Thursday, February 28, 2013

John Denver-How he's affected my life and my style

I have a real soft spot for John Denver.  He's affected me in many ways, from musical influence to "long distance friend."  How could this be you might ask?  I'm a New Age piano pianist, not a folk guitarist!  And how do I explain this "friendship" with him?  Well, it's all about how you look at the word friendship and what that means.

Of course, I never met John Denver, although I wish I had.  I think he would have been a great guy to hang out with for an afternoon.  And I guess that's what I'm talking about here.  When I listen to the music of John Denver, I feel a connection to him that I can't describe as anything but friendship.  It's welcoming, accepting, deep, reflective and hopeful.  Sometimes he asks the hard questions, and sometimes he just likes to keep it simple.  He sings, and he listens.  It's almost as if you know him, because he bares his soul to his listeners in a way that few other musicians are brave enough to do.  If this isn't a form of friendship, I'm not sure what is. 

Musically his melodies are some of the most beautiful ever written, and the way he uses his voice to communicate these melodies comes straight from his soul.  It strikes a chord deep within every person who's open to hearing it, and in so doing moves the energy from the mind to the heart to the Spirit.  There's also a very natural element to what John does, which seems to connect the listener to the forces of nature and world that we live in through music.  His chords and chord progressions take you from the mountains to the plains to the ocean, the planet over.  Add to that lyrics with a message and you have something that is truly remarkable, and rarely seen in mainstream music.

So yes, I'm a New Age pianist.  But having listened to John and his recordings with love an passion I've been able to adopt many of the same elements into what I do.  I don't have the lyrical component in my music, as I'm an instrumentalist, but to me that doesn't really matter as the music speaks for itself.  You can hear some of John's "licks" in my piano style, but more importantly you can experience much of the same feel in what I do.  I've tried to recreate that sense of oneness that John was able create with such ease.  And while I'll never be as good at it as he was, I'd like to think that I succeed to a degree. Everything that I write is inspired, in the beginning, by something natural.  When I create, I see rivers and streams, greening spring and falling leaves.  And I communicate that in my performances and recordings.

So It's clear that John Denver has influenced what I do, and affected my life a large way, and I thank him dearly for that.  He'll never know it, at least not in a physical form that interacts with me directly.  But I think he did know that he was changing lives, and that it was his pleasure to do that.  He was an artist and a servant to man.  I salute him, and hope one day, to meet him in the "Big Sky Country."  Thank you John.

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Give New Age Piano A Chance!

Have you listened to modern piano music lately?  By modern I'm talking about piano music that's been written in the last 20 years.  This genre is often referred to as New Age piano, contemporary piano, etc. and takes many different forms.  If you haven't given it a fair shake recently, then this blog is for you.

Let's be honest, modern piano music has somewhat of a bad rap.  Immediately one might think of "fluff" piano music, with little substance.  Another thought that may come to mind is "meditational" piano music, which for many people could mean the same thing as boring.   And to make matters worse, many people add the "cheese factor" to the list of their ideas about modern piano music, above and beyond the many other misconceptions.  And yes, these are all misconceptions about what we call "New Age" piano music.

This is a genre that is constantly evolving.  When it was in it's infancy, it was beautiful piano music.  But today, this style of piano is becoming something truly amazing.  If you were a David Lanz fan 15 years ago, you're going to have to get rid of some of your ideas about what modern piano music is today, because it's changed.  It's become more involved, more intricate, more energetic, more beautiful than ever before.  It's also becoming more and more popular; the idea that this genre has outlived itself is flawed.  Today, there are scores of listeners of New Age piano music the world over, who are fans of this genre specifically, and who listen to it more than any other genre in their collection.  

Many classically trained pianists mistakenly lump New Age piano music into a category that means "less skilled," "less complicated," and not as worthy of praise as the works of the great masters.  I find this sentiment to be extremely shortsighted, and unfair to the composers of today who are working hard to create beautiful art.  And I would remind these people that there are a good number of New Age pianists who are trained at the Julliard level.  Michael Dulin comes to mind. 

