On The Rise: Interview with Luigi Carroccia

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

Although he competed and won titles in many prestigious international piano events, this is not what defines Luigi Carroccia, a 25- year-old Italian pianist from Valle Marina.  He brings his own unique style into interpretations of well-known compositions through his multifaceted personality and character.  From his story we can see that an early start isn’t always a prerequisite for a successful career as a pianist.  

PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about your family.
LC: My mother dedicated her time to educating my brothers and me. The most important values for her are family, loyalty and respect – so these are the values I grew up with. My grandfather was very passionate about music. He learnt to play a lot of instruments by himself (clarinet, saxophone, accordion, piano) and later started working on fixing instruments and manufacturing accordions. He passed on his passion to my father who had an academic education in piano, but mainly played, and still does, the accordion. I have two younger brothers. We are very close in age so we grew up together. Both of them studied music, one got his Bachelor’s in Clarinet, but started another career afterwards while my youngest brother will graduate soon in Accordion.

PPM: Where in Italy did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
LC: I grew up in a very small town in the south of Rome called Valle Marina. It is a place with a very small population and only a few stores. It is surrounded by mountains and is very close to the sea. For me as a child it was a wonderful place to spend my days there. There are a lot of vineyards and fields, so I used to take long walks, play soccer or wander in the mountains. The days where never long enough to play outdoors with my friends.

I actually started learning piano very late. I was about 13-14 years old. <…>  I started preparing my admission exam with him and in a shortly discovered I loved the piano much more than the accordion.

PPM: When and under what circumstances did you start learning piano?
LC: I actually started learning piano very late. I was about 13-14 years old.  I grew up in a musical family, but until then I only played the accordion. Later I decided I wanted to enter the Conservatory, and my father thought I would have a broader education if I studied piano.  I started preparing my admission exam with him and in a shortly discovered I loved the piano much more than the accordion.

PPM: What was the first competition you entered and what did it take to compete there?
LC: My first important Competition was the Busoni Competition in 2015.
Today pianists start competing at a very young age while I started when I was already 24. I really didn’t have much expectation because of this, but inside I knew I had my point of view to share. I prepared and practiced a lot before the Competition and when I passed the preliminary audition it was a huge accomplishment for me.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers?
LC: There are things about almost every composer that I really love. So, it is difficult for me to choose. If you ask me, whose compositions I love performing the most though, I would say Schubert (OBM), Chopin (OBM), and Scriabin (OBM).

PPM: Where do you live now and what is your typical day like?
LC: I still live in Valle Marina – my childhood town. I am not a morning person, so I like starting my day calmly with a nice breakfast and some physical exercise to wake up.
When I am not travelling, I spend my days practicing and listening to music. If I have the time, I love cooking and watching movies. I try to go swimming twice a week and when it’s possible, I enjoy playing soccer with my friends.

PPM: What was it like for you to participate in the Fryderyk Chopin Competition? What repertoire did you play?
LC: It was an amazing experience. Of course, there was lot of pressure, but the atmosphere was exciting. You could feel that the Competition is not only a piano competition, but also an important cultural and social event for the entire city. The public was so warm, and I really loved Warsaw.
The rules of the Competition required to play one piece from each genre, so I played some etudes, mazurkas, a waltz, a nocturne, the Polonaise op.53, Polonaise Fantasy, Barcarolle and Preludes op. 28.

PPM: What are your performance plans for the 2018 season?
LC: I am very excited I will be going to China for the first time. I am also very happy I will perform some chamber music, which I played very rarely until now.

The important thing for me is only to live intensely through every performance and give the best I have in that moment.

PPM: What was the performance that you were most proud of?
LC: Each one of my performances is different depending on my mood and inspiration, so I am not able to choose one, they just are very different. The important thing for me is only to live intensely through every performance and give the best I have in that moment.

PPM: What is the most complicated piano piece that you have not played yet, but would like to master?
LC: Right now my goal is to play all of Chopin’s etudes from op.10 and op. 25. I think they are very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally. So, it will be very challenging.

PPM: What are some of your favorite places in the city where you live?
LC: I am very lucky to live near the beach and the mountains.  These are my favorite places to recharge during periods of intense activity.

PPM: What inspires you in life?
LC: It depends on the periods. At the moment, I am reading about  and inspired by the stories of people who managed to overcome their limits or handicaps living great lives and achieving amazing results. However, I can find inspiration in many other ways.  Sometimes, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie, talking to people, visiting new places or even from unexpected experiences.

PPM: Do you compose music?
LC: I don’t compose but in the future I would love to start.

PPM: Can you share any funny stories from your performances?
LC: It was summer and I was playing in a beautiful venue outdoors. In the middle of the performance a cockroach came out of the keyboard and started walking in and out from the keys. I had to finish playing expecting it to come out again every moment. Every time I think about it, I find it very funny.

PPM: Thank you, Luigi! We wish you luck in your future competitions!

 

 

Comparing Notes: Clair De Lune

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune.

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

– Clair De Lune by Paul Verlaine (OBM)

Clair de Lune in D major, the third movement of a larger work known as Suite Bergamasque by the famous pianist and composer of the Era of Impressionism Claude Debussy (OBM), has been captivating the senses of audiences for over a hundred years. Its name comes from Verlaine‘s (OBM) poem Clair de lune, “moonlight” in French.  In this section, we present the seven pianists performing this piece, each through their own interpretation.  Which one appeals to you the most? Please, share your comments and thoughts below.

