Sunday, June 30, 2013

July Giveaway! Free Online Piano Lesson Through Skype With Josh Wright

I had such an overwhelmingly supportive response last month to the giveaway that I just wanted to start  off this post by thanking all of those who entered. I cannot express my gratitude for you and your support of my career. Being a musician has always been my dream, and it is amazing to me that I am able to make a living doing what I love. Thank you for helping to make my dream a reality.

About a year ago, I decided that I would be attending the University of Michigan in pursuit of my doctorate degree. I had about twenty piano students in Utah, and I was devastated at the thought of having to let all of them go because I genuinely loved teaching all of them, and they were all accomplishing such great things. I looked into teaching online through Skype. I'd heard of several other piano teachers doing this, so I started advertising online lessons at the end of my YouTube videos. Someone emailed me a few days later to inquire about lessons, and I got my first online piano student! It took me a couple of lessons to adjust to this new style of teaching - things were basically the same, except I wasn't in the room with the student, couldn't point to their music, etc. I decided to try to turn these roadblocks into advantages, and sure enough, they did. My teaching style was strengthened, for rather than pointing to things on the piano, or moving my students' hands to the correct position, I had to explain concepts with absolute precision so that the student would be able to understand quickly and efficiently. It was a challenge, but I got used to it. My students also grew from the experience. They now wrote in all of their counting in the music, all of the expression marks that I would dictate to them, and overall they became more independent musicians. I could still demonstrate, zoom in on my fingers, and show them exactly what they needed to do, but the "distance" the computer created made them become better pianists through challenging them to take charge more, and make no excuses. I am so dang proud of all of my students, and I was definitely bragging them up this last week to my family and friends when Luke Romney - age 11 - won 2nd prize in the Junior division of the University of Utah International Keyboard Competition, and Josh Whisenant - age 15 - won 1st prize in the Senior division of the same international competition. What a privilege it is to be able to teach students of all ages, and now all countries using this amazing technology. I've enjoyed teaching students from 4 continents and many different countries. Maybe one day I'll be teaching students from all 7 continents (although I don't know how much demand there will be for Skype lessons in Antarctica)!

This month, I would like to celebrate my students' successes by giving away a free 45-minute Skype lesson for you, or someone you know that would like to take an online piano lesson. No musical experience is required - all you need is a computer with a webcam, and Skype installed on your computer (it works with both Mac and PC computers). Once the winner is announced, we will set a time to meet (often across time zones!) and connect for a virtual lesson. Everyone, no matter what your age, is welcome to enter. Just a precaution - any students under the age of 5 may have a very difficult time with this. Ideally, I would prefer to teach a student who is 8 years of age or older, as younger children do better with the physical aspect of lessons. Just take a look below and see all of the various ways you can enter. Thank you all so much for your support.

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June Giveaway Winner - Sean Rosqvist!

Congratulations to Sean Rosqvist on being the winner of my first giveaway ever! I'll be mailing you the signed copy of my new CD, My Favorite Things, tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it!

I'll be posting July's giveaway shortly. Thank you all so much for your support!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Inner Peas

Lindsey and I were at Trader Joe's the other day, and she taught me yet another valuable life lesson. She saw these "Inner Peas" and said she had seen a comment by her friend on Facebook that they were really good. Ringing up at a steep $1.49, we decided we'd take the dive and give them a try. However, when we got to the cash register, a really enthusiastic Chinese cashier warned us, telling us how gross they were. She had even purchased a bag herself, and was giving out samples to customers about to buy them to show them what a terrible decision they were making. Not too sure how Trader Joe's management would feel about this, but hey, we were appreciative, and we told her not to ring up the bag. She set it aside and we kept talking. She was also more than excited to give us some free samples of real fruit juice lollipops. I'd rate my check-out experience a solid 10/10.

When we got out to the car, we were pulling some stuff out of our bag to snack on, and noticed that she had accidentally put in the bag of Inner Peas, even though she hadn't charged us for it. I didn't think much of it, considering it was only a little over a dollar. However, Lindsey asked, "Don't you think we should take it back?" We were already on the road, and were headed to my sister's dance performance. After a once-a-day phone call from my mom for the last 30 days, telling us that yes, the dance concert WAS indeed on June 18th, and yes, we DID need to arrive at least an hour early, I thought it was probably more important to get to the concert than worry about the disgusting dollar snack. She said, "Let's just go back really quick...we aren't too far away." So, we turned the car around and she took the bag back in. 

