Album: Landscapes of the Heart
Artist: Gary Schmidt

13529258_853620998077913_7654894386600312866_nPianist Gary Schmidt is one of blessed individuals in this world with the talent and the opportunity to follow his passion and create a life out of it, while at the same time uplifting others through his music and teaching. My recent interview with Gary revealed a lot about his motivation and creative process, which I will share in this feature article. In his words: “I have been very fortunate in life to have been doing music now full time for over 30 years. It has been quite the journey. It really is who I am and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I see it both as a calling, a responsibility, and a great honor. What higher purpose could there be than to try and bring a little more beauty and inspiration into our world.”


Gary did not have to wait long to discover his calling in life. As he shared: “My mother loved Gary Schmidt - Canegieclassical music. At a pretty young age I heard an album of Rubinstein playing Liszt and was immediately hooked and made the decision right then and there that I would be a pianist when I grew up. Among my primary influences were the great classical composers, particularly Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Rachmaninoff. My favorite pianist is Gulda as he plays both classical and jazz at the very highest level. All my formal training is in classical piano however, over the past few years, I found myself branching out into this more meditative approach to playing and writing. I originally released two albums called Sacred Spaces, which were all original pieces of meditative piano music. I didn’t give them any names, as I just wanted people to experience the music freely. I originally was just doing it for friends but it seems to have been taking on a life of its own and even led to performing some of them at Carnegie Hall last October as part of Enlightened Piano Radio’s gala concert.” Gary’s new album release should reach a wide audience as it is being promoted by Sherry Finzer and her RS Promotions company.


gallery-small-imagineWith this move into the new age music genre, Gary could not have made a better choice for recording his new album, Landscapes of the Heart, than at the iconic Imaginary Road Studios with the premier production team of GRAMMY winner and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, and co-producer/engineer Tom Eaton. Additional benefits included access to a number of Will’s world class studio musicians, and the use of the studio’s highly customized Steinway piano which has graced the albums of some of the finest artists in this genre.



Will & Tom in the studio

Will & Tom in the studio

Here, Gary talks a bit about this exceptional opportunity: “Working with Will Ackerman andTom Eaton at Imaginary Road was an incredible experience. What I really came to respect from Will was his complete dedication not only to his art but his real emphasis of writing from and playing from the heart. He was also very forthright but in a good way as he really forced me to grow as an artist. At times he would really like something but would ask for a rewrite of a section or two. I will tell you that his instincts are very astute and the rewrite was always much better once I completed it. Will gets a lot of the press but working with Tom as an engineer was also great. He is an absolute wizard at recording and mixing. He made several musical decisions that definitely helped take the album to another level.”


With regard to the focus and inspiration behind this recording Gary shared: “The title of the album Landscapes of the Heart is evocative of the idea that I wanted to try and capture a range of human emotions and also that true life always happens at the level of the heart. I got the title idea from a chapter of one of my favorite books on healing and spirituality called The Seekers Guide by Elizabeth Lesser, which makes use of the metaphor of the inner human spirit as having various landscapes. So for this recording I wanted to write something that hopefully people would find healing and restful and also try to cover some of the different emotions we experience and face as part of the universal human experience.”


Eugene Friesen

Eugene Friesen

The title for the first track, “The Beauty We Love,” draws its inspiration from a poem by the famous 12th century mystic Rumi who wrote: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” On this composition, Gary had the opportunity to work with a particularly gifted accompanist, which he describes in this way: “It was great working with Eugene Friesen, one of the most respected cellists in the U.S. – a professor at Berklee and winner of four GRAMMY awards for his work with the Paul Winter Consort. He just improvised on top of what I had recorded which added a whole new layer of richness and emotion.” The feeling that was evoked for me in Gary’s beautiful piano work was that of striving or reaching for something lofty, while Eugene’s cello had an earthy soulful quality that complimented it perfectly in a balance of heaven and earth.


The title of the next song, “When the Silence Speaks” is reflective of its serene ambiance and the11760337_703368866436461_1095705546425449291_n gentle flowing arpeggios that characterize the piece. Tom Eaton provides subtle accompaniment on bass. I would like to mention that in addition to his work as an engineer/producer, Tom is a talented musician who plays a wide variety of instruments and is also featured on many recordings at Imaginary Road. I recently wrote an article about his own recent release Indesterren. Track 3, “Reaching for Romance,” reprises Gary’s collaboration with cellist Eugene Friesen. According to Gary: “This piece is about the feeling of being on the edge of wanting to reach out in romance to someone new but having the somewhat natural questions and fears we all face when romance is new. The piece makes use of harmonies that are just a bit outside of their normal resolution which I think adds a natural longing feeling to the piece.”


I was intrigued by the title “Waltz in Two Four,” since the standard time signature for a waltz is three-four time. But as Gary explains: “I frequently like to make use of multiple time signatures alternating, even in succession. So for example the intro has a pattern of one measure of 3 / 4 followed by two measures of 2 / 4. The piece struck me as feeling waltz like but of course one could never dance a waltz to it!” He goes on to describe his accompanist in this way: “Charlie Bisharat’s violin playing of course is second to none. He has played with over 200 of the top artists in the country including the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Neal Diamond and Mariah Carey, all the way to more contemplative people like Yanni and John Tesh.” The ambient wordless vocals of long time Will Ackerman collaborator, Noah Wilding, are also heard on this graceful and elegant track. Another song that makes use of multiple time signatures is “You Already Have Wings” features the maestro Ackerman himself on acoustic guitar, along with Tom Eaton on percussion, and the wonderful Jill Haley on English horn. For Gary, the title is about the recognizing that you have much more hope and strength in you than you might realize.


On tracks 7 and 8 Gary delves into a couple “cover tunes” that reflect his classical roots. They are “Gnossiennes 1” and “Gnossiennes 5” by minimalist composer Erik Satie. While these solo piano pieces have a somewhat different feel stylistically, especially the first one, I thought they added a nice touch of diversity to the album and highlight Gary’s range as a pianist. Track 9, “Restless” was written by Gary after Will suggested that he experiment a little more with the minor keys. His placing emphasis on the 5 beat of a 6th beat pattern and making use of some unusual key relationships gives the piece a haunting feel. Following this are three emotionally expressive tracks, “A Dawn I Remember,” “This New Day,” and “Between Two Worlds,” that flow gently to the recording’s special ending.


1610980_703369629769718_5387389760592867504_nThe album’s final track, a solo piece entitled “Solus” has an interesting story behind it. As Gary describes: “Solus was specifically written for the end of the album. I wanted to create a kind of musical Coda or summary. The term Solus is an old Latin word, which literally means “A man alone with his thoughts” (from which we get the English word soliloquy). For in this album I was alone with my thoughts trying to express different emotional landscapes that I have been through and know also to be true of the universal human experience.” It does make for quite a fitting end to this beautiful album. Gary’s abilities as a pianist and composer are impressive and his desire to infuse his music with a spirit of inspiration elevates it to another level altogether.


And I can think of no better way to conclude this feature article than give the final words to Will Ackerman who had this to say about Gary and his music: “Gary Schmidt’s piano compositions clearly reflect his knowledge of and appreciation of classical music.  His technique is refined and his ability to move between classical influences and his own distinctive melodies is seamless. Landscapes of the Heart is a marvelously successful tour de force of heart and mind; emotionally evocative and rewarding and is an important contribution to the evolution of contemporary piano and should not be missed.”



Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album:



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