 

  1. Performance by Seong-Jin Cho (MGBH), a winner of 2015 Chopin Competition:

2. Performance by Kathia Buniatishvili (MGBH):

3. Performance by an American pianist Umi Garrett (MGBH):

4. Performance by an American pianist Simone Dinnerstein (MGBH):

5. Performance by Svyatoslav Richter (OBM):

6. Performance by Vladimir Ashkenazy (MGBH): 

7. Performance by a Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt (MGBH):

 

 

The Piano Crossword

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

Send the answers of this crossword puzzle to: magazine(@)pianoperformers.org
with the subject “Crossword Submission-Spring 2018.”

The names of our first five winners will be announced in the next issue of the Piano Performer Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

Crossover Piano:
Darlene Koldenhoven – The Power to Heal

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

In this issue, we are introducing a new section titled Crossover Piano, dedicated to outstanding individuals who used their piano training to help them achieve success in their careers.
Our first interviewee – Darlene Koldenhoven (MGBH), a Grammy Winning Artist, used her piano skills to help advance her career as a singer, music arranger, and producer.

PPM: Rather than just a pianist, you are known as a crossover artist having accomplishments both in vocal work and piano composition.  When did you affair with the piano start and how did it progress over the years?
DK: I fell in love with the piano at age 7, when the upright arrived in the house. I was not allowed to touch the piano in any way, so I would sit under the piano bench coloring, while my mother attempted to learn beginning piano. One day, early on, I was becoming extremely frustrated with her, because she kept hitting the wrong note. I got up and said, “Mom, you keep playing the wrong note. It’s THIS note!” (E instead of F) and pointed out the correct note. How I knew that, I’ll never know. She looked at my finger, looked at the music, saw it was correct and was shocked! She whisked me off to a wonderful piano teacher, Celia Bosma (OBM), with whom I studied classical technique and music until college. A few years before I moved to LA, I started learning and playing jazz, rock, blues, new age and began the art of improvisation, which led to composition. I’d listen to all the jazz piano greats and would try to play as fast as the amazing Oscar Peterson! I now play a mix of classical piano, new age piano, sometimes, Latin jazz, and accompany myself in my concerts.

PPM: What was your experience as a student at the Chicago Conservatory College?
DK: It was a great education in many ways. The largest class I had was 15 people, at best. Teachers were professionals in the symphony, choir or soloists. It was a hands-on education, and they let me create my own schedule after my first year when it all seemed too easy because of the great musical education I had growing up. So, I graduated in 3 years with two majors (music education & voice) and two minors (piano and conducting) and began teaching music in the Chicago suburban school system at age 20. When I was 19, just after I appeared with the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall (as it was called at the time), I auditioned for the Chicago Symphony Chorus under the direction of the late great Margaret Hillis (OBM). I sang “Ombra Leggiera” from the opera “Dinorah” by Meyerbeer (OBM) and proceeded to the sight-singing part of the audition. I still remember being in this tiny room with her and two other judges when she looked up and said to the others, “Well, this is the first person of all the hundreds we auditioned that has sung the sight-singing part perfectly.” And I became the youngest member at 19 of that truly great choir, backing Beverly Sills (OBM) at Ravinia, the summer home of the symphony. I met Ms. Sills backstage on a break where she asked me to sing for her. I sang my aria unaccompanied, right then on the spot. She was great in encouraging me to pursue a career in singing. Later on, while teaching elementary school music full-time at two schools, I completed a two- year Master’s Program in one year and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

I remember waving good-bye to mom out the window, realizing I was on the path to a great musical adventure that would eventually become my whole life.

PPM: Who were your role models growing up?
DK: There was one musical role model who influenced my life tremendously, and his name was Mr. C. Willard Clutter (MGBH) – my 9th grade junior high music teacher. He led me to my first voice teacher at age 16, Virginia Parker (OBM), at the Chicago Conservatory College where I continued to study for my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. He was also my vocal coach, helping me win vocal competitions in high school at age 16. One was a scholarship from the King’s Choraliers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was only 16 when it was my first time flying alone on a plane to Grand Rapids to perform for 2,000 people.  I remember waving good-bye to mom out the window, realizing I was on the path to a great musical adventure that would eventually become my whole life.

PPM: Who got you your first grand piano?
DV: When I was 14 and my sister was 5, our father unexpectedly passed away. With no will, he left us with very little money. At 19, my $2,000 bought me a Baldwin 5’4 grand piano that you see in the photo. I used to walk by the Baldwin store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago every day on my way to college.  One day, while preparing a Mac Dowell (OBM) piano concerto, I realized I needed a better instrument to be able to compete.  So, I went in and came out with my 1970 Baldwin.  I’m still in love with that tone and touch to this day where it gets played or recorded daily in my studio. A few years later, I started “baby-sitting” for a 1926 Steinway Golden Era Model L with new German Steinway action, which now resides in my living room.

The TV was blaring, and it looked like there was a huge plane crash. It was the flight I was supposed to be on!

