Letter from the ComposerDear Friend,
My earliest recollections of the piano are listening to my mother play and then trying to imitate her. She was my first teacher, and these lessons started at age five in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in Brooklyn, it was a toss up between practicing my music lessons and getting out on the block where kids were playing stickball and roller hockey.
Although at first I was fascinated by the keys and how they worked, my love for the piano has always centered on the tone and sound it made. When I was six years old I began taking piano lessons at St. Ephrem’s Grammar School. By fifth grade, I had become the student organist at St. Ephrem’s Parish. At fourteen, my parents suggested I go to Cathedral Seminary. It was here I learned Gregorian Chant and to study organ.
In 1953, I joined the army and was sent to Germany as a Chaplain’s assistant. One of my duties was organist. It was there in Ulm, Germany, in the quiet of the chapel, that I first explored improvisation, new harmonies and playing without sheet music.
From 1956 to 1960 I studied music with piano as my major at Crane School of Music, New York State University, Potsdam, New York. Mr. James Ball was my piano teacher. My fondest memories were his playings of Chopin...and Art Tatum. He taught me how to color tone and play relaxed. He also inspired me to learn for myself and come up with my own melodies.
I taught school for ten years, from 1960 to 1970, on Long Island. I left because it was time to play music instead of teach music. In 1964, I started lessons with Professor Valentino Marconi of the Juilliard School.
I have been fortunate to have had such wonderful teachers of piano and of life.
In 1976, a lightning incident changed me. I realized I was mortal. Thereafter, my focus was turned to original melodies and new piano compositions. Two styles seemed to come about: one with classical roots, and the other as "tone poems for the piano". Also, I was faced with the choice of either composing these compositions on paper with a pen or composing them with my hands on a piano. I chose the latter.
I found that learning to compose was different than just playing music. Melody was the key. It was what I could remember and not limited by technique, by rather developed by ideas. To retain melodies, and then work them out at the piano became my favorite.
Two people have come into my life to support me and make it possible to compose my music: Dixie Mahy and Rob Kelch have been those patrons of the arts in my life. As well as good teachers, good friends like these are vital in any career.
My current project is to video record my hands and fingers together with a sound recording of my Piano Sonata #2 in A Major. These recordings can be played together via computer as an effective teaching tool. How fortunate I am to live on the eve of the 21st century and to enjoy the benefits of all the technology that has accompanied progress. But it is better yet, I think, to live in this time where we can witness this history in the making.
God's gift to the composer is the magic of melody, and to the performer goes the passion.Sincerely, John