Heidi Breyer is a talented pianist who has just released a new CD entitled "Letters From Far Away". It's a lovely collection of instrumental songs based on a love affair. She recorded this enchanting piece of art in her favorite studio up in picturesque Vermont, and the music is as peaceful as a quaint New England village. This is Heidi's fourth CD, and with each release her inspiration and creativity takes us to a new frontier to listen and explore. Heidi leads an artistic multitasking life, as she also manages the talented artist/painter Alexander Volkov's career as well as her own. I recently corresponded with Heidi.
R.V.B - When you were a young girl, what kind of music were you exposed to around the house. Did you come from a musical family?
H.B. - The musical gene skipped a generation in my family. Apparently my Grandmother's sister was very musical (played and taught piano). My parents have always been avid listeners and I was constantly exposed to my father’s favorite jazz artists, Miles Davis, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald and also Cleo Laine and John Dankworth and John Williams. Both parents also loved to listen to classical music…every Sunday was Holst, Beethoven, or Cavalleria Rusticana depending on their mood
R.V.B. - During your school years, what was your practice regimen like. Were you still able to enjoy your friends as well as study your music?
H.B. - Errr…honestly? I couldn't stand practicing…getting to the piano was so hard for me…my brain was all over the place…and my parents never enforced a regime. I only disciplined myself minimally once I got to college. Between 8-12 no more than 1 hour per day. 12-16 perhaps 3hours and college fluctuated between 1-6 hours depending on what was going on socially. I had a great social life…I have to admit that I was not your typical studious type and never sacrificed the 'normal' life for a dream back then. My technique suffered undoubtedly and I do wonder if I had worked harder perhaps I would or could have decided to go the classical performance route but my music is what it is because I have lead a full, well rounded and eventful life…and I don't regret my approach at all now :)!
R.V.B. - Did you play any other instruments other than the piano or dabble with other arts?
H.B. - Yes. I played violin solidly up to college but I actually started out with dancing…at age 2 I would dance to music around our coffee table and already began classes. I pretty much danced before I could talk. Ballet was my world up until around 15 years old.
At 11 years old I went to The Arts Educational School in Hertfordshire, UK. A deeply immersive education in all the arts (plus throwing some serious academics in on top). So I would take all forms of dance classes, drama/acting, improv, music of all types. Then I had the tough conversation with the head of the dance faculty and the head of the music faculty who had obviously decided my fate...it was going to be music…
H.B. - Well…I loved my years in college. Some of the best…but as for stories there are none I'm going to repeat here!! No seriously, a bunch of us who would hang out and talk music over a beer or two with our piano professor many nights after school…his name was Anthony Lindsay. He was a brilliant tutor and not only understood piano and music but was hugely perceptive about each of his students…His words about me (at that time) have stayed with me and shaped my whole life. "Heidi is very musical but she still needs to go and 'do' life…Once she’s done enough of that and she is ready, she will come back to music with a vengeance…and then we better be ready!!” and that was pretty much what happened. I took a break from music for almost 15 years (regrettably) and now music and I are inseparable…I just wish Lindsay was still around for me to report into!…
R.V.B. - Who are some of your favorite piano masters? Have any of their styles influenced your own music when you compose?
H.B. - Piano masters who have influence me include but are not limited to Barenboim, Ashkenazy, Keith Jarrett, Winston. And Jarrett and Winston are more influential from the standpoint of their genius creatively/compositionally. I would like to think that my love for Rachamaninov, Satie, Chopin, Beethoven and unequivocally J.S.Bach may have influenced my work. But I don’t honestly know. Can we hear others in our own work or is that arrogant? The more times I'm asked this question, the harder I find it to answer. I think the more an artist develops, the more they develop their own artistic and musical voice and so the further from their original influences they travel…And I have many peers and colleagues in the business whose music I really admire. David Darling, James Horner, Lisa Gerrard, Ennio Morricone and many I have learned from through collaboration, Premik Russell Tubbs, Eugene Friesen, Corin Nelsen, Will Ackerman, to name a few.
R.V.B. - Why did you come to America and how did you wind up in Frenchtown, New Jersey?
H.B. - I came to America while working for a huge U.S. corporation called R.R. Donnelley and Sons…used to be one of the largest publishers in the world. I was heading up their Services Marketing Team and was re-located to a client office in Chicago. I was only doing my music as a pure hobby at the time…even after studying it…which in hindsight I find quite sad. Nevertheless, I needed to earn money and so my pre-child-baring years were spent away from music almost entirely. Three years after my children were born we relocated to NJ. Frenchtown is a simple, beautiful, peaceful town, 1400 population…I walked into a gallery and met the owner for the first time the other day and they asked…when are your parents coming over then…? I think that pretty much sums up our town…
R.V.B. - Do your surroundings inspire you to create music? Is there any routine like taking a nature walk or anything else that help you with the writing process?
H.B. - I am spoilt for inspiration. Frenchtown is a brimming over with it. I walk my dog Percy every day along the towpath that runs along-side the Delaware.
Also I often have the privilege of being the first person to see my partner’s creations. Alexander is an oil-painter and his work often focuses on the surrounding area and landscape. His realism is breathtaking but it is not photo-realism in the traditional sense. There is a lot of interpretation that shapes his work even though you clearly recognize the location…an amazing talent.
R.V.B. - "Letters From Far Away" is your latest album. Did you have the concept at first, about a couple and their love for each other and create the music around the story?
H.B. - Yes, I've known the very real couple portrayed in the album, for many years. I created the music specifically in response to experiences in their lives and what I know about them…even the ‘small café’ is a place special to them and a place I have also been…
R.V.B. - Please describe how the people who helped you with this project enhanced the final project, such as Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton.
