Featured Interview:
The Piano Guys – From Youtube To World Tour

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

It started six years ago with the four God-fearing men deciding to make music videos for YouTube audiences.  During these years, they developed deep friendships, travelled the world together, and created inspiring audio/visual masterpieces that captivated hundreds millions of viewers and listeners.  Today, the Piano Guys are ready for their next adventure – live performances throughout the world’s best concert halls and arenas.  Paul Andersen (MGBH), Jon Smith (MGBH),, Steven Sharp Nelson (MGBH), and Al van der Beek (MGBH), sit down with Piano Performer Magazine to tell their story.

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): The story of how you all met sounds short of a miracle. At what point of your career was each of you before forming a group? Were you looking for a change?
Paul: I’d have to admit that I’m always looking for a change. I don’t like work to be repetitive.  I was continually trying new things to keep my job exciting.  I’ve always loved photography and videography.  So before The Piano Guys I spent time taking a lot of photos of pianos I’d sell to people that had beautiful homes and had a dream to eventually put pianos outside, showing off Southern Utah.  It was awesome how it eventually led to that, then putting pianos in crazy locations all over the world! 
Steven: Only Jon (MGBH) was in music full-time.  Paul (MGBH) owned a piano store. Al was doing some studio engineering projects and freelance graphic design work. I was in a venture capital group while moonlighting as a musician.  You’re absolutely right. Our meeting, our genesis, was nothing short of a miracle.  And we feel it was for a purpose. To find and fulfill our life “missions.”

Our meeting, our genesis, was nothing short of a miracle.  And we feel it was for a purpose. To find and fulfill our life “missions.”

PPM: What was your first video about, what challenges did you face, and how did you solve them?
Steven: It was an original tune called “Michael Meets Mozart.” We actually hired out most of the video work to a good friend and fellow YouTuber. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we just went after it with all we had.  It was, in essence, our best shot at an experiment in a new way to produce music
visually.  We prayed for help, then got to work, reminding ourselves to have fun and do our best. These
are the same rules I give my children in everything they do — be it sports, music or schooling.

We prayed for help, then got to work, reminding ourselves to have fun and do our best. These
are the same rules I give my children in everything they do — be it sports, music or schooling.

PPM: Jon, please, tell our readers about your career as a pianist before The Piano Guys. Who was your first piano teacher? What venues did you perform at?
Jon: I started learning piano at the age of 7.  My first piano teacher was a lady in the neighborhood.  I took lessons for a few months, and I remember not getting it at all.  At that age, reading music was just too much for me, and I just started using my ear and read the finger numbers.  So, the first year was kind of a disaster.  And I remember the piano teacher often in tears.  So, that I think gave me a real desire when I was a teacher to try to figure out how to help kids not to experience what I had experienced.  After that first teacher, I started taking piano lessons from my older sister – 11 years older than me – the best pianist in the family.  I admire her piano skills immensely.  She can sightread anything.  He was the accompanist for the Utah Symphony Choir, and she literally could sight any piece of classical music without missing a beat.   She started with Mabel Borg Jenkins (OBM), one of whose students was Grant Johannesen (OBM), who became a world renowned concert pianist.  So, I was classically trained by her from the age of 8 till the age of 19.  I am really lucky that I was able to have that background in my family.  She encouraged me to try out for a music scholarship when I was 16 years old, and I did it because she wanted me to.

