ecently, I was privileged to receive an advance copy of “Journey Within”, the first album by pianist, fellow web designer, and friend, Shirley Kaiser. In the hopes that you’ll be able to listen yourself in the very near future, I’d like to share my impressions of the original compositions which make up the album. For more information about Shirley, her musical philosophy, clips of all eight songs, and much more, please visit her website.
Edit: Shirley Kaiser has graciously commented on my scribblings. I’m including her annotations in a different font.
“Journey Within” contains eight piano solos as beautiful and inspiring as the Renaissance Woman herself. Based on classical formats, the pieces generally run longer than pop tunes, but while they’re more complex than pop music and deserve audiophile-level attention, the melodies are memorable and meaningful enough to be enjoyed without unnecessary mental strain. All show clearly the composer’s powerful classical influence, but contain unmistakable references to jazz and modern music. Like many free-spirited intelligent musicians, Shirley’s style is not easily pigeon-holed.
All the music that I hear in my head has other instruments along with the piano, although there are piano solos within that. In order to get the music out there to be heard, though, what you’re hearing is actually piano renditions of fully orchestrated music. Sometimes it might be just a couple of instruments, a solo instrument such as a flute (often I use the higher areas of the piano to denote a flute). Other times, other pieces may have full orchestra.
- “Love Song” – The opening track begins with the simple melodic theme that continues throughout the tune. A gentle song, straightforward and uncomplicated, it feels like it’s about, not love in real life, which tends to be anything but straightforward and uncomplicated, but instead, love in a fairy tale; love in a romantic movie; love in a dream. One of the shorter works on the album, it’s also one of my favorites. It fairly begs to have romantic Elizabethan lyrics written for it.
You’re correct about this one not being inspired by romantic love. It’s inspired by the purest, most unconditional love, a spiritual love that recognizes, embraces, and celebrates one’s being.
Actually, a movie I saw was the inspiration for this. I was at a retreat, and before the movie was over, the entire piece had created itself in my head. A dear friend had loaned me his synthesizer while I was there, so as soon as the movie was over I ran up to my hotel room and played it out in its entirety. I didn’t have any manuscript paper with me, so I sketched an outline of the melody and chords in my notebook and also called my home phone and played it into my voice mail so that I’d be sure to have all the details.
- “Journey Within” – The title piece, as the name suggests, is very introspective. The longest cut of the group, various pensive themes wind through and around each other. Having been recently exposed to the work of John Field, one of Shirley’s influences, that influence is evident to me in “Journey Within.” A repeating set of themes lead us down a quiet path to a private place where we can sit and think without the press of our daily cares. A very therapeutic composition which has a pronounced relaxing affect on me personally.
It’s inspired by my own inner journey, of finally letting go, being in touch with my inner being, being at peace and centered. It’s inspired by my meditations, my journey of tapping into my soul and becoming one with it.
After many, many years of trying to compose, I finally realized that I had to let it flow, that I couldn’t force it, that I couldn’t try to make it perfect in form or anything else. I had to let whatever was inside just flow on its own. The cork unpopped at long last, and out poured Journey Within. Much of it poured out at once, and I finished it in its entirety within just a few days. By letting it flow, it worked effortlessly, and it’s been that way ever since. So Journey Within was the beginning of an amazing journey that I’ve been on since then and was the first piece I wrote on this new journey that’s ended up with this CD.
- “Sunrise Reflections” – The first of a few pieces which have a defined introduction, “Sunrise Reflections” soon introduces the melody which reminds me so much of the sunrise in the southern California mountains where I’m writing this. Away from the noise and confusion of the city, the sunrise on a silent country morning is an event you participate in, not just something that happens. This sunrise draws you in; it makes you realize this will be a good day. One of the tunes that I think is especially worthy of full orchestration.
This one is inspired by the setting of a 5am sunrise over Lake Tahoe when the water is still as a mirror and perfectly reflects the world all around it while the sun rises over it sending the most amazing colors throughout the world and reflected by the Lake. It’s all about memories of the only times I got up that early
when my babies would wake up hungry. I’d remove the curtains on the wall of glass overlooking the lake and make ourselves cozy on the couch. I’d feed my little baby in the most amazingly beautiful place at the most perfect moment watching the sun rise over Lake Tahoe on a very early, cool, crisp, totally peaceful summer morning.
