Each of these â€˜portraitsâ€™ was composed upon waking (it was always dark and cool of a morning in my room.. so I could sleep in â€˜til the crack of ten!) .. I would half shuffle, half stagger - stretching and yawning - to my piano and in this space betwixt sleep and wakefulness I would find these little shapes and melodies and explore them.. allowing them to find their form.
Avoiding coffee or a shower (two of each are often required to wake me up.. Iâ€™m not one of those morning people and I will never understand them..), I would sit there, dreamy and drifty â€“ the essence of a particular friend in mind (and heart) â€“ and play quietly.. often for a few hours.. until I felt ready to write things down.. until I felt I had found them.
Itâ€™s difficult to say I really â€˜wroteâ€™ or â€˜composedâ€™ these pieces as it was in no way an intellectual experience. Rather I tried to keep my brain out of the way and let the music write itself.. Each piece had a certain inevitability about it.. it was a matter of trust really.. I was like Luke Skywalker learning the ways of the force..
And the force was friendship! Tacky? Maybe.. but true!
True friends are one of lifeâ€™s greatest and noblest gifts and I love and value mine SO much.. I canâ€™t put it into words..
So I put it into music instead!
The music is simple, clear, honest, meditative and peaceful and grows out of that place which is at the centre or essence of a great friendship.. I guess itâ€™s trust.. I guess itâ€™s real understanding.. and while things on the surface may shift and change and even surprise you.. this essential thing is constant.
So each piece of music has something constant: a rhythm (â€˜sunday music for amyâ€™), a little motif (â€˜song for davyâ€™), even a single note repeated (â€˜dirk musikâ€™) and around this constant thing the music is free to explore the adventure of personality and relationships.
Iâ€™ll tell you a little about each friend!
1. Davy is a circus performer. He is magical and quietly spoken and has misty eyes which seem to reach back through centuries. On the first day I met him, before we exchanged any words, we were asked by the director of the show we were both a part of to â€˜just improviseâ€™ â€“ Davy with juggling balls, me with the piano. I had accompanied many violinists, bassoonists and singers before.. but I had never done anything like this! What an amazing way to meet someone! We had to instantly connect and bounce off each other, sometimes leading, sometimes following.. of course.. we became good friends! Working with this circus company (now called Circa -> look them up.. go see them.. www.circa.org.au) was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, both artistically and personally â€“ itâ€™s so inspiring to be part of a team like this.. especially for a classical piano geek used to practicing alone for 8 hours a day!)
In â€˜Song For Davyâ€™, the left hand has a three note motif which represents three juggling balls and the challenge of the piece is to keep them â€˜in the airâ€™ no matter which other notes the hand is required to play. The right hand plays a simple melody which is seemingly unaware of the difficulties faced by â€˜leftyâ€™ and represents how effortlessly Davy seems to be able to do these things that always reduce me to three-year-old wonderment!
2. Rachel is a goddess of the violin and the producer of the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. She is not famous or a virtuoso fireworks freak â€“ she is pure in intent and plays with a deep and heartfelt understanding. I am so lucky to be able to play with her (we were in a piano trio, â€˜iven street trioâ€™) but even luckier to call her my friend! She calls me Schmergs (short for Hankier von Hankinschmergen) and I call her Kitty Brewster and we have shared many beautiful and hilarious adventures. In my heart I hold her in such esteem and place her on such a pedestal of perfection that I am always so shocked when she burps (which she does often, loudly and with relish!).. Rachel is a great soul with great hair. Watch out for the Brewster Mobile!
â€˜Song for Rachelâ€™ uses a simple rhythmic pattern in the left hand which gradually shifts to embrace new harmonies. The melody is sunshine and travelling with her in the car with lollies. Each section (and the song itself) ends with three notes taken from the Schubert Trio in B flat - the first three notes of the most beautiful melody I ever heard her play.. I almost forgot to keep playing myself.
3. Dirk is an artist (a painter) now studying to be an architect. I met him when he was working in a bar and I had just had my hair cut extremely short and was forced to stare my receding hairline (and my mortality!) in the face! He was extremely helpful and my first conversation with him was probably the freest and most honest opening conversation Iâ€™ve ever had. And fun too. Dirk makes me smile. He is generous and kind and he glows when heâ€™s in the company of friends. He also works too hard! His company is always flowing and free â€“ and that is his gift.
