Gratitude List 1850

(1) Really good coffee, this Supreme Roast from WinCo’s. It’s made me a consistently nice morning cup for quite a few days now–and sometimes a pleasant afternoon cup as well.

(2) My daughter and I have been enjoying a nice “correspondence” of exchanging voice texts back and forth on our iPhones. Grateful for my daughter, and grateful for my iPhone–without either of which this correspondence would not be happening.

(3) Grateful for the local Latah Recovery Center, where there will be a noon meeting soon, and general peer counseling and direction towards all kinds of resources. It’s a great place to hang out, where one feels unafraid to discuss one’s issues.

(4) Really grateful for the church and the Baldwin grand piano there. I should be able to get over there today and do more Christmas tunes — maybe “We Three Kings,” “The First Nowell,” and “Adeste Fideles.”

(5) The ground is packed with snow, and I might find myself knee deep on the trek to town. The good news is I’m no longer in California, where I might have the opposite experience (if you can picture it). There is a lot to be thankful for, on this earth.

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Gratitude List 1847

(1) Back in California, the Kids were calling me an “old man” even when I was still in my thirties. Up here in Idaho, none of the Kids call me old even though I am old.

(2) You get some bang for your buck with this LG external CD writer that goes for about $25 at Wal-Mart. You not only can burn but also play your CDs on it. I guess it can also write & play DVD’s as well–a realm I’ve not yet broached–but I believe I can now rent some decent movies for free at the library.

(3) I had been vomiting pretty regularly in the mornings till I learned of this diagnosis. Its been a long time now since I’ve vomited–well over three months, I believe.

(4) I’ve not yet finished selecting the twelve songs for the online album, but I’ve burned a number of CD’s to take to the Farmer’s Market this morning. There are only three of them left this season, and I don’t want to miss any of them. The Farmer’s Market here is a great community event, and it also has two busking stations and a stage for a live band, mostly all booked every Saturday. It’s a great way to connect with people in the community.

(5) With the better weather, I’ve been spending more time in nature again. With the bicycle still broken, I’m getting into a lot of long brisk walking. I walked seven miles yesterday, and throughout had interesting thoughts that I recorded in a voice memo on my iPhone. If I could regain and retain some of the freedoms I knew when I was homeless, without actually becoming homeless again, I bet I would live an incredibly rich and rewarding life.

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Homeless at the Piano

When I was homeless, I would wake up on a couple pieces of cardboard, sometimes set over dirt. Sometimes I slept on a ramp on the side of a Catholic church. I would wake when the sky was getting light, then wander into a nearby A.A. fellowship. There I would hit the bathroom for a quick clean-up before grabbing a cup of coffee.

Make that three cups. The coffeemaker there was a homeless lady with 30+ years of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember her commenting how I would sit at the meeting and appear to be calmer and calmer, the more coffee I drank.

There was a none-too-pretty picture of the self-serving homeless person, who would come into the Berkeley Fellowship, grab a cup of coffee intended for an A.A. member, and then leave the premises. I did not want to conform to that picture.

So I sat for an hour, listened and occasionally spoke. I heard many wise sayings in that room, from people who had effectively found recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse. Inwardly however, I knew I was mostly in it for the coffee.

There were also a few other ways for me to find a morning cup of coffee. Sometimes I would sleep in an illegal spot on campus near to a Starbucks. I’d have saved a buck and change from the previous night, and then I would get to sit in the Starbucks with a newspaper–almost looking like a “normal” person.

The Men’s Shelter had excellent Peet’s coffee along with oatmeal, eggs, bread, peanut butter and all kinds of morning goodies. This was also an option. But my favorite coffee was the Kirkland Columbian they served at the North Berkeley Senior Center.

And it was only forty cents.

Some mornings, I would get myself to the Senior Center as soon as it opened at eight. On some mornings, I was already coffee’d up from other sources. In that case, I would head straight to one of their pianos.

There were three pianos at the Senior Center. A nice Yamaha console upstairs, a Baldwin/Hamilton clunker in a corner room, and another decent Yamaha in the main auditorium. There, coffee was available, and lunch would be served for three bucks—or free if you were strapped.

