Review of the Album “The Sunflower Waltz” by Anne Trenning

February 27, 2016 by Admin

imageAlthough currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, exceptionally talented composer and pianist Anne Trenning grew up in Barrington, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. She began her musical career playing the organ at age seven, and among early influences on her musical identity, she includes not only the rich cultural landscape of the Chicagoland area, but also the values of her parents and her extended family. With Dutch roots, a diligent work ethic, and a staunch religious compass, her family instilled in Anne a strong appreciation for hard work, education, and faith.

At age twelve, Anne shifted her focus to playing the piano. Her father encouraged practicing and “a love of four-part harmony” by paying her a dollar for every hymn she learned to play from a Presbyterian hymnal passed down from her grandmother. “My entrepreneurial spirit insured that I learned to play most of the songs in that well-worn, treasured family collection,” she says with a grin.

Another critical influence on Anne was the excellent music programs at the schools she attended; both in terms of the variety of music oriented experiences provided, as well as the skill, dedication and compassion of her teachers. In particular, Anne identifies her piano teacher, Helen Velleuer, as having had a tremendous influence on her, both in her music and her personal life. Participation in church choir activities also left a strong impression on her.

Of course, like other musicians, Anne’s musical identity was also shaped by the popular music to which she was exposed as she grew up. She notes: “Like a lot of people, my earliest musical memories are listening to my parents’ record collection…..” Mahalia Jackson was a particular favorite, and from her Anne gained a genuine appreciation for Gospel music. Anne’s musical ear was also influenced by the popular singer-songwriters of the seventies: James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Dan Fogelberg, Bonnie Raitt, and groups such as Steely Dan, The Guess Who, and The Allman Brothers Band.

Also in the eighties, Anne discovered the new age music of George Winston, David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani, and the Windham Hill and Narada labels, which also opened new musical horizons for her. When she moved to the South to pursue her education at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, she also developed a greater appreciation for folk, Americana, Celtic, bluegrass, southern rock, and country. She states: “These roots oriented genres, while new to me, were part of the musical lexicon of this area. I fell in love with their melodic sensibilities and the “one foot firmly rooted in the past” relationships they explore.”

While at Converse College on a music scholarship, Anne earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music and History, with a particular interest in composers Mendelssohn, Scarlatti, and Ravel. In fact, Anne notes that it is her classical music education that has most influenced the development and structure of the songs she writes. The “resolution to tonic” — the structural characteristic of a song that creates a sense of “tension” and then “resolution or completeness” in the mind of the listener — is “entwined in my songwriting so greatly, that try as I may, it is always my final landing position…”

And while other instruments, as well as vocal music, were critical parts of her musical experience, it was the piano that Anne always came back to as the medium through which she could most comfortably express her thoughts and emotions

After college, and after a few months traveling in Europe, Anne moved to North Carolina and soon began composing her own music.

“I didn’t even own a piano in the immediate years following my graduation from college, but after I purchased my first home, I inherited the family piano. After years of taking lessons, I suddenly found myself sitting at the piano without a set goal for my practicing. That’s when I began experimenting and creating my own music.”

Anne got her first big break when a demo tape she had made was heard by world renowned New Age pianist David Lanz. He liked her style and encouraged her to record an album. The result was her debut album titled “Suite Tea,” released in 1997, and produced by GRAMMY-nominated and DOVE Award-recipient Dave Moody. The title, Anne states, gives “a tongue-in-cheek nod to years of classical studies, and my whole-hearted embrace of the refreshing Southern tradition of sitting back and enjoying a cool glass of sweetened iced tea.”

In 2004, Anne released “All One World”. which was listed among the Top 10 on New Age Reporter’s Top 100 Airplay Chart for 2005, and received widespread acclaim.

Anne’s third album, “Watching for Rain,” an absolutely superb work, debuted at #3 on the Zone Music Reporter’s radio charts and rose to #2, remaining on the charts for 9 months during 2009. The CD was nominated for four ZMR Awards and was a finalist for “Best Instrumental Album – Piano” in 2009. It was also included in Michael Debbage’s “Top Twenty Recordings of 2009.

imageOn Anne’s previous albums, her piano efforts have typically been accompanied by highly talented supporting ensemble musicians. However, her most recent album, “The Sunflower Waltz,” is a purely “solo piano” work. In fact, part of the motivation for this album was to provide Anne with an opportunity for unhindered self-expression via the keyboard. It includes ten new compositions and outstanding solo piano re-imaginings of two pieces each from her three previous albums: “Suite Tea,” “All One World,” and “Watching For Rain.”