PPM: Years ago, you came to Los Angeles from Chicago to pursue a music career. How was that transition for you? Can you share some stories that happened to you along the way?
DK: Making the transition from Chicago to Los Angeles was a bit of a culture shock. With competition at its peak, everywhere you go, you’d overhear some conversation about the entertainment industry. The hardest part of my transition from Chicago to Los Angeles was learning to be social. I was raised in such a sheltered environment that I had zero social skills, which is what the entire business is largely built on.
Along the way there have been many interesting stories, but the one that happened during my transition I will always remember. I was at Universal Studios in Chicago visiting a college friend for lunch when their top keyboardist, Terry Fryer (MGBH), asked me to do him a favor and stay in town to sing on a demo for Ramsey Lewis (MGBH) that weekend. I had my bags backed and was headed out the door to Los Angeles on American Airlines flight 191 on May 25, 1979, when he stopped me and convinced me to stay I was two hours away from boarding that flight, but drove to mom’s instead. When my grandmother opened the door in tears, she turned white, and almost passed out.  The TV was blaring, and it looked like there was a huge plane crash. It was the flight I was supposed to be on! To this day, that flight remains on America’s worst aviation disasters to happen on American soil. The engine fell off upon take off, and no one on board including two people on ground survived.

PPM: How has piano training helped you as a vocalist and an arranger?
DK: It’s helped me immensely. With the piano, you have the whole orchestra at your fingertips. I accompany myself and others, test out my creative ideas. It’s the best instrument for learning and teaching music theory. I find that many of my voice students want me to teach them piano because they see, over time, how important the piano is for study, learning ear-training, and the fun of accompanying yourself when you sing. It helps one learn a song faster when you can “plunck it out” on piano first and play the chord changes. It even came in handy while I was working on the “Sister Act” films with Whoopi Goldberg (MGBH). One day, the accompanist for the choreography rehearsal didn’t show up, and I filled the chair. Knowing how to play the piano came in handy on many occasions of over a thousand recordings I’ve done in movies, records, television, commercials, and so forth. When I first came to Los Angeles, one of the jobs I took was a piano “stunt double” for an actor who had to look as if they were playing. I also coached actors – Linda Hamilton (MGBH) and others – on piano.

PPM: What does new age music signify for you?
DK: New Age music to me is music, which sole purpose is beauty and relaxation. When the vocal is used, we usually mix it into the fabric of the music as opposed to having it way out front like a pop vocal mix. The mix, in New Age music, is critical and in my albums. My engineer Steve Shepherd (MGBH) and I have long discussions about weaving it all together so as to maintain the proper balance to engage the listener into a relaxed and focused state. I also apply some of my sonic therapy techniques into the composition, orchestration and mix of my music.

Standing on stage at the Acropolis in Athens looking up at the Parthenon with a huge moon, realizing that I was on the same stage as the apostle Paul (OBM) and many historically famous people once were, was a real honor and thrill.

PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Yanni (MGBH) and what was it like working with him?
DK: The first time I met Yanni (MGBH) was at his house when a vocal contractor Morgan Ames (MGBH) asked me to come to audition for him. He had the music for “Aria” on the piano, a loosely based arrangement of a duet aria I sang in college, “Sous le dome épais from Lakmé”. I sight-sang his charted arrangement. When I was done, he rose up from accompanying me on the piano and said excitedly, “This is exactly how I’ve heard this piece sung in my head!” When I got the job, at the first rehearsal, Yanni handed me his chart and said, “Here, I don’t have an ending or the nonsense syllable lyric, so come up with something.” Half an hour later, I had those “lyrics” and the vocal arrangement for the end of the piece that you hear today. Yanni was very nice to work with. Interestingly, he doesn’t read traditional notation, but came up with his own. I was hired to sing, and sing I did.  Standing on stage at the Acropolis in Athens looking up at the Parthenon with a huge moon, realizing that I was on the same stage as the apostle Paul (OBM) and many historically famous people once were, was a real honor and thrill.

PPM: You produce your own music. What skills did you have to learn in order to be able to comfortably do this?
DK: I have produced all of my albums on my label, TimeArt. So, I have total control musically. The skills to be a producer vary from knowing music theory, to arranging, to engineering and mixing, having basic knowledge of piano and how other instruments work, to having a knack for hiring the right talent for the job and, psychologically, getting the most out of the performers. Then there are the financial and organizational aspects of which to keep track. It depends on what one is producing, but, basically, this sets the groundwork for producing music.

Before I begin, I ask, “What does the world need to hear today?” and say, “Thank you for the inspiration!”

PPM: Where do you draw your inspiration in composing music?
DK: My inspiration for composing music comes from God, or, what some would say, Universal Consciousness, and from curiosity about life and the human interaction. I’ve had several occasions where a whole song, words and music, or even an entire lyric only, would just spill out of me. One day when I had finished listening to Tomatis 8,000 frequency, I came home and put my hands on the piano, and within seconds, out came the entire “First Light” from my Color Me Home album. So, for me, it definitely comes from a higher source. Before I begin, I ask, “What does the world need to hear today?” and say, “Thank you for the inspiration!”

