• Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: John Bickerton

    Today, I’m having a talk with the composer behind the song Quiet Journey, John Bickerton!

    Where are you from? Where do you live?
    I’m originally from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, but I now live in Brooklyn, New York, USA.  

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6 or 7 years old. My first teachers were nuns – the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The sisters ran a school with a very sophisticated music program – the St. Mary’s Academy in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I didn’t attend school there, but I went there on weekends for piano lessons. I also took music theory classes. Those nuns, some of whom were quite tough, gave me my initial music education. It seemed natural at the time, but I realize now it was extraordinary and unique.

    Tell us about how you started playing music?
    I played piano and went through the beginner’s program, learning scales and technique, eventually leading up to the more manageable classical pieces. I remember I got more serious about music through piano competitions, which the city put on in those days. I performed as a soloist, and these were, you know, just local competitions for the city’s budding musical talent, but I took it all quite seriously. I performed duets with my sister, and I think we did quite well in the piano 4-hands competition for our age group.  

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I started writing music in high school. I wrote songs, Melodies, verse-chorus-verse types of things, but there were no words. They were just piano songs but with nice chord changes. I remember the early songs were all about 7th chords—minor sevenths in progression. And then major seventh chords in a progression. I wrote a lot of songs when I discovered those chords. The pieces started to get attention from the kids I hung out with. The attention I received from some girls who heard the songs added fuel to the musical fire for me.  

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself?
    I remember feeling essentially the same feelings I get now. Writing music presents a series of problems that have to be solved for the piece to feel finished or successful. The initial melody or progression or whatever sparks that first idea to turn the material into a song – that’s the god-given part. Turning that initial idea into a finished work is the hard part, and I remember dealing with that even from the first pieces. You get so far, and then it becomes hard because you have to reach beyond your experience and find the answer that this particular piece of music is asking for.  

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”
    I’d say my favorite pianist of all-time is Glenn Gould. I find his playing other-worldly and just wonderful. I am primarily a jazz pianist however, and my jazz piano influences are Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen, Keith Jarrett, Mulgrew Miller. There are so many.  

    In the new genre of “neoclassical” or “contemporary classical,” I am a big fan of Joep Beving, Olafur Arnalds, Ola Gjeilo. I like the music coming from the nordic countries – the Scandinavian/Icelandic wave, the classical music coming from composers in those nations, a lot of it incredible choral music. I find their music inspiring right now.

    Is there one song that you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
    There is not one song that I play over and over. When I sit at the piano, I am working. I will be working through a jazz standard, trying to find a new way to play it, or frankly, to play it better. So it is practice, it’s work. There are always a series of things I’m trying to improve on. I will segue to my own compositions and work on those. For all the time I spend at the piano, I never know what to play for people when they say, casually, in a social setting, please play something for us. I hate that moment because first of all, to really play hard, like in performance, it’s not a casual thing for me. As a performer, you go full out. Sometimes, that level in an informal social setting is beyond what people are asking for.  

    What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
    I don’t know. I think most rules have been broken already. I studied music formally. I went to university for music composition. I got a masters degree. I don’t evaluate music in terms of what rules were broken. I listen more for craftsmanship. I think you can hear laziness in composition where the composer maybe just let a problem go – so I get excited by skill, whatever the genre or instrumentation, etc.  

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I have done both studio and my own home recording. For my latest piano record, Heartland – that was recorded in a large studio. For a solo piano record, I would tend to find a studio. I have a nice piano at home, but playing on a full concert grand piano is a beautiful experience. I would choose to record that way. Pianists are unique because outside of their home piano, they are always playing an instrument that they have little experience with or control over. I have played truly unplayable pianos on some jazz gigs where keys were broken and the thing is just so beat up that it’s hard to make any type of musical sound. There are great sampled keyboards now and I think taking one of those to a gig is fine and certainly better than playing some broken beast of an upright but I cannot warm up to piano samples. Yes, they sound like a piano but it’s nowhere near the same thing for me. Contrast that to a bass player of saxophone player that plays the same instrument all the time. They know how to get their sound from their instrument and can take it to any job. Pianists have to adjust very quickly and make a piano speak for them.

    What’s your take on sample instruments?
    I like them very much and use them in my composition. I like them more as a way of testing ideas. Hearing what this combination of instruments sounds like with this melodic line or this specific harmony. Samples today are a great way to test orchestration. I know there are a lot of musicians that make their music with samples and I think that’s great, there’s a lot of great music made that way. For me though, at least right now, samples are kind of a tool that guide my more acoustic music.

    I do like a lot of electronic music. It’s funny how that term has changed over the years. When I was a graduate student, I taught a class on electronic music, but it was about the music of electronic pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbit. Today electronic music has a huge range. I was especially attracted to drum’n bass music in the late 90s. I thought that the breakbeat rhythms of drum’n bass and the way the beats were manipulated had a lot of implications for jazz music. It didn’t realize materialize, but I thought there was something new there.