Reflecting Anne’s deep and longtime connection with nature, the theme unifying the music on “The Sunflower Waltz” embraces the vibrant and sturdy spirit of the sunflower.

“Adaptability, beauty, and determination are all characteristics of the sunflower. Sunflowers follow the direction of the sun where it leads, and offer a metaphorical optimism of strength in their powerful glory. Their resilience is unparalleled. Today, more so than ever, we must strive as this powerful flora to root ourselves and persevere.”

Crafted and recorded at Piano Haven studios in Sedona, Arizona, by Joe Bongiorno, a masterful pianist, composer, and recording engineer, the production quality is, of course, impeccable.

Additionally, all of the tracks are played by Anne on one of the world’s finest pianos, the Shigeru Kawai, which Anne calls “…simply a gift to all pianists, a hallmark of excellence personified within a keyboard……”

Put simply, the music on “The Sunflower Waltz” is exceptional. First and foremost, and in a manner similar to renowned musicians such as Terry Oldfield, Bill Leslie, and Fiona Joy, Anne’s compositions have “character” and “heart.” The music is mostly warm, upbeat, optimistic, positive, and most of all “sincere,” with strong, crisp, and memorable melodies. And despite being “solo piano” music, it is nonetheless so adeptly and creatively crafted, sophisticated, and varied in style and temperament that it can easily hold your attention for the entire length of the album without any need for accompaniment.

Moreover, Anne’s piano performances are quite powerful — reflecting a level of confidence, skill, expressivity, and simple grace and elegance in her touch on the keyboard that we find is rare among contemporary new age pianists.

As Anne relates: “I am particularly moved in life and music by the communication of emotion – the powerful impact of a kind word or gesture, the universal resonance of a smile, the conveyance of inclusiveness and acceptance within a melodic phrase….”

Finally, “The Sunflower Waltz” unabashedly reflects the varied musical influences on Anne that were described earlier. At times, the music evokes a sweet nostalgia — with hints of classical music, nineteenth century Americana, and mid-twentieth century pop and country. At other times there are obvious influences of Anne’s faith — in the form of music that would fit perfectly in a Sunday church service. And then at other times the music displays decidedly Appalachian culture infused Irish Celtic music qualities.

The album begins magnificently with a track titled “Max’s Birthday,” which is an upbeat, fast moving, energetic, bouncy, fun, cheerful, up-tempo, stylish, and optimistic work, with charming hints of childhood joy and appreciation for the gift that is life. It was inspired by the happy sounds of an eight year old neighbor’s birthday party, and it is our most favorite track on the album.

According to Anne, “This selection is a testament to the argument that time, however short, is invaluable. I was waiting for a student to arrive one afternoon and took advantage of the extra few minutes to play around at the keyboard. Outside my window I heard the joyful noise of a celebration for our young neighbor Max, who was having a birthday party. Two minutes later my student arrived and kindly announced that whatever I was playing was lovely. In that short moment, a song was born.”

The title track, which is also up-tempo, and certainly “waltz” like, shows a bit more of a classical influence, with just a hint of Americana, and outstanding creative nuance. With it’s flowing, energetic, and buoyant qualities, one is left with the unmistakable impression of a field of tall, sturdy, and beautiful sunflowers joyfully swaying and dancing in a steady breeze on a sunlit day.

In contrast, “Claire Of My Heart,” is a tad slower, with a more straightforward solo piano style, a catchy melody, and as the title suggests, Irish Celtic music influences. But it also at times we hear a slight hint of “music box” music. Nicely done!

imageAnother of our favorite tracks on the album is “Just Fly.” With its implied theme of “just being patient and having faith that things will turn out okay,” it provides a compelling example of how Anne’s solo piano music is so superbly crafted that it is a pure joy to hear. This track is more up-tempo, positive, upbeat, and wonderfully stylish, with a clever and distinctive melody, and a magnificent lyrical quality. And throughout the song, one can easily hear the refrain “just fly,” as if someone was actually singing those words – but , of course, THERE IS NO ONE SINGING! It is simply a testament to Anne’s brilliant ability to express an idea and mood through the careful crafting of her music.