Sleepy?  Boring?  Sure, Contemporary piano can be these things.   But doesn't every genre have it's share of "sleepy" and "boring" composers?  And how is this any different?  "Meditation music?"  Some of it.  And that mood does have it's place.  But the best of today's New Age piano music is a combination of quiet and reflective with energetic and refreshing.  Composers like Matthew Mayer embrace all of these elements, and create a flow in their performances and their recordings that holds the attention and peaks the interest of the listener. 

To understand today's piano music one must listen to it without making assumptions, and without the preconceptions they may have regarding what it is.  And one must listen to more than just one composer.  Don't like one?  Try another, there's lots of it out there!  One must be willing to explore this style and come to understand it for what it is:  another one of the many valid, creative art forms that is unique to the era that we live in.  So, have you listened to modern piano music lately?  If not, get out the ipad and prepare yourself for a journey that will take you places you haven't been yet.  I think you're going to find there's a lot more waiting for you along the way than you'd imagined...

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Donovan's Back! My Trip To The Deep South, and the Piano In The Gulf Tour (Written on 9/7/12)

Having been back for a week now, and having had time to reflect on my tour to the deep south, I can tell you that it was absolutely a success and a great pleasure to perform for the people of the southern states.  It was a great experience!  And a very different one. 

Being from the Midwest, a trip to the deep south was full of surprises.  Culturally very different, and historically set apart from the northern states, the deep south was a place I'd go back to perform for anytime.  The Midwest is know for it's friendly people, but I have to say that the south has some of them most hospitable folks I've met in all of my travels.  They'll talk with you like they've known you all their life, and tell you all about themselves without any prodding.  I find this quality to be very endearing.  In addition, they were willing to help out with the tour in any way possible, and really went that extra mile to make me (and my travel companion Richard Carr) feel at home.

Our trip took us to San Antonio TX, Houston Tx, Baton Rouge LA, New Orleans LA (two concerts), Mobile AL, and Memphis TN.  Kevin Higgins at The Alamo Music Center does a lot of work to help out the Wounded Warriors Project, and was kind enough to let us stay with him for the evening.  In Houston we met Dave Smith at the Houston Piano Company (which is a gorgeous hall, by the way).  Dave has a passion for what he does as the sound and light tech, and offered us some great wine and conversation after our show there.  It was truly a pleasure to spend an hour with him before moving along to Baton Rouge.

There, we met Raph ONeill at ONeills Pianos.  This man really went out of his way to make sure that we had a nice crowd for the afternoon concert.  After a great show, we made our way to New Orleans where we would meet up with Cindy Scott, her husband Bill Fernandez, and the wonderful folks at Community Church UU.  This was the most warm and inviting group of people we could hope to find in a far away place.  After performing the church service, Cindy and Bill took us out for lunch.  Then, after a concert that evening at the church, we met up with them at their house and had a wonderful evening of wine, dinner and conversation. 

At Lafargue's Pianos in Metaire, we were able to catch some of the best video yet for our youtube promos.  Lance Lafargue was a true gentleman, and has invited us to come back to play anytime.  From here, we made our way to Broussards Pianos in Mobile Al.  Christy and her husband Chris were excited to have us there, and provided a very nice punch and dessert reception after our show there.  It was a pleasure to work with them.  Finally, we ended our tour at Amro Music in Memphis, in their beautiful hall, on a beautiful Steinway.  The perfect ending to a successful tour. 

Would I go back?  Absolutely.  And when I do, I'll let you know I'm in the area.  In the meantime, I'm currently gearing up for my next leg of the 2012 tour with Kai Miano of Bad Homburg Germany.  We'll be performing in Nashville TN, Chattanooga TN, Birmingham AL, Knoxville TN, Asheville NC, Louisville KY, St. Louis MO and Omaha NE.  If you're in any of these area in late September, please consider coming out and being a part of our experience.  If you love fresh, original piano music, I can guarantee you that you won't regret it. 

