The Art of Piano Performance:
Michael Allen Harrison And The Ten Grands Extravaganza

Interview by Trisha Neubauer (MGBH)

He performed for presidents, recorded over 40 albums, his music has been played on space shuttles Endeavor and Discovery. His Snowman Foundation raised over $3 million dollars to provide access to music for all kids.
Today he has another creation to present to the world of piano aficionados – the Ten Grands Extravaganza Show.
Meet Michael Allen Harrison (MGBH) and get inspired!

 

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Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Please, tell our readers about yourself: where did you grow up? Do you have any siblings? Who introduced you to piano? Who was your first piano teacher? What influenced your choice of choosing a career of a pianist vs. any other profession?
Michael Allen Harrison (MAH): I grew up in Portland, Oregon. My brother is a guitarist, and my sister plays the flute.  My parents thought pianos lessons would help with my shyness.  My neighbor was my first teacher.  As the time went by, she suggested that I get a better teacher and referred my parents to Aurora Underwood (MGBH).  Aurora was one of the great legacy teachers. I studied with her until college, and she was one of the greatest influences in my life.  In college, I started to be recognized for my composition skills and was asked to write the music for a children’s theater project to the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. The show was a huge success and soon thereafter the phone just started ringing.  I call my career path “By Request.” Soon I got a call from the Ballet Company here in Portland and became the company pianist.  I got calls to play for singers, piano bars, weddings, concert series, funerals, jazz clubs, company parties, retirement homes, keyboards in a cover band, Symphony guest artist, etc… I said “yes” to everything.

PPM: What is the Ten Grands Project all about?
MAH: I created Ten Grands as a fundraiser for music education.  Ten Grands accomplishes several things. It delivers great music from all genres. So, it has a wide appeal.  The show includes classical, jazz, new age, pop, classic rock, movie scores, musical theater etc.  The stage is classy and glamorous providing a beautiful platform to present an incredible piano extravaganza and deliver the message of how important music is to our community and how vital it is in a complete education for our children.

PPM: What inspired you to create the Ten Grands Project and where does it get its name from?
MAH: In the late 1980’s Oregon voters passed a bill called Measure 5.   Measure 5 started the beginning of less funds for the community and especially the Arts in schools.  I witnessed a slow decline over the years and decided to stop complaining about lack of funds and try to do something to bring it back.
I had a project idea called the Portland Pianists. The idea was to put together the top ten pianists in Portland and record a CD, put together a concert and see what happens.  I mentioned the idea at the first Snowman Foundation board meeting, and one of my board members shouted, “TEN GRANDS!”  I drew the stage concept on a napkin to Greg Tamblyn (MGBH), my co-producer and stage manager.  He did his magic, and 9 months later the first show was born.  The show sold out, and we raised $150,000.00, gave several pianos to schools, individual kids, community centers and awarded several scholarships for private lessons.

 

 I mentioned the idea at the first Snowman Foundation board meeting, and one of my board members shouted, “TEN GRANDS!”  I drew the stage concept on a napkin to Greg Tamblyn (MGBH), my co-producer and stage manager.

 

PPM: What criteria do you use in selecting pianists for the Project and how often are they rotated?
MAH: I make a huge effort to find the best talent and the best attitude.  The cast becomes a show family. We care about music and the message.  No divas or bad stage parents are allowed.  We have several established professionals on stage, young prodigies and sometimes a community member who does not do music as a profession, but has professional skills. For example: Sgt. Jim Quakenbush (MGBH) of the Portland Police Department often performs with us.  He was a piano performance major in college, decided to follow a different path of service, but never lost his love for classical music.  He often plays for kids in the community in full uniform… He’s a very unique guy, and everyone loves his talent and spirit.

PPM: What kind of repertoire do you choose for the shows?
MAH: Each pianists chooses their own featured solo in the style of which they are known for.

 One of the things we do that is the most fun is we reach out to the teaching community and find out if any of their students will be at the concert.  With no one knowing, we pull a name out of a hat at the concert, announce the name and ask them to come on stage a play for us… Always fun… always memorable!

PPM: What is The Ten Grands show like?
MAH: We’ve been doing this show in Portland at The Arlene Schnitzer Concert for 18 years.  In Seattle at Benaroya Hall for 10 years and now expanding to other cities.  We will be in West Palm beach on February 18th.   The show requires a big stage in a large hall because of all the pianos, the platforms, chandeliers,    3, 000 roses, curtains, staging, and lighting.  The young people we include get so inspired by the experience of being on a big stage with such high production values.  They feel very special and grown up.  They have all very much been inspired and carry great memories with them.  I always feel like I’m giving and witnessing a concert at the same time.  I play a big solo, I lead and participate in the Ten Piano arrangements.  The rest of the time I become an audience member sitting on stage listening to all the other great artists.  It’s a very unique experience for the artists on stage and the audiences that attend. The show has heart for the community and passion for great music.  One of the things we do that is the most fun is we reach out to the teaching community and find out if any of their students will be at the concert.  With no one knowing, we pull a name out of a hat at the concert, announce the name and ask them to come on stage a play for us… Always fun… always memorable!