H.B. - Will Ackerman has been a mentor for several years now…I contacted him in 2009 and since then has been the main guide in my musical growth and development. During the production of ‘Letters’, Will observed that I had certain things I wanted to say, emotionally, through the music. This was a project very close to my heart and often there was no compromise from me. He took a step back and encouraged some very specific artistic expression…kind of gracefully passing over the reigns. It was the first time I had worked with Tom. He also contributed to the production but in a very detailed way. Some of the musical shaping I needed would not have been possible without his ability to interpret what I was looking for. These are two highly experienced, highly talented producers. They took a chance and supported me in my first push at producing an album. I think it worked out but I don't think the result would have been this good had I done it alone…dare I be as bold to say that?
H.B. - Yes. I recorded in Vermont because that is where Imaginary Road Studios is and I feel comfortable there. I have only ever recorded my piano playing (I'm not talking about other instruments) in two other places. One will remain nameless because for me it didn't work well (and it wasn't during the recording of this album) and the other time was in my home with Corin Nelsen (for one of the prior albums) which I also found to be a really wonderful experience. Corin is also another amazing Producer, genius engineer and a great friend!
R.V.B. - How long did it take you to complete this project? It doesn't do me any justice answering this…I hear musicians sweating over their creations for years in the making and unfortunately I can't boast the same.
H.B. - I began writing in May of last year and finished mastering right around Christmas Eve. It came really quite quickly. All you have to do is ask Will about the writing process and he'll tell you…he was having a song fired over to him in very quick succession a couple of times I sent two a day. Having said that I believe this swift process was because it took half a life-time to cook inside of me. This story, these people, have been a part of me for a long time and what I wanted to say was so inherent in my being that it really took no time to birth!!
R.V.B. - When you added other instruments to the music such as cello, clarinet, violin and so on, how did you decide what to use where. Did it come from your heart?
H.B. - It ALWAYS always comes from my heart. Of course my experience and education feeds into the process but I will NEVER make a final decision based on any formula of text book accuracy. If it feels right, I go with it.
In terms of instrumentation…most times it was non-negotiable. I can be a pain in the a** in that way. Examples…I had to have a sax on No Man, a clarinet on Small Cafe, a cello on 1960 and a violin on Old Photograph. Just to name a few.
The two violins on Old Photograph are actually two takes of Charlie's that I immediately heard as a dance between each other and at that point no-one else got a say! Sometimes I fire from the hip ( an expression used in the uk for being impulsive) but in those cases 9 out of 10 times my hunch will work. No arrogance intended I just feel it and go with it.
Other time I used instruments for the first time at Will's and Tom's suggestion. French Horn…a stunning instrument with so much more color than I ever gave it credit…Gus is a stellar French Horn player and I hope to work with him again. Marc Shulman's electric guitar was a first for me and Touchstone wouldn't be what it is without it! The first note from him on this piece still haunts me.
H.B. - Alexander and I are inextricably connected through both our artforms. We are also life partners as well as work partners. I manage his career, liaising with galleries across the country who exhibit his work and I look after all the shows and the marketing for both our careers…American Art Collector is hosting 6 months of Alexander Volkov full page ad's this year plus 2 on-line shows. We will be traveling to Tahoe twice for shows with one of our leading galleries we just added a gallery in a new territory and are in talks with a gallery in the UK to begin exhibiting in Europe! I perform live when I can and sometimes when we travel for an art-show but usually the concerts materialize independently. I would love to tour the art and music together eventually. I juggle 2 careers and a job and we bring up our collective band of 5 offspring who are all young adults. My album Another Place and Time (2010) was written largely in response to Alexander’s artwork. Music and art of the same name. If you look on the album you will see tracks which correspond with the names of his oil paintings and there are also 11 videos available on youtube that demonstrate our work together. Also, I am currently writing a large collection that will be a musical representation of each of his paintings this year. We will record next year and release towards the end of 2016.
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy teaching and sharing your knowledge with students?
H.B. - I love teaching. It is inspiring and grounding, nourishing and real but it is getting increasingly difficult to continue! I used to have a roster of around 25 students but my writing is taking precedence at the moment and I only have 5 in total. I have known these families for years and taught older siblings and even accompanied their parents on piano at their own musical events…Teaching speaks to the essence of my music. Without passing on what I have learned as best I can, I am not giving my gift fully and so I will teach for as long as my creative process will possibly allow.
H.B. - Movies, I need to escape from the often close to insane states of mind I find myself in with our lives being so busy…and the best way for me is watching a movie…but I'm finding I’m always listening too closely to the music now…so I might have to find another switch! I love spending time with the children. They refresh and renew me and they make Al and I feel young again! We also like to eat well. Eating in or out doesn’t matter but eating well is important to us!!
R.V.B. - Where were some of your favorite live performances?
H.B. - Four favorites…My cd release concert for Another Place and Time in 2010…very raw, perhaps over emotional but with all the hope for the future held within it. Stowe Performing Arts Center, last year…the audience reception was second to none. A house concert I did in Philly…wow. House concerts are the best. You connect with the people in the room. You talk. They talk. It's a two way thing and it deepens everything. And lastly in February the cd release concert for ‘Letters’ release. It was the first time I did not talk. Often in this sub-culture and genre of New Age, we artists talk in between the numbers…I wanted to present Letters From Far Away as the whole story it was intended to be so I gave a brief explanation/intro at the beginning of the concert and then played through the album, much like you would play through all the movements of a classical work. I enjoyed eye contact and the odd smile at the other musicians and held a pause in between each piece. It was a heart pounding experience to take a chance on doing it that way, but I loved every minute and the audience understood and appreciated it too, I think. Well…I got a standing ovation and did an encore…and that felt really great!
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Heidi Breyer visit her website https://heidibreyer.com/
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