I did it with the Military piece of Chopin (OBM), and, to my surprise, I was awarded the scholarship!  And then I turned it down, because I didn’t really want to become a musician. That wasn’t on my radar at all.  At 19, I stopped training classically and was writing and doing things for fun.  I started writing music by ear as a teenager, and that kind of took over – my own creative pursuits took over my classical training.  I was always the school entertainer in high school.  Right around 21, I started to perform benefit concerts.  I started doing one for my high school that I attended to raise money for some event.  And then surrounding high schools contacted me to do fundraisers for their events.  And within a year it became a local phenomena.  It’s really strange how all these kids showed up to these piano concerts, but I did do some highly energetic things – I was still kind of a kid myself in my early twenties.  So, I think I kinda related that way.  And the music I was playing was written when I was a teenager influenced by a lot of the pop music that I was listening to.  My self-produced and self-promoted performance led to a career that grew all over my home state and, actually, surrounding states.  It became a regional act within 5-7 years.   And then I put my compositions into sheet music, and it became a bestseller in the home state of Utah, which, by the way, I have heard he more pianists per capita than any other state in the US.  So, that was a good state for me to live in, as I produced books of sheet music.  That’s how things grew.. And pretty soon I was recording more CDs.  The local radio was playing my music at Christmas time.

 She encouraged me to try out for a music scholarship when I was 16 years old, and I did it because she wanted me to.  I did it with the Military piece of Chopin (OBM), and, to my surprise, I was awarded the scholarship!  And then I turned it down, because I didn’t really want to become a musician.

PPM:  Steven, when did you start learning cello, and what was your cello career was like before forming a band?
Steven: I started cello when I was 7 years old. All my siblings played instruments. It was the Nelson way of life!  I grew up immersed in music. My first cello teacher was a very sweet woman named Kate Reaves (MGBH). She was the kind of teacher just right for a severely ADHD kid like myself who needed extra patience.  My first few years were slow, but they were meaningful.  When I switched to my next teacher who was a very prominent professional cellist, the first thing he did was rip off my fingerboard tape marks. I was mortified! But tough love was what I needed at that stage.  It was like Denzel Washington (MGBH) in “Remember the Titans,” but in a much more cello-ish sort of way. 🙂 My ADHD was my greatest weakness that turned out to be my greatest strength. Since I couldn’t apply myself to 6 hours of practicing a classical piece of music every day, I instead learned multiple instruments, learned how to improvise, joined bands, orchestras and string quartets, in which I was constantly being exposed to new music. I tried to play as much, if not more, than I practiced. If I was in front of people, I found my skills multiplied 10 fold over just playing to a wallpapered practice room. I played soccer for 8 years, and the same was true in this sport. I needed to scrimmage to apply the skills I was learning. We need to scrimmage more in music. The more informal, even spontaneous opportunities we have to play in front of people or in a group setting, or for a music video, the more likely we are to feel purpose in our progression which can catalyze it more than adding more hours to our practice sessions.

PPM: Steven, in your videos you play a traditional brown cello, a stunning white one, and even an acoustic one. Are they all yours or do you borrow them for the shoots? How many cellos do you own and what specific purpose does each one of them fulfill?
Steve: I now have 29 cellos! I know. Its ridiculous. But they each have a different sound and different personality. I name them all!  And I experiment with them all in different ways to create the layers of sound you hear in our music.

 I now have 29 cellos! I know. Its ridiculous. But they each have a different sound and different personality. I name them all!

PPM: Al, your bio mentions that you also play piano.  Besides being the producer and the fashion police of the band, do you also contribute to the music aspect of The Piano Guys?
Al: I grew up in a very musical home.  All 7 children learned to play instruments – mine was violin. We all sang together in four part harmony and performed as a family. I started songwriting when I was about 14 years old and play several instruments by ear (guitar, piano, drums).  My main role in the group is music producer and songwriter.  I also am featured vocally on many of our tracks.

PPM:You started out with a mission to create inspiring music videos. What made you think of starting performing live?
Al: Our manager thought it would be a good idea, and we agreed. 😉 Nothing can replace the thrill of being in front of a live audience. Part of who we are and our mission, is fulfilled by meeting our fans face-to-face and hearing their inspiring stories.

Nothing can replace the thrill of being in front of a live audience. Part of who we are and our mission, is fulfilled by meeting our fans face-to-face and hearing their inspiring stories.

PPM: In how many locations have you shot your performance videos so far and where were they?
Steven: If you go to YouTube and search the Piano Guys, click on our channel to find out!

