Life According to Piano

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“When I am composing, I don’t necessarily hear music inside. Instead, I experience a subtle dissatisfaction until the sounds my hands create match the deeper emotion I feel within.”


Welcome to my blog, Life According to Piano.

Now with comment capability, so talk back!

The thing is ...

between R-T-G’s illness over the winter & spring, & a few other things going on in our lives, I had started to doubt that this would ever ever actually exist.

20180915 115809

Amazingly, Passages does exist — that’s a copy sitting on my piano. They arrived today!

Official release is still October 6, which means you can still purchase them at the pre-release price. They will be shipped pronto.

Oh, and it sounds very nice. I should think that of course! The music is just how I hear it & the piano sounds exactly like I think a piano should sound, which is: how my piano sounds. And we did record it on my piano, so that’s not exactly surprising either.

But I’m still surprised, in the very best way possible.





phrases in music!

across the meadow, through the forest, over the stream

birth, growth, death, transformation

love, loss, grief

healing, forgiveness, joy


Draft31 Passages cover copy

Daily Practice: Forgive

A very long time ago (April 20, 2017) I began this post. And then I didn’t publish it; I mentioned that in the blog over a year ago. And now I have no idea why I didn’t publish it. So here it is!

Have I mentioned yet today how much I love playing Forgive?

I love playing Forgive!

Love love love love love it!!!

I think I have mentioned before that the 2 most lush pieces that I’ve ever composed — in my opinion of course — are Forgive & the arrangement of Londonderry Air. BOTH FOR LEFT HAND ALONE!!

I didn’t really believe that I could play Forgive at a performance level. It features arpeggios, which I’ve always considered the bane of my existence as a pianist. Poor training when I was a kid (no arpeggios at all that I remember; although in Mrs. Unger’s defense I must admit that I quit lessons just about when arpeggios would have been on the curriculum; so maybe she was or maybe she wasn’t avoiding them. I have certainly avoided them!)

[True, and marginally on topic, story: One of the pieces I performed on my master’s recital, a millennium & a lifetime ago, was Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80. Theme: very Baroque! 1st variation: arpeggios in RH. 2nd variation: very similar arpeggios, now in the LH. 3rd variation: oh hey, now BOTH hands are playing the arpeggios, in opposite motion! What fun!

Variation 1: I was good with that one. Variations 2 & 3 were more ... shall we say ... hit or miss. Not for lack of practice*, but for lack of confidence. I didn’t really believe I could play them accurately, and all too often that turned out to be true. 

There I was, playing my master’s recital, just about to begin Variation 2, when I suddenly realized that it was just as easy to land on the correct notes (which I had practiced & practiced & practiced) as it was to land on any other notes. So, I decided I would; and I did. I played variations 2 & 3 beautifully on my recital. I don’t frankly recall anything else about the Beethoven that night. (I recall only one other thing about that recital at all, which is its own story for another occasion.) 

Happily, I have carried that liberating realization with me into this new millennium: having done the practice and cultivated the ability to play the correct notes, it is just as easy to play the right notes as the wrong ones, no matter what else is going on. It is a decision on my part to do that and only that. I have tried to convey this to my students; I hope that it’s among the (probably very few) musician advantages I have been able to give them.

*yes, Vicki, I could have practiced them even more, that’s true.

End of marginally on topic story.]

So, I didn’t really believe that I could play Forgive beautifully, because arpeggios galore. But, those arpeggios are so beautiful! I wanted to get over my reluctance to try, and I used the occasion of the broken right wrist earlier this year to practice this left hand music.


I mentioned (here or on Facebook) last year when my right wrist was broken, how it astonished me that I was so very clumsy trying to whisk the breakfast eggs with my left hand.

I am quite right-handed, everywhere except the piano, where both my hands match each other in ability and flexibility. (And thank you to Geoff, who insisted I needed lots of left hand alone practice, lo those many years ago. It worked!)

So I believed that something like whisking, which is just a wrist action, would be easy to pick up with my left hand.


So awkward. So clumsy. So slow. It was a touch mortifying. (Yes: first-world problem, for sure. I am very fortunate that unskilled whisking is the kind of issue I have in my life, and I do appreciate that.)

Once my right wrist was healed, I was happy to return to right-handed whisking; a more timely breakfast being the main consideration. But a stubborn part of me has kept up the occasional left hand practice of whisking. (Old voices: “Left hand practice! Left hand practice!” Thanks again, Geoff.)

Title Tracks, or not

As it turns out, all my CDs so far have title tracks. I did not intend one for my first CD, A Handfull of Quietness. I believed I had created all the music necessary for what I thought of as primarily a concert experience, and I was perfectly content to have that experience end with Simple Love, my medley of The Riddle Song and A Gift to Be Simple. Ten days before I was to go into the studio, I practiced all the music straight through, and at the end of it, for the first time, I felt a need to hear just one something more; a handfull of quietness, in fact. That music came to me very easily, more indication that it was needed. I performed it with the entire set a week later, and recorded it 3 more days after that.

The Rebirth of Light was one of the first pieces I had for that CD.

Under the Greenwood Tree was similarly nearly first, and I pretty much created everything else to go with it.