PPM: What is your team’s performance and rehearsal schedule like?
MAH: Everyone practices their parts at home.  I send them MP3’s of the arrangements to practice with.  We get together the night before and run the ten piano arrangements.  The next day we sound check at the concert hall, run the group numbers and a few hours later we present the show.  It’s amazing what we accomplish in a very short period of time.

PPM: What cities have you toured with the Ten Grands Project so far?
MAH: Portland, Oregon, Hillsboro, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, West Palm Beach, Florida. Depending on our success in Florida, we plan to head north to Philadelphia and New York .

PPM: You have made many music arrangements for ten pianos.  Please, tell our readers a little bit more about this aspect of your work.
MAH: The ten piano arrangements can be tricky.   It’s really important not to give each player too much to play, because it can get too thick and hard to hear the nuances of the composition.  I treat each arrangement in a way similar writing for a full orchestra.  I also have to consider each pianist’s skills. Some of the Jazz or New Age players don’t read music as well as the classical players but are great improvisers.  So, it makes each arrangement a little challenging, but really interesting.

PPM: Besides being a pianist and an arranger, you are also a composer. Would you, please, tell our readers a little bit about this facet of your career?
MAH: I started composing around age 16.  That’s when I wrote my first Sonata.  In college I studied with Tom Svoboda (MGBH) & Eric Funk (MGBH).  Eric was especially encouraging and invited me to join the composers club.  We would meet every Wednesday night at his house to listen to and analyze scores.  We would be challenged to write pieces in every genre and era.  Eric would provide musicians to play our pieces for us, and we would have great open discussion and hear suggestions.  We did not receive any college credit, but I learned the most and felt the most fulfilled and supported by that group.  We also wrote everything back then by hand.  I use Finale now, and it’s much faster.  The tools at our disposal now are remarkable.  The old school training however is still the best foundation before you head to the computer.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite classical and contemporary composers and why?
MAH: Well… Chopin (OBM)… Best ever composer for the piano.
Beethoven (OBM)… Best story teller and incredible infinite melodies.
Mozart (OBM)… I love the child-like playfulness in many of his compositions.
Earth Wind And Fire… Best all time, feel good band.
The Beatles & Brian Wilson (MGBH)… Pop song writing on a genius level.
Gershwin (OBM)…. Best modern fusion composer of Jazz and Classical.
John Williams (MGBH)… Star Wars!!! Need I say more?

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the pianists and other instrumentalists you are working with this season.
MAH: This year both the Ten Grands Portland and Florida showcase a fabulous diversity of talent: Tom Grant (MGBH) – a Jazz Legend, Joshua Humlie & We Three  (MGBT) – Singer Songwriters, Hailey Potts (MGBH) – a Young Composer,  Mac Potts, (MGBH) –  a Blues & Jazz Extroadinaire,  Jim Quackenbush (MGBH) – a Portland Police Officer, Colleen Adent (MGBH) – A Legacy Teacher,  Cayla & Ashley Bleajoa (MGBT) – Young Composers,  William Chapman Nyaho (MGBH)  – a Seattle Professor & Concert Pianist, Andrew Gu (MGBH) – a Classical Prodigy, Rosa Li (MGBH) – a Classical Concert Pianist,  Jure Rozman (MGBH) – a Classical Concert Pianist, Tanner Johnson (MGBH) – a Violinist,  and Julianne Johnson (MGBH) – a Vocalist.

PPM: Can we briefly discuss your solo recordings as a pianist? Are you planning to offer your fans the recordings with the Ten Grands Project?
MAH: I have recorded over 60 albums since 1984.  My recordings range from Original Classical Compositions, New Age, Jazz, Smooth Jazz, Easy Listening, Ballet, Musical Theater, Jazz Standards, Film Score, Commercials, etc.  Each Ten Grands Show releases a CD with donated performances by each artist. We plan to record our first CD of the best ten piano arrangements in 2018.

PPM: What is your the Ten Grands’ performance schedule for 2018?
MAH: On February 18th we are going to perform at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.  On March 31st  we have a performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon. On May 12th – at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington. On August 4th we have a show called  Ten Grands On The Green.  For that show we are still deciding on location.

PPM: Besides the visual impact of ten grand pianos on stage, there is also an aspect of impressive stage decor.   Who does your stage design?
MAH: Greg Tamblyn (MGBH) and Gene Dent (MGBH) designed the stage.  Greg is also my co-producer and stage manager.  He’s the best in the business.