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Enlightened Piano Radio Presents Donovan Johnson and Richard Carr's 2012 Tour of the Deep South

Two of the midwests best known New Age pianists hit the road this July,
with a show that is sure to inspire and refresh you!

This July, Donovan Johnson of Omaha NE and Richard Carr of St. Louis MO will be travelling to the deep south, to perform in the gulf areas of the United States.  They'll begin their journey in San Antonio TX, continuing straight across the southern gulf, coming up through Memphis and ending their trip in St. Louis MO. 

The two perform as solo artists and as a duo often throughout the year.  Donovan hosts a local concert series in Omaha annually which includes his "Sounds Of The Night" concert in October, his "Vince Guaraldi and the Peanuts" concerts in November, and his Winter Solstice" concerts in December, along with many others.  Richard has a year long program called "The Year Of Music" series, which he hosts locally in St. Louis.  Both Donovan and Richard are very excited to be taking their performances to the southern regions of the United States.

Donovan Johnson is the owner and operator of Enlightened Piano Radio, an online New Age radio station.  The radio station features the work of many contemporary piano artists around the globe, and Richard Carr is one of those artists.  "Richard is known for his improvisational approach to composing."  States Donovan.  "The way he explains it to me, is that he'll sit at the piano during a recording session, start the recording, and simply start playing.  He allows the piece to shape itself, and become what it will."  And while Richard composes mostly improvisational pieces, there are a handful that he plays the same way every time.  "I think Richard understands that people love the familiar, and that having some recognizable songs to play for your fans is very important.  I know that some of those pieces are very dear to Richard as well."

Donovan's approach is almost the opposite, as he writes music in a very structured way.  "Sometimes I write entire passages and a week later, throw them out completely so I can re-write them.  I've got to be completely satisfied with my writing before I'll allow myself to play it in front of an audience."  And while Donovan composes with concentration, and clear intention on his compositions, he does occasionally improvise pieces for his audiences as well.  At Donovan's concerts, his fans receive a slip of paper.  They're then instructed to write a "musical idea" for Donovan to improvise a piece upon, whether it be a powerful waterfall or a beautiful sunset.

Because the two piano players share some common ground, they're able to meet in the middle to create a diverse show, that is great fun for those who attend.  "There's never a dull moment" says Donovan.  "Meditative at times, but always full of inspiration and beauty."

The two currently have shows lined up in San Antonio TX, Houston TX, Baton Rouge LA, New Orleans LA, Natchez MS, Mobile AL, Memphis TN, and St. Louis MO.  They're working on several more locations as well.  Donovan expresses his excitement; "I'm thrilled.  I think these concerts are going to be very well received, and with any luck, we'll be fortunate enough to visit this area again in the future.  What Richard and I have to offer is truly a service to others.  An experience that they'll be able to take with them, to keep in their memories for years to come."

For more information on the tour, please visit Donovan Johnson's website at

For information on Richard Carr, visit his website at

And to tune into Donovan's online, New Age radio station, visit

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Top 5 Reasons Why People Don't Make It In The Music Business

I've seen it happen over and over again.  Somebody who wants to make it in the music business, become the next singer or musician, who makes a career change or decides that the world of music just "isn't for them."  The truth is that it's really not for very many people at all, most of us just don't realize that.  Admittedly, my reasons for becoming a musician were completely different than the reasons that I am a musician today.  But I had to learn the hard lessons, and in keeping with it, saw a completely different picture than I had painted myself even less than a decade ago. 

I've watched people fall by the wayside for many reasons, but here are the top five, in my opinion, which have people choosing to opt out and find another path in life.

1)  They Lack The Talent
      Now, I'm not a stickler where it comes to being "the best" at what you do, and having to "rise to the top."  That isn't necessary today.  If you have a decent amount of talent and are willing to work hard, you have a fighting chance.  However, there are those who just don't have what it takes.  In their minds, they're much better than they actually are at their craft.  Often, these people aren't willing to practice and study their art well enough to get to a proficient level, and therein lies the problem.  People don't want to hear mediocre talent, and they're not going to remember it when they do. 

