night walk

The second single from “let go” is out today on all streaming platforms. It’s called “night walk”. This tune was one of two that I wrote during the week long recording session in December (which I’ve never done before).

My intention with this album was to include pieces I really loved playing. (For whatever reason that hasn’t always been the case with my previous albums.) I wanted it to be full of pieces that were special to both me and the listener.

To determine if I love playing a piece, though, I need time with it. Because sometimes I write a piece that I think I like, then a week later I’ve lost interest. In this case, though, I knew this would be one that stuck with me. There’s also something about having the mics set up, and it being super quiet in those early morning hours before the kids wake up, that really inspires me. And so it seems like this one just wanted to come out during that time.

I hope you enjoy it! Here’s a music video I made to go along with it.


Album Spotlight: “Solo on the Side” / Paul-Marie Barbier

Spotify algorithms get a bad rap at times, though I’ve discovered (or been recommended) some really beautiful albums through the years. The most recent being Paul-Marie Barbier’s Solo on the Side.

These pieces are humble and unassuming, yet full of harmonic beauty and ear catching melodies. Some even make you want to move your body with their odd time signatures, like Suzy (in 7/8), and the Samba-like Lay Down.

He knows his craft (having studied harmony, composition and jazz theory), yet chooses to distill the essence of a piece, rather than overstuffing it with extraneous harmonic color and showy scales up and down the keyboard. Any technical complexity (like that found in L’envol and Human Leather Shoes for Crocodile Dandies) is at the service of the music.

I appreciate how he does this distillation in Aftermath. The left hand plays a simple four chord progression (Ab, Fm6, C, Cm), revolving around the root (C). Over this, the melody descends, then dances around the E-natural (in the C chord) before landing back on the minor-third.

Paul-Marie Barbier – Aftermath

He does something similar—with the minor/major transition—in Wonderland. After some rolled chords in the treble, the piece falls into a bluesy B-minor progression (Bm, Em, G, A). Then seemingly out of nowhere he slips in a D# (momentarily changing the root to B-major), which adds so much color to the piece.

If you listen to the album, keep an ear out for how he incorporates chromaticism throughout. Since I haven’t been jazz trained, this hasn’t come naturally for me in my own compositions. Though this album is challenging me to broaden my creative palette a bit.

You can hear this in Lay Down, too, about halfway through where it starts to take a journey through other keys.

If you have time, give this entire album a listen. Every piece is beautiful. I think you’ll fall in love with it.

Solo on the Side, Paul-Marie Barbier – Album Cover

the courage to create

Yesterday was an exciting day. My tune, slow waltz, was added to the Peaceful Piano playlist on Spotify, which at the time of writing has close to 6.5 million followers.

This is worth celebrating, of course! Though while I’m so grateful for more exposure, a “success” like this can come with many struggles. I only say this because I’ve been here before, and I hope my story can encourage you to keep creating, no matter the circumstances.

It was around December 2019. Colors had been released a few weeks prior. The first single to be released from Her Heart Is Open as the Sky. It was a surreal experience looking back on it. We were at a friend’s house, and she was listening to some piano music I knew well, though wouldn’t expect others to be familiar with. “How did you hear about this album?” I asked. “It’s just a playlist I saw you were on, from your profile.” A playlist? Me? I checked Spotify, and sure enough, there it was. Colors on the Magnificent Piano playlist.

I was shocked, stunned, excited, thrilled, affirmed, confused. How did one of my tracks get playlisted? I had no idea. I had submitted it for “editorial review” through the Spotify for Artists’ app, but figured there was a greater chance of being struck dead by a cow falling from the sky.

A few days later, there it was. Colors on Peaceful Piano. It simply blew me away.

What I didn’t expect was the self-induced agony that followed.

I soon came to realize that typically with one editorial playlist came many. (At least for others, based on my observations.) However, that wasn’t happening for me at the same rate. I also began to notice the playlist was updated every two weeks. (Now it’s weekly.) I think it’s fair to say I became obsessed with keeping Colors on the playlist. Though I had absolutely no idea how, and no control over it.

I became spellbound and obsessed with numbers. It felt hard to control. This compulsive desire to check my stats every day when they were updated. To make sure I hadn’t fallen out of grace with that one person (or many?) who made decisions about who is worthy to stay, and who gets canned.

It didn’t help that I was also suffering from imposter syndrome. I kept worrying maybe it had been a fluke. Did they really mean to add it? I’d wonder. Is it because Jane called out and Barry had to make the playlist adds that day and I got lucky? I’d listen to my track on the playlist, comparing it side-by-side with the others. Can it hold its ground amongst these giants?

It wasn’t just the numbers, though. People told me there was real money to be made from a playlist like this. I started researching how much of a payout I might get. And if I was even in the ballpark, it was significant enough to be helpful for our family. My heart swelled, looking forward to it.

After a few months, the first payout came, and I was ecstatic. Because if it continued, it would be a huge help for us.

Yet within days, Colors was removed from Peaceful Piano. Maybe they are just shuffling things around? I tried to reassure myself. My thoughts spiraled. It was almost like it had been planned. Like they wanted to dangle success (a/k/a money) in front of me, then burn it before my eyes.