But I didn’t want to play in the main auditorium. There were too many people there, and I did not want to disturb them. Often, when I tried to play a piano somewhere—at a church for example—I was told to stop using their piano due to “insurance issues.” I guess the days of playing in U.C. dorms and practice rooms were gone, and I was generally pretty piano-starved throughout my homeless sojourn.

As for the piano upstairs, there was too much interference in the environment. Yoga classes going on, people on exercise bikes, cramped quarters. So I gravitated toward the piano in the corner of the building, which happened to be situated right next to the pool room.

Though it wasn’t the best piano, I certainly got the best reaction I could have hoped for at the time. Usually there were about ten homeless guys shooting pool in the room next door. I could hear them cheering, sometimes after every tune. Sometimes they all appeared outside the door—smiling and clapping, and asking for more. Once one of the guys came into the room and started snapping his fingers beside me, groovin’ on the sounds. (I remember it was during the song “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael.)

So I was getting the best of both worlds—a bit of practice and a bit of positive attention. A far cry from the mostly negative attention I was receiving from elsewhere.

But one day, as I approached the room with the piano, I saw a sign on the pool hall:

CLOSED FOR REPAIRS

Disturbed, I approached the lady at the front desk to complain.

“Why’d you close down the pool hall?” I asked Laurie. “Those guys were my only audience!”

“Nothing personal,” she began, “but your friends were getting drunk at eight in the morning, and kinda wreaking damage to the building. We had to kick them out to fix up the place. They can’t be drinking like that on our property.”

“Well,” I retorted, “I didn’t even notice they were drunk! I just thought they were an unusually appreciative audience.”

At that, Laurie didn’t miss a beat.

“Well play out here then!” she suggested, pointing to the main auditorium.

“But if I do that,” I replied, “all you guys will be able to hear me.”

“We WANT to hear you!!” she shouted, as though trying to jolt me out of a delusion.

“Oh,” I said, sorta shuffling in my shoes. “Well, in that case, I guess you can be my audience.”

The sense of identity crisis that went through my head at that moment was quite profound. Why on earth would I only want to play the piano for other homeless people?

I think it was this. I had gotten so used to only being accepted by people who were outside, and being looked down upon by people who lived inside, I couldn’t imagine them doing anything other than to look down on me, even as I played the piano.

After all, my piano playing is not appreciated by all people at all times. Many people like it, but others don’t. Inside me, however, it was seen as something that gave me a sense of value. It separated me from the picture of the burned out homeless person, having lost all incentive, having lost all hope.

I did not want to hear the cries of derision and mockery from people who lived indoors– I heard them too often on the streets, and I had not permitted them to touch my musicianship.

Until now.

For now, I started playing every morning in the main auditorium, and was actually very surprised at the reception. Even a fellow from the Catholic church on whose ramp I slept stopped by, quizzically enjoying the music. Occasionally I received tips from homeless people who hung out all day in the computer room.

It wasn’t long before I was doing a full-on concert at the North Berkeley Senior Center. People filmed me on their smartphones, using those big tripods. I still have footage from the concert, to this day.

I remember it was a momentous occasion. I even delayed an opportunity to rent a room on the Russian River from a Facebook friend-of-a-friend. I remember Jonathan, one of the men who helped run the Senior Center, trying to persuade me to take the room instead. He thought I should have jumped at the chance to grab a rental far away from the scene of my chronic homelessness, on the beautiful Russian River.

“No way!” I told him. “That room can wait!”

Needless to say, I lost the opportunity to get the room due to my unusual set of priorities. I did however show up for the show—in as fine a form as ever. How I enjoyed the discussion, the smiles—all the applause from people in my age group, people who appreciated music just like me, and who just happened to live indoors.

After the last song, which I believe was “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” I was so happy I crossed over to the other side of the auditorium to grab another cup of coffee.

There, I was denied my coffee—for I did not have forty cents.

“Homeless at the Piano”
© 2022 Andy Pope

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Gratitude List 1818

(1) I have been offered a position as Assistant Musical Director of the musical PIPPIN at a regional theatre in Washington State. They also want me to teach singing at their Academy, have arranged for transportation for me to and from my home in Idaho, and have told me that they are interested in my musical.

