The Art of Attaining Your Goals

goals_2

Last Sunday, I was asked by the teacher in the women’s organization at my church if I would take a few minutes during her lesson and share about a goal I had achieved, how I did it, what obstacles I faced along the way, how overcame, and felt, etc.  Her lesson was on bettering ourselves in the new year and setting goals.

Goal setting is something I am very passionate about.  I’ve set goals since I was a child, and have always set my sights high.  I have always had this natural faith that I could do whatever I set my mind to.

Mind you, I don’t always accomplish every single goal that I set, but I try very hard and my ambition is great.  And when I set out to do something, I am one the most determined persons you will ever meet.

I thought I would share some of my thoughts that I shared in church, in hopes that it might help any of you.

__________

Goals are NOT crap.

I recently read a blog post where the author talked about resolutions and “how they are crap”.  She believed that instead of setting goals, failing, and then feeling discouraged – that you should just leave your life up to God and allow him to decide what comes for you.  As I read the comments on the blog post, it seemed like everyone was praising the author and saying how much better this made them feel instead of setting goals.  And then there was one commenter who had the guts to say what I felt inside – that life was about bettering oneself, reaching for something higher and not allowing oneself to be complacent. Of course, the other people attacked him a bit for having a difference of opinion and having the audacity to say so.

smart-goals1

Some people will argue that resolutions and different than goals, but to me they are the same.  It’s saying that you want to accomplish something and are willing to work towards it.

Maybe resolutions/goals are overwhelming to some people because they really do feel like they fail, and fail often.  I personally don’t think it’s because their goal was unattainable, but it was probably because a) they weren’t ready to commit, and b) they didn’t set themselves up for success.

As I think back over my life and the various goals I’ve set/accomplished, there are a few that really stand out to me.

Goal #1 – Finishing ‘Illumination’

It took me 4 long years to complete my 3rd album “Illumination”.

I started writing the songs in between other projects until I had enough songs and the kind of songs I wanted for this album.  Some of the songs took me over a year to finish composing. My skills as a composer developed immensely during the process, and the diversity of the music on the album reflects that as well.

During those 4 years, I had a child, finished a film score, started and completed a 2nd album, got pregnant again, and gave birth to our 2nd child, worked and completed the 3rd album. So not only was I busy working on music, but I was busy growing our family and both took a lot of time and effort and energy.

47254_439804488424_6790580_n

Many people asked me “How do you do it??”.

It did take a lot of time management and goal-setting to complete, and even got to a point where I made myself write out goals and deadlines, otherwise I feared I would never finish the album.

(Here is a blog post I wrote as a guest columnist for author Alex Bledsoe, on the act of balancing parenting and career).

Monthly Goals and Deadlines

One thing I did was I set monthly goals with specific dates of when I wanted to accomplish certain things by.

This is a screenshot from the ACTUAL goal sheet that I made and had pinned to the wall in my music studio.  As I was still trying to lose all my pregnancy weight, you will also see that I had some weightloss goals defined on there as well – as I was preparing for photo shoots and videos and wanted to look my best.  I was working hard on all levels, I tell ya!

You can click to enlarge if needed.

blog1

Another thing that I did was create a spreadsheet for each process of the album creation so that I always knew where I was at with each song and what I had left to do.

On the left you will the name of each song (some names changed later on, btw).  And then a space to check off everything from recording, editing, orchestration, mixing, mastering, naming the song, and more.  (To clarify Glen co-orchestrated some of the music, and Rob was my sound engineer).

Click to enlarge

blog2

That spreadsheet was so crucial to me. And I was VERY adamant about not checking anything off until it was absolutely 100% completed.  So it always felt great when I could put a check mark in any of the boxes.

Setting Myself Up for Success

One thing you need to keep in mind is in order to accomplish a goal, you need to arrange your everyday life so that you make it possible to attain. You need to set yourself up for success.

My husband works a busy day job for Microsoft, and since we have two kids (now as of Jan 2014, one more on the way – due in March), we had to figure out a system in our home where we could juggle parenting responsibilities, work, and more.

426686_4511638989557_1652727677_n

Fortunately, I married a guy who has ALWAYS, always been my hugest fan and supporter.  He would move mountains to help me accomplish my dreams.

We created a weekly schedule where 3 days a week he came home early from work and took over everything. I mean EVERYTHING.  When he walked in the door, I was ready to hand the kids over to him and go into my music studio and shut the door.  And I was typically in my studio until the wee hours of the early morning trying to get things done.

There were days when I needed more time, and so I would hire a babysitter to watch my kids all day, or take them up to my parents’ house so that I could have a few solid days of uninterrupted work-time.

I Was Kind to Myself

My original goal was to finish my album by June 0f 2012, but I know that things usually always take longer than you think. So when little hiccups came up, I wasn’t hard on myself or disappointed, I just kept moving forward.

Many people tend to give up when they fail, or say “What’s the use?”.  Thing thing is, is that LIFE HAPPENS.  Illnesses happen.  People you depend on fail you.  Money can be tight.  Other responsibilities come up.  The key is to not give up and keep going. I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true!  Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to believe in yourself.

I completed the album only 6 weeks behind schedule and released it in the latter half of July 2012.

Album_Front_FINAL2

So the biggest ways I was able to accomplish the goal of finishing that album was

1) Setting monthly detailed goals and deadlines
2) Setting myself up for success by arranging my life to make my goal possible
and 3) Being kind to myself in the process.

Goal #2 – Fitness and Weight loss

This isn’t a topic I usually talk about publicly because it has nothing to do with my music, but since you obviously now know it was part of my goals (from my goal sheet I attached above), I wanted to talk a little bit about this goal and how I worked EXTREMELY hard towards it and achieved it.

603315_10151233773213425_1842082860_nHaving kids does some crazy things to your body. I will say that.

