Standing in the St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hanover, Pennsylvania, it is not difficult to see how the beauty of religious devotion can inspire someone like Lloyd Larson to create such splendid choral pieces. Indeed, Larson considers himself a product of the church his family attended while growing up in Illinois.
No discussion of sacred and church choral music is complete without including the works of composer Joel Raney. Raney’s contribution to sacred music is widely celebrated by choir members and directors.
Wynn-Anne Rossi is known to the music world as a talented pianist, dynamic composer, and dedicated music educator. Throughout her life, she has combined her inquisitive nature with a strong work ethic to build an impressive musical career and body of work. Sharing her talents with the world is very important to Ms. Rossi, and we in the music world are very happy she has.
Known to be one of the most versatile composers and arrangers of our time, Mark Hayes is popular with both worship and secular choirs. He bridges the gap between style and content, making his music accessible to anyone who loves to sing. No doubt, his ability to write songs that appeal to the identities of many different choirs is what has made him one of the most widely performed contemporary composers.
As part of our ongoing series of interviews, Pepper had the opportunity to sit down with arranger and composer Heather Sorenson. A church pianist since the age of 7, Heather has lived in the midst of sacred music for her entire life.
Pianists, think back to your first experience playing the piano alongside another. For me, it was at home at age eight, sitting on the bench of our just-delivered Kawai upright with my mother. At that moment, I knew nothing about playing the piano. But like so many, the one and only thing my mother could plunk out was Heart and Soul. So we sat together at that brand-new piano and made music together. Skip ahead more than 30 years, and I realize even though it was just Heart and Soul, it was a profound moment — the moment the piano made its entrance into my life.
If you’re interested in the centuries-old tradition of pianists (young and not young, students, hobbyists and professionals alike) making music together, check out our presentation of repertoire at PianoAtPepper.com. For almost a decade, J.W. Pepper has been committed to presenting the best of what’s published in this genre. You’ll find “Ensembles” repertoire under almost every category in the silver horizontal menu (towards the top of every page) including Teaching Library, Repertoire, Sacred, and Seasonal.
We also offer a free, monthly “Piano Ensembles” e-Club. Once you join, you’ll receive monthly emails featuring the best of what’s new for piano four hands, eight hands, and more hands.
What are your most cherished memories of making music side by side? Please share them with us in the Comments section below.
Heather Sorenson was born in Illinois and lived in a number of places throughout her childhood, finally settling in the beautiful city of Dallas, Texas.
Crystal Desch and I had the honor of interviewing Wynn-Anne Rossi, and we think you’ll find her as we did, an inspirational composer, pianist and teacher. Among her many musical roles, Wynn-Anne is a highly creative composer of student-level piano music and instructional books on composing. We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we did.
How many piano students to you have?
I have about 25 private students, ranging from beginner to advanced. We focus on all the various piano skills, but my favorite part is teaching them original composition.
Tell us more about the structure of your piano/composition lessons.
I teach weekly private lessons, followed by keyboard lab for creative projects (under earphones). Once per month, I hold group lessons with different areas of focus. Every third recital is an original composition recital. These performances are totally exhilarating, with themes that the students choose.
What do you enjoy most about teaching piano?
I love the deep relationships that build over time with my students. I’m sure I am not alone in this answer. Sharing music builds amazing, lasting friendships.
You have a real talent for inspiring young people to compose. Where does your inspiration come from to work with young people in this way?
I suppose the inspiration comes from the students themselves. They are so curious and eager to express themselves. Students’ lives are so full of feeling, and they have so much to say through music. It’s invigorating and inspiring to work with them.
Do the students you work with ever influence your more advanced compositions?
Absolutely. Each year, I do composition residencies in the schools where I create orchestra and band works using student musical ideas. Some of my most complex pieces are linked to students. I can think of other examples as well. Students are closely linked to my music.
What were you able to do with your new Creative Composition Toolbox series that hasn’t been done before?
I’m pleased with how streamlined this composition method is. “See, then do.” It’s that simple. In addition, I designed it to parallel major piano methods. Certain concepts come up at appropriate times, ready to be expressed in original compositions. I’m also thrilled that the first book is free of traditional notation.
You have a bunch of fabulous Halloween titles. Is Halloween your favorite holiday?
You found a soft spot. I love crazy costumes, I love saying “boo” and I love candy. Yes, it just may win as my favorite holiday!
As a composer, do you have a “muse?”
I have lots of muses. Dark chocolate, petting my cat, modern art, funny jokes, coffee with a friend … small breaks from life allow flashes of inspiration to leap in. It’s everywhere.
Who have your greatest musical influences been?
The reason I’m a composer today is because of my mom. When I was very young, we would create animal stories and conversations at the piano. The piano wasn’t just about music. It was about imagination. I have admired so many composers along the way, but my mom influenced my approach to sound.
If it’s not confidential, will you share any new publications on the horizon?