The next track,”Fade To Blue,” which is also one of our particular favorites, again manifests a powerful, creative, and memorable melody, but this time with much more down tempo, gentle, graceful, delicate, tender, reflective, plaintive, and haunting qualities. In fact, it is probably the most reflective and emotional track on the album. It is also just an incredibly beautiful song.

“Letting Go,” as the title suggests, is decidedly more up-tempo, with a bight, energetic, carefree, fun, and uplifting melody. It is also a good example, as is “Just Fly,” of how Anne’s music often has narrative qualities–little stories without words.

“Cowgirl Daydream” is a much more down tempo, contemplative, country music infused, and romantic “slow dance,” with very pronounced “waltz like” qualities – but the type of slow, swaying waltz you might hear at an old-time country or Old West suaree, square dance, or “barn dance.” It clearly reflects Anne’s passion for Americana and will most likely bring a smile to your face.

The next two tracks go in a very different direction and are reflective of Anne’s profound faith. In addition to sharing a religious theme, both have clear “church music” influences. While listening to “In The Gloaming Light,” which is a bit slower, more sedate, more reflective, with a hint of country music melancholy, and a strong melody, one can easily envision hearing this song being played on a church organ. In fact, on the inside of the CD cover there is a quote that could perhaps serve as an alternate title for this track — “In the gloaming light you can see the face of God.” Similarly, “Sing To The Lord,” features another strong melody, but with a less energetic style, and an undercurrent of joy and praise. And given the title, and the distinct lyrical and prayer like qualities of the music, this track refects just a hint of “church choir.”

Another of our favorites, “Backyard Dreamer,” is a very contemplative, dreamy, relaxing, and at times wistful track, with a much much slower tempo. One can easily envision silently lounging in a backyard hammock, on a bright, sunny, Sunday afternoon, and just daydreaming, while sipping on a Mint Julep or a glass of lemonade.

As Anne notes, “All artists are dreamers. For me, dreams becomes music, and within, there is beauty to behold. So often our best thoughts manifest themselves in the dreamiest way.”

“Where Rivers Run” and “Days Gone By,” both originally from the “Suite Tea” album, are slow, reflective, and at times pensive, but yet subtly cheerful, positive, and optimistic. With their strong and memorable melodies, and occasional clever playfulness, they are again both good examples of the subtle narrative qualities of Anne’s music. And “Days Gone By” is also quite simply an exquisite work that leaves you wanting more.

The next three songs are also works from Anne’s previous albums that have been recast brilliantly as fairly straightforward solo piano works, but with somewhat different styles. “Ben’s Song,” originally from “All One World,” is somewhat down tempo, beautiful, and reflective, with a powerful melody and at times definite lyrical and narrative qualities. “How Fair My Love,” on the other hand, also from “All One World,” has more obvious Irish Celtic music influences, but also at times shows hints of classical music — 18th century dance music in particular — or music you might hear coming from a harpsichord. “The Welcome Song,” originally from the “Watching For Rain” album, is in some ways similar to “Ben’s Song,” with a strong, memorable melody, an upbeat, warm, loving, and positive spirit, and magnificent emotional expressivity. It is also one of our most favorite tracks.

The album ends perfectly with Anne’s faith inspired, beautiful, tender, peaceful, contemplative, and sincere “A Prayer For The World.” Also from “Watching For Rain,” it is a slower, more dramatic, and masterfully crafted work that plaintively calls for us to heed the message of concern, love, and hope that Anne desperately and genuinely wants to convey.

“This is my prayer for humanity. When things seem most disheartening, let music fill your heart with hope, and with this profound gesture, may hope help you see your way forward. May you persevere as a sunflower in all its radiant glory.”

We very highly recommend “The Sunflower Waltz.”

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Piano Music Albums

August 29, 2014 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary piano Music albums released during the second three months of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either April, May, or June of 2014, feature solo piano music (or solo piano with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these seven+ albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

image

The Illusion of Time – Dave Edwards
Quiet and relaxing, yet emotionally evocative and complex piano music that celebrates the beauty and mystery of our world – with substantive orchestral and (occasional) choral accompaniment that draws from a variety of influences – including classical, folk, jazz, ambient, and world music. You could certainly put this album on to provide ambient underscoring for your daily life, but if you choose to sit and listen closely and lose yourself in the music, there are levels of sophistication and creativity that should keep you intrigued.
image

The Inner Horse In My Dream – Chen-chen Ho
The most cogent way to describe this album is to simply say that it is “a lot of fun”. This is the third “picture album” in the “Innocence of a Child Trilogy” from artist Chen-chen Ho. The point of the album is to integrate melodic piano music, pictures and lyrics to echo the artist’s childlike innocence, and to help the listener get in touch with their own.