She came back out about a minute later, and said, "Geez, I wasn't expecting that. I walked back in and gave the manager the bag back, saying we hadn't been charged for it, and his face immediately lit up. "Thank you so much! Wow! I am amazed that you would bring this back. These are so inexpensive, so I wouldn't ever expect that. That just made my day.""

Did the $1.49 store savings make the manager's day? Probably not, considering we could have stolen 10 bags and it wouldn't have affected his paycheck. However, it was the simple and honest act, and not wanting any recognition or praise for it, that made his day. It was the fact that the deed was so minuscule, so tiny and seemingly unnecessary, but nevertheless important enough to someone to do the right thing....that's what made his day. I sat there thinking about it, and thought of how this could affect all of the people in his realm of influence. If he went to the gas station that night and they undercharged him, and he noticed it once he was out in his car, I'm almost positive he would have gone back, not because he would normally do so (well, maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't), but because of this small act. He would have at least thought twice about it, and probably gone with the more honest way.

Every day we are faced with decisions that question our honesty and integrity. Most of these deeds probably go unnoticed, but surely there are people who do notice without our knowledge of it. If we are constantly trying to do the right thing, not for recognition or praise, but just because it's the right thing to do, it very well may have a chain effect that spreads far beyond our own realm of influence. The chain reaction, or the "pay it forward" mentality, may seem silly and insignificant to most, but my wife's simple and honest decision made me think twice about where I stood on the integrity scale, and made me resolve to go that extra mile, even when it seems unnecessary or inconvenient.

Lindsey is cool.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Work Hard, Play Harder

Hopefully one day I'll tee it up at Augusta. Being a pianist, I probably have a better chance than a lot of aspiring golfers because even though classical musicians usually aren't rich, our target audience members are often quite wealthy. In 2011, I went to a piano festival in the Hamptons. We lived there for one month, wining (minus the wine for Lindsey and I, the only Mormons at the festival, which everyone found fascinating, and my hundreds of questions about which wines were best were only outnumbered by their thousands of questions regarding Mormonism) and dining with the ultra rich. For the concert programs, they requested biographies, and they wanted to include something out of the ordinary. In high school, I played on the golf team, and since I was at a 1A school, you could simply sign up and be on the golf team. My friend, Robert, was a master golfer, and would usually shoot in the 60's, and if he was having a really rough day, he would shoot in the 70's. I came in as the #2 player, shooting such stellar scores as 82 or 84 on a good day, with the #3 guy shooting in the 90's, and finally our #4 guy shooting in the low 100's. Needless to say, Robert carried us to our feeble second place finish at the State Championship (can you really call it a championship at that point?), with the top 4 players adding up their total scores. Thank heavens the other teams were just as horrible as we were. By some fluke, I made the All-State Golf Team (I was the second best player in a truly horrible division - what an honor!). At the All-State Golf Banquet, I was surrounded by scratch golfers, with my personal best round of the season being a dazzling 82. I proudly accepted this award, realizing that it would probably be the only golf award I would ever receive. A few of my peer's parents caught wind of this, and threw a fit. "How did he make the All-State Golf Team!? My son is so much better." My mom and I would laugh at this - yes, as a matter of fact, your kid IS better! I just went to a school that was in the most pathetic division ever for golf!

So, back the Hamptons, I listed in my biography that I was on the All-State Golf Team. One night, we were at an extremely ritzy "Tennis and Bath" club, or something like that (just think of things rich people like, and that will probably be the right title), and we played a concert outside for them on a perfectly cut lawn, surrounded by perfectly cut hedges, set against a backdrop of the most perfectly clean and serene beach (white sands against bluish-black water). Afterwards, we enjoyed a banquet of all you could eat lobster, crab, salmon, prime rib, steak, and whatever else you could think of. A guy came up to me and said, "Are you the golfer?" Why, yes I am! I haven't played more than a few times in the last 6 years, and 6 years ago when I played a lot I sucked, but, yes, I am the golfer. We talked for awhile, and he asked me, "Do you want to come play at Shinnecock Hills with me next week? I'm a member there. It's the number 3 course in America, only under Augusta and one other course, and they're holding the U.S. Open there in a few years." I was ecstatic, and naively texted my friend Robert to ask him how the course was. "Are you crazy? I've never played there!" I think everyone enjoyed my 4-putts that day. By some crazy miracle, I eagled from about 90 yards out on a par 4, so it wasn't a complete waste.