Music has the power to change the life of one child that we all know.  The power to create, however, goes far beyond the development of one individual student.  It ripples out into the community spreading itself without limitation, for music is a respecter of no person.

PPM: Let’s talk about the Snowman Foundation. What is it all about?
MAH: Concert proceeds benefit the Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth.  Play It Forward has been honored to touch hundreds of lives this year, through the thoughtful donations of instruments and sponsorships.  We celebrate the families, schools, churches, and music outreach programs that are keeping music alive for our youth.  We are so proud to support them through generous donations of instruments and giving.
We are now working towards expanding our scholarship funds that provide musical instruments and scholarships for music lessons tied together, offering students with desire and talent, but no financial means to, finally, have the music lessons that have only lived in their dreams.
As we continue to give the gift of music to our community, we see students thrive and music programs grow. Generous donations of instruments and scholarship funds will go to help countless students in ways that we can only imagine.
Music has the power to change the life of one child that we all know.  The power to create, however, goes far beyond the development of one individual student.  It ripples out into the community spreading itself without limitation, for music is a respecter of no person. And that may be its greatest power that its boundaries are indeed limitless.

PPM: Besides being a pianist, a composer, an Art Director, and an arranger, you are also a teacher.  How would you describe your teaching style?
MAH: I give a different menu to each student depending on his or her level of natural talent and desire. My goal is to create an appetite for excellence.  Classical training is the main menu item.  Mostly scales, arpeggios, theory, and a big piece to prepare for recital.  The most important foundation is to understand the language and develop technique, so when the student accomplishes a great piece of music they are able to express themselves freely.  The result is they get to make beautiful music and share it with us.  That’s where the fun and magic happens.  The preparation and focus on the content is what brings it all to life!!!

There are three areas to focus on in being nice to yourself in the art of practicing – Mind, Body, and Spirit.  They are all connected to feelings.  The biggest obstacle is feeling frustrated.

 

PPM: Please, tell our readers bout the TedEx talk that you gave at Mr. Hood and the concept of “being nice to oneself” in learning an instrument.
MAH: There are three areas to focus on in being nice to yourself in the art of practicing – Mind, Body, and Spirit.  They are all connected to feelings.  The biggest obstacle is feeling frustrated.  If your mind is moving your fingers faster than you understand the information, it feels frustrating, and practice is not feeling fun at all.  When you slow your mind down to a tempo of understanding and then tell your fingers to move at that tempo, your heart feels better, and you start to find out what it is.  Then repeat that section several times at that tempo of understanding.  As it becomes familiar, slowly increase the tempo with the attitude of how good can I get this.  Keep repeating until it becomes second nature and you are loving it. Most students end up memorizing the section, and it sticks forever.  Go on to the next chunk and repeat the process.  Before you know it, the entire piece is mastered and you can’t wait to share it because you feel proud of what you learned and you also just plain enjoy the way it sounds and how it rolls out of your Mind, Body and Spirit.  The feeling of frustration is the biggest factor that keeps any student away from practice or any kind of learning.  Learning this process of being nice to yourself can help in any discipline of learning.

PPM: You seem like a person who works around the clock.  How do you manage your time in being able to accomplish your plans? What is your advise to those who juggle many projects at a time?
MAH: My dad always said this to me, “Find something you love to do… Do it well… Give back… If you don’t find something you love, love what you’re doing!!!” It’s simple, really… It’s all about attitude, creating great content.  That’s when the magic happens, and you never get tired of the work.

The other important thing is to fall in love with a great person that understands who you are and you believe would be a great gift to your children. I always ask our kids, “Who are you going to gift your kids someday for a parent?”

My dad always said this to me, “Find something you love to do… Do it well… Give back… If you don’t find something you love, love what you’re doing!!!” It’s simple, really… It’s all about attitude, creating great content.  That’s when the magic happens, and you never get tired of the work.

PPM: How do you spend your down time?
MAH: With my lovely wife Marietta (MGBH) and our 6 kids.  All of them are out of the house in college or graduating from college. Our youngest Esther (MGBH) is 8 years old. She is enjoying being the only child with older siblings out of the house.  She gets most of the attention at the moment and is the little shining angel of the family.  I do enjoy playing golf with my buddies, and I’m a huge Green Bay Packer fan.

PPM: What qualities do you value in people the most?
MAH: I really admire people who give unconditionally.

PPM: What message would you like to send through your work to others?
MAH: My most common message in everything is to be nice to yourself.  I believe the nicer we are to ourselves the nicer we are to the world!

My most common message in everything is to be nice to yourself.  I believe the nicer we are to ourselves the nicer we are to the world!