I was a mess.

I’ve always been prone to self-doubt. And this was the pin to pop my little piano balloon. To me, it validated what I believed to be true about myself (at that time). That I wasn’t worthy to receive good things. That it’s dangerous to get one’s hopes up. That I shouldn’t dream big. That my music (or anything I make) isn’t worthy of people’s time and attention.

It’s interesting how expectations play a role in all this. When I released my first album (Opening), I was simply grateful to afford studio time and work with a great engineer. Those songs needed to come out. Otherwise I’d burst. And it felt so good to have a finished thing to share with friends and family.

There have been many experiences in my life where I’ve learned the hard way that money doesn’t satisfy. For example, I’ve taken jobs or promotions, just for the money. Then I was miserable because I hated what I was now doing.

That experience with Colors wasn’t much different. Once it became about money and numbers, I was a wreck.

In contrast, the times where I’ve chosen to do things in spite of money, have always been more gratifying. Where I’ve chosen to follow my heart, and act with integrity, rather than sell myself for money.

So what about now? It’s happened again. Will anything be different? Will I suffer the same fate?

In a way, I’m glad it hasn’t happened till now, because I don’t think I was ready. I had a lot of shit to work through in my head and heart. I needed to remind myself of why I create in the first place. I needed to remember: I do this because I have to. Music is a sort of life-blood for me. It’s like breathing. Without it, I merely function. With it, I’m vibrantly alive. It doesn’t matter who’s watching (or not), I must do it.

Additionally, there are some practical things I’ve done to prepare myself for whatever happened, “good” or “bad”. Editorial playlist or not. (Which I’d be happy to share more about another time.)

Part of the reason I share this is because I know I’m not alone. Like so many, I’ve created and bled my heart out for years with no one watching. With only a few people really believing in me.

After sharing about the playlist add, I posted this to my Instagram story. The response was overwhelming and heart-warming. It came from my heart, so rather than rewriting it, I’ll re-post it (edited for clarity):

For all of you who bleed their heart into the world and feel like there’s never a payoff, like no one is listening, you have to keep going. You do it because you have to. It’s like breathing.

And no amount of streams or follows will ever make you valuable. You are valuable because you have the courage to create and be yourself in this world.

What is most important as an artist is to be true to your craft. Make things you love. Make things to express your joy and sorrow. Share them if you want to. Like scattering seeds, letting them go to take root in people’s hearts, where and when they may. That takes time. We have no control over that.

I’ve been writing music since I was 13, though fear kept me from sharing it. In many ways, the music I wrote was awful. (It takes time to develop one’s craft.)

I tried to stifle my desire to compose for a long, long time.

You make because if you don’t, you might as well be dead. (At least, that’s what it feels like.)

If you connect with one soul through your craft, celebrate that.

And that’s exactly what I want to celebrate now. You, the listener. The reader. All of you who’ve reached out saying how much my music has meant for them. How could there be anything more wonderful than connecting with another soul? Money comes and goes, but our connection will give birth to new creations. New life. How can it be otherwise?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

new single (slow waltz) / new site / new blog

Hello! Welcome to my new website. It’s pretty bare at the moment, and I need to update my sheet music page with all the extra transcriptions I have available. In the meantime, I wanted to share a bit about my new single coming out tomorrow, which I’m very excited about.

I shared the original idea for this piece back on July 22, 2021 (TikTok, Instagram) when I was writing a short piece each day. I ended up doing it for about 50 days before I decided to stop and take stock of what I had written. I didn’t love every piece, and some were intentionally direct imitations of other composers as a way to try and expand my creative palate.

This piece (at the time called simply “032”) is in 6/8, though it has a two-over-three sort of feel. The right hand plays a melody in four, while the left hand accompaniment sticks to the time signature. It felt sort of like an exercise to me. Quite generic. Like the chord progression was overdone and wrung-dry by more talented composers.

After sharing it, though, I got more feedback than usual, and it had been viewed/shared more than most. Stats never tell the whole story, I’m convinced (a post for another time), though in this case, it made me take a second look.

Why had I judged this piece as “generic”, “too simple”, or “unworthy”? Did I want to write more “original” music? Did I want people to have a certain perception of me, that I didn’t think this piece conveyed? (I’m curious whether other composers struggle with this, and how they deal with it. i.e. – Writing to please rather than writing from the heart.)

When it came time to put this next album together (to be released 04.22.22), I couldn’t ignore number 032. The melody was lodged in my brain, and so I started fleshing it out.

I had worked a B section in (number 045 from those daily shares), but when I stitched them together the transition felt awkward, abrupt and forced.

I had since worked in a bridge (B section), which I liked. But it was still lacking something. Some contrast to the A and B. During the recording week (a/k/a 3:00AM to 6:00AM when everyone else is asleep), it finally came to me. (Those early morning hours are very inspiring.)

Contrast is provided by the melody flipping to 6/8 and the bass stepping up (F#, G#, A, B) instead of chromatically down, as it did in the A section. Not much, but it was enough to make the return to the A section feel fresher.

I’m really happy with where it ended up, and I hope you enjoy the final version. Sheet music for it to come soon, and I’m looking forward to sharing and engaging more with you in this space. —vontmer