Both of my pregnancies were really hard on my body and I gained more weight than I would have liked.  I seemed to have anything and everything go wrong with me – from several dislocated ribs, hip problems, pancreatitis, pre-eclampsia, and emergency C-sections both times.  Exercising during my pregnancies was hard.

After I had our 2nd son in Aug of 2010, I will tell you that I was very self-conscious of my body and how I looked.

I actually turned down performance opportunities because I was too embarrassed to go on stage and have people judge me for how I looked.  And granted, I have the best fans and supporters in the world and most of them are there for the music and not for what I look like, but still, in MY mind, I just didn’t have the self-esteem and courage to do it.

So for a good year or more, I really didn’t perform very much. I was still busy working on music in my studio, and commissioned projects, but just too self-conscious to get up on stage.

As I got closer to releasing “Illumination”, I knew I wanted to be in better shape so that I would look good in my photos and feel more confident.

At my “Illumination” Photo Shoot – Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA – May 2012

1

13

Even at my photo shoot for my album (pictured above), I wasn’t at my goal weight but was still proud of where I was at that point.

It took me close to 3 and 1/2 years to lose all the weight I had gained from both pregnancies. From 2010 (after I had our 2nd baby) to summer of 2013, I lost a total of 70 pounds – which actually put me UNDER my pre-pregnancy weight.

The following photo is a progression of me in 2010 (after the birth of Taylor), and finally on the right in 2013 when I filmed the outdoor scenes for my Illumination music video.

weightloss journey

I will say that THIS goal was not as straight-forward as my goal for finishing my album.  I am very good at disciplining myself to work on music, but not always great at disciplining myself with my body (which is why it took me over 3 years to lose the weight).

But there came a point in Feb of 2013 when I was tired of losing a little, gaining a few back, losing a little, gaining a few back.

I wanted to reach my goal and I was finally in a motivated frame of mind where I wanted to kick some butt and just get it done!

A few things I did to accomplish my goals were:

1) I hired a personal trainer
2) I set myself up for success by re-arranging my daily schedule so I could go to the gym 6 days a week
3) I got my family’s support with my food goals

Each of those things were very involved with many variables.

1040700_10151565003563425_246904629_oFor example, I hired a trainer because I needed accountability and I was at a point where I felt like I had done everything I could myself and needed outside help.

The trainer (Monica Lynne) I hired was also a life coach and nutritional coach, and so we had many hours of wonderful talks that provided insight into my soul as to the reasons behind why I did certain things.  For the first time in a long time, I was overcoming issues I had and reaching goals that I really wasn’t sure I ever would.

It was the BEST feeling to know I was capable of achieving this goal and could overcome trials.

As for setting myself up for success, this involved making my gym time a priority – even over friendships sometimes and other things that were fun.  I had a rule that the mornings were “my time” at the gym, and I would say no to anything else that got in the way.

It wasn’t easy, at first when I would tell people “Sorry I can’t, I have to go to the gym.”, they didn’t really see that as a valid excuse to get out of something. So I stopped saying that I was going to gym, but just instead said I had a standing appointment every morning and that I was “unavailable”.

My gym has a daycare too that my boys absolutely LOVED to go to, and so I didn’t feel guilty for having the “me time”, because they were also having a lot of fun, meeting new friends, and being social.

1234964_10151680335663425_1868392960_nMy husband was also very supportive by making sure I had my gym time, sometimes re-arranging his schedule in case I needed to go to the gym in the evenings, and also Saturday mornings.

My husband is an ultra-marathon runner and his big training runs are usually on Saturday mornings.  As crazy as this sounds, he would usually get up around 4 a.m. and go on his 4 to 5 hour trail run, and when he got back we would switch and I would go to the gym.

I got my family’s support with food goals, and this was not easy.

With an ultra-marathoner who loves his carbs, and 2 little boys who are picky eaters (can we say chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese?), we often rarely all ate the same thing at dinner time.  And everyone was okay with this.  I would eat my lean protien and veggies, while they ate their carby stuff and proteins.

I also didn’t bake as much, or bring sweets into the house as often, and got very good at saying no to things.

I was very motivated by the success I was having, and how fit and wonderful I felt.  Some people who say getting in shape is a vain endeavor obviously don’t know how great it feels compared to having extra pounds on you.  I LOVED being able to hike up mountains and not be out of breathe, to fit into my dresses with ease, and to be on stage performing and feel confident.

1000846_10151578680443425_1376967497_n

1017165_10151580456398425_1864002224_n

Shortly after that last photo was taken in July of 2013, I found out we were pregnant with baby #3!

So I am going to be starting the process ALL OVER AGAIN come March. :)  This time though, I have still been able to work out at the gym through this entire pregnancy. I am currently 30 weeks along and still doing cardio and weight training 3 to 4 days per week.

To Sum It Up…

My point to all of this is YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS.

It’s not always easy, it’s not always fast, but it IS POSSIBLE.

Goals are not crap!

If I can do this with 2.75 children, husband, busy music career, and everything else, YOU can definitely accomplish your dreams too.

I want to leave you with a neat story about world renowned concert violinist Isaac Stern.   A real hero of mine…

(Story retold by Rex D. Pinegar)

stern1“Isaac Stern, the world-famous musician-violinist, was asked by a television talk show host at what point in his life he determined to devote his energies toward a career as a concert violinist. Mr. Stern told of having given his first concert in San Francisco at a young age. Music critics were extremely impressed and predicted a fine future for the promising young talent. With this encouragement, Isaac Stern began preparations for another concert a year later in New York City. The critics were not so kind to him there. It would require a tremendous amount of work, they judged, if Isaac Stern were to achieve success as a soloist.
Dejected and discouraged, the young Mr. Stern boarded one of New York City’s double-decker buses and rode it up and down Manhattan a number of times. He was, in his words, “crying inside” as he tried to decide where he was going from there. Were his critics correct? Had he gone as far as he was capable of going? Should he now seek a profession as just another member of an orchestra?
After his fourth bus ride through the city, he returned to his apartment where his mother was waiting. He had made his decision. “I am going to work, mother—work at my music until it works for me. Today Isaac Stern is acclaimed as one of the finest violinists in the world. Work is a principle with a blessing. Work builds us physically and spiritually. It increases both our strength of body and our strength of character.” (Isaac sterned passed away in 2001).