 

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The Art of Piano Performance:
Oleg Pereverzev – From Kazakhstan with Music

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

When I found Oleg’s (MGBH) performance videos on such shows as Ukraine’s Got Talent, The Minute of Fame, and Britain’s Got Talent, I experienced mixed feelings.  The intellectual classical snob in me wanted to say, “Oh, no!”, but in my heart I truly rejoiced as I watched his performances.  I also thought to myself, especially after the comment of one of the judges who criticized him so harshly at The Minute of Fame, “Here we are, whispering in dark corners about the demise of classical music and how a young generation is not so interested in it so much as the older generations used to be, and here he is – this young, brilliant, creative musician who is offering at least a partial solution to this problem, and we are throwing stones at him.  A little hypocritical…”  All these thoughts inspired me to learn more about this pianist.  

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Dear Oleg, at some point, trying to do what you did you experienced criticism from the classical piano watch dogs.  They just didn’t understand what motivated you. And I am sure, some people are still raising their eyebrows and wrinkling their foreheads.  Is it hard to be different?
Oleg Pereverzev (OP): With my performances I wanted to show that music can also transfer information that can feed your heart and soul.  I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  There are many people doing this already.   I wanted to create an exciting show where the audience could feel my soul.  I wanted to affect the hearts of people not only through music, but also through special effects.  And I think I was able to achieve it.  I receive letters from many people around the world – some of them started listening to classical music, others started improvising.  The process of communicating with my audience and connecting to it is very important to me. I constantly work on it.

I didn’t just want to come out on stage and play the well-known compositions of Chopin and Bach.  I wanted to create a show….

PPM: Please, tell us about your family.  Who created an environment for you to study piano?
OP: My mother was a doctor, and my father was in the military.  I have a sister, who became a doctor just like our mother. Everyone in our family loves music, but no one, except for me has formal music education.  It was my mother who instilled love for classical music in me.  She would always buy music magazines and vinyl records.  Thus, I would always hear the sounds of classical piano in our house as I was growing up.  Once, when I was six, I attended a concert of the legendary Svyatoslav Richter (OBM). I remember the dark music hall, complete silence, and then… music…. As a child, it made an indelible impression on me.

PPM: Please, tell us about your classical piano background.
OP: I went through all the stages of formal classical music training: seven years of music school, four years of music college, five years at the Kazakh National Conservatory , and two years of post graduate training. Then I had my apprenticeship at the School of Music and Theater in Hannover, Germany with a piano duo “Genova and Dimitrov.” (MGBT)

I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: What was it like for you to be a piano student in a music school of a post-Soviet space?
OP: Those were still Soviet times – 1986 through 1993.  I loved going to music school.  I would come up with all kinds of stories to skip classes in my regular day school to practice piano every chance I got.

PPM: How did you get an idea for your first creative performance?
OP: Do you mean the video where I play two pianos at the same time? Here is  the story.  I created a YouTube Channel, and to attract the attention of the audience, I started thinking of what I could do that no one else had done before.  That’s why I had to find a cat, had to drink coffee, and, finally, to play the most technically challenging piece “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” in Rachmaninoff’s (OBM) arrangement.  And the video became tremendously popular. That year – 2011- it got 460,000 views.

PPM: Please, tell us about that moment when you looked at your piano and decided – let me try to play backwards and see what happens.
OP: After the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” video I had to come up with something new.  And that was the video where I play piano backwards.  It was very challenging.  Both my arms and my back hurt.  It was very uncomfortable, but I managed to accomplish it.  Two weeks later I recorded the video where I played an excerpt from the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (OBM).

PPM: In one of your videos you play “Fur Elise” backwards – starting from the end and ending at the beginning, which turned out pretty good, by the way.  How and why did you get the idea to do that?
OP: There is a joke where a student brought his own composition to an exam in a conservatory.  When the student was asked whose composition it was, he answered, “I just copied the composition of my teacher backwards. That’s it.” When I was thinking of my next video, I thought of this joke, and it inspired me to take Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and play it backwards.

PPM: You did a commercial for BeeLine, a Russian cell phone company.  Is it hard playing piano in the air? What was your experience like filming it?
OP: We actually shot two versions. The second one, where I am in the air, turned out to be more successful and more visually appealing.  It was very scary to play piano in the air.  Since I didn’t have aerial training, I kept thinking, “Oh, no.  Something’s gonna happen now.”  So – yes – I was very frightened.

PPM: What is your dream as a musician and an artist?
OP: I wish that all people had an opportunity to be exposed to beautiful, high quality music.  Today there is a lot of bad music out there, and, somehow, people allow themselves to be exposed to it.  Of course, everyone has their own opinion and their own taste.  However, in general, there is a lot of garbage.

Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.

PPM: Is it hard to earn a living as a pianist living where you are?
OP: It’s hard to make money no matter which profession you choose.  I doubt that all pianists lead a luxury lifestyle.  Every aspect of a pianist’s work is a big job: working on your spirituality, developing business relations, giving performances.  Writing your own compositions also takes an enormous amount of effort.  There is a lot to accomplish.  That is why it is very hard for an artist to focus on making money.   A good example would be Rachmaninoff as a pianist.  While he made money as a pianist, but didn’t compose anything.

