A Grand Day

Yamaha C7X E3 Pro

Today was an indescribably grand day, not withstanding my burnt toast breakfast. Weighing 913 pounds and measuring 7’6″, my very own Yamaha grand piano was delivered from Japan and now sits in my formal living room. And it’s practically perfect in every way.

This majestic piano sings with refined grace, and as my hands glide on the keys, the hammers respond to my nuanced expressions and forceful fortissimo. The rich sound diffuses into the room with its vaulted ceiling shared with the kitchen and throughout my multi-level house. As I write this, the piano is actually performing on its own, aided by piano player technology in which I can record my musical stylings or play others’ performances and control its playback via iPhone. And the keys and pedals move, directed by an invisible muse.

Growing up, I took 12 years of piano lessons beginning at the age of six. Our family’s Kawai piano stood upright in the center of the household activity, next to the fish tank and kitchen table. As I practiced in the mornings before school, burnt toast was an often familiar smell…the result of an unattended toaster in the daily race to get dressed, comb hair, eat breakfast and finish farm chores. It happened regularly enough, that burnt toast became my psychological cue to calm my nerves before music performances or public speaking.

“Burnt toast!” I’d pencil atop my sheet music and speech index cards. That and “Sit Down” since in my early years, I sometimes began playing my recital and contest pieces before I was sitting on the bench! So, it seems rather appropriate that my new piano is next to the kitchen in my house, and it will be awesome for entertaining.

In addition to posting photos on my blog, one focus for 2013 will be documenting the creative process of my fourth music album. Since grad school, daily piano playing has taken a backseat to life’s other adventures. In fact, I haven’t composed or arranged any finished music in five years due to lack of time, and hopefully my brain will rain with ideas on this musical drought. Ironic as it may sound, part of that is committing regular time for spontaneous creativity.

At any rate, the house is alive with music once more—burnt toast and all.


Yamaha grand piano C7XYamaha grand piano keys

Bells of the North

Bells of the North
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There’s always a surprise or two every time I walk on Nicollet Avenue. Today was no different. Who knew I’d witness Morris dancers celebrating May Day and the onset of spring—a 500 year-old folk tradition from England that has roots here in Minnesota. With bells strapped to their shins, the Bells of the North enthusiastically sang, danced and clacked sticks along with accordion music to mark the change of the seasons. A pleasant surprise, to be sure. And even more so when I learned my coworker’s mother-in-law is a member of the The Bells, which was founded in 1979!

See a photo gallery from Minnesota Public Radio. See below for a video clip from last year.

Down in Birdland

Dakota Jazz
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I love jazz. Some of my favorite musicians comprise The Manhattan Transfer, a group celebrating its 39th year together. The aural complexity of their vocalese is both pleasing and perplexing in its precision and perfect pitch. I’ve been a fan club member since 1999, following not only singers Tim, Janis, Cheryl and Alan, but also their pianist Yaron and drummer Steve. I own 21 of their albums and multiple solo albums. Yet this was only my third concert, following performances in 2000 and 2004. Tonight, they performed at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. (Margaret Dorn filled in for Cheryl Bentyne who is recovering from a health issue.) And they were awesome.

Manhattan Transfer

Down them stairs, lose them cares – yeah
Down in Birdland
Total swing! bop was king – yeah
Down in Birdland

Church and Steeple

Church Steeple
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There’s a peace I’ve come to know,
Though my heart and flesh may fail,
There’s an anchor for my soul,
I can say, “It is well.” 

My first year in Chicago involved an exhaustive, yearlong 50+ church search before finding my parish home. I was a member at Ascension in Oak Park for three years, where I joined as a cantor to make beautiful music with talented musicians, many of whom were connected to two local Catholic music publishers. I climbed a staircase to the pulpit to lead the psalms in a century-old church. I learned how to sing Gelineau, Taizé and other songs with rich tradition. And while that music is moving, it’s not always the music that moves me.

Last August, I was elated to return to Holy Name’s LifeTeen band I left in 2005 when I moved, and as luck would have it, they needed a piano player. From keys to drums, electric guitar & bass, and four vocals, my friends and I sing contemporary Catholic and Christian music. We groove with tight harmonies and glow with energy that gives me goosebumps and connects with the congregation in sung prayer. And the homilies are both meaningful and memorable.

And I hear the voice of many angels sing, 
“Worthy is the Lamb.” 
And I hear the cry of every longing heart, 
“Worthy is the Lamb.”

There’s an anchor for my soul,
I can say, “It is well.”

Because I am home.

Misty

Saxophone
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I stepped outside this morning into the mild misty air, and with a skip in my step and music in my ears, I transported to 1993. Well, not really. But in my imagination, the downbeat of the drum kit signaled the smooth saxophone solo to cut through the mix of the swinging jazz band. And, I was in seventh grade once again playing Misty. Misty for you.

Listen to a clip:

Pink Elephants on Parade

Orchestra Hall
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Whimsical blue tubes erupt around the exterior of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. These playful, architectural adornments look a lot like sousaphones. And in my imagination, I half expect to hear them making music from one of my favorite childhood movies with the song Pink Elephants on Parade.