Diary of a Song: Beyond the Summit

This is the eighth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my latest album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Beyond the Summit

(From the artwork in the CD booklet)

New Life and Beyond the Summit

“Beyond the Summit” is a song I started writing a few years ago, actually during the time I was writing/producing The Lullaby Album.

This might sound funny, but I was very much inspired by some recent IMAX films I had seen on some of the world’s most beautiful mountains and locations like Mt. Everest, The Grand Canyon, etc.  My husband, Will, is also an outdoors enthusiast who can be found climbing various mountain peaks here in the Seattle area at least 2 or 3 times a week.

When I was writing this piece, I really wanted to try to capture the feeling of being in an airplane gliding over the tops of glaciers and mountains (picture Alaska).  The chord types that I used in this were purposely put there to create a very open sense of being, and to make the listener feel as though they are part of a vast landscape much bigger than them.

My little family and I are also big lovers of the outdoors, and so I do get a lot of inspiration from the beautiful outdoor northwest landscape.  Here is a photo of my two little boys and I about 2 weeks ago on top of Hurricane Ridge inside the Olympic National Park.

1016209_10151584372013425_108997893_n

This piece took some practice to get the timing just right, as there are a few measures with 5/4 timing, and a lot of arpeggios.  But in the end, I feel quite proud of this piece, it is very much in line with what I would call my “old school” style of composing where the piano is in the forefront and the orchestra is just secondary.  This piece is meant to be performed as a solo piano piece very nicely because it does not need the orchestra to retain all of the majesty I tried to incorporate into it in the first place.

A friend of mine actually put this piece to some old vintage film from old Worlds Fair Archives, and funny enough the World’s Fair he used is the 1962 Worlds Fair where the Space Needle was erected.  I am from Seattle, and so this footage touched me deeply as I’ve been going to the Seattle Center (as it is now called) since I was a little girl.

You can BUY THE SHEETMUSIC from my website here: http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=186

Beyond the Summit

You can support me buy purchasing the album or the single from any of these sites:  Amazon, iTunes, CDbaby, Jennifer’s Website

Diary of a Song: Across the Starlit Sky

This is the fifth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my new album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Across the Starlit Sky

http://jenniferthomasmusic.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/13-across-the-starlit-sky.mp3

Across the Starlit Sky

This happens to be the only solo piano song on my new album.  It was among the last of the songs I was recording and preparing for the album, and as I listened to it over and over to try to get orchestration ideas for it (as well as listening to it in a mix with other songs), I decided this song was better by itself and the naked piano.

I wanted the listeners to create their own atmosphere for this song, and to feel like they were small beings amongst a huge universe.   Keeping the song piano-only was one way I felt that could be accomplished.

This song does not have any remarkable story behind it – other than I was just feeling very ponderous and melancholy while writing it.  I did write this song while my piano was positioned right in front of a rather large window in my living room – which at night I could see the starry sky (hence the name of the song).  I really enjoyed putting the major/minor transitions into the song.  It is a song that I really enjoying playing, because it helps me to connect to my feelings and whatever I might be thinking about at the time.

The photo that I chose to go with this song for the Cd booklet, is a picture my dad took of Mt. Rainier just before sunrise.  The funny story about this picture, is that he must have taken at least a half dozen trips to Mt. Rainier to get the perfect timelapse starry sky shot.  I really loved this particular one, but he was not happy with it – saying that it was not up to a professional photographer’s standards.  I won’t tell you all of the “flaws” he seemed to find in it, but I personally find it to be a beautiful photo and just perfect the way that it is.

A bigger view of the photo:

11September_Mt. Rainier_001

Upon staking out a spot next to the mountain to capture this photo, I believe my dad said he met a hiker who said he had been stalked by a cougar that night and so every little noise my dad would hear, he was very nervous about it being a mountain lion.

This song has received a high number of requests for the sheet music, and so pianists here it is:

across the starlit sky

You can download the SHEET MUSIC HERE:
http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=178
You can download the MP3 from Amazon HERE:
http://www.amazon.com/Illumination/dp/B008O0NUSM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354842895&sr=8-2&keywords=jennifer+thomas+illumination

You can purchase the beautiful photography HERE:
http://www.ronsouthworth.com

Diary of a Song: After the Storm

This is the fourth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my new album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

After the Storm

IMAG2434As most of you know, last night they announced the Grammy nominations.  I was really hoping to see my name on the list of 5 nominees for Pop Instrumental, but alas I did not.  I had worked very hard for the nomination for the past several months – lots of hours were spent on trying to secure this nomination, and I was told by many that I had a real shot at this.

I know that having a Grammy nomination does not define who I am, and does not mean that I am any more or less talented.  Sometimes these awards are very political as they are peer-voted.  But as I tend to always try to have the best of faith in people, I had hoped that my album would simply wow everyone and they would just have to vote for it. :)  Even despite the tremendous support from my fellow Recording Academy friends, it didn’t happen, and yet I have received an outpouring of love in the past 24 hours from my fans who have told me over and over that I won in their books, and that my music has inspired them and that it means a great to them.

MacDowell Concerto 2002

Despite whatever accolades you may read in my bio, you also must know that I have had my share of trials and let-downs as well.

For every award I have won, there are many more that I have been turned down for.  For whatever film licensing or commercial work I’ve gotten, I have probably submitted my music to dozens more and not gotten a licensing deal.  I have performed as soloists with symphonies, but have also had many many auditions where I flopped and was turned away.

In the midst of all of this and the news of the Grammy NON-nomination, and with a promise I made earlier this week to release more new sheet music this week, it couldn’t be a more perfect moment to release AFTER THE STORM, track #2 on my album Illumination.