And thus, from this experience, I have high hopes that one day, some rich donor will host a dinner that I'll perform at, with either a Master's champion in attendance that will love my playing SO much that he'll invite me to go tee it up with him, or a really nice old guy that will ask me to be his golf buddy for the day. Augusta is the Steinway and Sons of golf courses, unmatched by any others according to most people.

I talk about all of this because this summer, I've reignited my old passion for golf. Sure, my brothers and I have played a handful of times over the last few years, and shot really good scores if you don't count our numerous mulligans (we've probably lost more balls than we've found in the bushes, searching for spare golf balls frantically out of necessity rather than at our leisure), but this summer, I've actually devoted some time a few times each week to going to the driving range and putting greens and really practice. It's been awesome that my wife has joined me almost every time we've gone, and she's starting to get into it as well. I've shot some pretty decent scores, and my game is feeling as sharp as it did in high school.

A lot of times, as a musician, I can get into a rut. I think, "One more concerto, one more sonata, one more etude, one more nocturne." At the end of the day, who really cares how big my repertoire is? I love what I do, but sometimes, it can become a little stale. It's not that the music itself becomes monotonous or boring, but rather the process and routine can become mind-numbing if one is not careful. Ever since I started golfing this summer, I've been happier, not because I'm aspiring to be a pro golfer, but because I have a healthy and competitive distraction that challenges me in a completely different way. I see many correlations between golf and piano, the most obvious being that they are both extremely mentally demanding, require hours of work, and ultimately give you no guarantee of success. However, both have the sweetest and most amazing reward when executed well. The perfect expression and execution of a piece is very similar to sinking a birdie putt after a monster drive straight down the fairway, followed by a 5-feet-from-the-pin approach shot and an easy make for the -1.

I find that a lot of people say, "When I retire...." To be honest, I never want to retire. I love what I do so much that I'll never quit doing it. However, there are days when I question this, and on those days, all I need is something like golf to round things out in my mind, to give me a mental release elsewhere that piano just isn't doing for me. I find myself more rejuvenated than ever about music when I step off of the golf course having just played 9 or 18 holes, or just going to the driving range to practice and clear my head. I hate clichés, but I do have to say that I agree with the one that says, "Work hard, play hard." However, I would change it to be "Work hard, play harder." When you have this mentality, I think the roles can be reversed - work can become play, and play can become work. When work becomes play, you are SO happy doing what you're doing, and when play becomes work, you have a healthy and competitive challenge to make yourself grow and succeed in the things you love doing most.

Thank you all so much for your support. Just a quick reminder that I'll be doing a few upcoming concerts in Utah this month. All of my concerts are listed on my website at Also, this month's giveaway - a signed copy of my new album My Favorite Things - is coming to an end in a little over a week. If you'd like to enter to win, just scroll down and see all of the options on how to enter. Have a great week!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Young Artist Feature - Caleb Spjute

I've decided to feature a young artist each month on this blog. The young artist that immediately came to mind for my first post is a young pianist that has incredible promise and potential, and has already accomplished a great deal for his age - Caleb Spjute. Lindsey and I originally saw Caleb at the SummerArts Piano Competition at the University of Utah a few years back, and before they announced any of the awards, he was already our favorite, because he was just such a stud - he couldn't have been more than about 4 feet tall, but he was decked out in a gray pinstripe three-piece suit, pink shirt, and skinny far the best dressed artist at the entire competition. Lindsey turned to me and said, "We need to have you dress like that kid!" So, needless to say, we went out and bought a vest just like Caleb's and when I told Caleb he was the inspiration behind the vest, he wore it to every event he came to where I would be performing so we could match haha. He is awesome! (By the way, he had to step forward and accept every first prize award in his age category - 1st prize in performance, concerto, sight-reading, quick-study, and everything else he entered...incredibly talented!)