â€œDirk Musikâ€ - so called because Tim Wintonâ€™s novel, â€˜Dirt Musicâ€™ was a new release at the time, features one note (a D flat) repeated throughout the entire piece. It is at once a heartbeat, a constancy and the point of contact between brush and canvas (Dirk often paints in a pixelated style using tiny dots or squares and this carefully repeated note is a reflection of his concentrated, steady hand). One night I stayed at his house (after a little too much to drink!) and this piece captures my moment of waking up early.. around 5am.. the city silent.. Dirk sleeping so quietly.. it is that honoured and sacred place of being in someone elseâ€™s space whilst they sleep.. that magical light of morning (rare for me to see!) and feeling welcome and content â€“ and glad of this friendship.
4. â€˜Ode to Joâ€™ â€“ a pun on Beethovenâ€™s â€˜Ode to Joyâ€™ is so called because Jo brings me such joy.. without the why! Jo â€“ now named Savannah (which suits her so well!) is another goddess of the violin. I am very drawn to the violin and those who play it and the incredible relationship they share with their instrument.. the history, the hours.. the humidity!! Sometimes I dream I play the violin (and well too!). Savannah is an elven queen â€“ she is one of the wisest and most beautiful people I know. She is also a gypsy at heart, and a poet! She is always willing to indulge and even encourage my coffee and chocolate addiction and that alone makes her one of my nearest and dearest. But we run a little deeper than that! Savannah has many layers and I feel it took me a long time to get to know her â€“ and to show her all of me too - although I always felt I knew her essence and trusted that she knew mine. Now I am glad to call her one of my closest friends and someone I miss so much when I am away from her! To hear her improvise on the violin is an incredible thing.. she draws her sound from the earth like a tree seeking nutrients. Now she is beginning to write and sing her own songs and is teaching herself the guitar.. her thumb is the weirdest most agile thing Iâ€™ve ever seen.. I canâ€™t watch!
Ode to Jo is in the style of a violin improvisation. Although it is on the piano I avoided going below the note G â€“ the lowest string of the violin. It is an exploration of a secret sorrow and at the same time is healing and consoling.
5. â€˜For Damianâ€™ is more of a soundscape than a song. This piece is the most intellectual of the set â€“ which makes sense as Damian (â€˜Damoâ€™) is gifted with an amazingly powerful mind! He also has an amazingly powerful voice and as I was finding this music I could imagine his voice soaring over and through it. And this was an interesting idea to me.. to write a piece of music with something missing.. a piece of the puzzle only a friend could offer! So â€˜for Damianâ€™ takes the form of a musical pattern which gradually works itself out â€“ it is basically an exploration of every note in the scale of F major and itâ€™s relationship with every other note in the scale â€“ this mirrors the process of Damianâ€™s thoughts â€“ and along the way interesting and beautiful things are found. I imagine him stretching his arms out wide and singing over this music.. something spiritual, almost even tribal.. for there is nothing cold about his intellect â€“ he is an incredibly wise and generous man â€“ and the most perceptive person I know. He has a deep understanding of the human condition and is compassionate and kind. Whatever art in whatever form he offers the world will be selfless and important, knowing and ultimately helpful. He has many gifts to explore and will always be searching..
6. I wrote â€˜Habanera for Louiseâ€™ on the morning of my 27th birthday. Louise was taking me out for lunch and I was so hungry and grateful that I wrote her this little habanera! Louise was my jazz piano teacher during the brief time I wondered if maybe I could be one of those â€˜coolâ€™ people. Instead of making me cool though she helped me celebrate my geek/nerd status and we bonded over witty puns and scrabble battles! Louise is simply a wonderful, inspiring person â€“ respected and loved by all who come into her generous presence. She loves to draw tropical fish! Once in an article about me she was referred to as a â€œCanadian jazz expertâ€ and we often laugh about the idea of BBC World crossing live to â€œCanadian jazz expertâ€ Louise Denson.. and of course there would be problems with sound.. anyway Louise and I have shared many great laughs and I love her for that! I wrote her a Habanera because underneath her nerdy guise lurks a sensual woman who loves Latin jazz and loves to dance! The rhythm is hypnotic and the music is very meditative, beautiful but crossed by occasional shadows â€“ representing her empathy and deep understanding of life.