I tell you this, because it is a very appropriate intro to the story behind After the Storm.

How “AFTER THE STORM” CAME ABOUT…

On very special and rare occasions, I feel propelled by pure Divine inspiration to write a particular song.  This happened with The Red Aspens, Eventide, Will’s Song, and yes, After the Storm.

Composing does not come fast for me, but when Divine inspiration happens, the music usually always flows like an outpouring of love from my fingers to the keys. I just know how the song needs to be written.

I don’t often write much about my religious beliefs, but most know that I do have them and am very close to my Savior and have a very strong belief in God.  It is a central part of my life, and my family’s life.  I owe everything to Him, especially my talents and abilities.  And for some reason, even though I am not perfect and make oh-so-many mistakes in my day to day life, God still continues to bless me and watch out for me.

Last year was not an easy year for me.

51ty5h+0FuL._SL500_SS500_

Sometime I will tell you more about it, but for now I’ll just say it was not an easy year.  Despite that, somehow I was able to write some very great songs out of that period in my life.  It’s true, that out of hardships come some of the history’s greatest art.  Not saying that my music is part of history’s greatest art, but for ME personally, some of my best music has come out of hard times (also great times too ).

As I started composing After the Storm (which I had not named yet), I imagined myself walking on the beach with my Savior, talking to Him, and telling Him about some of the things I was struggling with.  The ocean has always been a big part of my childhood and adult life, and brings a lot of inspiration for me.  And as I wrote the song, I thought about the poem about the footprints in the sand….and how the poet talked about going through some of the darkest times in his life and feeling so alone, seeing his lonely footprints in the sand.  Later God told him that it was not his footprints but God’s footprints and that He had carried the troubled man through his hardships.

I continued to work on the song more and more…

And in the midst of this, I kept thinking about my friend Dixie.  Some of you may know her, she comments on my Facebook posts quite often and has been a long time fan of my music.  But in recent years she has also become a close friend.  She is one of the most spunky personalities I know – just very feisty, honest, a real hoot.  And she has very good taste in music, if I do say ;)

Anyway, one day, I saw a Facebook post from her where she mentioned having to go to the hospital. I was surprised, and asked her what was wrong and what had happened.  She replied and told me that she had breast cancer, and she thought that I knew.  Well, no, I did not know.  I would have had no idea either, because she was always so positive and spunky and never complained about anything.

Dixie also loves the ocean, and I also happen to know that she loved lighthouses as well.

The more I continued to work on my song, the more I knew that this song was for her.  She was in my thoughts as I finished up the song, and as I worked with my dad on choosing a photograph that would go perfectly with this song, I ended up choosing this one:

Coquille Lighthouse

My dad (Ron Southworth, who took all the photos for Illumination), took this photo at Bandon Beach in Northern Oregon, at the Coquille Lighthouse right as a storm was passing over.  I think the colors are amazing in this photo, and to me the lighthouse represents safety and hope after and through the storm.

I named my song “After the Storm” and dedicated it to Dixie. I felt so amazed by her attitude through her struggles, as she made her way through her personal storms and conquered them.

MY OWN PERSONAL STORM…and OTHERS TOO

Even though I originally started writing this song by way of inspiration through a hard time in my life, I would say the majority of the song was written with Dixie in mind.   This was was always FOR her.

Shortly after releasing my album, I also received a very long email from a young woman who told me she had been going through a very difficult time in her life over the past couple of years, but after hearing “After the Storm” and “New Life” from my album, she felt hope for the first time.  She told me that she listened to the song several times every single day and it gave her the energy and peace to make it through each day.

621149_10151009413593425_1680309056_o

I can’t tell you how much hearing something like that effects me and makes me feel so fulfilled.  I am so happy to know that I was able to help someone else through my music.

This song also helped heal me through a hard time this past August when I had surgery…but instead of writing about it, I uploaded a video of a house concert that I did in Salt Lake City in September – where I told the story to the audience and then performed it.

You can view it below.

Here is a photo from me at my CD release concert, just a few weeks after that surgery that I had.

OKJennifer Thomas 212

Also, here is a photo with Dixie, her husband, and I at the house concert in Salt Lake City.

253398_10151080398678425_807092937_n

So, to say the least, this song has a special place in my heart.

I’ve prepared the SHEET MUSIC for release, and feel that it is just as compelling as a piano solo (without the orchestration).

THE LINK FOR THE SHEET MUSIC IS HERE:
http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=177

afterthestorm

THE LINK TO BUY THE MP3 on AMAZON IS HERE:
http://www.amazon.com/Illumination/dp/B008O0NUSM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354842895&sr=8-2&keywords=jennifer+thomas+illumination

THE LINK TO PURCHASE THE LIGHTHOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY IS HERE:
http://ronsouthworth.com/fineartgallery.htm

Diary of a Song: Pachelbel’s Canon

This is the third of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my new album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Pachelbel’s Canon (A Duet)

This past year, as I was finishing up composing the music for my Illumination album, and figuring out the balance of the tracks (how many original songs vs. covers, fast vs. slow, etc.) I went to my fans to ask them for suggestions for one more Classical song to put on the album.  The song that had the most requests was Canon in D by Pachelbel.

I cringed.

Pachelbel’s Canon is probably one of THE most overdone songs, and as a classical musician I have had to perform this song countless times for concerts, weddings, Christmas, and church.  I know that people just absolutely LOVE this song, but usually for musicians we sort of groan when requested to play it.  And for me personally, I also sometimes cringe when I listen to others perform it as well.  I say that not because I don’t like the song – it’s just that for me it had become a broken record and I had grown super tired of hearing it over the years.  If were a non-musician and only listened to the song a select few times, then of course it would probably be one of my favorite songs too.

But to be honest, when I asked my fans what Classical song they wanted most, I actually did think in my head “Please don’t say Canon, please don’t say Canon…”

pachelbelAnd of course, they all wanted Canon.

One fan, though, mentioned doing Canon as a piano duet.

