Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

2017 has been quite a year.

I made good on my "one word," venture, traveling to Europe for the first time since 1982 and to Sedona, Arizona where I recorded my first ever album of original solo piano music, Seashells in My Pocket. I went to Nashville where I was welcomed into the family of Enlightened Piano Radio artists; since then, I have also become a Whisperings Solo Piano artist. My music is on Spotify and iTunes and Amazon and has been listened to in countries all over the world.

I have grown as a musician in other ways too. I performed with the Redeemer Piano Ensemble and the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra and joined two local musicale groups. I have a new piano duo partner and have a concert planned with her in September 2018 and more concerts planned throughout the coming year with other solo piano artists. I adjudicated for numerous area piano festivals; I did a Saturday seminar for the Peoria Area Music Teachers Association in September; I presented at the Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference in November. All the while, I have maintained my studio of 58 piano students and taught them well.

Few of us are lucky enough to make it through a year without experiencing loss. In August, my dear friend friend Shawn succumbed to diabetes; in October, I said goodbye to my dog Karma, my faithful companion of fifteen years. In September, my dad fell and broke his hip, requiring hospitalization, surgery and physical therapy. But in November, my brother and I helped move my parents from southern Illinois into a rental home just ten miles from my house. I am happy to have them nearby and look forward to seeing them once or twice a week instead of once or twice a year.

I don't make New Years resolutions anymore, but I do believe the end of the calendar year is a good time to reflect on past accomplishments and make plans for the future. And while I am proud of my achievements in many areas, I fell short in others. So yesterday I took a good hard look at my Amazing Life List, made some revisions, and honed in on 21 items that I believe I can check off in 2018. I have already started, formulating weekly goals for time at the piano, exercise, reading, and creating, and establishing deadlines throughout the year for the rest. I am visualizing myself this time next year reaping the fruits of my labors. It feels fantastic.

If there's one thing I am good at, it is GETTING STUFF DONE.

But all this going and doing have taken a toll on my body and mind. In the spring, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and now take medication daily to keep it under control. Exercise? My walking tracker app has been idle for weeks. Reading? The pile of unread books sitting next to my bed is three times the size of the stack of books I actually finished in 2017. I am a chronic insomniac; my intake of red wine and dark chocolate exceed what might provide health benefits.

This is no laughing matter. Because I need to be healthy and fit if I am going to be able to check all the rest of those items off my Amazing Life List. I need to make time to nourish my body - for cooking and baking and getting out in the fresh air and taking a walk. I need to come up with a night time routine that I can adhere to and go to bed early if I need to. And I need to make time for all those things that nourish my mind - for reading and knitting and watching uplifting television shows and movies. I need to say "yes" to time with friends and "no" to to things I really don't want to do.

Recently, I stumbled across the word hygge, a Danish concept that cannot be translated into one single English word. says:

“In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family - that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking - preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.”

So my "one word" for 2018 is hygge. I want this to be the year that I really learn how to take care of myself. Obviously, my to-do list isn't going anywhere, but I am going to make a conscious effort to take regular breaks from the busy-ness of my daily life - to enjoy the simple pleasures of a warm bubble bath, a hot cup of tea, and a good book, and to simply be - in order to preserve my health and sanity.

And now, as I finish this final post of 2017, I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for following my blog and for supporting my work. I wish you all a safe and happy New Year's Eve and the best of everything in the year to come.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Seashells in My Pocket is launched!

 My debut solo piano CD, Seashells in My Pocket, officially released on Friday, October 13th.
 Like shells plucked from the seashore and tucked into my pocket as souvenirs from a magical day at the beach, these pieces evoke memories of some of the beautiful islands and coastal cities I have had the pleasure of visiting over the years.

Straight from the manufacturer.
I transcribed all of my compositions and put them together to create a companion sheet music book.

Seashells in My Pocket solo piano sheet music book.
And I made a pendant to tie in with the theme.

Also available with a golden shadow or a clear diamond starfish.
On Saturday night, I hosted a CD release concert/party to celebrate. 

Pam Asberry playing a selection from Seashells in My Pocket.
It was pure joy to play all the pieces from my album, share the stories behind them, and sign autographs at intermission. 

My handsome son Nathan kept things running smoothly at the merchandise table. 
 My album is available for purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and at my website, where you can also order the companion songbook and pendant.

It is also available for streaming on Spotify. Click here to follow me on Spotify and add my music to your playlists.