PPM: Are you planning to tour some time in the future?
OP: In the near future, I definitely plan to do tours. For now, I try to perform at least once a week.

PPM: Please, tell us about your CD albums.
OP: My first album is called “Classics For All.” In this album, I play the most famous pieces of Bach (OBM), Mozart (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Chopin (OBM), and Liszt, to name a few. There are 21 tracks in the album.
My second album called “Dudarai” is dedicated to Kazakhstan, where I was born, grew up, and received my education.  Here I play Kazakh folk songs in my own arrangements as well as five of my original compositions.
My third album is still in my head. That’s what I am working on at the moment.

Oleg Pereverzev’s Album “Dudarai” is available on Itunes: click the image above to see the album

 

PPM: Besides being a pianist, you are also a composer. Please, tell us more about writing your own music. What is the process like for you?
OP: When I was a student at the conservatory, I got familiar with the music of contemporary composers.  They would ask me to play their music. And I was very interested in it.  I started composing my own music back when I was a child, but then I stopped.  At the conservatory, I felt inspired to start composing again.  I would compose in the style of Chopin (OBM) and Rachmaninoff.  Today I compose in a neo-classical style.  One of my musical inspirations was Yiruma (MGBH), a Korean pianist and composer.

PPM:  Do you have a family of your own or is music taking all of your energy right now?
OP: I don’t have my own family yet, but I have my sister and my father, who both live Russia.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite composers – classical and contemporary?
OP: Oh, the list is quite long.  Every composer that I studied affected me in his own way.  Today I can listen to Shostakovich (OBM), tomorrow – to Badalamenti (OBM), and the next day – Morricone (MGBH).  I listen to a lot of music and love almost all composers.  I am not talking about avante garde here – this is absolutely not for me.

PPM: What made you choose a career of a professional pianist?
OP: It’s a hard question.  When I was thirteen, my father asked me – what are you going to do next? I answered him, “I will continue my piano studies.” And that’s how it went.

PPM: Where do you live and how often and where do you travel?
OP: I live in Alma Ati, Kazakhstan. I like it here very much out here – the nature is beautiful, the city is small.  Recently, I had a chance to live in Los Angeles, CA and see what life like is out there.  It was a very interesting experience.  I try to travel as much as I can. In the past, I have also visited Turkey, China, Germany, and Holland.

PPM:  Has a music piece ever made you cry? If so, which one?
OP: Music is a reflection of feelings.  One can start crying hearing Beethoven’s (OBM) Moonlight Sonata, for example.  It’s about what it’s in your heart.  And if the music touches your heart, it will make you cry.  I enjoy music videos.  If the visual component matches the music – it’s genius.

Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Why do you think young people are not so interested in classical music as the older generations?
OP: In my opinion, music was at its peak in the 19th and 20th century.  Today’s time is characterized by demise in many spheres of society  – music, economy, politics … And, certainly, it is not a good thing.  However, the cycles are such that there will always be a peak and demise. And it is through these cycles that humanity evolves.

PPM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
OP: … from nature walks, travelling…. For a musician it is very important to travel.  Sometimes it happens that a melody comes to me in my dream.  I try to remember it and write it down afterwards.

PPM: Are you planning to perform in the US in the near future?
OP: Once I performed in Glendale, CA where I played my music as well as the music of other composers in my original arrangements.  I would definitely love to perform in many different cities and music halls.  I very much enjoy doing it and am open to invitations.

PPM: Tell us, please, about the piano duo “Vivat.”
OP: My friend and I decided to form a piano duo.  We started working and sent an application to the Taneyev (OBM) Chamber Music Competition in Moscow.  We got accepted and won 3rd prize among the piano duos.  This competition was very important to us – we worked very hard and, as a result, reaped the fruits of our labor.  During the same competition, one of my compositions “Kazakh Rhapsody” was awarded a Tchaikovsky prize.  My friend and I performed together a lot. I created many piano arrangements for our duo.

PPM: Do you have an agent or a manager?
OP: I have an administrator, who helps me handle all my performances.

PPM: What is your favorite Kazakh food?
OP: I love pilaf. There is a folk saying: How many kinds of pilaf are there? As many as there are towns in the Middle East.

PPM: What’s your plan for the next 5 years?
OP: To find new ways in wowing my audience.

PPM: Thank you, Oleg.  We are looking forward to be wowed!
OP: My pleasure.