That got me thinking. If I were able to arrange Canon as a duet and make it different enough so that it was fresh and new, then I would totally do it.

So I started messing around on the piano and trying to figure out ways to arrange Canon in D so that it was a whole different approach to the run-of-the-mill versions that I always hear everyone doing.  I also wanted to keep it true to the original form of the song too though – so it was a bit tricky.  How do I make this song different, but still the same?  I learned the hard way with “O Mio Babbino Caro” from my first album, that taking very uber popular classical songs and making them strikingly different is not always loved by purist classical fans out there.

What I ended up with using most of the traditional Canon chords but adding some close 2nds to modernize the progression.  You can hear this here:

For those who want a quick lesson on what a “Canon” is, it’s a song where one instruments begins doing something and then another instrument comes in and repeats the same thing.  Kind of like when you would sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a round when you were a kid in school choir.  I didn’t really feel like spending an entire minute of the song expanding the traditional Canon rounds and so while keeping the chord progressions going, I skipped ahead to the resolve section (which normally doesn’t happen until quite a bit later in the song).

Right after the resolve section, I brought it back down to the simple chords and then after 4 bars, brought in some synth beats to bring an modernized feeling to the song.  I really wanted the song to still resonate emotionally with fans, but I wanted to also give it some “umph”.  I think I was able to accomplish through both the orchestration and piano part to keep an authentic “Canon in D” feel, yet have a freshness to it.

Listen here:

I might add, that it was a challenge trying to write a duet. I’d never done this before, and it took a lot of cross checking to be sure that I wasn’t writing one part that was stealing another part’s piano keys.  This would have been so much simpler to write for two separate pianos, however, most people do not have access to two pianos and I wanted to be sure my fans could download the sheet music and perform this as a duet. Thus, I wrote it for ONE piano, TWO hands, and TWO bums on the piano bench.

I just thought this part turned out really pretty :)

By this point we’re already 2 minutes into the song and we still haven’t heard the famous melody.

Ah, bam. There it is: 

It’s in a different key too, I might add. Which is why I ultimately decided against calling the song “Canon in D”, because it really was not in D.  So I called it “Pachelbel’s Canon”.

After the melodic section, I of course had to amp it up because it just wouldn’t be one of my songs if I didn’t have some sort of major climax in the middle of a song, and you can hear that here:

After the big to-do, the song goes back to the same chords from the beginning and really tones it all back down to un-hyper levels.  I think the song ends on a very traditional note, reminding the listener that they did just hear one of the great Classical pieces of music in all of history and so let’s show some respect. ;)

I would say, while my attitude towards the song at the beginning was not the best, I ended up actually having a LOT of fun composing this and orchestrating it as well.  The orchestration actually really turned out a lot differently than I had originally planned on too.  Definitely much bigger and fuller.

Anyway I hope you like my version of this popular classic.  I have actually received some really great comments from people saying things like how this is the best version of Canon they have ever heard, or that when they saw this track was on the album they pre-judged it but after listening to it they found that it was completely fresh and it has become one of their favorites.  I would say my goal of trying to make this song unique was accomplished. Thanks for all your awesome kind words everyone.

Pachelbel PrimoPiano students – if you would like to perform this song with a duet partner, you can go to the link below to get the SHEET MUSIC.  I purposely wrote this song so that it would be able to be performed 100% okay WITHOUT the orchestration. There are no lulls or blanks spots, it’s all filled with both piano parts.

SHEET MUSIC:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=176

You can DOWNLOAD the MP3 from any of these links below, depending on your online store of choice. Personally, I recommend people to buy from Amazon or iTunes because it helps my rankings go up on those websites.

AMAZON MP3:  http://www.amazon.com/Illumination/dp/B008O0NUSM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354582320&sr=8-2&keywords=jennifer+thomas+illumination

iTUNEShttps://itunes.apple.com/us/album/illumination/id545693307

JENNIFER’S WEB STORE:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=167

You can listen to and download the FREE SOLO PIANO VERSION here:

Finally, here is a LIVE performance that I did of the song at my August CD release concert (8/24/2012), featuring my piano student Kristen Yose as my duet partner.

Requiem For a Dream (Music Video): Behind the Scenes

I just completed a three-day film shoot for my official debut music video, for the song “Requiem For a Dream”.  This song is track #14 from my new album Illumination, and it is my rendition of the popular soundtrack piece by Clint Mansell.

The whole experience was just very positive for me – and I feel so lucky to have been able to work with all of the talented people that I did on this project.  Ryan K. McNeal (writer/director for “Minuet”) came up with the concept for the video, based on a quote by Dante Alighieri – “Beauty awakens the soul to act.” from his Divine Comedy.

Ryan outlined the concept in five movements:

Mov 1:  The Gates of Hell

Mov 2: Inferno

Mov 3: Purgatorio

Mov 4: Ascension

Mov 5: Paradiso/Heaven/Full Enlightenment

FINDING A PIANO:  The Almost Impossible Mission

You would think that finding a piano in Los Angeles would be pretty easy right?

Think again.

It took an enormous amount of time to find a piano for this shoot.   Being that we didn’t have a very large budget for this video, we initially tried to see what we could get for free or on trade.  That route quickly met a dead end.

Next, we started looking into piano stores – because usually stores have recital halls.  Most of the stores we spoke with either did not have the availability to accommodate a film crew, or their recital halls were not, um, “pretty” enough to look good on film.

We did end up finding Kassimoff’s Pianos in Hollywood, who agreed to let us shoot in their store. They are the Bluthner piano dearlership (one of the only ones in America), and were very kind and hospitable.  However, once they realized that we would not actually be recording live audio for the video, they had to back out due to a conflict of interest (my album was recorded using a Fazioli, and they did not want a Fazioli sound dubbed over their Bluthner pianos).

Understandable.  But yet again, back to square one.