Three more books are coming soon in the Creative Composition Toolbox series. In addition, I’m working on three Latin music books. They will be very accessible and fun to teach.
Do you have a favorite non-classical artist? Does this person influence your compositions?
I am constantly exploring new artists, wondering what’s new. Hiromi certainly has my attention right now. I think every artist I admire has a certain amount of influence on me. Listening refreshes my perception of what can be done with harmonies and rhythms.
We know at one time you were composer-in-residence with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Do you still create in that capacity? If not, what are you up to outside of teaching piano/composition and composing for Alfred Music Publishing?
This fall, one of my student-inspired band pieces will be choreographed and premiered at a national dance conference. In the coming months, I will have two student composition residencies, one with a string orchestra and another with a 120-piece high school band. Both include commissions. Plus, I’ve started weekly composer workshops at a local arts center. I like keeping busy with a variety of projects!
What was one of the most unusual projects you did this year?
I was a surprise guest at a summer piano camp and taught young students to compose “alien space music.” Before we composed, we put on aluminum foil caps with antennae for galactic inspiration! That was a day to remember …
What is one thing folks might not know about you?
My family life! I’m married to a gregarious guy named Greg, and we have an adventurous son, Nick. Nick was in Africa for three years in the Peace Corps, and now he is going to China.
What is one of your favorite things to do?
I like to dance. Right now, I’m exploring Latin dancing, but I also make up silly dances when nobody is looking.
What makes you happiest?
Surprises. I love surprise moments, surprise activities that I’ve never done before, surprise comments that make me laugh.
For more about Wynn-Anne Rossi, “Like” Wynn-Anne Rossi Music on Facebook and check the interesting discussion board.
For books and collections by Wynn-Anne Rossi, click here.
For solo sheets by Wynn-Anne Rossi, click here.
Click here for spooky (and fun!) Halloween pieces by Wynn-Anne Rossi. Have them right now with e-Print!
Last month, we presented Part 1 of our interview with Robert D. Vandall. This is Part 2. Robert Vandall is one of this country’s most prolific and popular composers of educational piano music. He and his wife, Karen, operate a thriving independent piano studio in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
What aspects of your compositional style resonate most with students?
I hear from teachers their boys really love what I write. All composers have two sides, a lyrical side and a very driving, masculine side, if you want to use that word. So I think that element of what I like to do comes through with the boys. I also hear from my lyrical pieces there are a lot of girls who like those types of pieces. I really work to make my pieces feel comfortable, and I think students recognize that. Teachers have said they can teach some of my pieces very quickly, sometimes almost by rote. And the kids pick them up quickly. I write in patterns because I don’t want to introduce myriads of patterns in one little short piece. So I think the fact I think in patterns makes the learning process much easier. Plus the piece has to sound good. It doesn’t matter how perfect everything else is, if there is nothing attractive about it to get the student interested, they are not going to want to practice it.
If it’s not confidential, will you share with us news of any new compositions on the horizon?
There are five books called Play Hymns. Melody Bober and I collaborated. I did about 5-6 hymns per book and so did she. I love hymns and I have students who play hymns at church. So now I have a ready-made body of literature to use with some of my own students, starting at the first level and working through level 5.
Then there is the Music Teachers National Association commission for the 2011 conference in Milwaukee. Since this is the year of collaborative music, MTNA wanted a piece from me for trumpet, piano and another brass instrument of my own choosing. I chose trombone and wrote a piece for those three instruments. It’s called Fanfare Allegro.
When giving a master class or piano teaching workshop, is there anything, above all else, you hope participants and attendees will take away?
If we’re talking about a master class, we’re talking about working with students. When I do a master class I always, always try to make the students as comfortable as possible. And I always then include the audience with what I’m saying. There is nothing worse than being in the audience of a master class and being ignored. So basically, I have a conversation that goes both ways — me and the student, me and the audience, and then lots of three-way communications. And I look both ways. I look at the student. I look at the audience. So, basically, that’s what I’m after. And then with the student, I’m after positive change: ‘Gee, this needs more staccato.’ ‘How about that were more forward?’ or ‘Maybe it should be more delicate here.’ Then I ask the audience to evaluate, ‘Was that better?’ So it keeps the audience listening and it keeps the student listening too. And I always shake their hand. I always make sure I know their name. I always make sure I’m on time so that every student gets his or her due of time. I try to have fun. I try to make the student laugh a lot and have fun with me.
In workshops, I like to talk about teaching, the relationship between the teacher and the music, and then the student. So I try to be as practical as I can. I use little snippets of music to illustrate my point. I always focus on the music and what we can do to make the music sound better. And how we can make it flow technically.
What is one thing folks might not know about you?
The “D” in my name stands for Dennis. Nobody calls me Bob in my family, they all call me Denny. Karen is the only person in my family who calls me Bob. And I have two daughters-in-law; they call me Bob.