(2) Hard to top that one, but my Harvey’s Tune has been sent to Harvey Brooks the composer and is sitting on the top of his timeline. My friend George shared it, and a friend of his is a friend of Harvey’s, so it landed with Harvey pretty quickly.  (He hasn’t heard it yet or said anything about it.)

(3) My column on the so-called Afterlife has been published at Spokane Faith and Values.

(4) Found a decent piano tuner who wasn’t overbooked and got my home piano tuned for the first time in about three years.   Really sounds great now, and I’m preparing to do recordings from home.

(5) During an unusually communicative conversation, Keva revealed that if I were to give her a definite deadline, she would be sure to have her work turned in by that day.  She agreed to a deadline of March 27th,.  I then told her to be sure to wish me a Happy Birthday on that day, because it would likely be the best birthday present I have ever received.

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Dark Holly

“Dark Holly” is a medley of various themes sacred & secular, based on the French version of the Christmas carol “The Holly and the Ivy.” This is not to be confused with the more well-known English version, which is in a major key. The French version is in a minor key — and my version is even darker.  I’ll try to lighten things up next week with maybe “Sleigh Ride” or something along brighter lines.   Enjoy —

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Gratitude List 1802

(1) Z’s singing lesson went well again & we also had a great conversation. I felt this rush of gratitude as soon as I started playing my standard vocal warm-ups. This is especially heartwarming considering that five or six years ago, I was fairly convinced I would never be able to use those skills again.

(2) Heard from Keva whose show has closed now so we can get back to the album. For those of you have already bought it, we may be doing touch-ups on a couple of the earlier five tunes, as we gradually put the next five together. Grateful for Keva’s professionalism.

(3) Thankful for my gig at the nursing home, where I met a really interesting pastor / long distance runner who just agreed to have lunch with me next week.

(4) Check it out: Over 4500 views on “An Affair to Remember.” I even got a couple of downvotes! I must be moving up in the world. :)

(5) Shivering last night, I grabbed a second blanket and suddenly felt the same gratitude I used to feel when I needed another blanket when I was shivering outdoors. I always said “Thank you Lord” as soon as the second blanket made the shivers stop — and I said those words last night as well. Nothing like feeling God’s got you covered! (Let that sink in.)

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Re: Name This Tune

I’ve received a number of equally correct answers to the question I asked in the previous post. However, since I also asked the question to the 150+ recipients on my Friday Piano List, I’m going to wait a while before revealing the answer. The “winner” will be the first person who told me the original, single-word title. This occurred at about one in the afternoon today.

Love Story

I’m taking requests now. I’m backlogged about five weeks worth of requests, and all of them are songs I’ve never played before. So this will be a learning experience. Thanks, Ashley Peterson, for the first request — good choice.   I’ll be back with “Circle of Life” next week, God willing.

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Taking Requests

I began making a podcast yesterday morning when I was in a depressed state. Actually, I’m not supposed to use the word “depressed” in this context (I am told) so as not to confuse my state with that of someone who suffers from Major Depression, which is a serious mental health condition. I’m supposed to say I was “despairing” — and anyway, that’s more accurate.

I disliked the podcast at the end of the day because my despair was interfering with the point I was trying to get across. I was going to just junk it, but when I got up this morning and started listening to it, I actually became jazzed. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, “jazz” is the opposite of “despair.”)

So I’m touching it up a bit. This could take several hours. But when I submit it (at some point today) it will seem as though I think today is Thursday. Please overlook that disparity. Today is Friday (I think.)

I’m ceasing to make much sense, so I’ll close. But first I want to ask if anyone has any requests, and I’ll try to play one of them on the piano. I tried yesterday but couldn’t think of any songs I could particularly get behind. So I’m taking requests.

Uh – please do not request “The Piano Man” by Billy Joel. It’s one of several songs I will refuse to play. You’ll find out what some of the others are as you request them.

All that said, request away.

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Tuesday Tuneup 110

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater efficiency.