I literally contacted every piano store in the LA area, as well as every concert hall, night club, or restaurant with a grand piano.  Most people did not return my emails, and the ones who did wanted too much money. I even put an ad out on LA Craigslist, as well as the user forums on the LA chapter NARAS board (Recording Academy).  It seemed that as soon as people heard the word “film” or “video shoot”, the cost went WAY up.

A week before the shoot, I found this odd church south of LA called “The Onion”, where the inside was circular with these cool lights.  They had a grand piano, and I had it arranged to film there.  Then when I asked if we could move the piano (which was right up against a wall) into the center of the room, they said “Oh no, the piano NEVER moves.”

Strike out, again.

It was only a few days before the shoot, and Ryan and I were really stressing about where we were going to find a piano at.  Ryan had been scouring Craigslist for a free or cheap piano as well. We had found a 6 foot grand that someone wanted to give away to a non-profit group, but the paperwork to take it off their hands would have taken longer than we had.  We found another upright grand on Craiglist, but when Ryan went to go take a look at it he found that the majority of the keys stuck and could not play.

I could go on and on about the various pianos we thought we found, and then didn’t – including the rock star I met (friend of a friend) who offered his 9 foot Young Chang piano that was in storage (that didn’t work out either).

Two days before the film shoot, I was to meet up with fellow composer Glen Gabriel from Sweden (who did most of the beats and additional orchestration on my album).  I asked him if he was game to come with me to Kassimoff’s Pianos to talk with them. He was….so off we went to schmooze some piano stores…

I had a slight hope in my mind that even though Kassimoff’s pianos would not let us film on their Bluthner pianos, that perhaps they might just have another brand of piano in the store we could possibly use.   And I also promised Helga (the 80 year old store owner) that I would stop by for a visit to come play their beautiful pianos. Afterall, I had never played on a Bluthner before.

Glen and I spent three hours at Kassimoff’s talking with the lovely store owners.  They were such kind people – all the way here from Germany and even had a quaint little home in the back of their shop.  Kyril offered us German cookies and cranberry juice, and told us all the stories of the people they had sold Bluthner pianos to over the last 50 years (their wall was full of celebrity photos, including some presidents of the United States).

 I also got to play a very interesting 9 foot Bluthner that was hand-picked by Marvin Hamlesch himself (see photo below).

At the conclusion of our wonderful visit, Helga was kind enough to allow me to use the ONE and only grand piano in their store that was not a Bluthner. It was a little 6 foot Steinway grand.  And for a discounted price, they delivered the Steinway Friday morning to our video shoot at the soundstage.

I have to say, once we finally had that piano, a HUGE stress was lifted from all of us.

And bonus perks – Helga introduced Glen to a very famous Swedish musician on the phone while we were there in the store.  The next Glen told me “I didn’t realize who he was!!!  Oh my gosh he’s famous in my country! I’m totally calling him again this week.”

THE PIANO PERFORMANCE SHOOT – Friday, Nov 16, 2012

So, Friday came and we all met at a soundstage in Korea Town in Los Angeles.  Ryan happened to find this independent owner who rented his stage out to indie filmmakers for a screaming deal.

Of course, first we had to get that piano unloaded and all set up…

Next, Noelle (my makeup artist) and I headed to the dressing room for hair and makeup.  Not complaining, but the morning came particularly early since we had all been out late the night before for the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.  But since our film “Minuet” actually WON the award, we were all in high spirits (the crew doing my music video was the same crew that filmed Minuet).

Yes here I am in all my natural make-up free glory…

While Noelle and I were doing hair and makeup, the crew was getting the Steinway set up on the white screen…


Then for the rest of the day we filmed my performance shots, until about 5:00 pm…

I hadn’t eaten since like 7:30 a.m., but I didn’t want to risk spilling on my dress and so I refused to eat until we finished filming my scenes.  When we were finally done, I don’t think I have ever eaten a turkey sandwich so fast in all my life.

Here is the dress that I wore for the piano scenes – it was absolutely gorgeous and perfect for what we were trying to do with the fan blowing on me, and creating this ethereal scene. Though we really had to pin me into that thing!  Just to make sure sleeves weren’t coming down, or things weren’t poking out – I think we used like 20 safety pins on me.

Here are some more shots from the piano scenes…

Meanwhile I was getting my piano scenes out of the way, our beautiful dancer Ivorie Jenkins was getting her makeup done in preparation for her dancing scenes…

I finally finished up my final scene and was allowed to put comfy clothes back on.  Noelle made the comment to me, “You are either super dressed up, or super casual. There is never any in-between for you is there?”

She’s right.  I’m either in a ballgown or sweat pants.  That is how I roll.

Here’s me totally content because a) I’m in my comfy outfit, and b) I finally have food in my tummy.

I was able to sit and relax and watch Ivorie as they filmed some of her dance sequence on the black screen.  She is just one of the most graceful dances I have ever seen. She most recently finished up dancing for Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas.

Will, Noelle, and I left the film shoot to go back to our hotel to get a decent night’s sleep, knowing that we had to be up and ready to head to Joshua Tree National Park by 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Once we got to the park, we checked into a Motel.  Funny part about this is we were worried we would not be able to find a motel so early in the day since check-in is usually not until the afternoon.

However, they let us check in early – and this was after they said they had no rooms available.

I was a bit confused, so I asked my husband what type of miracle did he pull to get them to allow us to have a room and so early in the day?

He replied, “I just told them that a rock star was here to film her music video in the park and they agreed to let us have an early room.”

I busted up laughing. Rock star? Um, sure why not.  Wrong genre but whatever.

As soon as we got our room, Noelle, Ivorie, and I began hair and makeup all over again – this time for the desert scenes.

Ivorie had some very intense “Swan Lake” makeup going on for her dance scenes that day…

As for me, I had a more dramatic look since I was doing a black dress for the desert shots (the video was filmed in black and white, so everything we did was for contrasting purposes).