I can't really say this is a dream come true, because I am living a dream I never dared to imagine.
But now that I am on this journey, I hope it never ends.
Thank you for joining my on my grand adventure.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seashells in My Pocket

I am happy to announce that my debut solo piano CD, Seashells in My Pocket, is now available for pre-order!

You can pre-order the physical CD, the digital album, and the companion sheet music book at Bandcamp (click HERE).

If iTunes or Apple Music is more your style, the digital album is available for pre-order HERE.

With any pre-order, the first track, Cozumel Blue Waters, is available for immediate download. The rest will be available for download/shipping on Friday, October 13th, the album's official release date.

CD's and sheet music books will also be available at my CD release concert the next evening. I will play selections from the album and share the stories behind the music. Here are the details.

Saturday, October 14, 2017
6:30-8:30 PM
2805 Buford Highway, Duluth, GA, 30096
Admission is FREE!

In the meantime, please "like" my new Facebook page (click HERE) and visit my new website (click HERE). The website is still under construction, but after my release date that will be the best place to find news about concerts and to purchase CD's, songbooks and other merchandise.

I couldn't be more excited! As always, thank you for your support!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Summer's End

The future started yesterday.
~ John Legend
Grand Canyon, Arizona.
All good things must come to an end, and so did this wondrous summer.

But I sent it out with a bang. Last Wednesday morning, I boarded a Southwest jet, flew to Phoenix, rode the shuttle to my rental car, hopped in "my" Toyota Corolla, and drove to Sedona.

Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona
As first sight of those famous red rock formations, I fell in love. I have always been drawn to the ocean and dreamed of living close to the water. But Sedona has its own special appeal. More than one person I met started out as a visitor there and ended up a permanent resident. I can see why.

A few miles down the road, I found the lovely Arabella Hotel, checked into my room, had a delicious meal at the nearby Elote Cafe, and got a good night's sleep. The next morning, I was greeted by this smiling face. 
 Tim is one of the dynamic tour guides who works for Grand Venture Tours. He took six other travelers and me on an fast-paced trip to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, sharing lots of history and local wisdom as we went. I actually took notes, as there are many things I want to learn more about, and it was way too much to remember.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Wapataki National Monument

Lunch and shopping at the Cameron Trading Post

The Grand Canyon. Pictures don't do it justice.
 All too soon, Tim dropped us off at our hotels. I spent one more night at the Arabella and had another delicious dinner, this one at The Hudson. Then it was time to check out and make way to my final destination, Piano Haven,

Piano Haven, Sedona, Arizona
where I spent the next two days recording and editing all the songs that will go on my soon-to-be-released solo piano album, Seashells in My Pocket

Shigeru Kawai, the king of pianos
It was a delightful experience. The piano was amazing, hands-down my all-time favorite, and Joe was kind, patient and encouraging. I can hardly wait to get that finished CD in my hands.

* * *

I arrived back home late Sunday evening, just in time for back-to-school here in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and back to full-time piano teaching for me. But I couldn't have asked more from the summer of 2017. I forged new friendships, checked a few things off my bucket list, and turned some dreams into plans. 

The way I see it now, every day is a new adventure.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Adventures

Italy was everything I hoped it would be.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the privilege of attending the InterHarmony International Music Festival in Acqui Terme.
My travel companions Yoonsook, Soojung, Qin, Dr. Thomas, and I. 
The path to our hotel. Acqui Terme, Italy.
Leftover from Roman times. Acqui Terme, Italy.
Thermal Baths. Acqui Terme, Italy.
I walked six to eight miles every single day
These feet were made for walking.
and I ate and drank whatever I wanted.
Cappuccino every morning for breakfast.
A typical meal at our hotel. Served buffet style. 
My new favorite drink, Aperol Spritz.
Gelato was a refreshing reprieve from the relentless heat.
There was no air conditioning anywhere in Acqui Terme.
Inspired by both caring faculty and fellow students, I made music every single day.
My practice room.
Dana, Sandra and me performing our chamber piece, Ibert's "Deux Interludes." So much fun!
During the course of the festival, we enjoyed two days of sightseeing in Milan and Turin;
Duomo di Milano.
La Scala Opera House, Milano.
Egyptian Museum, Torino.
View from atop the National Museum of Cinema in Turin.
then, at the conclusion of the festival, we spent two days sightseeing in Rome, 
making wishes and tossing coins into Trevi Fountain,
Trevi Fountain, Rome
touring famous places I had always dreamed of seeing,
Coliseum, Rome.
Borghese Gallery, Rome.
Vatican Museum, Rome.
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome (we saw the Sistine Chapel, too, but no photos are allowed in there!)
and eating and drinking some more.
Best pizza ever at Da Baffetto. Yes, that's an egg in the middle!
Red wine goes with everything.
I learned a lot and made many wonderful memories. 

