepest corner
plays on your hidden strings
Of the secrets beyond the words and the reasons
is what the music sings”

Wow. Thank you!

I will definitely read these lyrics to him and get back to you. The might be a small language barrier however, since he is five years old and only speaks Swedish. But I’ll try 🙂

Please check out these links for more information about Maria and her music
Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Website / Spotify