PPM: It looks like a big logistical complication to bring a grand piano to location. How do you work out these details?
Jon: Luckily, Utah is a very diverse state as far as scenery.  And the majority of our videos have been filmed in Utah.  Paul with his store has been a huge asset, because he had all the equipment for transporting pianos.  And it is amazing how you can just take legs off of piano, put it on its side, wrap it up, put it on an 8-wheel piano dolly, and it’s amazing where it can go.  With 6 or 8 guys, you can push it over rocks and uneven ground.  So, you get the trailer as close to the location as possible, and then you go the rest of the way with piano dollies. If you happen to be in the sand dunes like we were with one video, then we would put the piano dolly on a wooden plank and leapfrog a wooden plank in front of it and go on like that.  We did that with a piano for about a length of a football field from the trailer to the place where we wanted to film for a video called “Don’t You Worry, Child, ” which was filmed in the sand dunes in Utah, but it looked like we were in the middle of India.

And one time we went and bought cables at Home Depot, and Paul had a friend that had a helicopter.  We attached one end to the helicopter and tied the other end to the piano that was wrapped up and tied a big granny knot, crossed out fingers, said a prayer and said, “Well, if it falls, at least we’ll have a viral video,”  But it didn’t, and we lifted it up to a 1000 ft cliff.

When we are outside of Utah, luckily, we can just call somebody and let them worry about it.  In China, somebody arranged for us to have a crane to get it onto one part of the Great Wall of China.  And then they arranged to have 30 guys to literally carry it to the spot on the Great Wall of China where we wanted to film.  And again, they carried it for about a football field, up steps. That was quite amazing!

In Hawaii, Paul knew a piano store owner and was able to talk him into carrying a piano.  Ten guys carried a piano – from the road onto the beach.  Yeah, it’s real blue collar, but it’s been quite the adventure!

PPM: How many people are involved in production and post-production of your shoots?
Paul: I like to keep things simple, so we can get things done quickly.  We want to get back to our families as soon as possible.  So, most of our videos were filmed in under a day, sometime only in a few hours.  A typical video shoot would include Jon, Steven, Al, and myself.  Then Shaye Scott (MGBH) – a second cameraman, Kyle Fisher (MGBH) who films the Behind The Scenes, then Jeremy (MGBH) and Frank (MGBH) who move the piano and help with anything else.   After filming, editing usually takes 1 to 2 weeks depending on how complicated the shoot was.

PPM: What was the most challenging video shoot for you so far and why?
Paul: All the Wonders of the World have been extremely challenging, but the most difficult is tied between Fight Song in Scotland, Jungle Book in Mexico, and How Great Thou Art in Brazil. I could write a book on all the challenges we face in putting a piano in places they’ve never been before. That’s definitely one of our biggest challenges we face when filming.  It’s weird to me that some people just don’t want to move a piano to crazy locations, I don’t get it. 😉

PPM: When did you start touring, and where was your first live performance as the Piano Guys?
Steven: Our first live performance as an official group was in Utah (where we all live) in 2011.  Jon and I had been performing together for many years, so there it was more of a brand change and an infusion of new music into our set list.

PPM: Who books your performance tours and what is it like to have such an intensive
performance schedule?
Al: We have fabulous managers and booking agency. It’s very hard for us to be away from our families for more than 2-3 weeks at a time. We wish we could tour more, but being husbands and fathers is our priority.

We wish we could tour more, but being husbands and fathers is our priority.

PPM: Paul, everything started in your piano store. Do you still own it? 
Paul: I don’t own the store anymore.  I probably could’ve sold it for a lot of money, but didn’t have the time, because the videos started taking off, and we started doing a lot more shows.  I loved spending time with the other guys so much though that piano sales were declining.  Things were touch and go for awhile there, but once we launched our Founders program, where people were able to donate to us, that gave us all a boost to know that this was something we could invest more time in.