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your most recent CD recordings.
DK: Of my last two albums, “Tranquil Times” is my first solely instrumental album featuring the piano with mostly original compositions and all my arrangements. Album #9 is “Color Me Home” with all my own original compositions, songs, arrangements as well as the vocals. The CD comes with a puzzle and a coloring book. Coloring while listening is great for release, focus, relaxation, and creativity. I will be releasing album #10 this year called “Chromatones,” where you’ll hear more of my piano and synth work. This will be my second album with no vocals.  It is coming out on June 1st with pre-sales on April 25th.

PPM: What does it take to promote your own album and how has this process changed for you with the social media revolution?
DK: Promoting your own album is not cheap and is a full-time job. I did not write any music or perform it during the entire 2017 due to marketing and promotion taking all my time. In 2016, I was doing the album, in 2017 – promoting it. In 2018, I will be doing appearances and releasing the new album. Social media is another platform of promotion including blogs, contests, links, likes, subscribes, and more. Each one pays differently and operates differently, all playing into the whole. Get help with all this. Otherwise, it can be really difficult trying to balance it all and maintain yourself as a creative performer. When it comes to promoting for the Grammys, back when I won mine, you were disqualified if you gave out your albums to voters. Today, it’s all about social media and carefully not getting disqualified for what may seem as bloc voting or exchanging votes. However, social media, for as much time as it takes out of one’s life, can be very liberating in terms of promoting one’s music and offers many opportunities we didn’t have a while back.

PPM: You are also a sonic therapist. What is sonic therapy and how do you work with your clients in that area?
DK: Sonic therapy uses the power of music to retrain the brain and body. One of the main methods I use the was developed by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in Paris, beginning in the 1950’s, that he called “audio-psycho-phonology,” or what I call the ear-brain-voice connection. Simply, we listen to mostly Mozart, processed and filtered in a special way as to exercise the muscles of the middle ear to regulate the impulses going to the brain, through the use of special air and bone conduction headphones. Clients either come to my studio or they can do it at home under my supervision. As a voice teacher and vocalist, I use it to remediate issues and enhance the vocal quality. Tomatis’ research proved that the voice can only produce what the ear can hear. So, it is imperative to have “a musical ear” in order to think and produce musically. I work with clients who have a difficult time matching pitch and rhythm to open their ears. I developed what I call the “Listening Eye” Technique. With a simple eye movement, the ear can open up to receiving the musical signals and begin to understand and reproduce them through the voice. I have had success reviving slack vocal cords using a combination of the APP and special vocal exercises. I have also helped relieve clients of their ADD, depression, dyslexia, PTSD, and the aging brain/body/voice, even eliminating unwanted foreign accents. My practice is called Listening Matrix, and there’s info on my website – ListeningMatrix.com. Sometimes I use my 12 tuned Quartz Singing Bowls and a quartz tuning fork for clients who need deep relaxation and a focusing of energy. I have also had clients lay under the piano while I play relaxing tones and have taught clients how to use their own voice to assist in relieving various maladies, such as certain kinds of tinnitus, which the Tomatis method also helps.

PPM: What piece of advice would you give to a beginning performer who is just trying to figure out his/her path to success?
DK: Practice, practice, and practice. First, work on excellence in all areas. Start building a team of supporters because even if you were capable of doing it all yourself, one cannot do all that, get on stage and perform. Learn the business of music. There several great books out there for this such as “This Business of Music” by Donald S. Passman, Esq. Make sure your image matches your music. Listen to a lot of great music.  Listen really deeply. Now we have social media to help with our promotion, but don’t get bogged down or distracted with it. Work on having great social skills verbally and make cold calls confidently.  Ask a question designed to get the answer you want/need. Pay the money and study with great teachers, as you will save time and money in the long run. Now we have Skype or FaceTime. Indeed, I have students from around the world using these platforms.  Persevere.  Be curious about continuous education. Hire the best musicians and engineers. They are totally worth it to make you sound great, make your life easier, and they usually are the best ones to work with. Be disciplined and organized, and if you can’t, hire someone to help you with it. Manager and agent roles, legally, are different in each state – so, check that out. People think they need a manger first. Actually, that comes later, and most won’t even talk to you until you have accomplished some things on your own first. Keep that inner smile. Makes you look great on camera, in person, and invites good social contact. Imitate others musically as a springboard in building a musical education and vocabulary until you can master your own style. Get a lot of experience. Take action – don’t just dream. Be cool and easy to work with.

I wake up every day by asking first thing, what I am grateful for today. Life is so much better when one comes from a place of gratitude, no matter how trivial or gross.

PPM: You seem like a very positive person. What tools do you use to stay positive or come back to the positive mindset after a setback?
DK: Being positive is a choice in perspective.  I do have my “human” moments when all bets are off.. Eating healthy food, breathing clean air, getting exercise, vocalizing, and playing piano daily is what keeps me positive.  I wake up every day by asking first thing, what I am grateful for today. Life is so much better when one comes from a place of gratitude, no matter how trivial or gross.

PPM: How do you keep fit and healthy?
DK: Being a touring singer/pianist performer requires I stay in good health. I am dairy and gluten free and eat read meat about once every two months. I eat high protein, low carbs, walk and vocalize daily, no caffeine except for what is in the dark chocolate I eat almost every day. At home I don’t eat before bed. On tour, I do my best to avoid that, but sometimes it is more important to avoid a hypoglycemic episode. I eat small portions six times a day. I use a humidifier as much as possible as Los Angeles is a desert, so I also drink a lot of purified and electrolyte water. The only TV shows I watch now are comedies and documentaries. There’s already too much stress maintaining a career, and laughter is the best medicine. I also get 6-8 hours sleep nightly. A new favorite recipe I came up with is simple and tastes great: grilled pineapple with lots of Trader Joe’s Chili and Lime powder. I don’t follow recipes per se, but enjoy the creativity of cooking. I also make my own gluten and dairy free pizza using Daiya brand cheese.

