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.
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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