In the artists own words, “Even though I became a musician…, I haven’t forgotten the emotional impact animals had on my inner growth. Through the medium of music, I express my passion for them. Indeed, the spiritual lives of most people nowadays depend on an animal companion. In the world of animals, we see purity and an abundance of feelings. They are spiritual mentors and inspiration for us humans.” In this album, “it’s a horse that allows us to explore our truest selves…my hope is that, whether in real life or in your dreams, you too may find your own “animal mentor” to help you discover your inner child.”

The bottom line is that the music on this album, with solo piano as the primary voice, is both complex and sophisticated, while reflecting a whimsical spirit that will certainly bring a smile to your face. It might even allow you to, if “just for a moment”, reminisce about your own childhood animal companions.

image

By A Wire – Jennifer DeFrayne

The backstory for this brilliant and stunning debut album is quite compelling. First and foremost, By A Wire is largely “forged in the fires of personal loss and tempered by the inspiration of overcoming.” The deaths of several close family members (her father, uncle, and sister) and a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her with many challenges in movement, memory, and speech, as well as the inability to find solace in her piano, made Jennifer fiercely determined to recover and reconnect with the “wires” of her beloved instrument. This album also represents the producing debut of Fiona Joy (other than her own recordings). Co-produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, DeFrayne’s deeply expressive piano is backed by an impressive list of musicians that includes Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Jill Haley (English horn), Eugene Friesen (cello), Noah Wilding, Rebecca Daniel (Australian Chamber Orchestra), Tony Levin, Tom Eaton and, of course, Will Ackerman.

The result is a strong and intricately beautiful piano-based instrumental album with melodies that reflect a range of heartfelt emotions that express the journey of everyday life, from wistful remembrances, to hope-filled dreams, to the uncertainty and pain of inexplicable loss, and more, making this album a deeply moving and inspirational listening experience.

image

The Heart Knows – Michael Mills

If creativity means working beyond the known boundaries of an artistic form to arrive at a new place, then the piano compositions and expressions of Michael Mills are most certainly there. Growing up in the Seattle area, his early years included training in classical piano and composition at the renown Cornish School of Allied Arts – with acclaimed classical composer Lockrem Johnson – and later at the University of Washington’s School of Music. After moving to the Southern Hemisphere in the 90’s, he went on to study jazz performance, composition, and music theory at Massey University’s Conservatorium of Music in New Zealand, and later at Griffith University’s Conservatorium of Music in Queensland, Australia. All of his rich piano music begins as an improvisation and finds its final form in studio post-production. The result is intensely personal and soulful piano centered music that “evokes windswept landscapes, rolling seas, and peaceful dreams.”

image

Epic Enchantment – Tony Lauria
An extremely enchanting, soothing, and uplifting collection of soulful piano music, blended colorfully with gentle tones and occasional angelic vocal expressions by Kalyani. The exceptionally creative and sophisticated piano compositions, with strong accompaniment, and excellent production quality, makes this an album that we have no hesitation in recommending highly.
image

Piano Painting – Bethany Neese

Bethany Neese is a native of Northern California where, for the past fifteen years, she has thrived as a music educator in Sonoma County. In addition to conducting and accompanying three choirs at a reputable arts high school, her teaching journey has culminated in the creation of SANTA ROSA SINGERS/THE MUSIC STUDIO located in Spring Lake Area of Santa Rosa, California. Her school offers private lessons and group classes in Voice, Guitar and Piano. Bethany has also taught Voice at the Santa Rosa Junior College, Ursuline High School, and Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. She is currently also the soloist at St. John’s Catholic Church in Healdsburg on Saturday evenings, as well as the soloist at Hannah Boys’ Center in Sonoma on Sunday mornings, and guides the Hanna Boys’ Choir during mass, along with leading the congregation as its cantor.

In the artists own words, “This CD was inspired by my father. When I was a child learning to play the piano, he would ask me to play my favorite songs so that he could sit comfortably in his large-armed chair and rest for a few minutes. This gave me great joy as it was our special time together. I always held on to this delightful memory of performing for my dad…..”

