EPR Performance at the Berliner Philharmonie

I closed my eyes and pictured the moment that inspired me to finish composing ‘Like Father Like Daughter’. I was spending time with my father, for the first time in a long time and had opened up to him about challenges I was going through at the time. He could immediately relate, as we are both very similar in character. Besides, he knows me all too well. ‘You need to take time for yourself’, he had told me. ‘Dedicate time for things you truly love’. ‘I do, dad. Playing the piano is my time for me. My time to unwind and to feel inspired. Look, I started on a new composition.’ And I began to play the same piece that I was about to perform before an audience of international pianists and piano fans at the Berliner Philharmonie.

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Having recalled a truly emotional moment with my father, I was able to bring out overwhelming emotions in the performance of my now completed composition ‘Like Father Like Daughter’, a song that I dedicated to my father, my role model. He had pushed me to keep going with music, to keep pursuing what I love, to find time for myself and to never put a cap on where this pursuit of music composition could take me. And he had been right. Playing in the Berliner Philharmonie was a dream-come-true for me. It was an overwhelming feeling to have the honor of sharing this stage with professional concert pianists at the Enlightened Piano Radio Awards concert.

These feelings of excitement and ecstasy showed in my performance, and I’m very thankful for that. Luckily no mess-ups or nervousness this time around – I had learned from my previous performance (see previous blog post on the performance at the Whisperings Discovery Concert) 😊. Bringing myself back to that intimate moment of bonding with my father allowed me to get over my stage fright and to play with passion. And this exactly is the goal of every musician, to play with a force and momentum that will touch your audience, to stir powerful emotions that will create a lasting experience. Having accomplished this was an immensely satisfying feeling.

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The most memorable part of the concert, however, was not my performance itself, it was the bonds that were built with over twenty pianists from around the globe, who all flew out to Berlin for this performance. Enlightened Piano Radio is more than a radio station – it is a tremendously supportive community of artists who openly share advice with each other and inspire each other. In such a competitive landscape of music, it is refreshing to step into a community of artists where this sense of competition is foreign. It’s all about empowering and enabling your fellow musicians, and it was such an honor for me to be welcomed into this community with open arms.

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The strength of this community shows in the successful organization, execution and hosting of this concert in one of the most traditional and famous venues in music history. A special thank you to Christoph Pagel, Louis Colaiannia, Donovan Johnson and Cathy Oakes for the tremendous energy you have dedicated to this concert and to the growth of this community! Thanks to people like them, I believe that there is no limit to the opportunities that lie ahead for EPR. What we heard and witnessed this weekend is a pre-taste of all the amazing things that will come from these musicians.

Some of my favorites from this concert were a breathtaking piano / cello duo performance by Ben Dowling, a jazz piano original by Milana Zilnik, and a powerful piano solo by Ovidio de Ferrari, with a title that is very fitting to the overall theme and emotions felt during the concert - ‘Limitless’. Limitless is what I truly feel about the potential of this community of pianists.

Leaving Berlin, I am filled with gratitude. For the invitation to perform, for my husband accompanying me on this trip, for witnessing a splendid piano concert, and most of all, for the valuable time spent with EPR artists. With that said, stay tuned 😊. A live video recording, featuring snippets of several of the performances, will be published soon.

2018 Performance at the Whisperings Discovery Concert

You can only imagine the excitement I felt when David Nevue, the founder of Whisperings invited me to play at the broadcast's Discovery Concert in Seattle. The Whisperings radio broadcast (America’s most popular radio station airing New Age Piano music!) was holding its annual performances and this was the first year where two official Whisperings-hosted concerts would be taking place. A second concert had been added, called a ‘Discovery Concert’, which was really a novel concept. The first half of the performances at the Discovery Concert would consist of newer artists like myself, while the latter half featured performances from the ‘Classics’. Names like Christine Brown, Rachel Currea, Joseph Akins among several others. With pianists like them on board, the show was quickly sold out!

It was the first time in a long time that I would be performing again, and admittedly I was very nervous. My heart started pounding even at the thought of performing at a sold out show. And yet, it was something I really wanted to be a part of. I was eager to start performing, to play my compositions in front of New Age piano fans. 

I decided to play ‘Dionysius’, a composition with a slightly dramatic flair. After all, this composition had inspired me to work on my debut album ‘Reminiscent’ in the first place. (See ‘The Inspiration and Making of Songs of the Soul’ for more on that!) Besides being the inspiration for my debut album, this song had an interesting story to it that I felt inclined to share, lending the piece the magical quality that Kathy Parsons described in her music review:

‘Dionysius’ has a passionate, magical quality that I really like. Slightly mysterious, it goes through several really interesting thematic changes, painting a colorful music portrait.’