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FEATURED INTERVIEW: MEET JARROD RADNICH

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

I was introduced to the talent of Jarrod Radnich (MGBH) by one of my friends’ children who came over to me and, with an intriguing excitement in his eyes, asked, “Would you like to see something cool?”  He opened his laptop and showed me a video of Jarrod Radnich’s arrangement performance of “The Pirates of the Caribbeans” theme.  As Jarrod was playing, I watched the 12-year-old boy’s eyes filled with amazement and  awe.  At the end of the performance, the boy exclaimed, “Did you see that!?”  I must admit: that 12-year-old boy passed his excitement to me, and once I had a minute to sit down quietly at my desk, I watched all Jarrod’s YouTube videos…. more than once.   To me, this 34-year-old Southern Californian embodied an epitome of a true performer who not only engages the audio senses of a listener, but also brings so much more in delivering a rich multi-sensory experience of piano performance for a diverse audience.  A creative talent not so common in the piano world. All that inspired me to reach out to Jarrod Radnich for an interview.

American Council of Piano Performers

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself. Where and how did you grow up?
Jarrod Radnich (JR): I grew-up in the artistic and eclectic desert town of Joshua Tree in Southern California, just north of Palm Springs. My backyard was literally the Joshua Tree National Park (it was designated as a national monument at the time), and the town’s total population was less than 3,000, with quite an expanse between neighbors and, even more so, other young people my age. My parents used to live on the beach. When they decided to start a family, they wanted to move out of the city. They weren’t kidding either. We were so far out that we couldn’t even get cable TV… so I’d rock climb, write music, practice, and have a lot of time to myself.

I was playing with Legos when my mom came in my room and asked if I wanted to start learning the piano. I glanced up, said, “sure,” and went back to building my Lego masterpiece…

PPM: How did you decide to become a pianist?
JR: Actually, although most people find this difficult to believe, there was never a time where I decided I wanted to become a pianist. Instead, my early passion for composing was the driving force in my decision to be a professional musician, and the pianist part just came naturally with that. Inherently, I have great angst when I compose, for I “hear” so much more than what can be created on the piano as it exists now or any other singular instruments for that matter. Having said that, the piano is truly unique and unparalleled. At its core, it’s inherently a percussion instrument — rhythmic and innately primal; but it can also be hauntingly lyrical, creating melodies woven into beautifully rich harmonic textures. My introduction to the piano came as a result of my astute first grade teacher, Debbie Bernardini (MGBH). Being concerned because I was getting all of my homework done before the school day was over, she suggested to my parents that I needed something to challenge me.  She recommended that I take piano lessons. The next day I was playing with Legos when my mom came in my room and asked if I wanted to start learning the piano. I glanced up, said, “sure,” and went back to building my Lego masterpiece… and that’s how it all began.

PPM: What did your parents do for living and how did their choice of occupation influence you?
JR: While an avid surfer in his recreational time, my father is inherently an artist and became a highly sought-after general contractor and creative tile specialist, co-writing the California licensing tests for both tile and wrought iron installation. He now designs and builds incredible custom hot rods. Back when I was growing up, my mother worked with my father in their construction business and also as the executive director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. I believe it was these environments where I learned the value of an intense work ethic and learned the importance of volunteerism, which is how I spend a significant portion of my time. I also was exposed to creative thinking and artistic expression.

PPM: Do you have any siblings?
JR: I’m the youngest of two brothers, although it’s funny that most people don’t realize we are brothers — with virtually no visual resemblance and our temperaments are quite different. My paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the Bonneville Raceway (salt flats), and my brother definitely got the Radnich car gene — he’s the fleet maintenance manager for a substantial fleet of heavy-duty vehicles for a major telecom construction firm.  He’s also creative, hard working, and appreciative of our upbringing.  I, too, enjoy fast and exotic cars, and am thrilled to have recently added the new Lamborghini Huracan to my garage!

 

PPM: Do you have a family of your own? Children? What are your views on importance of a family?
JR: I’m engaged to a spectacular woman and thrilled about it.  Right now my only “kids” are two furry 115 lb playful Malamute mixes who believe that they are lapdogs. I believe family is a state of mind — blood is important, but ethics and character matter most.

PPM: In one of your interviews I read that you became a piano teacher at….. 11? How did that happen and who was your first student?
JR: I had already been performing for several years, accompanying school plays and the like, and parents would ask if I would teach their children, many who were in my elementary school.  Within two years, I had a regular weekly roster of over 30 students, from youth to adults, and was ironically getting paid more money than my school music teachers.  But it wasn’t the money that was important to me. There is an excitement in being able to help someone else realize their musical goals — and even surpass them. Teaching is such an honor and a responsibility, and I am appreciative of having been given the gift of being a great teacher myself — and when the passion is real, it naturally spreads and you pass along that gift.

I’m honestly an introvert, but enjoy hamming it up on stage and keeping the interest of the audience.