PPM: What are some of your favorite restaurants in LA?
DK: I eat out occasionally, but mostly cook and bake at home because of my dietary restrictions. But when I do eat out, I enjoy Hugo’s and Tender Greens in Studio City.

PPM: Do you have any pets?
DK: Yes, I have two rescue dogs. Little Poochini loves to sing with the piano, with me and has a different song for the Ice Cream truck, the phone, and whatever I’m working on. My late Dalmatian could also match pitch, rhythm and dynamics like Poochini. The other dog just looks at him like he’s crazy but over time, now she tries to get in the act but just can’t seem to sing although its funny to watch her try.

When one is playing piano, reading music and singing at the same time, all areas of the brain light up, so to speak, and become a free source to maintain a healthy brain, well into our senior years.

PPM: Can you discuss the healing aspect of music and the role it plays in your art?
DK: It was my mother who realized that as a young child, I would be using music to calm myself down when I would get frustrated or angry or lonely. I’d go sit at the piano and practice my lesson for hours beyond the practice time. Music saved my life so many times in so many ways. When I almost passed away from toxic mold and had practically no neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, the doctor said the only way I could be functioning at all was because of music. No matter how ill I was, playing piano when I couldn’t sing from all the mold in my lungs and brain, is what kept me going. About twenty years ago, at the peak of my career, I popped the tendon and broke the ring finger on my right hand.  That took 5 years to recover, and today I still cannot straighten or bend that finger.  Friends were sending me the left-handed concertos and music like that. I finally got my speed back, but certain keys and distances are more difficult to play precisely. When one is playing piano, reading music and singing at the same time, all areas of the brain light up, so to speak, and become a free source to maintain a healthy brain, well into our senior years.
People often tell me there is a profound healing quality to my voice. “Emmanuel” on my holiday album “Heavenly Peace” especially comes to mind. When I presented that track for my beginning singing class at Citrus College several years ago, I just played it, said nothing, and watched many of the young students in the class have tears roll down their face. The response was, “What just happened to me?”
Just a few months ago when I was singing in Bangalore, India with Ricky Kej (MGBH), audience members came up to tell me that was the first time they actually felt in their chest the feeling of a human voice. My first voice teacher would always tell me to project. Now I take that a step further and project with a certain energy into the vibration sending it directly out to the audience. It was fascinating seeing many of the one thousand guests grab their chest, whisper to each other about what just happened to them then break out in spontaneous applause during the song in the way they did.

My first voice teacher would always tell me to project. Now I take that a step further and project with a certain energy into the vibration sending it directly out to the audience.

 
PPM: Thank you, Darlene, for such an engaging interview! May God send you many blessings of health and good fortune, and may you continue using your gift to heal others through your music.

Featured Interview:
Richard Clayderman -The Prince Of Hearts and Romance

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

He is not merely the world’s best selling pianist.  The media calls him the Prince of Hearts and Romance.  For 40 years to date, his music and charisma has been conquering the world audience – one listener at a time. Today, with an impressive discography of over 170 albums, Richard Clayderman (MGBH) continues to tour around the world with his repertoire that he had mastered over the long and miraculous course of his career.  Some ​​label his style as “elevator music.”​​ ​ However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And considering the amount of fans that his music gained over the years, Richard Clayderman is delivering what most people want and laughing all the way to the bank. 

PPM: Your stage name – Richard Clayderman – is a pseudonym.  What is the story behind it?
RC: When I first met my two producers – Olivier Toussaint (MGBH) and Paul de Senneville (MGBH), which was over forty years ago, they were not completely satisfied with my real name – Phillipe Pagès.  It was not so easy to pronounce in other languages. So, they asked me about other last names in my family.  I knew of a Clayman or Claydman on my mother’s side, who had lived in Sweden in the 19th century.  That’s all I knew about my great-grandmother.  My producers became very interested in this name, and we decided that Clayderman would be ideal. As far as my first name was concerned – Phillipe – we thought that it didn’t really work so well with the new last name Clayderman.  After trying on a few first names, we picked Richard. That is how “Richard Clayderman” was born.

PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
RC: My father was a piano and music teacher.  He gave lessons in the small apartment we lived in, in a suburb of Paris.  Very often, I would hear the piano when he was teaching, and I was very fascinated with this black and white keyboard.  He noticed that I was interested in the piano, so he taught me a little and slowly realized that I really enjoyed it.  One day, he noticed that I was becoming more than interested… that I was really very captivated by the piano.  So, he took me to one of his friends who was a teacher at the conservatory.  That’s how I came to attend the conservatory, and that’s how I was initiated into classical music and had an opportunity to advance my training.