By the time we found our location in the park and got set up and ready to go, we only had like an hour of light before the sun went down.  Jackson (the videographer) wanted to get some cool backlit shots of me before the sun went down…

The hardest part about shooting out in the middle of no where was the playback for the music.  Ryan had originally brought his ipod with a bluetooth – but then realized that they weren’t compatible or something. So I ended up using my little workout MP3 player and earbuds.  They wrapped the earbuds underneath my hair and down the back of my dress so you could not see them in the shots.  However, the hard part was that my MP3 player was not remote- so every time they called action for a shot, Alex (one of the crew) stood behind me and pushed play on my MP3 player and hurried to tuck it into the back of my dress, and then practically leap down off the rock to get out of the shot.

Alex, you’re amazing.

Here are some more shots from that evening’s shoot…

After we finished up the shoot that evening, we all met up later that night to go to Yucca Valley’s tiny movie theater to see “Breaking Dawn Part 2″.  Okay, so watching that movie with a bunch of film people was hilarious, I just have to say.  Justus (our producer) said wide-eyed “I’m NEVER letting you take me to another movie ever again.”  (It was his first Twilight movie experience).

The next morning was another early morning, as we had to be up at 4:30 a.m. for hair and makeup, in order to be ready to leave by 7:00 a.m. to head out into the desert again.

Hiking through the desert in flip-flops and a long black dress was not the easiest thing to do.  Fortunately I am a very outdoorsy girl and didn’t mind being out there – it was just the logistics of it all!

The crew shot Ivorie’s dance scenes first…

While Ivorie was getting her dance scenes filmed, I was being shown where my next filming location would be.  It was this rock platform at the top of this small mountain structure of rock.

“I’m going to be standing up there??” was my reaction.

Yup.

So my husband, Will, climbed to the top of it first to test it out and to find the best possible way for me to climb up it.

You need to just know something right now – I’m afraid of edges. Like CRAZY afraid.  I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of edges where I can fall. If there is no rail or guard to hold me back from falling, then it just royally FREAKS. ME. OUT.

And they say that if you have a fear, you should just face your fear head on to get over it.

Whoever said that is an idiot because it does not work.

It took me a long time to climb all these huge boulders in a dress (someone else carried my violin for me).  I was in my flip-flops as well.

I finally reached the top where I was supposed to be standing to play my violin, and there were drop-offs on either side of the boulder.  It took me like ten minutes sitting there on the rock before I could muster up enough bravery to try standing on it.  Will (an experienced mountain climber) was there with me the whole time and just reminded me to breathe, and pause to get used to the heights and then climb up a little more.

Yeah, it wasn’t working so much. My heart was still pounding and I had was not feeling so great.

This was Will saying to me –  “Smile for the camera, honey!”.  He did not get a smile.

I kept telling myself “Just do it, Jennifer – do it for the sake of the shot! It’s going to look awesome!”

I finally was able to get myself to stand up on the ledge, get my footing, and put my violin up to my chin.  And then Will hopped down off the ledge and left me there alone and it hit me, as I looked around, where I was…and WHAM I started feeling panicked and nauseous and dizzy. I felt my head starting to spin and realized if I didn’t sit back down I would probably fall right off that rock.

And that is when I realized I was not going to be able to do this, and tears started welling up out of my eyes and I started to cry a little bit.

“I’m going to ruin my makeup, gosh darnitt!” I thought.

Ryan was down below, and he was so nice and just kept telling me “It’s okay Jennifer, if you can’t do it – it’s okay.”

We eventually found a spot for me where I could lean against a boulder instead of stand. I still felt dizzy, but at least I felt secure.  This is a shot that Noelle took from below – and probably very similar to what they got on film.  I totally look like the Fiddler on the Roof – haha.

The rock that is directly out in front of me is the ledge where they wanted me to stand. It doesn’t really look that high up from this photo, but trust me – it was.

After this location, we went to another place where they had these crazy looking cacti called “Teddybear Cactus”.   Some of the crew quickly learned that if you touch it, it has these tiny little daggers that embed in your skin like a fishhook – and if you try to yank them out it pulls your skin out from the underneath layers.

Ouch.

We were removing these sharp little thorns with pliers just so we wouldn’t have to touch them with our bare fingers.  But they made for super cool shots for the film ….

I just felt bad for Ivorie, because she was dancing and twirling around these things!  At a couple times, I saw her get inches away from brushing her skin against them.

We filmed our last location at a viewpoint overlooking the valley. It was absolutely gorgeous and the guys were able to get some really great silhouette shots. We also had a little bit of a crowd up there who seemed to really enjoy watching us film (we actually had crowds in all the various locations, but the most people were at the viewpoint).

After we finished wrapping up the final shots, we all celebrated with some sparkling cidar at the viewpoint (and freezing cold!)…

All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic experience that I would do over in a heartbeat. Well, except for climbing the boulders – I probably wouldn’t do that again.  All of the people on this project were so positive, so professional, and just very talented.

Writer/Director:  Ryan K. McNeal

Catering/Assisting:  Becky McNeal

Producer:  Justus Meyer

Videographer:  Jackson Cooper Gango

Location/Assist:  Eric McCoy

Editor:  Alex Jones

Dancer:  Ivorie Jenkins

Makeup/Hair:  Noelle Jensen

Artist:  Jennifer Thomas

The video is expected to be edited and completed sometime within the first couple of weeks in December.  Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to be the first to see it when it’s finished. We will also be releasing a behind-the-scenes video once the official music video releases.

http://www.youtube.com/user/mozart623?feature=mhee

Diary of a Song: Etude For the Dreamer

This is the first of a series of blog posts that I will be writing – with the stories and details behind each of the songs from my new album Illumination.

ETUDE FOR THE DREAMER is track 1 on my new album.  This song took me about a year to finish – reason being, I don’t often write songs in one sitting.  I will start something, let it peculate for a while, and then come back to it.  I’ve found this the most effective way to compose for me, because a) my skills improve over time, b) I find new inspiration, and c) the piece develops more maturely than it would otherwise.