Q. Why do you say this?

A. I feel as though I’m not managing my time very well.

Q. Has time management typically been an issue for you?

A. Let’s put it this way.  I once wasted an hour in a bookstore looking for a book on time management.

Q. How much time do you think you waste per day?

A. At least half the day.

Q. What can you do about this?

A. Well obviously, I gotta get off my rump.

Q. Do you see yourself a lazy person?

A. Not exactly lazy — that’s not my M.O.  I’m a person who generally enjoys working.   But I’m more like a spacey person — you might say, a scatterbrain.

Q. Absent-minded professor?

A. Adjunct comes closer.   Not exactly a full professor . . .

Q. But an absent-minded person?

A. Yessir.

Q. How long have you been this way?

A. All my life.

Q. Why do you think this is?

A. Something in my mental make-up.   My nature is to be more interested in what’s going on in my own head than in what’s happening in the world around me.

Q. When did this first begin to trouble you?

A. In 1976 when I was a student at the UOP Conservatory of Music.

Q. What happened then?

A. I found that I couldn’t concentrate on the reading load.  Especially Music History.

Q. What did you do about this?

A. I approached them and said I was having difficulty concentrating.

Q. What did they do about that?

A. They threw me into an intense kinda Freudian therapy group.   It had nothing to do with reading comprehension.  I was there with a bunch of other people who were having problems, and the facilitator of the group was this really mean guy who kept telling me how horrible I was.

Q. How long did you stay in the group?

A. Too long!   I finally walked out after six months or so.

Q. What happened then?

A. The head of the group essentially put a curse on me.   He said: “If you bail out now, you are going to be f—-d up for fourteen years!

Q. Fourteen years??

A. That’s exactly what he said.   The number fourteen.   I’ll never forget it.

Q. What happened throughout those fourteen years?

A. Well naturally I could never stop think about the curse!   I had good times and bad times, numerous office jobs, a few musician gigs, a couple failed efforts at college degrees, but I mainly just couldn’t get it out of my head how f—–d up I was supposed to be.

Q. What happened when the fourteen years were up?

A. This is the weird thing.  I know I was an impressionable young man, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed in that ridiculous group for as long as I did.   But I believe the effects of the curse from a stern male authority figure were deep-set.

Q. How so?

A. There came a day in the year 1990 when I had just finished a long-term temp contract with PG&E, and I had no idea how to pay my rent.  I was stuck in a tiny town near the Contra Costa Power Plant, feeling sorry for myself.   Then one day I got up and something was different.  I immediately went out and ran two miles and did a set a push-ups.   Then I got into the shower, and for reasons unknown to me, I started shouting:

“I am a child of God!  I am a child of God!!  I am child of the Most High King!  I am a child of God!!”

Then, stepping out of the shower — feeling absolutely wonderful — I saw that there was a message on my answering machine.  It was from a pianist whom I hardly knew who wanted to tip me off on a job she’d been offered.   The job was at a place called Gulliver’s Restaurant, in the city of Burlingame California.   This pianist, whose name was Tracy Stark, had decided to play on a cruise ship instead.  (Much better money).   So she was spreading the news of a possible gig.   (Musicians do help each other out this way, you know).

I put my best duds on, drove my Oldsmobile Cutlass down to the Bay Area, and hit the keys of a piano for the first time in six months.   It was a Yamaha C-3 baby grand, by the way.   When I touched the keys, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Aahh!!” I exclaimed, feeling as though I was back where I belonged in life.   I then played my medley of “My Favorite Things” and “Orphan in the Storm.”   The manager handed me a W-9 and said: “Welcome to Gulliver’s.”

The rest is history – or my own history anyway.  I sat on that piano bench four nights a week for the next nine years.

Q. What do you make of all this?

A. The therapist was a sadist, and I was a gullible, vulnerable young man with all kinds of insecurities that he played upon.   The “curse” was nothing but power of suggestion.   I gave the fellow that much power.   When fourteen years had past, God intervened.

Q. Say, is there a name for your condition?

A. I didn’t learn this until fairly recently, but it’s ADHD, of a severe variety.   And people nowadays say I’m neurodivergent, and somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Q. What can you do about it?

A. I think the answer is clear.   It’s the same answer for us all.   Trust in God – whomever you conceive God to be — and believe in yourself.

The Questioner is silent.  

