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:


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. 🙂


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


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!


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!! 🙂


3 responses to “Diary of a Song: Etude For the Dreamer

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thought processes with us! As an aspiring composer, this gives me absolutely invaluable insight into how a piece can be composed (although I know everyone has his or her own process).

    Anyway, it really shows, even in this one posting, how much work you put into your new album. And I just wanted to say that it can be heard in every measure!

    I look forward to your next posting 🙂

    • Thank you so much Ethan! Your comment means a lot. And I’m sorry the website is down for maintenance – hopefully back up and running soon so you can actually download the sheet music. I hope you enjoy – and best of luck with YOUR composing! How exciting. – J.T.

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