It’s also all about memories of watching their young childhoods at the Lake, running along the sand, building sand castles, laughing and playing, riding in the boat, sitting in the shade on the porch overlooking the lake, many things like that. It’s all about sweet, precious memories of my children when they were very young there at the Lake.
The title is a play on words in one sense since I’m reflecting on beautiful sunrises and times and in the other sense it’s also actually about a beautiful sunrise reflecting on the lake.
- “Separation” – At first somber and pensive; clearly a sad tune, “Separation” feels so much like being away from the ones you love. A second theme, though, is strong and hopeful; a feeling of anticipated joy at being reunited. The two themes, sad and hopeful, flow into each other as they might flow through mind and heart. The hopeful theme reminds me strongly of “Thoughts of Never” by the late Merle Watson, son of guitar great Doc Watson.
Yes, this one is inspired by being apart from those I love the most, my children. Divorce is a tough, tough thing in that regard, and it was a huge adjustment for me to be away from my children at night especially. Their rooms were so quiet and empty, the house was so quiet and empty, and it was a very painful and tough adjustment, despite the necessity of divorce.
- “Maya” – From the opening moments, “Maya” is a more complex, more powerful melody. Now slow, now accelerating; even the quiet portions have a feeling of barely restrained power. Shirley has acknowledged being in a very ‘Beethoven’ mood during “Maya” and it shows. This is the rebel; the melody that doesn’t quite fit with the others, but manages to belong just the same. A colorful piece which took longer to appreciate than any of the others, it displays Shirley’s intimate grasp of the old masters in a very modern sounding work.
This one is indeed a departure from the moods of the other pieces, while also being reflective of my inner journey at the time. Maya was inspired by the illusions we can become trapped in within this life. People are lured in by drugs, money, fame and fortune only to be destroyed by it, for example. People can betray us and cause so much pain. The interplay of the tantalizing melody is that illusion’s enticement, and then it returns to stab you when you’re not looking. Beethoven’s music was a big influence on this piece, certainly.
- “Dancing in Circles” – If the title were any indication this would be cheerful, almost bouncy tune. But instead of joyfully sharing the dance with a partner, this dancer seems to be alone, spinning sadly on an empty dance floor. Its spirit somehow reminds me of Sting’s “They Dance Alone” and brings to mind visions of solitary dancers clutching photographs of missing loved ones; loving them, sharing the dance with their memory. But like all of Shirley’s music, it doesn’t just tell a story, it inspires feelings. Instead of melancholy, you feel the desire to join the dancer in hopes of easing their sorrow.
Inspired by a whirlpool at the ocean and thinking of a couple of relationships that weren’t going anywhere….. just dancing in circles. This one for me is about being caught up in that whirlpool and working one’s way out, remembering to avoid those whirlpool, going nowhere dances in the future. It’s about learning lessons and growing within.
- “Mended Wings” – Exceeded in length only by the title track, “Mended Wings” is a long journey itself, from a sad past to a hopeful, even joyful future. Building from a very quiet beginning, we feel the sadness of loss and separation build to the firm determination to build a better future. Although the memories of the past arise throughout its nine-minutes, the overall feeling is positive, at times even clearly forgetting there was ever a sad past. Rather than the giddiness of temporary happiness, we’re left with the lasting comfort of deep inner joy.
Just as the title states, I imagine a beautiful eagle soaring once again, reaching new heights, flying over the Grand Canyon perhaps, over forests, and over the world’s beautiful, majestic scenery. And yes, the wings were injured, time was taken to heal and mend and become even stronger, appreciating even more the beauty and wonder of being able to soar. This is reflective of my own life and some major obstacles that I overcame.
- “Celebration” – The album opens with its shortest tune, and closes with the second shortest. Here is the giddy happiness; the overwhelming feeling of things too good to be true. A large, round sound, this is another track that cries out for orchestration to even more fully realize the depth of its joy.
This one is definitely giddy happiness, as you mention, celebrating the love of close friendships, and being so thankful and grateful for them. I wrote it for a dear friend of mine who encouraged me to record this CD and actually recorded it all for me. This one is dedicated to him (Ron Mann) and to the preciousness of friendship.
“Journey Within” has changed the way I listen to music. And if things go well, you’ll soon be able to listen for yourself.