PPM: Tell us about your mother. As a child, what are some of the most vivid memories?
RC: My mother did not have background in music.  She used to earn her living by cleaning offices as well as taking care of the housekeeping for a number of buildings where we lived.  She was very involved in my education in terms of making sure I did my homework after school or practiced my piano.  When I would play with kids outside, she would come and tell me, “Fifi, (my nickname is Fifi, for Philippe) you have to go practice piano.”  She would always remind me how important the piano was.  And I practiced very nicely… I never rebelled against practicing the piano… I truly enjoyed it.

PPM: Do you have any siblings?
RC: I have an older sister. We’ve always been very close, and we still are.  I call her often.  When I was practicing the piano, she was practicing the flute.  She was a good flute player, but didn’t continue to play music professionally.  She has always been very important in my life. She is three years older than me and always has good advice. She’s married with a child and lives on the Riviera in Antibes very close to where I used to live when I lived on the Riviera. So, for ten years, we lived next to each other. At the end of my garden, there was a little door, and this is how we would get to her house.

PPM: Who were some of your favorite composers during your study at the Paris Conservatory? You didn’t finish it, did you?
RC: Mozart, Beethoven (OBM), Chopin (OBM), Ravel (OBM), Schumann (OBM)…  I was fascinated by all of these composers. I must say, however, that my favorite was Chopin. Unfortunately, very soon, my father became terribly ill, so I had to earn my own living and could no longer continue my studies at the conservatory.  I ended up earning a living by accompanying other performers.  From the age of 17 until I met my producers, I was an accompanist.  I was lucky, because during those years, I had an opportunity to work with some of the most famous singers of that time – Johnny Hallyday (OBM) and Thierry Le Luron (OBM).  And, a couple of years prior to meeting my producers, I accompanied a famous French star – Michel Sardou (MGBH) – who imitated politicians. He was also a singer and had all sorts of talents and performed many shows in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and other French speaking countries.  As his piano accompanist, I had the opportunity to learn a lot.

Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.

PPM: How did you meet your producers and under what circumstances did you start working together?
RC: One of the producers, Olivier Toussaint, called me one day on the phone. He explained to me that I was the lucky winner of the audition and offered me the opportunity to make a recording of the ballad called “Ballad For Adeline,” which became very successful in many countries around the world. That’s how I started my career.  Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.

Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday.  

PPM: Your Zodiac sign is Capricorn – goal-oriented and kind.  Do you like celebrating your birthdays?
RC: When I was a kid, I was definitely very happy to celebrate my birthday. However, as my birthday is December 28th , it has always been combined with Christmas!  Nevertheless, I was always so happy to have a cake and blow out the candles.  Nowadays, I must admit that I’m not so enthusiastic about it… As a child, I was happy to be one year older, but today not so much. For the past twenty years, all of my birthdays have been celebrated while I was on tour, and particularly, when I was on tour in China.  Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday.  The audience was delighted to be part of the celebration. Of course, I had to look happy… but I wasn’t so happy to mark another year on the calendar!

PPM: Have you written your own compositions throughout your career?
RC: Not really. In fact, I am just an interpreter, and my two principal composers since my debut have been Paul de Senneville (MGBH) and Olivier Toussaint. They have that kind of talent, which I do not have at all, but we work closely with each other.  It’s a team effort. On my end, I add my own style, personality, and sensitivity to the pieces.

 

The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.

PPM: What other jobs have you had prior to becoming a professional pianist?
RC: The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.

PPM: After forty years on stage, do you still practice piano daily?
RC: It is important for me is to have a piano wherever I am or, at least, a keyboard.  On tour, I’m always provided with a digital piano keyboard in either the dressing room or my hotel room, so that I may practice for as long as I want without disturbing my neighbors.  It‘s true that the quality of the keyboards have undoubtedly improved considerably over the past 20 years, and the touch of the digital pianos is very good, and I can practice whenever I want.  I wish I could have a digital piano on the planes in order that I take advantage of being in the air and practice my piano.

When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.

PPM: What was it like for you to visit and perform in China for the first time? Do you remember your first impression of the country and its culture?
RC: The first concert I had in China was in Shanghai in 1987. This was a 25-minute-long concert for television, but the real concert I did was in Beijing in 1992. Originally, I think it was planned that the concert takes place in a 3,000-seat theatre, but they had to change that and rent the biggest theatre at that time in Beijing. This was called the Capital Theatre, which had twice or three times the capacity of the 3,000 originally planned. They were planning one show, but in the end, I performed three shows in a row, and this was the beginning of my incredible story in China.
At that time, it was quite a discovery. We knew a little bit about China, but it was quite a mystery. Nowadays, China is recognized as a super country, very powerful and rich. At that time, it was still poor, and I was very surprised…my promoters were very surprised that so many people came to the concerts. Since then, every year, I perform between 30 to 40 concerts in China’s main cities. I have been visiting China twice a year. Every time I noticed the difference in the development in terms of the number of cars, construction, buildings, and an incredible increase of everything in this country, which makes it very difficult today because of traffic jams. When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.

PPM: What personal qualities do you admire in people?
RC: I admire people who have the ability to remain humble, who do not boast, and who are able to speak about their career and success with humility.