PPM: When and under what circumstances did you have your first public performance? How did you feel before and after?
JR: Ironically, my first public performance was as an “actor” in the first grade production of PETER PAN. I was Michael, and, it’s painful to admit it, but I caused a scare with my first grade teacher because I apparently acted so authentically, that she thought I was asleep on stage. I’m honestly an introvert, but enjoy hamming it up on stage and keeping the interest of the audience. I don’t actually recall my first piano performance, but it was probably in elementary school accompanying a play performance. Those were always fun because, as is typical of a boy at that age, I got to get out of my regular class to work on the play.

PPM: Where was the “Game of Thrones” video filmed?
JR: That video was filmed in San Luis Obispo at Morro Bay State Park. We obtained the permission and licensing from the California State Parks and the California Film Commission to film just off a fire road and to move that gorgeous Mason & Hamlin piano out onto the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was pretty incredible having the humpback whale pod circling around and not continuing on their trek — some say they stayed for the music. Truthfully, those weren’t CGI… and some say the same was true of the dragons. It was a fun, intense video to shoot, and it played for the Emmy Awards.

PPM: Your company, Mastermind Studios, produces your own videos. Are you your own creative director as well?
JR: Yes, but it’s a team effort. My manager/co-producer and I discuss which projects we want to get involved in, and we’ve got a lot of significant projects underway right now. As is the case with all of my compositions, I conceptualize the visuals as I create the piece itself. We have a phenomenal production team with incredible talent in creating beautiful content and footage. We discuss and collaborate on angles and techniques, scenes, and concepts. Then my co-producer and I go back into the editing studio, choose which footage we want to use to work within the story board, and, finally, do the post production video editing and mixing that builds the visual rhythm and movement to match each part of composition as it unfolds.

PPM: Let’s talk a little bit about creativity. How does a process of bringing out an idea from the ether and implementing it in physicality work for you?
JR: First, I must determine exactly what it is that I want to say — what it is that I want to communicate through sound. This initial vision is critical when beginning to compose a new work because it’s the raw, core message that gives the piece direction and authenticity. While many notes can be written to underscore drama either on film or stage, I believe that the melodic themes unto themselves must carry the ethos of the piece in a way that is both familiar, yet intriguing. If you want a piece to be successful, it must be able to loop in your listeners’ minds, so the stripped-away melody, free from embellishment, must be incredibly tangible.  In discussion particular to composition for the piano, I heavily experiment and improvise on the piano, turning themes inside and out, looking at various small motifs and elements on which to build upon. I also write-out the many contrapuntal elements that I am working with so as to find the best way to bring them to life within the confines of only two hands.

I heavily experiment and improvise on the piano, turning themes inside and out, looking at various small motifs and elements on which to build upon.

 

PPM: Do you have a favorite video (that you produced) and why?
JR: They all have been tremendously exciting to produce, but I’d have to say that I especially love the artistry of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and also the rawness of GAME OF THRONES.

PPM: Can you tell our readers an interesting/funny story that might have happened on set during filming any of the videos?
JR: Where to begin! From a hand print on the piano halfway through the Disney STAR WARS shoot that required frame-by-frame editing to fix, to our lead videographer, Thor, almost literally falling off the cliff during GAME OF THRONES, to the necessity of wearing three pairs of tights all at the same time for the CINDERELLA shoot …There are always back stories.

PPM: Do you practice piano every day? And how many hours a day?
JR: I don’t have a set practice schedule. It tends to vary depending on project and performance deadlines. Although it’s rare, there are times when I may go for a week without practicing. Other times, well, I practice for 10-16 hours a day and go for a week without doing much else.

PPM: What was the first music piece you ever wrote?
JR:  Since I was quite young, I’ve composed many pieces of music that I never named and were all a part of learning, but whose melodic lines and ideas may have matured and found their ways into pieces I composed later. My first copyrighted piece was a song composed for a ninth grade girlfriend (sappy, I know). Ironically, the piece was later used for a TV special when I competed as the top pianist in the L.A. Music Center’s Spotlight Awards, and again when I created the score function on the Disklavier… it ended-up in every Disklavier in the world.

 

My first copyrighted piece was a song composed for a ninth grade girlfriend (sappy, I know).

 

PPM: Do you have a pianist/piano performer role model that you grew up with as a child?
JR: Victor Borge (OBM). I loved that guy and everything he brought to the world. He was classy, brilliant, entertaining, and knew how to hold an audience and give them the gift of enjoyment.

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers about your StarLIGHTS Series music/book software project?
JR: StarLIGHTS is one of many recreational music making projects I have been involved in, and the concept for that particular series originated by my longtime friend Dr. Barry Bittman (MGBH) of the YAMAHA Music and Wellness Institute.  The series’ purpose is not to be educational so much as to be a catalyst for people to get involved in the music making process so that they may benefit from the many health and wellbeing improvements created by participating in such recreational music making.