Now I'm making music back home. I've played in two formal concerts
I played "Forest Solitude" by Zdenek Fibich. Steinway Galleries, Alpharetta, GA, July 23, 2017.
I played two of my original compositions. University of North Georgia, Gainesville, July 30, 2017.
and enjoyed an evening with friends playing the fifteen solo piano pieces I composed this spring and sharing the stories behind them.
Dave & Julia, dear friends and gracious hosts.
Tomorrow I'm headed to Sedona, Arizona where I will spend two days with Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven recording my music. And that's just the beginning. But if all goes well, my first solo piano CD will be ready to release on October 13th. I have already booked the recital hall for the next day for a celebration concert.
I will return home late Sunday evening; on Monday, school starts and I will resume full-time teaching.

But for once, I'm not asking myself, "Where did the summer go?"

I know EXACTLY where it went.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Italy Bound

By the time you see this post, I will be in Italy.

That's right. ITALY! The one in EUROPE!

As I write these words, I am in the final stages of preparation for the InterHarmony International Music Festival in Acqui Terme, Italy. Click HERE for details.

For the next couple of weeks, I will be completely immersed in music - practice, lessons, chamber music coaching, concerts - and enjoying a bit of sightseeing, in Milan and Turin. Then, at the conclusion of the festival, a colleague and I will take a high speed train to Rome and see the sights there.

During my practice time and private lessons, I will focus on my festival chamber music assignment, solos/duets/duos that I plan to perform in future concerts, and getting my solo piano pieces ready to record the first weekend in August. Which reminds me: I have come up with a new title for my CD. Ocean Views wasn't bad. But Seashells in My Pocket is PERFECT! I am so excited about the way this project is shaping up.

There are moments when I can hardly believe all this is actually happening.

* * * 

A couple of thoughts:

(1) Continue to learn. What you know will never be enough.
~ Sonya Teclai

Last week, when I shared my plans with a very young student, she crossed her arms and said, "Wait a minute! I thought you were a piano TEACHER, not a piano STUDENT." I explained to her that I am BOTH, as no one can ever know everything there is to know.

(2) Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.
~ Michael Jordan

Last year (and the year before that, and the year before THAT), when my festival teacher invited me to be a part of the summer event, I politely declined, saying there was NO WAY I could ever afford to do such a thing. Well, last August I fired my housekeeping service, put the money I had been spending into savings, and over the academic year it covered my festival tuition in full. All I had to purchase on top of that was an airline ticket (and order some euros to cover incidental expenses). Mission accomplished!

* * *

I look forward to sharing my experiences and impressions after I get back. In the meantime, I encourage you to challenge yourself to learn new things and dream your biggest dream. You have absolutely nothing to lose and so many joyous, amazing things to gain!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Transcriptions FINISHED!

My last two solo piano pieces are finished, transcribed, and added to the collection!

 Here is a screen shot of the working titles in what might be album order.

That's fifteen songs and fifty-seven pages of sheet music! *

Of course, the music needs a lot of editing. Playing through a couple of the pieces this afternoon, I found several errors; I suspect there are many more. And, as I mentioned in my blog post last week, I need to go back and add in musical details: tempo markings, dynamics, articulations, etc. But what I have right now is enough to get me started with the hard work of polishing everything up and getting all the pieces ready to record. 

Here are a few things I have found to be true during my time as a composer:

1. Composing is alternately challenging, satisfying, frustrating, and exhilarating.
2. Hours go by like minutes when I am working on a new solo piano piece.
3. Transcribing the music from my scribbles on staff paper is time consuming and tedious.
4. Like everything, transcription gets easier with experience.
5. I am already looking forward to writing music for my next album.

But first things first! 

For now, I must set my pencil aside. In addition to a couple of handfuls of private students, I will be teaching all next week at a music camp. Then I will have just a few days to pack and make ready for my European adventure - details in my next post! After returning home, I will have just a couple of weeks - filled with teaching, performing, and preparing for the 2017-2018 academic - before I fly out to Sedona, Arizona to record my album on August 4th and 5th. 

I will come home on Sunday, August 6th; school, and full-time teaching, will resume here the very next day.

Summer vacation? What summer vacation?