2)  They Don't Know What Today's Music Business Is
      The music business has changed dramatically since the birth of the internet.  It's no longer a world in which you must sign on to a major label to survive (In fact, the many who strive to this end and, in my opinion, are usually wasting their time).  This has a been a tremendous help to many up and coming musicians, but it also has it's back draws.  There is much more talent out there to contend with due to the accessibility of the musician in today's world.  That means getting creative and upping your game that much more is essential to stay ahead of your competitors.

3)  They Have Exaggerated Expectations
Some people have what I call a delusion of grandeur, thinking that they're going to make a ton of money as a musician when they "make it big."  They strive for fame, and recognition.  Sorry to say it, but keep dreaming folks.  This is not the life of 99% of the active, working musicians in the world.  To gain recognition, you have to put yourself out there.  And that takes a ton of hard work, something that anyone who is striving to become a musician for the wrong reasons isn't willing to do.  Which brings me to my next point...

4)  They Don't Have The Discipline Or The Motivation
Being a musician takes an intense amount of work, with very little payoff in the beginning.   It's typical for a musician to work every day of the week for hours and hours on end and make nothing.  In addition, because you're self employed, plan to struggle with the cost of carrying your own health care and dealing the the IRS come tax time.  Who doesn't want to wake up and be a rock star?  Sorry, but it takes a lot more blood, sweat and tears than that to make it in this business.

5)  They Aren't Able To Work Under Pressure
It's an intense business.  Deadlines that must be met, marketing, scheduling, practicing, recording and so much more go into the daily life of the working musician.  Many people simply aren't able to hack it.  Instead, they go for the sure bet, and wind up working for someone else.  At a store, or an office.  Which may be a lot less stressful and compensate you immediately, but clearly the passion to be a musician, and to do whatever it takes to succeed,  just wasn't there to begin with.

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!
Solo Piano Music In The Year 2012

When I talk about solo piano music, I'm talking about modern solo piano music.  To be clear, this is not a discussion about classical piano music written by the "great masters."  But rather, the "great masters" of today in the world of solo piano.  At least I would call them "great masters."

Solo piano today, stylistically, is a combination of many different influences.  And, just like any other genre, each composer has his or her own "flavor" of composition.  The genre goes by many different names; "New Age" piano, "Contemporary" piano, and so on.  Often those who don't listen much to the "solo piano" genre, haven't done their research, or are classical piano purists will dismiss this style of music, saying that it lacks technique and artistry.  They couldn't be more wrong.  It's different from what they're used to, and the scope of technique and artistry is vast, varying from pianist to pianist.  It's an unfair and unjust assumption, and it's based purely on uneducated opinion in regard to "New Age" piano.

There is a very large market for New Age piano in today's world, and there is a very strong network of composers whose efforts have pushed this genre forward and into the public eye.  Of course there are the pioneers, who include David Lanz and Will Ackerman.  And there are those who've been around for a while like David Nevue, who with his "Whisperings" radio show and "Music Biz Academy" website have made invaluable contributions to the world of New Age music.  And there are newcomers on the scene who are helping to shape solo piano music and further it's evolution into something fresh and new.  Scott Davis comes to mind.

People who love New Age piano music are fiercely loyal.  Often they become fans of numerous artists, enmeshing themselves in the beauty of these compositions.   These are people who, typically, have a very open minded view where their tastes are concerned, ever expanding their palate to embrace more new and different material.  These people really "hear" the differences from song to song, album to album, artist to artist.  It's baffling to me how many highly educated pianists dismiss New Age music for reasons already stated, while many who can't play or sing a note embrace it.  And in discussion, the uneducated are much more engaging and less opinionated.  They have valid, creative things to say on the subject of solo piano, where the former group have critical words and a demeaning spirit.  One doesn't have to wonder who's really more open, honest and receptive in their listening.

