Monthly Archives: August 2012

Greg Maskalick‏

Greg Maskalick‏


My love for music and to communicate my innermost personal thoughts to others and not only give them an aesthetic experience but get them to possibly think and feel new things.

‘Knowledge and wisdom’

The biggest influence in my career as a pianist is Nelson Whitaker who was Professor of Piano and my piano teacher for 6 years when I studied at Carnegie Mellon University from 1978-84. He was very honest with his students and always imparted musical knowledge and wisdom at each and every lesson.

Nelson was also an incredibly gifted pianist and performer specialising in the works of Bach and Faure. It was through Nelson that I found my love for Bach and to this day play some Bach each and every morning.

It is worth pointing out that some of Nelson’s students won several Bach International piano competitions over the years.

Nelson was such a big influence that to this day I can remember each and every lesson I had with him like it was yesterday. That’s how powerful of a teacher he was.

Sadly, Nelson passed away about 10 years ago. His passing left a big void in my musical life but at the same time I am very pleased to carry on his legacy to my students. If I teach piano half as well as Nelson did then I’ll know I have done a good job.

When I was 6 years old (that’s when I started) my father got an old upright piano for free that was involved in a house fire down the road. This wood blistered piano came into our house and had ivory keys (that’s how old the piano was – had ivory keys) with about 6 pieces of ivory missing. I remember playing the piano learning from the Michael Aaron books and feeling some keys as nice and smooth and others rough wood.

But, my favourite early memory was at the age of 8 when my mother took me to see Van Cliburn in concert at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, PA USA. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do what Cliburn was doing. I went home that evening and well, the rest is history. Practiced all the time and did lots of little concerts to myself pretending I was Van Cliburn

Proudest career moment?

This is a tough question as there have been many, but I would have to say it would be when I was driving through the prairie state of Nebraska and on the car radio (which was tuned to the classical music station) they were playing my “Mozart Early Works” CD. I couldn’t believe it – that my CD was being played in the middle of nowhere. Sort of a two edged signal; does this mean this is the only place in the world that will play my CD? Or, wow, they even play my CD out here. I’ve sort of made it.

I prefer to think the latter as I was on tour at the time doing lots of recitals throughout the USA.

In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist?

A great pianist will practice smart. A great pianist never gives up. A great pianist will know when to put a piece down and come back to it maybe a year later. A great pianist will teach.

Any tips to young people who want to become concert pianists?

As soon as you think you know it all and/or think you are playing well, take a step back and look at what reality is.

Never give up. You will always have something musically worthwhile to share with others.

 Do you have a favourite venue?

All venues have their up and down sides. It is difficult to say which is my favourite, but I could easily say which is the worse but I won’t as one doesn’t want to upset anyone in the music biz.

You have performed with jazz musicians and Vegas acts such as Charo, Lucie Arnez, Marvin Hamlish, Cab Calloway, Tim Eyermann, Randy Purcell and many other well known jazz musicians -­ can you tell us about your experience playing piano with one of these musicians?

Randy Purcell sticks out the most as he was always on fire in every performance. He was always well prepared, gave it all he got and then some! He also made every gig fun and a real pleasure to be a part of no matter how big or small the venue.

Musical Spaces

I have a CD on iTunes called Musical Spaces which combines both classical and jazz into a crossover mix.

I will be releasing a CD of Baroque Keyboard Works soon and a CD of Beethoven featuring a few of his Theme and Variations.

My jazz quartet Greg Maskalick & The Midland Express will be releasing a new CD this Autumn. So stay tuned.



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Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont

What’s special about this Album for you? Your first album…

Evidently the first solo CD is something quite important in the life of a musician. It was a long-desired one, since I’ve really wanted to record since my early twenties.

It took 10 years to finally have it done. It’s easy to understand: you have to feel ready and I was not until a few years ago. And when you feel ready you’ve got to feel safe in a studio environment. It means you have to meet the right people in the right time at the right place. It took me 2 years to choose with whom and where I wanted to record, and taking my time about this was the right thing to do for me.

We put together a great team (with recording producer Radek Šalša and recording engineer Ondřej Urban), in a good environment where I feel comfortable enough to be emotionally naked which is required even more in front of microphones than in front of an audience. But I won’t wait another ten years to go in studio. I’m already a studio junkie and planned the next sessions.

Finally, I served as Executive Producer too for this first album, and that was very special for me. I was in charge of the entire project and supervised/participated in everything from funding to production, distribution and promotion. I absolutely needed this experience to understand how this recording industry works and have a better approach of who does what.

Photo credit – Julien Richard

Preparing the album…

Well, I had a really great time preparing, recording and editing this CD. It was really fun and the whole experience made me grow as an artist. I still have a lot to learn and am looking forward to the next recording sessions.