    Anything else you want to share?
    I love the sound of choirs. I have begun writing choral music and have a few pieces now. I find there is something so beautiful about the sound of voices singing together in ensemble. It’s very spiritual and human. I think choral music is the most beautiful sound among all the ways to make music.

    And the question from my six year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?

    I believe musicians, when they are successful, open themselves up or bring down into themselves a higher spirit. They learn to access that spirit within themselves and then transmit that as sound to listeners. I believe that is the job – that is the function of a musician in society. They are there to give voice to a something that is as old as man, that can only be expressed this way – as vibrations or as art or poetry and that something is a feeling of God or whatever word you would choose to use.

    Thank you very much for this John!

    For more information, please check out the following links:
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  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Barry Hudson-Taylor – Connotations

    Today I’m introducing you to the track Connotations by the British composer and piano o player Barry Hudson-Taylor, which I have written about before in this Behind the piano post. Barry writes music for television and movies first hand, but also releases solo work, like this track!

    The track was released as a single on the 9th of November, 2020.

    Tell us something about your track Connotations!
    ‘Connotations’ came into fruition over lockdown after a somewhat turbulent year for myself and those closest to me. This musical vignette was just born out of my emotional experiences these past 12 months. Although this song was born from somewhat sad moments, the main piano melody is somewhat hopeful, intimate and sweet. I couldn’t really tell you exactly what the piece is meant to mean for the listener, but I hope that in by listening, each individual takes their own musical interpretation from it. It’s recorded using the felt pedal and positioning the microphones close to the hammers for an intimate feel.

    Thank you Barry for this wonderful piece of music!

    For more information, please check out these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Maria Grönlund – This Blessed Day

    Today I’m presenting you with the track This Blessed Day by the Swedish composer and piano player Maria Grönlund, which you can read all about in this Behind the piano article. Maria comes from Stockholm and started playing the piano at the age of six.

    The track This Blessed Day was released as a single on the 10th of November, 2020. It is also part of the Christmas EP Angels which came out Today, on the 24th of November, 2020.

    Tell us something about your track This Blessed Day!
    I love this piece and it’s very special to me. It’s actually a Scandinavian Christmas song that was written down in the 1400s (!) and is probably older than that. It was sung in church on Christmas morning, and I find it so fascinating that people have sung it during so many centuries celebrating the joy and peace of Christmas. It gives me a sense of community with the ones that came before us.

    Thank you Maria!

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

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Alex Stolze – Negev

    Today I’m introducing you to the track Negev by the German composer, producer and violinist Alex Stolze. Alex started playing the violin at the age of seven and hasn’t stopped since.

    The track Negev was released as a single on October 16th, 2020, and will also be featured on an album in December.

    Tell us something about your track Negev!
    the track is based on an improvisation on the piano and i love the free timescale, as the tempo moves freely. i plaid every single violin to it and defined a new way of composition for myself that i definetely will continue to develop.
    the title Negev refers to one of my favorite places in the world. a vast desert in southern israel, where i was walking unexpected for two days without food as a teenager in 1995 after we had left tel aviv one night. my experience of the world became a significant different from that moment.while listening to the wind and inner voices only, i started to realise that we all live together on one planet under one sun with one force that supports us , may you call it nature or g’d or simply echad (the one) .

    Thank you very much Alex for this tune!

    For more information, please check out any of these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: William Ogmundson – Infinity Loop I

    Today I’m introducing you to the track Infinity Loop I by the American composer and piano player William Ogmundson. William started playing the piano at the age of three, and started taking lessons at five. I’ve been in constant contact with him since the start of this blog, and he is indeed one of the most productive piano artists out there!

    The track Infinity Loop I was released as a single.

    Tell us something about your track Infinity Loop I!
    Infinity Loop I is actually the second of three Infinity Loops that I wrote (the final installment will be released this Friday).  They are all similar to a “berceuse” in mood, with rolling arpegiations in 3/4 time.  I meant it to be a calming and relaxing piece to nod off to.  Its story is anything but, however.

     Thanks William!

    For more information, please check out these links:
    Website / Spotify

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Juan Manuel Ruiz – Lost in your smile

    Today I’m presenting you with the track Lost in your smile by the Spanish composer and piano player Juan Manuel Ruiz based in Puerto Real. Juan started playing the piano as an adult but once he started, there was no stopping. He has been making his own music for the past five years.

    The track Lost in your smile is taken from the album Cutouts which was released on the 18th of October, 2020.

    Tell us something about your track Lost in your smile!
    The songs of “Cutouts” were composed throughout 2019 but it were unfinished and it was during the confinement by COVID in Spain, when I finished them that I started recording them. This track, “Lost in your smile” refers to my wife who has the most wonderful smile in the world.

    Thank your for the music Juan!

    For more information, please check out the following links:
    Facebook / Website / Spotify

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Jacco Wynia – La danse

    Today I’m presenting you with the latest track by the dutch composer and piano player Jacco Wynia based in Den Bosch. You can read all about Jacco in this Behind the piano post!

    The track La danse was released as a single on the 23rd of October, 2020.