Solo piano music is certainly an enigma in and of itself in the year 2012.  Its own style with it's own following.  When I compose, I always begin with piano, and nothing else.  Sometimes the piece stays that way, and there's nothing to be added.  Sometimes, in my mind, there needs to be more.  Strings, pads, percussions, the possibilities are endless.  And what a journey it is to explore all of those possibilities.  "Piano driven" music is my specialty, and I'm finding more artists who compose this way all the time.  It just may be the next hottest thing in the piano world!

To listen to fresh, new, "piano driven" music, check out my online radio station at  I know most of the artists personally, and I can tell you that they're great people with even greater dreams and visions for our world, both socially and musically.  Keep searching, and keep listening!

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!

A Connection Between Music and Baby?

I recently had a son.  He's five months old today, and I'm very proud of my boy.  Last November when he was born, I couldn't help but look immediately at his hands as he came into the world.  Being a full time pianist, my eyes immediately looked in that general direction (And btw, he's got very big hands and very long fingers : ).  I asked myself some questions about him, and what his experience in this world would be like.  Some of those questions, of course, pertained to the world of music.

I've learned that my son, whose name is Leif, already has an appreciation for music.  And he recognizes certain pieces.  He's comforted by it, and as a newborn, music was often the only thing that would calm him as he was having a bout of colic.  Where the vacuum cleaners, car rides, and pacifiers all failed, music was able to come through for us.  And not just any genre of music either. 

I made an interesting discovery after Leif was born.  What he heard in the womb was familiar to him, clearly.  He recognized my voice, and of course my wife Barbara's voice  as well.  But he also recognized my music.  During the last two trimesters of Barbara's pregnancy, I had hit my peak work season.  I was preparing for my "October" CD release, and finishing up in the studio.  I was also preparing for my annual "Sounds Of The Night" concert in October, my "Vince Guaraldi And The Peanuts" concert weekend in November, and my "Winter Solstice IV" concert at Witherspoon Hall here in Omaha.  Any of these events on their own were a huge undertaking, and I was swamped like never before.  As a result, I was practicing night and day for months in addition to the marketing of the shows, securing of details, CD production, and daily lessons.  Needless to say, I was a busy guy. 

Barbara was used to listening to me practice at home.  There was no way to get away from it, really, as it was almost constant.  She used to tell me that when I played, Leif would stop kicking, and I was skeptical.  Skeptical that is, until he was born.

Leif was a very colicky child for several months.  He would scream at the top of his lungs and stay on pitch for hours.  He'd turn red and purple.  Nothing we did would end the incessant screaming.  Except when I played the piano.  And particularly, when I played my pieces.  It was fascinating to watch!  He would instantly stop, look at me, look around, and sit for a few minutes before finally falling gently asleep.  I'd never seen anything like it.

Admittedly I was a little embarrassed to have been skeptical in the first place.  After all, I'm a musician, shouldn't I have had a little more faith in the power of music?  But over the last five months what I've come to discover is that through this experience, I hold music at an even higher level than I did before.  I've always believed music to be extremely powerful.  But now, I know that it's an unstoppable force when it's crafted as such.  I believe that music has the power to move people to go places they could only imagine before, and heal people in ways that no medicine can.  I may even go so far as to say that it has the power to move mountains.  After all, it did stop my son's colic.

To you mothers who are reading this article and expecting, please don't take this lightly.  Those people who play Mozart to their babies who are still in the womb are not "weird" or "crazy."  The influence that music has in the mind and soul of an unborn baby (and a born baby for that matter) is valid and it's real.  Give it a try, you might learn something!  I did.  And I have my son Leif to thank for it.

Donovan Johnson is an internationally recognized New Age pianist and recording artist. His music combines folk, classical and contemporary styles to create a unique sound all it's own, and is available  through many websites and radio stations.  To learn more, visit his website at Or visit his online New Age piano radio station at!