PPM: Who chooses your repertoire, and what is your daily rehearsal schedule like?
Jon: This has been quite a journey in the last six years since we’ve started.  We’ve produced so much new music.   The Piano Guys put out new sixty videos at that time, which averages out ten a year.  That was even more intense at the beginning, and that does not include album releases that weren’t videos or concert music that we’ve learned.  So, it’s been six years of intense practicing.  It’s just like nothing I have ever experienced in my whole life.  My family is just amazed at how much I have been at the piano in the last six years.  It’s really incredible, especially when you have a video deadline when you have to look like you’ve played your song your whole life and just forget about everything for the video shoot.   And we have used sheet music only once with a couple of vocalists, but as far as the performance, we feel like it helps significantly the feeling of the performance not to be looking at sheet music.  I always start with the hardest parts, because I know it’s gonna take a month at least, two months sometimes, hundreds of hours to get those, and knowing that in all likelihood I will probably be performing these at some point live.  So, it’s another reason to invest a lot of time.  And when there is a deadline, I look back over the last six years, there is a lot of all day rehearsals from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed, and luckily, I can go hour after hour without a break and just keep going.  But after two or three years of this, I started getting some back muscle issues.  I do finger stretching and finger exercises to keep my fingers strong. Luckily, I haven’t developed any tendonitis. It’s just a huge miracle to be able to avoid injury with all the practicing I am doing.  I feel like it’s part of a mission of sorts.   I look at the comments that come in on the videos, and a lot of them say that the music has been inspiration or it has been a comfort, and that is the biggest motivation for all of us –  that we feel that it’s provided a real positive in people’s lives.   And we actually feel it – kind of a  spiritual calling with what we are doing as well.  Especially, as we read people’s comments – it’s unbelievable and gratifying.   And getting ready for concerts, for me maybe takes longer than most, but I feel a real obligation to people who pay significant ticket prices.  And I have to say on the side note that the prices that people pay for concerts is embarrassing to me, but promoters work with booking agencies, and for promoters to be interested, there has to be a certain price level that is kind of set, and it’s out of our control.  So, it’s a labor of love, it really is.  But some songs have required hundreds of hours – 300-400 of hours to perform as single songs.

PPM: You have over 6,000,000 subscribers and over 1,502,950,188 views on YouTube. Would you share a few marketing tips with someone who is just trying to get their channel out?
Paul: Be willing to take risks, work really hard, study what other Youtubers are doing. Then find what interests you personally, and put your own spin on it.  Study all you can about the major sharing platforms that most people are using at the time. They all have certain strategies that help get your content seen more and really study and learn about how their algorithms work.  What’s great is that all the information you could ever want is on Youtube!

PPM: How does one sponsor one of your videos and what is a minimum contribution?
Paul: We’ve been really picky with sponsorships in the past, just so we can keep control of what we put out there, but I think we are getting more open to them going forward.  Just email support@thepianoguys.com and we can go from there.  Every deal is different on pricing, but we’ve tried to cater to everyone.  We even have our own club where individuals can get their name at the end of a video. You can check it out on our website ThePianoGuys.com.  It’s called TPG Living Room, or Club VIPG. It’s really affordable!

We even have our own club where individuals can get their name at the end of a video. You can check it out on our website ThePianoGuys.com.  It’s called TPG Living Room, or Club VIPG. It’s really affordable!

 

PPM: Please, share a story or two that happened during one of your travels together.
Al: We are like brothers, so we love to prank one another.  One time we played a prank on Jon where Steven pretended he got severely cut by one of his cello strings.  When Jon came back stage, Steven was moaning in pain and clinching his hand that we had covered in ketchup.  We told him that Steven couldn’t continue the concert and that Jon would have to do the second half by himself.  After a few minutes into the prank we started to laugh, and Jon was relieved he didn’t have to perform alone.