The inspiration behind ‘Dionysius’ was my (now) husband Dennis’s baptism into the Greek Orthodox Church. Dionysius is the Greek name for Dennis and the composition earned its title after my husband made the decision to convert into Greek Orthodox Christianity and to take on his Greek name. There was something so magical about that baptismal service - the church was nested up in the mountains of upstate New York, overseeing the Hudson River from a high point, with sights that were breathtaking. And coincidentally enough, the church had a memorial commemorating Saint Dionysius just before its entrance. There was something beautiful and mysterious about the liturgy as well – I knew something powerful was happening, without being able to describe it. This is the feeling that I portrayed in the composition, and that Kathy Parsons so accurately described in her own review of the piece.

When nervous, however, the story doesn’t sound as powerful as it really is. When speaking through a microphone to an audience, my voice became shaky and I spoke too fast, leaving out some important details, like the name of the composition 😊. The performance itself was shaky as well, as I made a few obvious mistakes. It’s baffling to me how I can play the composition with my eyes closed, barely ever missing a note, and then as soon as I play in front of an audience laughable mistakes manage to slip in. It’s typical from a novice who is not used to performing regularly. Unfortunately nerves just kick in and take over.

Regardless, this performance has gotten me eager and excited to perform again. I cherished the opportunity to perform as part of the Whisperings Solo Piano Radio broadcast show, and am longing for the chance to share my music in more concerts, so that playing in front of a crowd will come more naturally. To any readers based in Europe, if you are interested in featuring me in a performance or show of any sort (piano lounge, cocktail party,  house concert, etc.), please leave me a message!

Here is the live performance, raw, unedited, with mistakes and all... Next performance will be better, promise! 😊

5 All-time Favorite Solo Piano Playlists

There is a multitude of wonderful solo piano masterpieces out there, that get overlooked in the abyss of Spotify. These songs, in my eyes, are so good that they make you wonder how this one incredible instrument, the piano, provides the possibility to produce such a complete and perfect piece of music.

Within the solo piano music genre, there are several styles of composing (I’m talking New Age  and Contemporary Piano compositions, rather than the traditional classical compositions). There’s calm, peaceful and relaxing new age piano solos written in predominantly major scales. This makes for great background spa music or generally for peaceful background listening. Then there’s calming music, which based on my preferences is almost always mellow, slightly dramatic, full of emotion, slightly bluesy and written in minor scale. This is the perfect music to wind down to at the end of a long day. It’s also music that I consider perfect for film. I’ve selected my six favorite playlists out there based on both styles of listening. I hope you will give these playlists a listen, they are my six all-time favorite piano playlists. I will distinguish them as either as calm or calming playlists.

1. Calming Mellow Piano – 5 Hrs Listening (85 songs)

Call me selfish for mentioning my own created playlist first 😊. This playlist is an amalgamation of my all-time favorites, the ones that have left me in awe. If I don't absolutely love the track then you won't find it here. I’ve been building this playlist up over the past year and have found inspiration from listening to every single featured piece. This is a calming playlist, for the most part written in minor key and featuring a wide range of New Age piano composers. I tend to gravitate towards the mellower tracks, as these just have way of touching me and speaking to me more. If you like ‘sad piano’, you’ll like this playlist.

2. Relaxing New Age Contemporary Solo Piano (45 songs)

Shoshanna Michel has done a wonderful job of compiling the most beautiful of solo piano tracks. Her playlist is hard to classify as calming vs calm, it contains a little bit of both, although is heavier on the ‘calming’ side. The songs contained in this playlist are all full of emotion and have a mystery to them. Her taste in piano music is similar to mine and for this reason I’ve listened to her playlist over and over.

3. Sombre Calming Piano (28 songs)

Of the playlists I’m mentioning, this is by far the darkest. These songs are stirring and awaken something in you. There is so much emotion and depth to dark piano solos and I find myself listening to this music when I seek an escape from a mundane reality. I am immediately immersed in deep and powerful feelings when tuning in to Sombre Calming Piano.