Drivin’! was totally first for that CD, and I absolutely created everything else to go with it!

Passages, though, has been like A Handfull of Quietness: to me that title belongs to the set, not to a piece.

Growly stuff

So, there I was, driving home from yoga this afternoon, listening to some growly piano music in my head, knowing that I'd made it up, & wondering how I was going to figure that out to notate it.

When I realized...

That's Crackle, one of the Verbs. I composed AND NOTATED it more than 10 years ago.

I'm awfully pleased that it is already written down! (Not that hard, actually, but when it was rambling around in my brain anonymously, so to speak, it seemed tricky to parse.)

To hear part of Crackle, including some growly stuff, played by the incomparable Keith Porter-Snell (for whom it was written), go here. And enjoy!

Recording Guardian

Yes, we’re recording, for the first time since 2011. Passages is finally coming into physical being. It took us a little while to remember how to set everything up—easy to forget details in 6+ years—but tracks are going down smoothly now. 

That may be due to this little fellow:




That’s my adorable cat Cosmo, who first arrived at Happy Camp a day & a half before I recorded Drivin’! in October 2011. Then he looked like this:

Cosmo gets close. copy

And was, in fact, just as crazed as you might imagine. Four months old and every inch a kitten.

I was a touch crazed to think I could bring a kitten into a household that already had an adult cat, and then record a CD 2 days later. But I wanted him SO MUCH!!

Cosmo intoduced himself to our older cat the day after his arrival here. And the very next day, when I started recording, Cosmo saw that Scout curled up in a corner and slept through the piano playing. So … Cosmo curled up in a corner and slept through the piano playing.

Anything to be just like one’s new big brother!

Come or wish you had

Whisperings Solo Piano All-Star Concert Weekend

featuring Kathleen and many solo piano all-stars
like David Nevue, Louis Landon, Michele McLaughlin, Joe Bongiorno

Information Here
Come, or wish you had! Hope to see you there!



Passages cover


Music about those passages we journey through in life: birth, loss, love, grief, joy, death, forgiveness.

Also: the omnipresent second inversion tonic chord. I think I’ve written about that before.

Also: melodies in the alto voice. (Thank you, Alice Shapiro, for not giving up on me learning to voice. I’ve been practicing a lot, just so you know.)

Also: my first pieces in 6/8. (Don’t really know why that hasn’t happened before.)

I am in final practice mode before recording a couple of weeks from now. I’m pretty sure the cover will look like what is above. The art on the cover is by Celeste Simon, a painting in the Happy Camp collection titled Magic Happens

And I do rather feel that magic happens in our passages through life.

A winter’s song

I create music basically because... I create music. There is not any particular “why” to it; it is simply my nature to be making up music.

And also I have a thousand reasons to create music, cheering me on in those rare times when I feel that I have lost my voice.

Here is a beautiful expression of one of the best reasons I have to create music.

winter stars snow

To be allowed in, to be welcomed, to touch someone’s heart — what a privilege and honor, and what a rare gift to be told of it.

Thank you, Jason, and thank you, Manitou Winds, for breathing new life into my music.

If you, dear reader, are in Michigan, maybe your week can include an upcoming Manitou Winds performance: Traverse City, Saturday 12/2, 7:30 pm; or Glen Arbor, Friday 12/8, 7:30 pm. More details at the link above.

A minor miracle

The ebook of sheet music for my CD Drivin’! is published. Woot! Oh happy day!

Drivin ebook cover

Coming around on the guitar again

I have in my hands* (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the notes for Missy Kara Surveys the Pasture, Lays Claim.   

Several edit passes will be needed, especially to figure out that measure I have never been able to count. In fact, I’m always thrilled to discover that I can play that measure; counting is not even on my radar. Still, I play it the very same way every time; therefore, counting is theoretically possible. And hey: I’m good at music theory. So theoretically I can correct the notation of that measure & thus find out what I’ve been playing all these eons.

I now know that I play exactly 20 & 1/2 measures of the crazy-octaves-in-16th-notes boogie bass. Not that I’ll be counting the measures while I play it; playing it is a sufficient achievement. 

I now know that, big & brassy as the piece is, it’s actually very efficient: a mere 82 measures total. (Well, I could write it in 6/8 instead of 12/8, and then there’d be bunches more measures. … Nah, 82 is enough, especially since 20 — and 1/2 — of them feature the crazy boogie bass.)

Angels among us

I have in my hands (well, until I started typing, I had in my hands) the first draft of the sheet music of Complete with Angels, from the CD Drivin’!

This is a HUGE success, almost on the order of the success of notating What the Stars Saw on the Prairie with its “3-hand” section. I am extremely pleased right now.

Not because it was particularly difficult to notate. It wasn’t: rondo form, with repetition galore*, the trickiest part was remembering where I was in the piece, so I knew which version of cadence was coming round the bend. This first draft probably only took a couple of hours to get down.

Complete with Angels is one of my older pieces; it was actually composed before I released A Handfull of Quietness, but it wasn’t recorded until 2011 because it didn’t belong on any of the other CDs. Complete with Angels has always, in my ear, segued straight into Drivin’!, so like that other piece, it had to wait for additional lively-esque pieces to make a CD. That took a while!