The production itself took roughly one year and a half. I first negotiated with different labels until I realized that these labels were pushing me in a different direction than the one I wanted. So I decided to stop negotiating and follow my own (overgrown!) path, even if it was a tremendous amount of work. I started to work on the production in Spring last year and never stopped since then. It’s unbelievable all the things you have to do and think about, the number of people involved, even in this small scale production. I strongly recommend this experience, it was for me amazing.

Why choose composers Maurice Ravel and Leoš Janáček?

I have wanted to pair up Janáček and Ravel for a whole program for many years. I realized how difficult it was to put into practice within the framework of a live performance but found it was really a good fit for a solo recording project.

When I begun to draft programs for this first studio album, I set two essential rules to build associations between works and composers: it has to show my personality and influences within this period and works as well as composers have to be strongly connected musically and aesthetically speaking.

From a personal point of view, the choice among composers was obvious: Ravel and Janáček have always been part of my core repertoire and a French-Czech program was perfectly reflecting the cultural duality of my education.

But more than this, the multiple and deep links between the two composers are fascinating. They shared an appreciation for the Russian school, especially for Mussorgsky, both expressed negative opinions on German neo-classicism. They were also influenced by their respective birth region folk music and, on a more compositional level, developed their own language on the basis of extended tonality and modality. And these are just a few examples.

On the other hand, contrasts between the works and authors is another glue to this program. The selection of shorter pieces in small forms by Janáček as opposed to Ravel’s set of 3 movements organized in a sonata-like cycle reinforces the stylistic contrasts between the composers: Janáček’s “utter elimination of the unnecessary” (Milan Kundera) versus Ravel’s volubility for example.

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Carol Comune

Carol Comune


I have been attracted to the piano since I was 3 years old.  I am still mesmerized by the sounds, touch, repertoire and the ability to express one’s sentiments, passions and love all in one.

The piano has been my vocation…when I play all is well…I love the everlasting involvement of endless possibilities, and striving for the best I can be.  At the age of 8, I discovered I had the ability to compose.  It was then that I had experienced great pain through my father’s eyes when his Uncle died.  I didn’t know how to deal with this emotion and in a spontaneous way I composed a piece intuitively and my father was very comforted by its effect.

Music is continuously playing in my head, and I find myself up late at night finding music to read through and thinking about striving for beautiful sounds…evoking emotions…nuances…and how the music transcends and affects me.


 Who has influenced you as a pianist the most? (could be a teacher, friend, another pianist or family member)


There are so many people that have been involved in my journey.  First and utmost, my mother and father.  I am from an Italian background so music was in our lives all the time, from the Met Opera House that played on the radio every Saturday morning to Neapolitan songs, classical piano, records of Toscanni conducting Beethoven symphonies, Sousa Marches, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Broadway shows and even scores from Disney.

My father always played “Clair de Lune” in the evening when my mother was pregnant with me and to this day it still has a peaceful effect on me, whether I am playing or listening to it.

My piano teacher Mme. Yvonne Combe from The French School of Music, Plainfield, NJ was a very prominent person in the development of me as a pianist.  She was always very meticulous and detail oriented.  She would have such lovely stories and presentations on the music I would learn to play, and she would always reward me with incentives to practice for consistent perfect lessons.  We were always reminded that we came from great teachers that included Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy.

I continued my studies at New England Conservatory with many talented teachers/musicians, especially my mentor and concert pianist Anthony di Bonaventura, a master teacher of international stature and a pupil of the celebrated Russian teacher Madame Isabelle Vengerova.   I was always in awe of his stories about his studies with her at Curtis Institute.  For 2 years I relearned how to approach the piano through the teachings of Vengerova.  I remember when I finally understood the concept that this technique Anthony was teaching me would have a rippling effect in my life through my performances, teaching, students, and relationships in a profound way.  I was more than willing to accept this intriguing process and through discipline and Anthony’s patience I have thrived in every possible way with my playing and areas in my life.

I will always be grateful in hearing recitals of phenomenal pianists like Horowitz, Alicia de Larrocha, and great jazz musicians like George Shearing and saxophonist Grover Washington.  The one thing they all had in common, was there artistic ability to perform with great expression in their special beautiful voice that was compelling, musical and moving. Other great mentors in my life include: Jean Stackhouse, piano pedagogy; Lorna Cooke DeVaron, choir conductor; Donald Waxman and Dianne Rahbee, composition; David McCord, poetry.


Earliest memory involving piano playing?


-Performing John Thompson’s arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody at a church recital with enthusiasm (the popular one used in Looney Tunes with Sylvester the Cat).

-At Christmas time, I would accompany our large Italian family while they sang Christmas carols around the piano.

-Being accepted at The French School of Music with a scholarship for Piano and Solfege.


Proudest career moments? 

There have been many proud moments in my career as a performer, composer, teacher, and entrepreneur.