4. Soothing Solo Piano Music (270 songs)

Yes, that’s correct! 270 songs in a playlist. That’s around 9 hours of listening! With such a large range in music, it’s only normal to capture a large range of piano solos, both calm and calming. In both cases, the title description ‘soothing’ is very fitting. The playlist curator has good taste in curating music, and I can be assured when listening to this playlist, that I can let it play for hours with minimal skips. I love tuning in to this playlist when I have a long day of chores or cooking ahead and my hands are tied up. I can trust that the selections in this playlist will get me through the day 😊.

5. Solo Piano Artistry (130 Songs)

This playlist, of all I mentioned, would best describe calm piano music (not calming 😊). The playlist is very peaceful, soothing and flowing. Perfect for background listening in a spa, doctor’s office or any office at that. The curator has done a great job of selecting music that all fits into that style (this is not easy to do considering the wide range of moods portrayed in new age contemporary piano music). There is use of minor scale, but the song selections still make for peaceful, light listening. There are no dark or heavy tracks to be found here.

Cathartic Piano Notes

I was sitting in a room that smelled of my great grandmother's home. I remembered that smell distinctly; it was that odd smell when I last saw her, at the age of ninety six. The room smelled of her fickle body, the feeble remains of a once strong woman. It was the smell of the dying. There was a lady sitting across from me, my only audience member. She reminded me of my great grandmother - although there must have been an age gap of at least twenty years. She was ill - too ill to speak. She was counting down her days before she moved on from this world. I knew nothing about her, and yet when I looked over I saw her entire face filled with tears. She couldn't hide herself. 

The joy I felt when seeing her tears could not be explained. In my own despair, I had played a piece that shook her. Playing my darkest composition had stirred her soul, much as it had mine. There was something strangely satisfying in hearing this somber piano music after a hard day. The music had its way of calming you; it was cathartic. Allowing yourself to hear it, to feel it, and to truly take it in had a way of healing you.

I entered this Hospice home every week. I couldn’t understand why, or what had gotten into me. How is it that I looked forward to playing piano for the dying each week? I didn’t know any of these people. Shouldn’t I be going out and enjoying a drink with my friends? I had started volunteering as a pianist to make a difference in people's lives. After all, my days consisted of focusing entirely on analysis, numbers and hypothetical insights. I was longing to do something, anything, with meaning outside of the office, something that would truly touch a fellow human being. 

That day, I felt an unusual solace in playing that composition of mine. I was playing forcefully, with passion. There was no such thing as volume control. Despite the house keeper’s repeated instructions to play soothing background music, my performance must have shaken up the entire house. “Slipping Away” was what I named this composition. The time these residents had left here was slipping away. Close relationships and bonds that I was holding on to after my recent move were slipping away. At the time I had written the song, I felt as though everything was slowly slipping away.

And yet, it was this moment, when I hit the last note of that composition, looking over at the resident sitting across from me, this rare moment where I felt redeemed. The entire world around me was slipping away, and yet in this fleeting moment my heart was full. I felt content. In playing a song of the soul, I had undoubtedly impacted this suffering lady. This may have been the last song that the Hospice resident across from me would hear before moving on, it may have been her last chance to recount a painful memory before letting it go. Stopping by that house, which reeked of the sick, had been the most satisfying part of my day.

It was a moment like this where the power of music could not have been more exposed, and a moment like this where I felt immensely grateful for the healing effects of a few somber piano notes. 

Slipping Away will be released as the first composition on my upcoming album 'Songs of the Soul'.

Composer's Musical Inspiration

As a Solo Piano composer, music plays a huge role in my life. I enjoy listening to music so much that you could almost call it an obsession. I am writing this article for two reasons,

  • Because I owe the artists who have inspired me my heartfelt appreciation for their music.

  • To give credit to the influences that have shaped my piano style.

Note to reader – you may be up for a surprise. Please, just read to the end. In some weird way, all these varying influences have common roots and elements that come through in Reminiscent.

Byzantine Roots

Because I began composing piano music at a very early age, the earliest music influences are attributed to my parents’ music preferences. My parents left Greece a few years before I was born but they brought with them the Greek ballads and folk songs they grew up to, and never quite stopped listening to them. I’ve never quite stopped either. Greeks are very passionate people, and that very much shows in their music and their voice. Sfakianakis, for example – his music is the epitome of emotion. Another significant element of Greek music is its Byzantine roots. Byzantine music is not comprised of scales, but of so-called ‘modes’ that are far more complex and rich than the scales we know today in music theory. Byzantine roots are not confined to Greek music. Some of my favorite music in the world is composed by Toygar Ișıklı, a Turkish film score composer. If you enjoy my music, you will definitely enjoy his.