PPM: You started a family pretty early. What was it like balancing family life and career?
RC: Indeed, I was very young when I married my first wife. I was 17, and in retrospect, it was too young to have a baby. I was on the road, on tour, most of the time, and hardly at home. That’s why my marriage lasted just a few years, and we got divorced. I have regrets about that period in my life, as I didn’t really have time to spend with my daughter. Later on, I remarried, and with my second wife we had our son Peter. At that time already I could devote more time to raising him, and I think he was brought up very well. We were living on the Riviera at that time, and I would fly back between tours as much as I could to spend time with him and take care of him. I would take him to school, restaurants, and have fun with him. It was the right time. I was in my thirties, so it was the right time to have a child. Not earlier.

I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.

PPM: What is the most important factor that brings peace in the relationship of a husband and a wife, in your opinion?
RC: I know some couples who need to argue in order to keep living. They cannot have a peaceful relationship. They love each other, but they fight continuously.  As far as I’m concerned,  I like peaceful relationships.  I think what drives a peaceful relationship is love as love is essential to keep “a blue sky” in the relationship.  I’m the opposite of aggressive or angry.  In addition to love, it’s a matter of respect, which is very important.  I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.

PPM: What is your favorite season of the year and why?
RC: Honestly, I love all seasons.  My third wife and I used to have a dog named Cookie. We would walk together for hours in the forests and along the seaside in all seasons. I noticed that each time I was happy to discover another season.  In some countries, especially those close to the equator, they do not have seasons.  I love the change of seasons.  Sometimes when I’m in Paris in the winter, I like to fly to another part of the world, like Latin America… Argentina or Brazil, and when it’s so cold in Paris, it’s very warm in these countries.  So, I love to experience these changes and to be able to discover a new season.

I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will.  I like still water.

PPM: Do you have a favorite food/cuisine?
RC: I like simple food like mixed salads. I like steak, chicken, lamb cutlets with rice. I also like Italian food like pasta and pizza.  I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will.  I like still water.  For breakfast, I like fresh orange juice. I never drink coffee but I like tea in the morning.  I’m not a fish lover… no lobsters or oysters and things like this.  I am very French when it comes to being a cheese connoisseur – Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, goat cheese – I enjoy them all.  I also like pastries. especially tiramisu.  In any case, I try not to eat too much to keep fit and avoid gaining too much weight.

PPM: You make an impression of a kind and humble person.  Do these two qualities come to you naturally or do you have to work on them?
RC: Actually, it is my nature. I’m not nasty with people. I don’t like to boast, so that’s the way I am.  I was like that when I was young, and I’m still like that today.

PPM: Who were some of your role models throughout your life that influenced your personal development?
RC: For sure, my father has been my role model.  He was very kind and very humble and not showy at all, and, no doubt, I am his son.  It is unfortunate that he had a kidney disease and passed away when I was 22. He played a very important role in my life as a man and as a piano player.  My biggest regret is that he passed before I started my own career.  Sometimes I think of how he would have been so happy and delighted, and, perhaps, proud, if he had been able to see my career unfold over the past 40 years.

PPM: What are some of your favorite things to do during your time away from piano?
RC: When I am back in France between tours, I go and buy lots of DVDs. My suitcase is full of piano parts and DVDs. When I have time, I enjoy watching movies, but I like when movies are dubbed in French vs. have subtitles.  I enjoy reading biographies of famous people like TV presenters, actors, and comedians.  I also like watching TV.

PPM: How do you handle difficult moments in your life?
RC: I like to keep things to myself. I don’t really like to share my problems with others, except for my sister. I can speak intimately with her, more so than with any other people.  I keep things private, and, I guess, this is my secret garden.

PPM: What is your favorite vacation spot and why?
RC: I tour continuously around the world, from Europe to the United States, from Asia to Latin America, and Australia.  So, my most valued vacation spot is my house in the suburbs of Paris.  My house is close to a forest, so I feel good there. Sometimes it’s nice not to have to catch planes, go through security, check into hotels and airports, get taxis and drive from one place to another.  I enjoy staying put… in the same place!

PPM: How has your relationship with your audience transformed over the years of your career?
RC: When I started doing my concerts, for many years I was very shy and didn’t feel so comfortable on stage. So, I was stuck behind the piano and afraid to get closer to the audience.  Although for the past 15 to 20 years, I feel more comfortable, and I go and offer the audience some sheets from the piano scores I use at my concerts. You cannot imagine how people enjoy this, as this is my way of shaking hands with people. They feel close to me, because they understand that I am close to them.  And as I cannot talk to them easily, given the language barriers, this is my way of forming an emotional connection to my audience.

This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.

PPM: Would you call the way your career unraveled miraculous?
RC: The first concert I performed at was in Vienna in 1979. At that time, my producers and managers didn’t really expect that I would embark on a career as a recording artist or performer. However, much to our surprise, since 1979, I have been offered the opportunity to perform in an incredible number of countries… something like 70 different countries around the globe, and I’ve performed close to 3,000 concerts. It is quite unique for a piano player, and especially rare for a French artist, as very few French artists were offered the opportunity to perform in so many countries around the world. This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.

 

The Piano Brain: A Question Of Talent

Article by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

How often have you heard someone say, “that student is talented”? Perhaps you say this yourself? Why talented? One could use competent, accomplished, capable, able, strong, skilled, or phrases like “very good at it”, and “has much potential.”  The uniqueness of “talented” and its relative “gifted” is an implication of natural ability requiring less work and effort. No other word necessarily suggests this.  Therein lies the danger.  Some people think the word encourages effort and builds self-esteem.