I knew when I started composing this piece that I wanted it to be the opening track to the new album.  With this in mind, it helped me develop a theme that would grab a listener’s attention from the get-go.  With the way I created the opening sequence of the song, you hear a minored keyed pattern being repeated- which I really wanted to make someone feel anxious or excited for what was to come.

You can hear the opening sequence here:

When I was writing this piece, my family and I were living in a  home that was out in a wooded area with lots of evergreen trees. In my mind, I saw a foggy mist over a forest of trees and someone walking through that mist, perhaps lost in the surroundings.  This is also where I got the idea that this piece was sort of a dream-piece in nature, hence the title.

Not only was I mentally/visually inside of a deep forest when writing this piece, but technically speaking I was very much wanting this piece to be a show piece.  I can say that it is one of the hardest pieces to play on my entire album, and possibly one of the hardest pieces of music I’ve ever composed.  When recording in the studio I have the luxury of starting over if I make a mistake, but in a live performance this is not so.  I have had to really practice this piece a LOT in order to perform it live – and I have yet to have a perfect performance of it in a live setting.

With wanting to really showcase my classical training and ability in this piece, I drew my inspiration from one of Classical music’s greatest composers:  Frederic Chopin.  He was the king of writing pieces that were skill-strengthening and yet so creative, fresh, and beautiful.  He wrote 27 Etudes in his lifetime. If you aren’t familiar with what an “etude” is, it is a piece composed to concentrate on a specific skill; an exercise, basically.  Each of Chopin’s etudes concentrate on perfecting finger or technical ability on the keyboard.

The piece that particularly inspired me was the Etude No. 12 in C Minor, Op.25, which you can hear a marvelous recording of this by pianist Maurizio Pollini here…


(Purchase here from Amazon)

I had learned that Etude shortly after graduating from college (thought I did not play it quite that fast).  Lots of arpeggios, and though it might sound like both hands are playing the same thing but just in different octaves – not so!  Each hand is playing different notes, thus making it all the more difficult to learn yet fun to play. I remember the first time ever hearing this etude – was while I was in school and in the music building playing with another one of my pianist friends. He had been studying the etude with his professor and performed it for me while my jaw then dropped to the floor in utter awe of both the song and his skills.  I knew I had to learn it :)  Funny how many of the songs we long to learn are simply from witnessing a friend play them in front of us.

Back to Etude For the Dreamer, after the opening sequence I then added a very technical section – which I like to refer to as the criss-cross section because both hands are playing thirds from each other and crossing up, down and around on the keyboard.  You can hear it here:

Following this section, I then incorporated some of the same technical runs/arpeggios that Chopin used in his Etude No.12:

The nervous buildup of the piece keeps going until we get to a section where you finally reach a climax.  All of the pressure of the piece has built and built until you reach this place where all lets loose, themes are combined and it is a very grandiose place of the song.  I combined both the Chopin-esque arpeggios into my right hand while doing a contemporary arpeggiated left hand.  One big collision.

After this big collision happens, I bring it back down and back to 2012 in terms of styling.  I almost ended the song here, and sent it to several musician friends asking if it sounded like the song should indeed end like this. Almost unfinished. Some said it actually sound good ending there, but after letting the song sit for a while and going back to listen to it – I realized it was not the ending.  So I returned to the beginning sequence (now in a new key) and played that section again but this time building it up to the Chopin arpeggios shortly after the start and then ending it that way in a true “Classical” ending.

You can hear here:

ORCHESTRATING ETUDE…

I was so in love with the solo piano version of this piece, that it took me some time to figure out how to orchestrate this for my album.  The solo version of this song is so very Classical, yet when you hear how the orchestrated version on the album ended up – it sounds COMPLETELY different.  Much more modern and edgy that is for sure.

Etude was actually one of the very last songs I orchestrated on this album, simply because it DID take me so long to be inspired with the orchestration.  Actually that’s not entirely true.  I had orchestrated it several months before others, but at the time did not feel it was going in the right direction.  So I pushed it aside for a while.  It wasn’t until I sent the song to Glen Gabriel for the beats where I felt the song finally came together, and it ended up being one of the last 2 that we finished.  Glen put the amazing drums and beats to the song, and then also added some additional string sections during the “climax” section.  This is why I enjoy collaborating with him so much – he really adds things to my music that sometimes I either would have never thought of, or sometimes they’re just extensions of my own ideas but better.

As I was preparing for the concerts that I recently put on, I had a really cool moment while practicing with my backup tracks and thinking “These are so cool!”.  I never really got to hear them alone without my piano with them, and it was a neat realization to hear them just all by themselves.  Short clip here:

In the end, Etude For the Dreamer has turned out to be one of my favorite pieces on the entire album.  LOTS of hard work went into composing this piece and also orchestrating it, so I won’t lie – everytime I hear the song I get a very satisfied smile on my face. :)

GET THE SHEET MUSIC!

For advanced pianists out there who want to learn the piece, this is the FIRST piece of sheet music that I’m adding to the Illumination collection. It’s up on my website as of today – which you can download for only $3.95.  I’ve also posted the solo piano version of the song as a free MP3 download from soundcloud – which might be helpful to have to learn the piece so that you can here is sans orchestra.

Get the sheet music here:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=174

COMING UP:

I’ll be continuing to add new sheet music from Illumination as I finish them, and in the order of the tracks on the album.  I plan to write one of these “Diary of a Song” posts with each song so that you can learn the story behind each of them.  The next song up will be track 2, “After the Storm”.  There is really a beautiful story behind this one and I’ll be really excited to share it with you all soon.  Thanks for all your support for my music – it means the world!

BUY THE ALBUM:

In an effort to get my digital rankings up on Amazon and iTunes (which report to Billboard), please purchase my album from either of these marketplaces.  Of course you are certainly more than welcome to buy my album from me directly if you are wanting an autograph, but otherwise let’s help my music make it’s way up in the online charts!! :)