Some of my most memorable ones were: receiving 1st place in “agility competitions” at the French School of Music as a child; performing piano concerto “Aubade” by Poulenc with the New England Conservatory’s Wind Ensemble and Carl Atkins conducting in Jordan Hall, Boston; purchasing my very own Steinway piano; my recordings aired on National and Commercial Radio with worldly distribution; my classical solo recitals being aired on NPR; performing at Lincoln Center; my original composition “Suite from Sleeping Beauty” featured at River’s 30th Contemporary Seminar, MA; Presentation at NEC’s Intensive Pedagogy weekend and performing our compositions “Gealyn and Me” with my daughter, Gealyn, when she was just six years old; my students becoming winners of competitions; performing in Steinway Hall, NYC; having my music played on the NBC Today Show; and becoming a Steinway Artist .


In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist?


When I listen to a pianist I am in awe of the ones who take me on a journey that is full of excitement, drama, inspiration and evoking emotions.  I love to loose myself in the music.  Instead of hearing a piano, it should be an extension of the performer that communicates with depth and perception for the listener to hear and feel.  A great pianist not only has great technique but is convincing with their intentions and intelligence of the music. I want to hear a beautiful tone through sensitive expression with breath and a great sense of rhythm.


The biggest challenge you have overcome (in piano playing)?

For me, the biggest challenge that I have overcome has been learning to control my nerves before a performance, which seems to be an ongoing process, and yet there are always so many more that just happen and need to be redefined.

Any tips to aspiring concert pianists?

Perform and accompany singers, instrumentalists and learn to breathe with your music.  Find your own voice and study as much repertoire as possible including chamber music and concertos. Go to all kinds of concerts from orchestral to broadway and experience life in different places.

(Also, any extra comments are greatly welcomed – about anything in piano playing you feel strongly about!! )

I can’t imagine living life without music, I hear it, sleep it, and live it.  I can honestly say that my enthusiasm and passion for it never ends and I continue wanting to learn all I can.  It brings me such joy and I am grateful when I know that I have made a difference and touched someone with my compositions and performances.


“Carol Comune an American composer, pianist and teacher, has recently written a six movement piano suite based on the enchanting Sleeping Beauty tale and doubly gratifying in that the work is so imaginative and colorful.” 

Donald Waxman, composer and pianist 

Galaxy Music Corporation a division of ECS Publishing 



Filed under Composers, Interviews

Samuel Yirga

Samuel Yirga Photography credit- York Tillyer

‘Love’ as motivation

Love motivates me to play the piano because for me, the sound of it is so much related to the feeling of love.


My two older brothers because they were so much into listening to instrumental music, especially the piano.

Earliest memory …

While I was playing in a reggae club called ‘Changes’ in Addis Ababa, the keyboard fell because the stand was not fixed well and it was a horrible sound that came out from the clash of the two keyboards. It was actually a unique sound for the reggae group and what’s worse, I had to play sitting on the floor until they fixed the stand.

Can you tell us more about life as a child and teenager growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – your dream to become a musician, and the many obstacles you faced?

When I was a very small kid, I had so many different interests. For example, I was very good in academic education which led me to the interest of being an engineer or a pilot. On the other hand, I was very good at playing football, I was good at acting, good at teaching, I was good at making a speech and presenting so that led me to the interest of becoming a president or a prime minister. In the later case, I had the chance to be the leader of different groups. However, the interest of being a musician was more than all the above interests.

Even though, I was very much interested in becoming a musician especially a pianist and a singer, my family didn’t want to send me to a music school. They told me that they would send me when I got to grade 10, but they didn’t and I was very much into the academic education.

Life as a child was not that comfortable for me and I don’t think that things were fulfilled for me. To get what you want will take ages and when the time comes you’ll be in a different life. I can’t say that I was in a high class school when I was in elementary and high school but I had a big passion in all of the courses I was taking. However those things didn’t stop me from being strong and accomplishing my aim.

The culture didn’t have that much respect for the music profession and those things were the big challenges for many of the interested ones. Actually it’s not only the music but Art in general that didn’t get the acknowledgment from the culture.

It’s getting better right now but again it’s not changed that much. My father was not happy when I joined the Yared school of music because he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor or something better than music.

He just let me do everything I was trying to do at that time because he thought that I would get a bachelor degree and not play my music. I can’t blame my father alone, but the whole culture. Right now, he’s so happy about my success and respects the arts in general. Now, he even knows many of the artists and he always discusses every details of music with me.

This will be a big lesson for other families and will really teach them how to help with the interests of their children. Because of all the problems that I mentioned above, most of us decide very late about what we have to be.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

My big plan is to change the production quality of Ethiopian music, helping to create as many good musicians as possible.