A significant body of research suggests otherwise.   Responding to “why are you good at playing the piano?” could be two attributions.  One – because I am gifted, talented, a natural.  How do I know?  Because everyone tells me so.   Two – because I work at it.  “I am who I am through my own efforts,” said Beethoven (OBM).  Those who develop a “talent mindset” develop less effective learning dispositions than the “learning mindset,” which attributes achievement to the quality and quantity of my practice.  Stamford University research concludes that the “learning mindset” person works harder, persists for longer, likes to be challenged, learns from criticism, seeks feedback, pursues excellence and as a result, broadens their potential.  The “talent mindset” person works less hard (because talent means I shouldn’t have to work as hard as others), is likely to quit much sooner, is less adventurous in seeking challenges, seeks feedback less readily, is paranoid about protecting this “talent” image at the expense of learning, and as a result, underachieves over time.  Hence, if we want to develop healthy learning dispositions for our students, we should cultivate a learning mindset, which we do through our words, feedback, and the way we praise. Stocks and stones might break our bones, but words can do real harm!

Stamford University research concludes that the “learning mindset” person works harder, persists for longer, likes to be challenged, learns from criticism, seeks feedback, pursues excellence and as a result, broadens their potential.

In one sense, it does not even matter what the truth of the “talent” argument is, because perception controls reality.  Nevertheless, what is the evidence for genetic talent?  The world’s largest investigation about this – the international Human Genome Project spanning 16 years or so, found none.  No variant genes associated with intelligence or innate talent in music or anything else were discovered, and the report concluded they probably never will be.  The project found that among about 19000 genes (rather than the more than 100 000 they expected to find), we are 99.9 percent identical.  Our brains, which control muscular movement and expression, are very similar in capacity and capability. Brains are shaped by early childhood experiences and by what we do.  Intelligence is a result of working the brain to make new connections and then strengthening them.  Whilst everyone has about 86 billion brain cells, people vary enormously in the number of brain connections they have – up to 80 trillion- based on what they do. Hence the variation in ability and intelligence.  Some people read books, move their bodies, work harder than others, sleep more, and best of all for connecting the whole brain – play the piano.  Again, some people practice thirty minutes a day, three days a week.  Others might practice four hours per day, every day.  Some children choose to spend six hours per day looking at a phone, time that could be used cultivating the intellect. In a sense, we are neurological engineers of our brain.  As Aristotle (OBM) said, “We become our repeated self.”

 Whilst everyone has about 86 billion brain cells, people vary enormously in the number of brain connections they have – up to 80 trillion- based on what they do. Hence the variation in ability and intelligence.

Hence, when the world expert on expertise in any domain listed the factors uncovered from years of investigation into exceptional performance, he did not list talent.  Rather, 1) early childhood experiences, 2) the quality of effort – deliberate practice as he called it; and 3) the number of practice hours.  The last factor deserves more respect than it usually receives.  It is the single most significant factor in differentiating achievement in anything– provided the practice is of a quality nature.

What is quality practice?  Eighty percent of pianists aged 14 and under mostly practice a piece once through, from start to end (always at the very start!) without stopping to fix anything.  This, of course, is a run-though – not practice.  Those who make progress, practice in chunks, isolating phrases for specific attention.  They rarely go from the beginning.  These pianists practice slowly, and engage in much repetition – blocked, variable, and spaced depending on requirements.  The focus is 100 percent.  They practice “only on the days that they eat” (thanks, Dr Suzuki (OBM)) and think about what it is that needs to be the focus of a practice session.

Those who make progress, practice in chunks, isolating phrases for specific attention.  They rarely go from the beginning.  These pianists practice slowly, and engage in much repetition – blocked, variable, and spaced depending on requirements.

Andres Ericsson (MGBH), a researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, says, “In every case, talent is identified retrospectively, and the emergence of prodigious skill follows rather than precedes unique opportunity and substantial work.  No one has found a way to predict talent before they witness it.”

She plays so well because she has a talent.

How do you know she has a talent? That’s obvious. She plays so well.

Parental support plays a role in every case of prodigy.  There are no known cases of child prodigy not hot-housed by parents.

Exceptional performers almost exclusively are of a “learning mindset” disposition.  Lang Lang (MGBH) wrote “Journey of a Thousand Miles” to help people understand how classical pianists get so accomplished.  He started piano at age three, was soon doing six to eight hours per day, this became ten hours prior to turning nine, and the rest is history.  “I believe you have all the talent and creativity you need. What you can control is how hard you work.  You can make sure you work harder than anyone else.”

The word “talented” is used regularly in music education.  The idea that it is a positive ascription is not supported by evidence. Rather, it can cultivate undesirable learning dispositions and precipitate quitting. On a more global scale, changing our language might help future generations to rephrase that devastating, permanent, and incapacitating statement “I’m not musical.”

The word “talented” is used regularly in music education.  The idea that it is a positive ascription is not supported by evidence. Rather, it can cultivate undesirable learning dispositions and precipitate quitting.

 

About the Author:

Michael Griffin is an educator, speaker, and pianist, based in Australia.  He is the author of “Learning Strategies for Musical Success” and “Developing Musical Skill – For Students.”