PPM:  What role does spirituality play in your life and how does having a relationship with God help you cope with challenges and dark moments? 
Jon: Spirituality plays a huge role in all our lives.  I remember reading a book of an artist named Minerva Teichert (OBM), and she said in that book that she never picked up a brush without saying a prayer asking for help from God and inspiration.  And whenever she ran into a problem in her painting, she would turn to prayer.  And I say to myself, “I am an artist like her. Maybe I don’t do a tool brush, but I use music. Why don’t I do it!”  And from that time forward, I started praying before I start to write.  And that has been a huge blessing!  It’s amazing how many times I can even get up off my knees, and a musical solution is playing in my head that is totally unanticipated after spending an hour or two sometimes of struggling to find a solution.  And Boom! There it is! And that has happened so many times! It’s a real testimony in my mind of a power of prayer.   And the solutions that we’ve had together, too… It’s really great to all share this faith-based approach in our writing.  Together we all do that, we all do the exact same thing.  We pray before shows, pray that people can feel inspired and comforted, and all of the things that music has the power to do.  We believe that music is one of the ways of God to reach out to his children, one of thousands of different ways, to comfort them, to inspire them, to give them faith. And we feel deeply honored to be involved in that.  We feel a sense of mission that I think is #1 on the list of motivations for why we are doing what we are doing.  I would have to say that the whole concept of comfort is a big priority in God’s mind.  And it’s an honor to be involved.

I remember reading a book of an artist named Minerva Teichert (OBM), and she said in that book that she never picked up a brush without saying a prayer asking for help from God and inspiration.  And whenever she ran into a problem in her painting, she would turn to prayer. And I say to myself, “I am an artist like her. Maybe I don’t do a tool brush, but I use music. Why don’t I do it!”

PPM: What is your collective artistic dream as a music band?
Steven: Oscar Hammerstein (OBM) once said, “It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many
spokesmen, while hope has so few.” Our dream is that our music can reach as many people as possible and be a “spokesman” for hope. That, as people listen and watch, they feel the worth of their own souls; and as Handel (OBM) once said, “they aren’t just entertained, but bettered.”  As they listen and watch, we hope they can feel gratitude for the beauty of the earth, for God’s love, for family, and for all that is good in this world.

Oscar Hammerstein (OBM) once said, “It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many
spokesmen, while hope has so few.” Our dream is that our music can reach as many people as possible and be a “spokesman” for hope.

PPM: Where do you go out to eat when you are travelling? What foods does each of you like?
Al: Most of us are very healthy eaters and eat clean foods that give lots of energy.  Paul loves Mc Donald’s or anything else fast food.  We make green smoothies after every show and love to eat at local favorites. Some of our favorites are sushi, Thai food, Indian, and Korean food.

PPM: In one of your videos you perform in an ice cave.  Please, tell our readers about that video shoot.
Paul: The set was built in Midway, Utah.  It actually wasn’t the coldest shoot we’ve been on, but we usually use a portable heater to keep Jon and Steven’s fingers warm, so they could play.  Other than that we’d just bundle up.  The instruments don’t stay in tune real well in the cold.  Luckily, we pre-record all the music in the studio, so things always sound great in the videos!  We just happened to have a white broken digital grand piano left over from my store, so it just seemed obvious to freeze it for that shoot.  The people that built the city of ice carved the cello for us the day before the shoot. They were awesome in helping us out, letting us have the run of the place. You can check out their work on their website here: http://www.icecastles.com

We filmed it in a day and a half. We had about twelve people on set as we filmed. We hired a drone operator for that shoot, because I hadn’t learned to fly them yet.  We also rented the RED cameras on this shoot to try them out.  We’ve gone back to filming on our little DSLR since then as it makes filming a lot more simple.

PPM: Do your families get together during weekends, holidays or birthdays?
Al: Occasionally we’ll do things outside of work, but because we spend so much time together as a group, we don’t get together outside of work very often. We feel like our “guy” time is when we’re on tour. When we’re home, we spend as much time with our families as possible.  We love it most when our wives/families can join us on tour.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your creative process.  Who is involved in writing and arranging music?
Jon: Steven, Al, and I do the music end of things.  Paul has a little bit of input as well, but mainly he is on the video side.  There is a lot of praying for ideas. I know when we get a good idea because it feels like something that we refer to as “chills up,” “chills up your spine.”  We try to just have it be exclusively that.  Stuff that we just feel that is inspired.