It doesn't matter. For me, the gap between work and play grows narrower and narrower. 

I am having the time of my life.

The key signatures and time signatures of my pieces are as follows:
A minor - 4 pieces
E minor - 1 piece
G major - 2 pieces
D major - 2 pieces
B major - 1 piece
F major - 2 pieces
E-flat major - 1 piece
G-flat major - 2 pieces
* * * 
4/4 time - 8 pieces
3/4 time - 4 pieces
 6/8 time - 3 pieces
And now you know!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Progress Report

The past three weeks have been a frenzied blur of piano teaching, ensemble rehearsals, and student piano recitals - THREE of them. The last one took place on June 10th; the following Monday and Tuesday, I taught my last day of regular lessons and an exhausting day of make-up lessons. By the time all that was over, I was ready for a long winter's nap. Except it isn't winter, and my to-do list is about ninety miles long.

Although I have always had low blood pressure, about six months ago it started creeping up. Stress seems to be the culprit behind that and, since stress is my constant companion, my then-primary care physician put me on blood pressure medication. A couple of weeks ago, concerned with the numbers still being a bit higher than they should be, a new doctor switched me to a different prescription. For whatever reason - additional stress? the change in medication? - by Tuesday evening, my blood pressure topped out at 186/112, and I made a return visit to the physician's office Wednesday morning. She tweaked my prescription and sent me home under orders to get some rest.

I didn't do much that afternoon, alternately sleeping and reading and knitting and, thankfully, the numbers started coming down on Thursday. The past three days I have had nothing but normal and high-normal readings and I am feeling much better. This is a very good thing. Because I have a CD to finish!

Since I last posted, I have finished five more solo piano compositions, for a total of thirteen, and have transcribed them all into MuseScore (music notation software). Three more pieces are "well begun," although I think the last one will go on my next album. 15 pieces seems like a good number for a CD, I think.

I printed out all the scores (48 pages of music so far!), hole punched them and put them in a binder, and used my rudimentary graphics skills to design a cover (of sorts - see the photo above) to slip into the clear sleeve on the front of the binder. It ALMOST looks like a real songbook! For now, I am content to have all the notes down on paper; I will go back and add details, tempo markings and dynamics and slurs and such later. My intention is to finish the last two pieces and get them transcribed and added to the collection this week. That will give me just a little more than a month to polish up all the pieces and get them ready for my recording session the first weekend of August.

And that's just the beginning. There is a LOT of work that goes into the production of a CD, still more that goes into sales and promotion, but worrying about all that remains to be done creates nothing but stress and stress wreaks havoc on my blood pressure. So instead I am trying to remain focused simply on what needs to be done NEXT. So far, so good!

Summer lessons start tomorrow but with only twelve students on my summer schedule (compared with sixty during the regular school year) I should be able to find time to make steady progress with my solo piano music - AND make preparations for a long-anticipated trip to Europe in July. But more about that later! Right now I'm headed downstairs to finish another solo piano piece!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Briskly Venturing

Keep not standing fixed and rooted. Briskly venture, briskly roam.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I chose "venture" as my word for 2017 although I had no idea at the time what it might come to mean. Sure, I love to travel and hoped to add an "adventure" or two to my list. But on January 1st, 2017 was a completely blank slate.

Not any more.

One day in early March, I was out walking in my neighborhood, soaking up the sights of spring flowers, the sounds of bird calls, and the sweet, fresh scents that are a part of springtime in my little corner of the world. Happy to my core, I began to hum, rather tunelessly at first - but then the tune became a real melody, one that I found myself repeating, over and over. "I actually like this," I thought (with surprise); I longed to take it to the piano. But I keep a busy schedule; I had allowed myself a margin of less than thirty minutes between the end of my walk and the beginning of my teaching day, barely enough time to take a shower and get dressed. I knew there wouldn't be time to jot down the notes, and knew just as well that there was no way they would still be in my head by the time my last student left for home. So I pulled out my phone, found the voice memo app, sang the short melody into it, and went about the rest of my day.

Later in the week, as I sat at the piano practicing music for an upcoming concert, I remembered my little melody. I played it back to myself, matched the sounds on the keyboard and came up with a pleasing chordal accompaniment. Crunched for time as always, I made a recording of these few measures, then went back to practicing. 

Finally, on March 15th, I dedicated a morning to finishing my composition. It took me just a couple of hours to come up with a contrasting middle section and a pleasing conclusion. I scribbled the music onto manuscript paper and made a recording of the entire piece. I decided to call it "Monterey Morning," as it reminded me of a pleasant day I spent in the coastal city of Monterey, California several years ago.