I believe that when the production of the music gets better and better, it will be possible to create good musicians because the music and everything will bring a challenge on the potential of the musician. If we are talking about the quality, the musicians will try to be as great as the record and if we are talking about the music arrangement, again the musicians will work hard to perform the same or better level of the arrangement which will make them good in performing as well as rearrangement.

On the other hand, when I think about my country, I don’t think that it’s promoted in a positive way.

I mean the other world knows about Ethiopia as a country of drought, famine, poverty and many other negative descriptions. However, I know my country better than the others because I see what we have and what we don’t have.

There’s poverty, drought, famine and some other problems, but i do believe that we have got much much better things and the country should be described in these great things.

I know that we Ethiopians have got the responsibility of showing the good side of the country and I am trying to do that.

Starting from the great culture of the country, there are many positive things about Ethiopia. We have great and unique music and it’s getting very good acknowledgment from the rest of the world. It proved that music is not only about theory but mainly feeling.

Our special mode called Anchi-Hoye proved this and people started understanding it. They started to see that people can sing those “weird” intervals that are found in the Mode or Scale.

I just mentioned part of our greatness but there is more to show. So as a cultural ambassador, I’m planning to change all these bad images about the country and bring out the positive side.

Proudest career moment (to date)?

For me I think every moment that I have had in my music life is great and I’m proud of all because I tried to show the real feeling about my music and about my country.

Cover image of the album – Guzo

Can you tell us more about ‘Guzo’ from a musicians point of view and composer – the musical influences behind it ?

GUZO is my debut album and it shows my different interests and potential in playing piano and composing. I have been experimenting with many different things in my music by fusing traditional Ethiopian music to classical and jazz, RnB and Latin, keeping the real identity of our culture. I have different interests and i am not restricted in one kind of creativity because I believe that there is no wrong thing to do with music. Anyone can say, this is my favourite or not my favorite but they can’t say that it’s wrong because it all depends on the interest and feeling that the music gives. It might be good to one and bad to the other. So I put my experiments on this album which gave a great impression to different people and gives this positive idea about creativity.

This album is a mix of different types of music from different parts of the country and the world. I divided it in 4 major parts:

1. Solo Piano– this part shows my piano playing and the influence of Jazz, Ethiopian, and classical music. I tried to put the different modes of the country in my own playing and tried to show the real description of those modes when an Ethiopian musician plays. I included some original and some cover songs in this part.

2. Traditional instruments of Ethiopia fused with Piano and some modern instruments – this part of the album was recorded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in Solomon studio which is owned by a legendary Ethiopian and great bass player Abiyou Solomon. Great and well known musicians of the country participated on this part. The songs Abet Abet and The blues of Wollo (which features the great female singer Genet Masresha) are some of these fused ones.

3.Ethio-Jazz– This is like a big description of me. Having all the fights with the school professors because of the rules which only allows the students to play classical music, I’ve accomplished my aim to be a jazz musician. Many people know me as an Ethio-jazz pianist and have been performing with different jazz and funk groups. This part of the album contains the songs that I wrote while I was in school and after graduating. songs like Tiwista are in this part of the album.

4. Funk, Pop and Latin fusion- is a collaboration with other great and well known musicians and singers from other countries. The songs African Diaspora and I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun are in this category which includes the Creole Choir of Cuba that is an amazing group touring all over the world, Nicolette a Nigerian-British and the ex-lead vocalist of the group Massive Attack and Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq.

In general, you can see a little bit of each influence from my different interests. I can say that I was very much interested in playing Ethiopian music, to sing RnB and to get a new sound from the experiments. The great Ethiopian pianist Elias Negash made me think of experimenting on Ethiopian music and i always want to thank him for that.

This album is the product of a lot of hard work from Nick Page, the producer. He gave me many big lessons like how to take a song and make it big. He’s an amazing musician and an all-rounder. He sees things in different directions. I don’t know how to describe him but he’s an inspiration to me. He cares about the artist that works with him. I really want to thank him all time.

From the beginning it has been getting a great response from all over the world, including Ethiopia.

Any tips for young and aspiring pianists?

First of all I don’t believe in luck and I don’t think I’m lucky. But I’m a dreamer and a hard worker with a positive mind.

I always dreamt of being a  singer and a pianist, even though in the middle of this I was so much into my academic education. But I knew that I would be a well known musician and that I would travel outside my country and I got all what I wanted.

When you work on something you like or are passionate about, you’ll invest a lot in  it. But you have to know what you’re doing and it’s always good to start from the basics.

Spending too much time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good. Sometimes it’s better to sit for a small amount of time and do the right and precise thing which will make you more effective than spending too much time without understanding what you’re doing. However it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to spend or practice for a long time. You can use it if you really know the right way and the right elements of that interest.

So Dream, Pray, be positive, practice, sacrifice. VALUE=great results and great feedback.

Samuel Yirga – Photography credit York Tillyer








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