The result is a thirty minute journey into images of soaring emotions “painted” by the artist on the piano music canvas that is perfect for relaxation, quiet meditation, spiritual nourishment, or a reflection on life experiences.

image

Healing Piano Music Collection – Nancy Veldman

This is actually a set of eight albums, all released simultaneously, from pianist, successful fiction author, watercolor artist, and shop owner Nancy Veldman. The eight CDs are titled:

Journey of Grace

A Peaceful Heart

Standing Beneath the Wing

Restoration

Waterstone

Moments

Dream Believer

What I Know Is True

Nancy’s compositions are sincere, textured, poetic, nuanced, and melodic orchestrations that move the heart and soothe the soul. And while the music on each of the albums has a similar basic style (original piano music with strong orchestral accompaniment) the individual musical selections are nonetheless sophisticated and distinctive enough that each CD deserves our independent recommendation.

Coming Soon: Our favorite “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums released in the second three months of 2014.

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Piano Music Albums

May 21, 2014 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary Piano Music albums released during the first three months of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either January, February, or March of 2014, feature solo piano music (or solo piano with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these ten albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.


image

New Life – Paul Cardall

After receiving a heart transplant, award winning pianist Paul Cardall’s new found gratitude for life itself pours through his fingers into inspiring new compositions. Perfect for meditation, contemplation, or even casual listening, New Life will lift your day and brighten your path.

image
Passionata – Denise Young

Passionate and emotional with romantic classical and modern Victorian nuances. Eleven original piano compositions that tell a story. Four pieces contain beautifully layered cello orchestration, three include authentic African percussion instruments, and one is accompanied by evocative vocal melodies. Produced by Grammy Award Winner Will Ackerman, and Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, Vermont.

image
The Peace Messenger – Mark Pinkus

Mark’s solo piano works are “like beautiful stories without words.” Each piece is different from the other. Moods change like the waves on an ocean. This music is extremely pictoresque and melody driven.
image
Dreams From Afar – Michael Logozar

This is the fourth solo piano album from award winning contemporary pianist Michael Logozar. Michael had planned to release an album of folk songs but was diverted at end of 2013 when he accepted the challenge to write, record, and share seven new songs in seven days….all of which appear on this album, along with two other original songs, and three folk songs. Michael’s last two albums (2012 and 2013) have been nominated for Whisperings Solo Piano Radio Album of the Year.

image
Piano For Your Soul – Paul Guffey

A backdrop of calm and soothing piano sounds to help you find a quiet oasis within your busy day and renew your heart and soul.

image

Call Of The Mountains – Masako

Masako is a very gifted, Japanese-born, pianist and composer who draws inspiration from nature and her surroundings. Superbly classy and creative, Call Of The Mountains is collection of understated, lyrical, and evocative compositions that pay homage to the mountains of the northeastern United States where Masako makes her home. Her playing is engaging from the first note to the last — music to savor time and time again, absorbing every nuance of melody, tone and mood. Produced by Grammy Award Winner Will Ackerman, and Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, Vermont.
image
Tapestries Of Time – Ann Sweeten

A powerful collection of lush melodies dripping with introspection, passion and stunning technique. Classically trained from an early age, Sweeten, who is an official “Steinway Artist”, brings a wealth of experience to her music with her background as a dancer, singer poet and actress as well as a pianist. Produced by Grammy Award Winner Will Ackerman, and Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, Vermont.
image
Taking Flight – Carly Beth

Music that will draw you in to listen again and again. Flowing, mature, passionate, emotionally-evocative, melodic compositions that allow your imagination to create its own story. What amazes people the most about Carly Beth is how her talent and the depth of her music transcends her age – she is only 16 years old! Her music replays in your mind, and before you know it, you are humming it.
image

Family – Howard Reed

Memories of a special October day, a once heard melody that touched your hearts, a soft lullaby for your newborn child, the daily acts of kindness, the tender sound of a music box, a mother’s love and a father’s laugh, the reassuring comfort of home, a gentle morning kiss, the simple joy of time shared together, and the caring and mutual support that — along with all of these things — makes a family. Howard Reed’s music is a heartfelt, spiritual, creative, and inspirational story of God, family, and genuine love.
image
Tribute to Yanni: Solo Piano Stylings of Pianist Yanni – Steven Snow

A well crafted and inspired performance of a collection of piano works based on the music of the well-known Greek composer and pianist Yanni.

Coming Soon: Our favorite “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” and “Celtic Music” albums released in the first three months of 2014.

back to top