And just like that, a composer was born. A mere ten weeks later, I have finished eight more solo piano compositions, all inspired by memories from vacations, and have three more in various stages of completion. I have purchased music notation software and am learning how to transcribe my own work. And I have booked a recording session in Sedona, Arizona the first weekend of August with one of the best engineers the business. I have formed an LLC and chosen a name for my record label as well as my first album. If all goes according to plan, my first CD will be ready to release before the end of the year.

It's almost surreal.

Because I have always put such strict limits on myself, defined myself so narrowly. Over the years, I have been asked many times why I don't compose or record. "I don't have an original bone in my body," I have answered, believing it. When called upon to improvise, I have resisted. "Just give me the score and let me read it," I have said, preferring the safety of playing someone else's music to the risk of failure creating my own. Although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of many solo piano composing and performing friends, I never thought I would BE one. 

Maybe if you hang around with creative people long enough, it starts to rub off.

Of course there is a part of me that is worried about what others will think about my music, that I'm not "good enough" to record an album or play in a concert or publish my work. There is no doubt I will have critics. But I'm not going to let that stop me. Maybe, just maybe, I will have fans, too.

And the teacher in me is hoping this will inspire some of my students. I intend to publish simplified versions of each of my compositions in addition to the music as it will appear in my recordings. Maybe some of my students will want to play my pieces. Even better, maybe some of them will decide to create music of their own. As a result of my experience, I will be in a better position to facilitate that. I find that thought very exciting.

At the time when many of my peers are looking forward to retirement, I am embarking on an entirely new facet of my career. By letting go of who I thought I was, I'm becoming more the person I am capable of being. 

It's a grand venture, to be sure.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Today I will be reviewing three volumes from Karen White's best selling Tradd Street Mysteries series. Read all the way to the end and find out how you can win the entire five-book series!

* * * * * * * 

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and the coauthor of The Forgotten Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig.

I have read many of Karen's women's fiction novels, but her latest release, The Guests on South Battery, is the fifth installment of the Tradd Street Mysteries.

From the publisher:
The Guests on South Battery picks up on the picturesque streets of Charleston after Melanie has given birth to twins, and is married to the love of her life, Jack Trenholm. Melanie’s maternity leave has reached its end and she is less than thrilled to return to work, especially when she's awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end, and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for over a year are about to invade her life once more.

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more. 

But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission. 

Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street. 

Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried....

I don't typically read a lot of mysteries, much less paranormal mysteries, but I loved this book! Great setting, great characters, and a great story - this book has it all! I will admit that I wish I had read the books in order. As I made my way through The Guests on South Battery, there were several occasions in which I had to "fill in the blanks" because I was not aware of the past event being referred to in a specific situation. And as there is a cliffhanger or two at the end of the story, I decided I had best prepare myself for future installments.

So now I have I reread the first two books of the series, The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street. The House on Tradd Street provides the set-up for the entire series. We meet Charleston realtor Melanie and best-selling writer Jack and discover how their relationship began and how Melanie became the owner of the decrepit mansion on Tradd Street. We also meet her best friend, Sophia, an expert in historic home preservation, as well as her father. Both she and her father were abandoned by her mother thirty-five years prior. While Melanie does't remember her mother well, one thing the two of them have in common is their ability to see dead people.

But in the second book, The Girl on Legare Street, Melanie's mother, Ginnette Prioleau Middleton, returns to Charleston wanting to protect her daughter after receiving an ominous premonition.
While Melanie never wanted to see her mother again, Jack convinces her otherwise and the two women take tentative steps towards rebuilding their relationship. Together, Melanie and Ginnette buy back their old home on Legare Street. With their combined psychic abilities of course they aren't surprised to unearth some ghosts. But what they find is a vengeful dark spirit whose strength has been growing for decades. Many long-buried secrets must be unearthed to beat this demon and save what's left of Melanie's family.

Next on my list is Book 3, The Strangers on Montagu Street, and Book 4, Return to Tradd Street. Then I might read The Guests on South Battery one more time, just to be certain I didn't miss anything. After that, I guess I'll just have to sit tight and wait patiently for Book 6.

* * * * * * * 

And now, about that giveaway! To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post. For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE), friend me on Goodreads (click HERE), or follow me on Instagram (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At midnight on Friday, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive the ENTIRE Tradd Street Mysteries series! Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Good luck!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.