Trance/Vocal Trance

I had a phase where all I would listen to and talk about was Trance music. Not sure if you can even call Trance music?... This phase began in Middle School and lasted well into college. The vast majority of my solo piano pieces were composed during this time frame. I memorized Tiësto’s In Search of Sunrise albums inside out. When Tiësto’s songs moved into a pop direction, I changed course and memorized Armin Van Buuren’s A State of Trance albums inside out. Even to this day, I am a huge fan of Trance. It just sparks something in you that cannot be described. Trance music is powerful, motivating, up-lifting and almost ethereal. These are the same qualities that I strive to portray in my piano solos. And even if these genres have absolutely nothing in common, the powerfully evocative qualities in my music derive their origins from Trance. 

The Miscellaneous Rest

My music influences would be grossly incomplete if I left it at the two genres just described.  A few of my absolute favorite artist growing up, not necessarily associated with the genres just mentioned include:  Xavier Naidoo (a German Soul/R&B singer whose music is truly unparalleled), Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Yanni, Lana del Ray, Lara Fabian and many more. I am listening to Röyksopp Forever, by an incredibly talented Norwegian Electronica Group as I am writing this blog post. The point here is that composers and musicians (I would think and hope I’m not an outlier), draw influences from all types of music, which eventually shapes their own personal style. In my case, the one thing that all artists and genres I’ve mentioned have in common is that the music is deep, powerful, mellow and stirring. These are coincidentally the same qualities that have been used to describe my own compositions. :) 

Nevertheless, with a classical background there is no doubt that my piano style is heavily influenced by Classical music: mainly Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy. I enjoy classical music not because of the music itself but because of the challenge of mastering it. In the end it was contemporary composers like Yann Tiersen and Eugenie R. Rocherolle who brought me to the realization that piano music could be beautiful, even when simple in nature. I was inspired to create music of my own that was so simple, yet beautiful. I never quite got to composing a piece like theirs, because my own musical influences got in the way and led me to develop a different style. This is probably common. Ask any composer how they developed their style. You may be in for a surprise :).

Benefits of Composing Music

The benefits of learning to play the piano are vast and widely known. From the moment you take lessons, you hear over and over that playing the piano results in higher brain capabilities in math and analytical skills, as well as a faster ability to learn. Not once, however, do you hear about the benefits of composing.

While taking lessons, I would often come up with a few melodies at home and then proudly play them to my teachers during my next lesson. They would give a few compliments about my ‘compositions’ and quickly proceed to my assigned pieces. Helping me to improve at composing was far from the agenda, and so I stopped talking about my compositions altogether during my lessons. When composing became more important to me than learning classical pieces, I stopped taking piano lessons. Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Piano lessons are not about ‘making music’, they are about ‘learning music’ (and music theory). As important as learning music theory and mastering classical pieces are, I believe piano instruction should also encourage the element of exercising your own creative faculties on the piano. The benefits of improvising and composing are vast and not to be underestimated! 

Composing piano is a way to unleash your creative genius. Every melody that you create is exciting, it is a new idea that you can now develop. After coming up with a few ideas, you start to put the different pieces in the puzzle together and there you have a song. Of course, this doesn’t always happen fast.  Making a coherent piano piece out of a simple melody takes work and patience. But the bottom line is that you are exercising incredibly important faculties: you start with a vision for a creation, and you work it through until this melody is implemented and transformed into a marketable piano piece. Anyone can have an idea, but putting an idea into action and developing a completed song from a simple vision is a whole different story. Working towards composing a piano piece is the same concept as working to bring any idea into action. You are developing, completing and mastering a project out of a simple vision and idea. 

When I think back to job evaluations, the one thing that people consistently say about me is that I think out-of-the-box. When I’m around friends, they always say is that I’m full of ideas. And when doing corporate personality assessments, I am described as both a ‘creator’ and ‘implementor’, a powerful combination. All of these attributes are a result of composing music from a very young age. Scary but true: my personality has a clear link to my hobby of composing. People are not born a creative genius – practicing creativity is the way to develop these skills.

So please, if you enjoy creating your own melodies on the piano I highly encourage you to do so. If your child or student enjoys composing, help them to develop this skill. We need to recognize composing as a skill with high rewards. Composing is not only fun, relaxing and exciting, but just as beneficial for your brain as learning to sight read, understand music theory or play a difficult piece on the piano.