Something I’m proud of, I ran a half marathon last spring. I’m getting ready to do another one. I learned I never want to do a whole marathon.
Do you have a composer you find most inspiring?
I have a special love for George Gershwin. I love his music. I am always sad he died so young. But I also really like Beethoven’s music because he, better than practically anyone, knew what to do with the motif. He could take the littlest idea and just make it into something wonderful. And I, a guy that works with small motifs, can’t aspire to what Beethoven did. But whenever I hear his music, I just marvel at what he could do with that.
Is there anything you’d like us to ask you about or something you’d like to share?
When I started writing music, it was just a hobby. It was sort of a solitary me type of thing. I am amazed that so many people appreciate what I write. I am very, very thankful that people like what I write. It has changed my life. For instance, doing an interview like this — I am amazed people are interested to even care what I think about anything. I am just amazed and thankful that this outlet, which we might call composing, has grown like it has. I do hope I always continue to be amazed because I don’t want to become blasé or big-headed about it. I want to keep my head and always be truly appreciative.
During the week of August 8, 2011, Robert Vandall will be on tour, presenting Alfred and Pepper-sponsored piano teaching workshops around the country. Click here for more information and to register.
For all published collections by Robert Vandall, click here.
For all single sheets by Robert Vandall, click here.
Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.
Crystal Desch and I recently interviewed Robert D. Vandall by phone. Robert Vandall is one of this country’s most prolific and popular composers of educational piano music. He and his wife, Karen, operate a thriving independent piano studio in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
You’ve had a long and full career in music, most notably as a piano teacher and clinician. How are you different today as a teacher compared to when you began your career?
I think I am much, much better. My wife Karen and I have talked about this a lot. We are so much more knowledgeable. We understand kids more. We know more about pedagogy. Nothing beats experience. I think piano teachers only get better as they get older.
We were intrigued by something you said in a past interview with Keyboard Companion magazine: “I never make judgments about students. I see struggling pianists as individuals, who simply need a lot from me.” Tell us more.
I can think in particular about a young lady I had as a student. She went to church with us when our boys were the same age. She was a steady pianist and stuck with it through high school. Right at this moment in time, she runs a big, huge, thriving band program in a big high school outside Philadelphia. She became a clarinetist. So, if I were to make judgments on her future success based on what I saw in piano lessons, they might have been fairly modest. But she used her knowledge of music, her knowledge of piano playing, plus her experience as a clarinetist and has become and created something really wonderful for high school students.
I think of Stanley Fletcher — I got this point of view from him. He told me he never made predictions on whether his students would be successful because he couldn’t see down the road. I am sure at the time I studied with him he would have thought I’d never amount to anything because I had to work like a dog for him just to keep my head above water. So, I’m sorry he’s not here now to see I have attained some bit of success. I think he would have been very happy about it.
How do you coach piano students to deal with stage fright?
That’s interesting. Karen and I teach a brother and sister — she has the sister, I have the brother. They’re young elementary students. These two siblings will not perform. Their mother tells us they get the jitters. Let’s say we haven’t been successful in three years in talking these two young kids into playing. So if you want to call that a failure, you can.
Yes, we’ve been able to talk other kids into performing. I think it comes from helping them to know that they truly know their piece. That they have mental confidence, they know it theoretically. They’ve performed it in trial runs in front of people and have had success, plus positive encouragement from us. We can encourage all we want but we truly try to help them come to their own personal knowledge of the music. We also stress the fact that everyone in the audience is wanting to hear them play. They can’t wait to hear them play. The piece they’re playing is beautiful and the audience is going to love to hear that beauty whether there are mistakes or not — that’s not going to matter to the audience. They’re going to enjoy the beauty that they hear.
You are a prolific composer of educational piano music as well as hymn arrangements for the piano soloist. What do you love most about composing?
I work from the kinesthetic feel of things and from my ear. And if I can match a very comfortable physical feeling with something that to my ear sounds attractive, then I’m enjoying two things simultaneously. I always have a theoretical student in mind, not one of my real students. I always know exactly what each physical motion or musical element is designed to teach. So I’m always thinking on all kinds of levels: kinesthetic, aural, theoretical, and emotional. You see, when I first compose I sit at the piano and let my fingers move. I never write a note until I have a good first phrase. So it’s sort of a total immersion in all these types of things. I just enjoy the process. It’s very maddening at times — I get up and leave. I lie on the floor and think about things. And I go back. I think about it at night. When I go out running, I think about it. It’s always in my mind and it’s an all-consuming thing. But I really enjoy doing it because I just sort of lose myself in the process.
For all published collections by Robert Vandall, click here.
For all single sheets by Robert Vandall, click here.
During the week of August 8, 2011, Robert Vandall will be on tour, presenting five Alfred and Pepper-sponsored piano teaching workshops around the country. Click here for more information and to register.
Check back next week for Part 2 of this interview.