Here is a short biography of Caleb:

Caleb Spjute was born with a love of music. At age 4, he began reading through old piano books and teaching himself how to play. Within a couple of months, Caleb had passed through Level 4 method books and was playing anything he could get his hands on. Caleb particularly loved Tchaikovsky, and at age 5 was asked to play the “Overture” at his school’s performance of the Nutcracker. From the time he began playing piano, Caleb has told everyone his dream; “I want to be a piano player when I grow up.” At 6 1/2, Caleb began formal piano lessons at the University of Utah with Dr. Vedrana Subotic. In a short time, Caleb began competing in piano competitions and performing all across Utah. At 7, Caleb won the University of Utah’s SummerArts piano solo competition and won the “Iron Man” award for best all around. At age 8, he won his first piano concerto competition in Park City, and again the following year. At 9 years old, Caleb made his debut appearance playing a piano concerto with live orchestra. Now 10 years old, Caleb recently performed a full 3 movement concerto with live orchestra and won an Honorable Mention from the Utah Symphony Youth Guild Competition.

Caleb also loves to write music. Each year he wins his school’s musical composition competition, often going on to Region and State levels. He loves to play for care centers and nursing homes. He often accompanies his older brother who plays guitar and a younger sister who plays violin.
Caleb has a special love for playing in church. He loves to find different arrangements of hymns to play. This past year he created a web series called "Sundays @ 6" where he plays a different hymn arrangement every week. He is currently on week 46.

When not playing piano, Caleb has a great love for maps, building roads with his toy cars, reading, and writing. He has recently began playing the ukulele. He continues to study piano and work toward his goals of becoming a professional pianist and basically just sharing his love of music with others. He says, "I love it when I play the piano because it makes people happy, and that makes me happy."
As you can all see, this kid is amazingly accomplished, creative, and innovative. I decided to do a mini interview with him.
How has studying music changed your life?
Piano has made a difference in my life because it makes me happy and makes other people happy. It has given me goals to work for like learning harder pieces, memorizing longer songs, competing in piano competitions, playing with a live orchestra, and someday becoming a professional concert pianist.
I can’t imagine my life without playing the piano. I think it would be very boring. I like to be able to hear a song on the radio or somewhere and know I can play it myself.
I like to play with other people who play other instruments or sing.
I like most to play in front of other people to be entertaining and make them happy.
What advice would you give other young musicians wanting to study music?
If I could tell one thing to other young musicians that could help them in their studies, it would be to never give up. Never quit even if it looks like you can’t do it at first. Keep trying.
My teacher has taught me that the best way to practice is slow practice with a metronome. Even though it is hard, I know it makes me better if I do it.
Do you like to practice the piano?
Practicing the piano is hard especially when it might be boring things like scales and finger exercises, but I know it will help me be a better piano player.
I think other kids should learn to play the piano because there are so many songs that you can find music to. You can play all sorts of music like classical, jazz, new-age, rock, pop, and more on the piano and make it sound good.
And, an extra bonus---he says: Playing the piano has introduced me to lots of other great pianists like Marvin Goldstein, Jon Schmidt, Paul Cardall, and more. It makes me happy when composers and pianists find my videos online and leave nice comments to me! I have made many friends over the internet such as Jarrod Radnich, Josh Wright, Aaron Waite, Chas Hathaway, Carolyne M. Taylor, and Paul Cardall. 
Here is a link to a video of one of Caleb's performances:
Also, if you'd like to connect with Caleb online through his blog, Sundays at 6 series, or become a fan on Facebook, here are the links to do that:
Facebook Fan Page:
Keep up the great work Caleb! Thank you for being this month's featured young artist!
If any of you would like a signed copy of my new album, My Favorite Things, just scroll down 2 posts and find all of the various ways you can enter this month's giveaway. Thank you all so much for your support!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Stories of World War II have always been a great source of inspiration for me in my performing, both for the pain and extreme tragedy endured by millions of Jews, as well as their undying perseverance through the most intense trials a human being could possibly face. Their determination and positive outlook through the total debasing of their humanity gives hope to all. It is a beacon of light for us in our daily tests that challenge us to become better human beings. On my last album, I arranged a piece that combines Rachmaninoff's Elegie, one of the most heart-breaking works in the entire piano repertoire, along with the theme from Schindler's List. Before I play this at each concert, I have been telling a particularly touching story that has changed my life, and I'd like to relay it to each of you here. It is one of the most powerful examples of forgiveness that I've ever come across, and motivates me to be a better and more loving human being.

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. 

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! 

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and I could not forgive. My Sister had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. 

Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

-Corrie Ten Boom

As a token of thanks for your support of this blog, I am organizing monthly giveaways for my readers. This month's giveaway features my new album that has the Elegie/Schindler's List piece on it. Scroll down if you'd like to enter :)