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New Piano Album: “Pensive”

Recently I mentioned putting together twelve selections for a piano album. I’m in the process of preparing CD’s for the usual regulars, but at the same time I’ve already uploaded the album onto a SoundCloud playlist, so that the world can listen free of charge. If you like the album and you feel moved to make a donation, you can always do so anonymously by clicking where it says donate. There are expenses involved, and donations are always appreciated.

If anyone wants a CD, hit me with a postal address in the Contact Form and we’ll work something out. Hope you all like my work.

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Gratitude List 1553

(1) Grateful for the nice change in the weather the past few days.  Sunny and warm, the walk to the Dollar Store was very enjoyable.  I never noticed how beautiful it can be on Paradise Creek before.   Grateful for the sense of vigor and new energy that is brought about by Spring.

(2) Grateful once again for my church and especially for their letting me use the grand piano for my recordings and many of the spaces for scheduled rehearsals of my musical.   I was there late last night and got a lot of new piano music recorded.  In fact, I have enough for a new album now, and have been arranging it on a SoundCloud playlist.

(3) I’ve been learning so much from some of the people I’ve met on WordPress, in addition to some of the very well-educated people whom I’ve met her in town, that I often feel like I’m going to school again – yet without the pressure of things like deadlines, midterms and grades.

(4) Had a really good meeting with Liam yesterday.  We set a groundwork of stuff for each of us to do between now and summer, and also plan to involve Cody, to the end that we get something happening again this Summer, after everybody does their homework.   I was impressed with how well-organized and encouraging the meeting was.   There’s a sense of something very exciting being drafted on the down low, behind the scenes.   

(5) There’s a feeling of people hanging together a little more right now.   I feel it in the community, and in my church group, and on the blogosphere, and even on a bigger level.   I’m encouraged to see the way people are toughing it out.   Just when I think I’m alone, someone is there for me.   We all have a lot in common, at this time.   

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
    — Desmond Tutu 

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Over the Rainbow

I think this is the second of a number of takes I did of this song in recent days. I couldn’t surpass this one, because nothing I did afterward said what I wanted to say. As far as the song I did before this one, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”  Well, I did it over again because it just didn’t do it right.   And the song before that, “Everything Must Change?”  I figured it had to be changed.

You see, I’m compiling a new album that so far has nine tunes on it. I’m doing parts of certain tunes over again — and it’s an interesting project. Once I get to twelve tunes, I’ll put it all together, and let y’all know.   

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Why Don’t You Do Right?

“Why Don’t You Do Right?” is an old standard (1936) jointly composed by a couple of cats named Kansas Joe McCoy and Herb Morand.  I believe it was popularized by Peggy Lee and most associated with her rendition.   Andy Pope at the Baldwin Grand, April 16, 2021.

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Re: Everything Must Change

I briefly posted my version of “Everything Must Change” yesterday, prior to promptly removing it from the public eye upon recognition of bloopers too big to bear widespread disclosure.  

Specifically, I kept forgetting during my improv around the standard changes to enter into the repeated modulating passage that precedes the signature hook.  Anyone who knew the correct changes could easily raise their voice in justifiable objection.   So I had to remove the rendition before any further foreseen damage could be effected.

I’m headed up to the church at this moment, confident in my capacity to create a conducive restoration of the formerly misshapen theme.  So convinced am I in my competence to thereof, that I even have dared to announce it beforehand, though one knows not what the future brings.

The piece had been on my mind for two reasons.  One is that it seems fitting in this time of temporal transition, with Good Friday representing the power of Christ’s sacrificial love, wherein there is a death to the flesh in its formerly all-inclusive nature, to be followed by a promised rebirth of a far more transcendent form of life.   “Everything Must Change” can be said to embody this theme, in its core essence.

A second reason is that its chord progression resembles that of another piece that had crossed my mind recently; and that, in fact, I had already performed on a video recording.  “All in Love is Fair” is a song by Stevie Wonder that was popularized in roughly the same era as “Everything Must Change.”  Their chord progressions are similar though not identical.  My mind, while improvising around the progression to “Everything Must Change,” kept forgetting which tune it was that I was supposed to be embellishing.  Many odd short-circuitries of mortal mental prowess transpired.  The upshot was a failure to honor the essence of either piece.   A reconstruction of said construction is therefore in order.