7. When I first saw Chris walking around the conservatorium of music I thought he was someone else. I thought he was called Jack, and Canadian and gay. He was none of those things. He was however mysterious and aloof â€“ the kind of intriguing figure who stands in the corner observing everyone but who is in fact the most interesting guy in the room. And he formed his own choir â€“ this quiet mysterious jazz drums student convinced other students to be in his choir â€“ for which he arranged and conducted â€“ and it was brilliant.. I will never forget their version of â€œbilly jeanâ€! So I joined the choir â€“ learned he was not Canadian, not Jack and not gay and we gradually developed a beautiful friendship! One of the greatest feelings I know is being on the way to see a movie with Chris.. the anticipation of Sprite and popcorn and Chrisâ€™ company is one of my greatest joys! Chris is also the writer of beautifully crafted songs. His voice and his guitar picking are intimate and delicate and he possesses a disarmingly honest fragility when he plays live that makes most of the women and half of the men in the room want to take him home and cook for him .. he has that lonely cowboy thing going on! His debut CD â€˜A Safer Placeâ€™ is also available here on CD Baby â€“ please buy it â€“ itâ€™s beautiful! Chris Pickering â€“ check him out!
â€˜for Chrisâ€™, like â€˜for Damianâ€™, plays with the idea that something the friend would supply is missing.. In this case the drum beat. The piece also explores the idea of getting to know him. In this case the constant thing is an entire section of music which is repeated three times and each time the chords (the essence) are the same but the notes of a melody are gradually added. It represents the process of a friend gradually opening up to you â€“ in this case a man of great wisdom and few words!
8. Amy is now called Fiora! So if enough of you wonderful people buy my CD I will be able to go into a second pressing and change her name which will please her! Fiora is an old, old soul and from the second I met her in the library we have shared a magnificent and magnanimous friendship! She has the most beautiful voice in the world and is the most amazing musical being I know. Whether she is singing Mozart with an orchestra or her own incredible pop music â€“ soon to be released into the world â€“ she is able to move me more deeply than anything else Iâ€™ve encountered! She is also a gifted composer â€“ the way she writes for strings pulls at your soul. Only Mozart and Ravel come close! Fiora is also responsible for the best laughs of my life.. the ones where you feel like if you donâ€™t stop laughing immediately, you will actually die. Her croissant flambÃ© is delectable! Her friendship is always energised and selfless, generous and filled with good intent. She is a warrior of light, a goddess and a phoenix!
At the time I wrote her piece she had recently moved out of the Petrie Terrace house to live with her boyfriend. On the top of my piano was a big ball of â€˜blu-tacâ€™ she had removed from the backs of her posters when she was packing up. It had been sitting there for a few weeks.. The morning I wrote her song I decided to try putting bits of it inside my piano â€“ the mad scientist inside me was cackling wickedly.. rubbing his hands together.. Eventually I found I could create this great little percussive pitched conga kind of sound by pushing it in between the strings to stop them vibrating.. I smiled at the thought of her laughing when she heard it and her â€˜Sunday Musicâ€™ was born. It was also the most requested by the wonderful man, Craig, who moved in after Fiora â€“ he called it â€˜the woodpecker songâ€™ .. sadly he was just a little too late to be included on â€˜songs for my friendsâ€™!
He will be on the sequel â€“ â€˜songs for my.. other.. friendsâ€™! And you may be too if you buy the CD (and some for your friends)!
Believe me you donâ€™t want to find yourself on â€˜songs for the people who didnâ€™t buy my CDâ€™!
I hope you feel you know me and my friends a little better now. Thanks for reading, and.. for listening!
1. song for davy
2. song for rachel
3. dirk musik
4. ode to jo
5. for damian
6. habanera for louise
7. for chris
8. sunday music for amy