Deborah has a diverse musical background as an accomplished musician, teacher, and performer. She has performed solo recitals, accompanied soloists from the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, performed at the Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival in Jamaica, accompanied musical theater groups locally and with the Los Angeles Opera Musical Theater Company.
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We wanted to hear more about Deborah, her pieces and her compositional process. Keep reading to find out more:
What inspired you to start a career in music?
My father bought a piano for my mother to play songs for me when I was a toddler, and I listened to recordings of all genres from childhood. When I was about 8 years old, I started piano lessons and loved it! In high school, I was fortunate to have 3 wonderful teachers, Helen Landin for piano, Jean Frank for choir, and Joe Acciani. Jean was the choir director. It was a small performing group like in Glee. Mr. Acciani was the band director, and he taught me music theory and how to play the french horn. I composed an arrangement of “Penny Lane” for the jazz band to perform my senior year. I also performed Rhapsody in Blue with the Antelope Valley Orchestra.
How did piano to become your primary instrument of choice?
I remember when I was about in 2nd grade, my father’s friend was the orchestra conductor. Mr. Olson played the clarinet, and tried to get me to play it. I didn’t like the sound I made, I couldn’t get it to sound like I wanted it to, so I asked to have piano lessons. An early piano teacher’s son (Lauren Gayle), was the winner of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. I used to sneak into his practice room and listen to him play. After awhile, he allowed me to stay, and would play for me. I think that is when I fell in love with the piano.
When did you start composing and what sparked your interest?
I started composing in January of 2011. I was studying piano with Russian Pianist Vitaly Margulis. He was not well at the time, but wanted me to come for lessons. I thought about a surprise for him, a piece for his birthday, using the numbers of his birthdate. I was so nervous to play it for him. What if he didn’t like it? After I performed it for him, Margulis clapped his hands and said “Bravo!” . I titled it Starry Night, Prelude for Margulis. The following week, I wrote another piece, for his companion, Kanae Matsumoto, titled Nijo Gardens, about the famous gardens in Japan. I entered it in the MTAC Composer’s Today Contest the following week, and to my surprise it won 1st place. Margulis was so happy, I just kept on writing music. He passed away in May of 2011, and I composed Angel Rhapsody that weekend.
How do you like our Digital Print Publishing service?
It is amazing. All I had to do was save my file as a pdf, and upload it to the site. It was so easy, it only takes about ten minutes. I also like that I can keep my rights to the music. This is such a great idea to help composers get their music out to people who want it.
Please tell us about your pieces.
I wrote the piece Palawan for my friend and fellow pianist, Tessie Chua-Chiaco, for her birthday, in Sept. of 2011. Palawan is an island in the Philippines that is special to her family, so I researched it, and found that there is a bird called the Akalat de Palawan that has a beautiful singing voice sounding like it is saying, “hello, are you there?”. I wrote the piece around the bird call of the Akalat, and the beautiful jungle island of Palawan. The piece tells a story, and takes you on an adventure of sound. There is a painting by Picasso of a jungle island that my father interpreted in his own way, that I looked at while I composed the piece. So, I used 3 elements: My friend Tessie’s memories, the bird calls, and the painting for imagery.
Sunrise at Yushan is for pianist Jeremy Lee, who came here from China to pursue a career in piano. Jeremy heard my performance, and was a fan, so I wrote a piece for him. How nice that it won first place! Sunrise at Yushan is about a mountain in Taiwan, called Jade Mountain, and when the sun rises over the snow it shines in brilliant colors like a rainbow. Sunrise at Yushan sounds like a rainbow of sound, like a sunrise made on a piano.
How did you meet Tessie Chua-Chiaco and Jeremy Lee?
I met Tessie at the Sara Compinsky Master Classes, which is a performance group for professionals wanting to improve their skills on the piano. It is taught by different concert pianists each month. The following weekend, the pianist performs in concert sponsored by the Classical Encounters Foundation. It is in the Los Angeles Area, and such a great way for pianists and music lovers to meet and share their talents. One day I asked the group if anyone would mind listening to my first music compositions after class. It was a long class, so I didn’t expect anyone to stay. I was so honored that everyone stayed seated, and listened for about 20 minutes for me to perform my first pieces. It was so exciting to have such enthusiastic support. Jeremy Lee was in the audience that day, and said he loved the music. Jeremy is a talented student who came here from China to study piano. I told him I would compose a piece for him. (Sunrise at Yushan). Jeremy was studying at West Los Angeles Valley College, and is now at a university majoring in piano performance.
Could you please give us a brief overview of the steps you take to create your wonderful compositions?