That’s about it!  I’d hesitated to offer what might be interpreted as a mere disclaimer — but then I had a hunch that the explanatory information might be useful to someone, on some level.  I’ll be back within a few hours.    

Daylight

This is from Sunday the 14th, when Liam Marchant brought all his sound equipment to rehearsal. Among other events, Keva and I were able to make this new recording of “Daylight.”

The image, taken from my iPhone, is a view from directly outside my door.  

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Gratitude List 1654

(1) Taking a week off from EIB rehearsals was just about the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. I caught up on my sleep as well as on reading and housecleaning. Was also able to devote more time to my daughter and to my friends. Grateful for the power of rest.

(2) The first column in the five week series is beginning to take off, surprisingly enough. Though the essential message — having to do with stigma — is a challenge to articulate, I have confidence that after five weekly columns, I’ll have gotten the point across. Grateful for the opportunity.

(3) I’ve sold five new From a Distance piano albums already. Taking the cash bit by bit to the Dollar Store for groceries is reminiscent of a former time of thrift, when all throughout the 90’s I took my tip money four nights a week to a Lucky grocery store after getting off my regular gig at Gulliver’s Restaurant. Never had a food bill in those days, never had to go to a food bank, never went hungry.

(4) I was a new man when I arrived at the recording session yesterday. The spirit of professionalism was striking, and we nailed “Turns Toward Dawn” on the 3rd take. The way that Liam and Cody work together, both with expertise in their respective fields, neither having known the other before a few short weeks ago, is beyond impressive. After the session, we ran “Oracle.” This was the first time I’ve accompanied it since Cody took over teaching the choral parts, and it rocked. I was blessed — I was jazzed — I was proud.

(5) Grateful for my church, where I’ve been a member now for over 4 1/2 years. They have supported me in my best and put up with me in my worst. Very thankful for my new life in Idaho, after years of struggling on the San Francisco Bay Area streets.

Don’t lose faith. Promise yourself that you will be a success story, and I promise you that all the forces of the universe will unite to come to your aid; you might not feel it today or for a while, but the longer you wait the bigger the prize.   — George Bernard Shaw  

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In the Bleak Midwinter

I’m sure there have been bleaker midwinters than this (but I’m not sure when.)  The image on the soundcloud is right outside my door, at around eight in the evening last night.   The music behind the image conveys my thoughts around the theme of “In the Bleak Midwinter” — the Harold Darke setting to the words of Christina Rossetti (not to be confused with the more well-known setting by Gustav Holst.)  I hope you enjoy my thoughts.   

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New Album: “From a Distance”

It’s been about a year now since I’ve released a piano album.   From a Distance reveals the best of what I’ve been able to produce throughout the year when we’ve been social distancing and sheltering in place.   Unlike previous albums – which were recorded either with a Motorola or a Samsung smartphone, all selections were recorded with either an iPhone 11 or an iPhone 7.  The result is a much higher sound quality.  I listened last night, and it really gives the listener the feeling that they are attending a private live piano concert.  

Here are the twelve selections on From a Distance:

The Letter – Wayne Carson
Desperado – Glenn Frey & Don Henley
The Way We Were – Marvin Hamlisch
We Three Kings – John Henry Hopkins Jr.
In the Bleak Midwinter – Harold Darke
Be Thou My Vision – Traditional (Irish Origin)
All the Things You Are – Jerome Kern
Somebody Loves Me – George Gershwin
I Get a Kick Out of You – Cole Porter
I’ve Never Been in Love Before – Frank Loesser
Never Never Land – Jule Styne
From a Distance – Julie Gold

So far the album is available only on CD.  If (like some of us) you still have an affinity for that particular medium, why don’t you leave a mailing address in the Contact form, and I’ll pop one in the mail.  I do request a $15 donation.  (You can make that where it says “donate” below the page here, or get back to me if you don’t use PayPal.)

I really think you’ll enjoy it.  (I’ll also be posting my version of “In the Bleak Midwinter” in about an hour, and “From a Distance” next Friday.)

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