PPM: In your bio it is mentioned that “as a teenager he musically directed “Babes in Arms” (McCallum Theatre). What was that project about?
JR:  I had sat in for another show’s rehearsal when their pianist was unexpectedly out. Having had a jazz background before studying classical, I made a good impression with the director, and at the age of 17 ended-up musically directing, performing and writing all the Big Band charts for BABES IN ARMS at the prestigious McCallum Theater.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite classical composers?
JR: Hands down, Ravel (OBM), Rachmaninoff (OBM), and Beethoven (OBM). In each of them I am drawn to their music’s passion, intensity, and color.

PPM: What is PianoTube?
JR: PianoTube LIVE is an invention of Mastermind Studios that utilizes YouTube to take any pianist’s performance recorded on a PianoDisc system and broadcast it as a truly live performance on any other PianoDisc equipped acoustic piano or pianos. This means that, for example, my actual keystrokes with their nuances are digitally communicated and then physically executed on another piano somewhere else that is playing the YouTube video — right before the eyes and ears of those people at the other piano.  One can record and upload their performance or stream it live simultaneously to literally millions of pianos around the world through the YouTube distribution network without an issue of requiring significant bandwidth.   The Music Trades magazine called it a “dazzling” innovation.

PPM: What commercials have you written music for?
JR: As a ghost writer, that information remains confidential. One public commercial is a public service announcement for the Great American Shakeout – an earthquake preparation reminder. In that I wrote the music and also sang.

PPM: How is writing music for commercials different from writing for other projects?
JR: It completely varies depending on the project. Inherently, the entire piece lives in a much shorter lifespan, so everything has to be very efficient and development (if there is any) has to occur very quickly.

PPM: What music have you written for Disney?
JR: I’ve had a lot of great projects with Disney, and it began when I was first commissioned to compose and record original arrangements and create two new featured attractions at Disneyland all as a part of the Dream Home of the Future exhibit.  Perhaps, most famously, I arranged a medley of music from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, and my subsequent performance of that piece was used in the exhibit for the about seven years, playing to thousands of visitors a day. The success of that and the other exhibit arrangements spawned the further creation and “opening of the vault” for permission to create advanced level piano arrangements of Disney Classics like never before, and is part of a partnership with Musicnotes.

PPM: Are you still the President of the Hi-Desert Cultural Center? If so, what are your responsibilities there? And what are your goals for this organization?
JR: I volunteer most of my time helping to rebuild this iconic arts center in my community. We are currently engaged in major renovations on the main 300+ seat historic theater and a large expansion of the Center’s back performance hall to include another theater, classrooms, and practice space. We offer first-rate arts education to over 250 area youth in our after-school programs where no child has ever been turned away due to inability to pay. We are now part of a team forming a new school for arts and technology. Additionally, the Cultural Center has now become one of the top producing theater organizations in Southern California and is home to the Joshua Tree Philharmonic, an inter-generational community orchestra of which I am the volunteer maestro.

 

[At Hi-Desert Cultural Center], we offer first-rate arts education to over 250 area youth in our after-school programs where no child has ever been turned away due to inability to pay.

 

PPM: What are your hobbies and how do you spend your “down time”?
JR: You jest.  Downtime?  What is that?  All kidding aside, right now I am volunteering and heading-up a team creating a new school with a focus on arts and creative-based technologies, so I haven’t had much downtime this past year. Generally, I decompress in nature and have a passion for botany… and exotic cars.

PPM: Do you exercise regularly?
JR: I joke that conducting or playing the piano the way I do is definitely a sport!   Seriously, I do some running, hiking, smart weight lifting.  I used to surf a lot growing up and that’s something I definitely want to get back into.

PPM: Do you eat healthy? What is your favorite food?
JR: I definitely eat healthy, and my body prefers the cave man diet — keeping it organic with as few ingredients as possible.  I never cared for soda or anything carbonated and don’t eat fast food.  As for a favorite food, some authentic tacos sans corn, or for a very special meal you can’t go wrong with steak accompanied by a red wine reduction, escargot or caviar, and a glass of Burgundy from the Puligny-Montrachet region of France followed by a Grande Marnier soufflé… oh, and some brussel sprouts (tossed in olive oil and then browned with butter and balsamic vinegar, and a dash of nutmeg and salt).

 

I definitely eat healthy [… ] keeping it organic with as few ingredients as possible.

 

PPM: Do you practice any form of religion? What is your understanding of and relationship with God?
JR: Music is a spiritual experience, and as a Christian I have always had a close relationship with God and acknowledge that higher power. There are few great musicians I have met that do not acknowledge and revere that there are forces far greater and more complex than ourselves.

PPM:  Thank you, Jarrod.  We wish you happy holidays and a  successful year  full of blessings and many projects where you can share your talent with others and bring them joy from listening and watching to your beautiful performances.

 

 

 

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