I usually begin with an idea or theme. When I first began composing, I was writing pieces for my friends as gifts. The Pianoscapes CD has six pieces dedicated to pianists. I tried to capture the musical personality of each person, like a musical portrait, based on how they played the piano, their cultural background, etc. My father, John P. Keily is an artist, and I use his paintings to help me create musical images. I also think of words that describe that person or place, and sometimes use it in the melody of motif of the piece. Then I play around on the piano, creating interesting chord changes, colors, moods. After that it is all hard work! I shape the piece into an intelligible form of communication, with form, etc. The editor of Piano Forte News, Mary A. Hannon, wrote an article about my composition style. You can read the article on my website,hmspiano.com.
What advice do you have for other aspiring composers?
I would say, just try it! It is never too late to start composing. It is a very satisfying experience to express yourself through music. What surprises me the most, is the wonderful sharing of music that happens. I was afraid people would be critical, but it is the opposite. I have made many new friends because of my music. I would like to say a special thank you to Frank J. Hackinson of FJH Music, and also Dr. Helen Marlais, for their support and encouragement to continue making CDs and composing.
We hear your father is an artist. Has he ever painted a work that is inspired by one of your compositions?
Well, the way it works is, my father paints me a painting, and then I write the music. I don’t think it goes the other way around. But I am trying. I really want him to paint me a winter scene. He says “art is a happening”. I think that is true.You can’t force it to happen, it just does. I love his paintings! They are such an inspiration to me. And so beautiful. I would like to someday be able to publish sheet music using my father’s art on the cover. I have a gallery of his art on my website.
We also see that you joined our Easy Rebates Program for Music Teachers. What do you like the most about our program?
I love the Easy Rebates Program! The best part is, I buy the music, and later I receive a check in the mail, getting back some of the price I paid. That is great!
Do you have any new pieces in the works?
Yes, I am working on a new Cd called Seasons, it should be out by middle of October. It has new pieces on it. One is Sunrise at Yushan, for Jeremy Lee. Other pieces are brand new. A delicate piece, “La Petite Rose”, I composed based on a poem by Mary A. Hannon. Another piece called “Veraneo”, is a Latin Jazz style piece written for Konstantin Sirounian, who I recently studied composition with. He is Armenian, but when I asked what type of music he wanted me to write for him, he wanted Latin. It sounds like summer. It also sounds like a jazz orchestra piece. I may orchestrate it as a jazz piano concerto, with steel drums! That is my next project.
If you would like to find out more about Deborah, you can visit her website here. She has two CDs available for sale, one of which includes the piece Palawan. Be sure to check out her site!
You can also learn more about Sheet Music Plus Digital Print Publishing here.
Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Pianoforte Magazine (cont.) editor: Mary A. Hanon
Stage 4: Perform for family. I perform the piece for my husband, then my father, then my daughter (separately). After this, I now believe that the entire piece is terrible, hopeless, a complete disaster, and not any good at all. I try to find something good that is worth keeping. I make drastic cuts, sometimes entire pages. (still keep all of it under the piano, just in case for later).
Stage 5: Major rewrites. This stage is pure frustration! It is not fun at all. It is like putting together a puzzle with half of the pieces missing. By this time, I don’t care about the piece anymore, so am back to freeflowing ideas. Somehow, the “holes” begin to fill in almost by magic.
Stage 6: Perform again for family. This time, I am unattached to the comments, because I don’t like the piece at all, so I can listen to criticism better. However, now everyone seems to really like the piece! I tighten up the structure and look for form. More rewrites. At this point I look to add more interest, voicings, check out bass lines, be sure all the parts say something.
Stage 7: Perform for students. I pay attention to body language, if I am communicating the message of the piece, does it have a good flow, is it too long? Should I cut out a section, or add one? How are the transitions? I can usually tell by performing, because it just doesn’t feel right at some points. Minor rewrites.
Stage 8: Perform for friends. Minor rewrites, usually adding small melodic color spots, articulation changes, and/or rhythmic fragments for interest.
Stage 9: Edit. Play. Edit. Play. Does the piece read the way I want it to sound? Sometimes the answer is not at all! By now I have stopped looking at the music so I really don’t see it anymore. Now I have to edit more. Play and edit. I also do a metronome check. I add articulation, dynamics, phrasing. Altogether, from start to finish, I end up with about 15 versions of each piece before the final copy.
Stage 10: Voila! Now I like the piece again. It seems so natural that of course this is how the piece goes. It is so obvious! Not complicated at all. Everything in it’s place. If only I could have seen how simple it was at the beginning!