During that while, I … forgot that Complete with Angels even existed. And then I forgot how it sounded. And I didn’t notate any of my work in those days, I just relied on my (mostly) great memory for music.

Summer/winter sale

First, an Oopsies

CDBaby & I got our signals crossed, and now two of my CDs are overstocked there. Oops!

That means: sale time. I’ve dropped the prices of those two way down to the basement, $6.50 a CD, in fact. Even with CDBaby’s $2 shipping fee, that means you can own my high-stepping music Drivin’!  (summer sounds!) or my Christmas CD The Rebirth of Light (winter sounds!) for less than the cost of downloading the albums.

NOTE: I'm not overstocked by a lot, so if you want these CDs at such a deal, act very soon!  Clicking on a CD cover below will take you to CDBaby for the sale. (The super low price only applies at CDBaby, not in my own store.)

Drivin cover

RebirthofLight cover border

And now, a secret revealed

I am actively putting together the music — you know, what they call composing — for my new CD Passages. And also for my new CD Meditations of My Heart. I’ll have much more to write about both of these albums soon, but I thought you’d giggle over the fact that, having not released any music for a while, now I have two projects going.  I expect Passages to be out this fall, and Meditations of My Heart in February or March.

Another story about you-know-what

That is: practicing Forgive.

[Well, in this case I’m actually just planning my practice.]

So there I was, enjoying one of my favorite rituals—tea on the porch; perfect weather for it, too, by the way—and considering my piano practice for today.

I had the thought: “I really should practice the left hand part of Forgive.” And then I almost spilled my tea, laughing.

Because, of course, Forgive is all left hand, all the time.

How I arrived at this absurdity:
Usually, on the piano, our melody is in the right hand, and possibly only in the upper notes of the right hand part. Not always, of course, but usually.

So practicing the left hand alone generally means practicing the accompanying parts. So “practicing the left hand” has become verbal shorthand for “practicing the accompanying parts.” And yes, I think it might be a good idea to practice the accompanying voices in Forgive, without the melody above. (Well, in some cases the melody note still has to be played, because it’s also…. you know what? Never mind.)

A milestone

Here I am, practicing Forgive (what else?!), and I’ve arrived at the section of the ten zillion running notes/arpeggios (which I’ve previously admitted is not really my thing, right?) and …

my mind wandered. And I kept playing the notes — correct ones, too, I might add; I was listening — while my mind was busy picturing how nice it will be to perform Forgive & maybe it’s time to video me practicing it & isn’t it cool that I can play Forgive & isn’t life grand & …

Even yesterday, to play all these notes I had to think only of the notes. It is a huge milestone that I can entertain other thoughts while playing Forgive.

Not that I want to, of course! No, no: now I have to teach myself to pay attention to what I’m doing & nothing else. Yesterday I would not have had to teach myself that; I’d have been doing it in desperation.

So this is a milestone, one that arrives with its own challenges. Progress!

[Next post: “100 ways to practice reining in wayward thoughts.” With one on each page, so you have to click through 99 times. Ha!]

Quite short studio insight

I’ve been writing an immense blog post about Forgive—learning it, playing it, living it. I’m not ready to send that post into the world just yet.

However, here’s a quite short studio insight:

I seem to be creating more complex music, because I am finding that I must notate this stuff so that I can practice the left hand alone to have any chance of playing it well.

[Alternatively, my memory ain’t what it used to be, now that I’m 1,000,000 old!]

Boring medical update

I realize I sort of dropped the ball on this: I tell you I might have a broken wrist, then fall silent on the topic! Sorry.

My right wrist is completely healed from the break (that was true by late January, in fact) and nearly completely healed from the accompanying sprain. As far as playing goes, “I’m baaaackkkkk!!” There are a very few “activities of living“ that my right hand still is not comfortable with, especially ones that involve gripping something biggish & heavy; joint at base of thumb really complains about that and I now have a habit of reaching for items left-handed.

Oddly, although my left hand improved at many “activities of living” while my RH was healing — eating, toothbrushing, pouring liquids — it never never never learned how to whisk! I still try whisking our morning eggs with my left hand every few days; I thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that having my RH to demonstrate whisking, my LH might improve. Hah! Next lifetime, I guess.

(And who knew I was so amazingly one-sided, everywhere but at the piano?!)

How I feel about music

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I’m the smaller one on the right, and I still feel this way about music.

Very much so, in fact!

Merry Christmas!

Another rough cut from our Mountainair Community Chorus performance earlier this month. This is a live performance and it was the first piece on the program: the piano player could possibly have waited a moment more before beginning the carol, but her experience is that this crowd settles down when the music begins.

The Wexford Carol
Irish traditional, arranged for cello & piano by Kathleen Ryan
Jerry Melaragno, Cello  •  Kathleen Ryan, Piano
© 2016 Indigo Mesa Music
11 December 2016, Mountain Arts on Broadway, Mountainair, New Mexico

I wish you the most beautiful Christmas and a New Year of joy!


© 2006-2018 Topaz Productions • Email Kathleen