    Tell us something about your track La danse!
    La Danse is a composition that came to life in the idyllic streets of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NL). Composer Jacco tells about the background:  ‘’While I was playing in the street, a passerby girl was dancing to my live music. Her movement encouraged me to interact with her dancing in the music I improvised. I had lots of fun, and the girl too. We were both just playing around. The situation had a charming atmosphere, and I wanted to share that feeling with more people.

    That start inspired us to make a music video, where a lady walking in the street hears music and dreams away on her (possible) history as a dancer. Because of these dreams, she feels that she can be a dancer right there at that moment. This way, she is dancing and dreaming at the same time.

    With this song, I wish to inspire people to dream and to dance. The song already had me dancing quite some times, so I guess it can also spark other people to start dancing.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Jacco!

    For more information, please check out these links:
    Facebook / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Mjorn

    A while back I introduced you to the track Golden milk by the composer Mjorn, and today it’s time for Mjorn to take over Behind the piano! Let’s get to know it all!

    What’s your real name?
    Miron Nabokov (no relation to the famous writer)

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    It was a game of rearranging sound to create something close enough to my own name and nature, but also with enough room to claim it’s not exactly myself for creative freedom.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am originally from a small village in Chelyabinsk, central Russia, but currently live in the Hague, the Netherlands. Drawing inspiration from both locations, naturally.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started learning the piano when I was 6, but never became a decent player, so I see myself more as a composer and a producer rather than a performer. I also know my way around a guitar but can’t do anything spectacular with it.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    I used to have a love-hate relationship with the piano. I started playing it in primary music school, when I was 6. I hated the formal education and would have left the school if my parents hadn’t insisted. Only closer to the end of that education did I start to truly appreciate music and the range of expression piano allowed. Since then, I was taking small steps towards making music, but it took me quite a while, almost 10 years since graduation.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    For a year now, I’d say. With all the electronic possibilities, it’s the piano that I start composing with, and often end up with the piano in the centre of any new piece.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    That was quite a struggle altogether. For years I thought that I can’t go further because of the lack of proper equipment, software, playing skills or theory, but slowly continued to work towards creating my own music. Eventually I accumulated enough knowledge to produce something I was happy with, and since then I couldn’t find joy in doing anything else.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Not strictly piano genre, but I can’t get enough of Brambles, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. They are the main parts of my artistic compass.

    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 always have a certain earworm my hands would automatically play whenever I touch the keys. Normally it’s a piece I would be working on that time, and it has been a while since I played somebody else’s music.

    What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
    It’s more of a production unspoken rule of being in the studio 24/7 and dedicating all your time to your own material. Get outside, record in the field, talk to people, go to parties, listen to other people’s music. Never limit your sources of inspiration.

    How do you record your music?
    I still have no funds to afford recording in a studio, and for now all of my chips are on music-making, so everything I do I do myself.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    They are the great equalizers in the sense that you can do everything by yourself in your room now. Making music has never been so democratic, and I personally would rather use a high-quality sample library than go through pains and trials of recording an acoustic instrument.

    The last question is asked by my 6 -year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    They are coming from all the love and excitement I feel for the world and the people dear to me. The sounds are produced by tiny people hitting strings with tiny hammers, of course.

    Thank you very much for this Miron!

    For more information, please check out the following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Spotify

  • Spotted!

    Spotted: Patient Hands – Moment ii

    Today I’m introducing you to the track Moment ii by the Canadian composer Alexander living in Saskatchewan. Alexander started playing music about ten years ago when I taught himself to play the guitar. After that he got into home recording and learning DAWs. He also earned a degree in philosophy and electroacoustic studies from Concordia University, Montréal. 

    The track Moment ii is taken from an album There Are No Graves Here which was released on the 18th of November.

    Tell us something about the track Moment ii!
    Moment ii is the sister track of its neighbour on the album – Moment i – both composed for piano and field recordings. Moment ii features 6 layers taken from the same improvised piano recording, performed by my friend and former classmate, Craig Horan. The sense of rhythm pushes and pulls as the differing parts trade dominance and compete with the natural rhythm of the two field recordings – the first of an escalator, the second of the pages of a book being turned. The brevity of the track and lack of clear structure typify the aphoristic style I develop across the rest of There Are No Graves Here. I struggled for a long time with this track to get the piano parts to sit right with each other, but in hindsight I wish I had squeezed out more time, as the song develops just slightly too fast!

    Thank you Alexander for this!

    For more information, please check out the following:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify

  • Stories

    Spotted: Mason Stephenson – La Forêt

    Today I’m introducing you to the track La Forêt by the British composer and piano artist Mason Stephenson, based in Manchester. Mason has played the piano since the age of 13 and is for the most part self tough. he started writing his own tunes about two years ago.

    The track La Forêt was released as a single on the 23rd of October, 2020.

    Tell us something about your track La Forêt!
    “La Forêt” is all about growing into who you really are and to find yourself since this is what happened to me the moment I decided what I really want to do which is write music. I find myself really interested in melancholic music as I find a certain peace when listened to that style and I hope to achieve that feeling with my own songs. 

    Thank you for this Mason!

    For more information, please check out the following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify