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!

Good Friday

Here’s something very simple that I put together for you, with my arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger. May  you find comfort in these difficult (and indeed, in all) times.


The perfect song

I have this thing about perfect songs: sometimes I want to create my own arrangement of a perfect song, but it’s already perfect, so now what?

Silent NIght is a perfect song, and I had been hoping to include it on The Rebirth of Light, only…the carol is perfect as it is. What could I do that was unique to me but did not impose on the beauty of the original? One evening, alone at a friend’s house and playing her piano, the arrangement came to me in a sweet simple flow of sound. How? I have no idea. Why? Because I wanted it to, and I accepted each sound that came through my hands and kept going. (Does that sound like a “how” to you? It’s not. There was no “how” involved, because there really wasn’t any thinking involved. I love it when that happens!) (And also when I can remember what I played when that happens. That’s the best.)

I’m creating arrangements of spiritual songs now—hymns mostly, but not entirely. To me one of the perfect hymns is Old Hundredth, what most people know as the Doxology, even if they aren’t into hymns very much. I love everything about Old Hundredth: its melody and its harmonies and its words. It is so simple, and it holds a universe in that simplicity. It’s simply perfect.

Where I work

Just so you know.

Studio JS 2

Roots, of a sort

I’m preparing repertory for my autumn concerts and yet again I came across a beautiful piece of mine that I had forgotten about. Well, there are many many pieces now, and I cannot keep them all in repertory all the time, so some are played less and then I forget that they are there. (This is why having published everything in print is so useful for me—I can re-learn my own music!)

Would I be a pianist at all if it weren’t for George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue? Possibly not. My parents had a recording of it when I was very young and it was my very favorite music. I would dance around to it! Then my older sister was learning to play the piano version of it, and that became my goal when I started lessons: to play Rhapsody in Blue. I still remember puzzling out the first page as soon as I could read the notation well enough to do so, long before I could reach octaves or really approach any of the technique required to actually play the music. I played the (clarinet) trill with the index fingers of each hand. I wasn’t deluding myself, I was well aware that I couldn’t really play the music yet. I just desperately wanted to!


Since I blogged about Topaz the piece and Topaz the cassette earlier, I thought I’d archive where all the pieces from Topaz the cassette have ended up on my various CDs. I’ve linked to the pages where you will find their liner notes.

Also, now that I look at the complete cover for Topaz the cassette, I see that there is yet one piece to re-release. And I should have put it on Drivin’!  AARRRRGGHHHH

Anyway, here they are, in their order on Topaz the cassette:

Spare ChangeDrivin’!

Lazy KDrivin’!

What the Stars Saw on the PrairieA Handfull of Quietness

Nostalgia for Up = Wings on the BreezeUnder the Greenwood Tree

It’s Liquid, Tho’Drivin’!


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The photo we used on the original run of Topaz cassettes. (I was just a baby!)

Topaz photo

The photo we used on the cover of the second run of Topaz cassettes. Because, as you can see from the list above, it was mostly a lively bunch of music!

A little piece about forgiveness

Once upon a time, I was the music director for a theater company in a smallish town in Iowa.

And, one spring, the artistic director and I were … umm… let’s say I was worried about what was happening in the rehearsal process of one of the productions (which I was experiencing as an actor, which we can all forget about now since I’m no kind of actor at all).

And he brushed off my worries, and then a few weeks later (the entirely predictable) disaster happened and the show wasn’t ready to open. Which was decided by the artistic director … after the dress rehearsal. About 18 hours before the intended opening night.


I was SO angry at him for what we in the cast went through to get that show up.

He didn’t acknowledge that I had warned him several weeks in advance and therefore it might have been possible to avert disaster; I didn’t forgive him for ignoring my warnings.

That show had a shortened run, and we were already preparing the next show, for which I was writing some incidental music.

A Rant

My blog, my place to rant. And do forgive me! (Or just don’t read.)

So (universal beginning-of-story indicator), a friend on FB linked to a video of a talk by some famous musician in which the famous musician is inspiring his audience to love classical music.

I watched that video and I was enjoying it. The famous musician (from here on out identified as FM, since it’s unfair to name him when I can’t discuss all this with him directly) chooses a very famous piano piece, Chopin’s E minor Prelude, to entice his audience into loving classical music. He plays a few measures, points out some of the structure that is happening, gets the audience to sing part of the melody, summarizes the structure of the entire piece, talks about the intense feeling of the music, encourages his listeners to make a personal connection to that intense feeling by thinking of someone they have lost. It’s all interesting, enlightening, even inspriring.

And then he plays the prelude. And it’s horrifying.

Okay, maybe I’m just a snob. But I do think that when a piece is marked Largo, even intense feeling (espressivo) doesn’t mean that the upbeat-to-downbeat goes very slowly and then the rest of the measure rushes along four times that fast! On every measure. I’ve heard the prelude performed this way before, and every time it sounds anti-musical to me—disrespectful to the music, the composer, the listeners.

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.

© 2006-2020 Topaz Productions • Email Kathleen