PPM: You have an interesting approach of taking on many classical pieces and mixing them with contemporary pop hits. Which of you came up with this idea?
Jon: I would have to say that before Piano Guys, that it something that really was intriguing to me when people used classical music as a spice in their writing.  I really loved it when I would notice Billy Joel (MGBH) infusing classical elements into what he did, which he did a lot, actually.  He was a real inspiration to me.  And I know his father was a concert pianist, so he has a great respect for classical music.  Another group that did this was very inspirational to me with their early albums of original music was a group called Mannheim Steamroller.  They are famous for their Christmas arrangements, but their original music is a total blend of classical elements with the modern ones. And when I heard it, I just was lit on fire.  I remember listening to it as a teenager, and Mannheim Steamroller’s early albums kind of took my high school by storm.  It was very interesting to see how popular it became with young people.  So, I wanted to write in that same style.  And I would have to say that my compositions were very inspired with that, and I would blatantly mix classical and rock-n-roll or classical and pop.  So, that kind of was something that I established in my eight albums before the Piano Guys.  And when we came together, Steven also loved that philosophy and was well-established in classical and his knowledge.  And Al brought the elements of modern that Steven and I weren’t so familiar with.  But Al also respects classical music.  It was just a cool meeting of the minds…. As we would arrange these popular tunes that our kids loved.  As we were trying to impress our kids by arranging the tunes by the artists we loved, we just couldn’t help but going to it.  If you think of us as three chefs cooking, one of our favorite spices was classical, and we couldn’t help but go to it. And in certain circumstances, it wasn’t stylistically, where we would just add a theme by one of the classical composers right into the arrangement.   And that was just so fun.  Or if we were arranging a classical piece, it would be fun to put a modern twist on it.   And some people are uncomfortable with this.  We’ve run against criticism, “You’ve ruined Beethoven. You’ve ruined Rachmaninoff.”  A thought I have had on that, however, is that Beethoven (OBM) and Brahms (OBM) and other composers often took themes that they didn’t write and did variations.  They put their own spin on themes by other composers.  And I have been very intrigued by that kind of thing. It’s so cool to hear Mozart’s (OBM) variations on a theme that sounds like “Twinkle, twinkle little star” or Beethoven’s variations…   There are several composers that did that and they are so fun to listen to.  I have actually wrote an original piece or tune called “All of me,” and it’s been fun to see several different versions that people have done.  One guy did a minor version of “All of me.”  He took a very major upbeat piece and did it all in minor and gave it a subtitle “None of Me,” a song of… anger… So, it was just very interesting to listen to that. And I wasn’t offended in the least. So, I hope that classical composers that we’ve put a modern twist on would have liked it.

PPM: What does your concert and recording schedule look like for the upcoming year? Are there any upcoming CD releases that you would like to tell our readers about?
Jon: At the moment, we are working on a new album, which is scheduled to come out in the fall.  We are working on filming note reading.  It’s sort of like a note reading bootcamp that I developed when I was a piano teacher and seeing young students struggle with note reading the way I struggled with it when I was young using the same old methods that I think have a lot of drawbacks, to tell you the truth.  And so, I developed something that I felt was a huge improvement and tested it out to students and showed it to teachers over several years.  And then turned it into an official note-reading program that I published in a book called “67 Fun Songs.” And I’ve gotten such great reviews and great response from teachers and students on this note-reading method.  Anyway, we’ve improved it and put lots of great tweaks and formatted it for video. So, it literally feels like I am your coach.  And so, we are in the middle of filming that right now, and we are very excited.

We’ve got an Australia tour coming up. We have sold two tours in the Sidney Opera House already. This is very exciting for us. We have a summer tour up in Canada, and I hear that there is talk about a tour to the Orient. So, a really amazing year ahead!

 

 

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!

 

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 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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