One of the things I was hoping to do by hosting my house concert series in Florence, Oregon was to give some of the local artists a place to perform without having to rent a hall. One such artist is Milo Graamans, a young pianist/composer from Yachats, OR, who has attended some of the concerts here. I have watched quite a few of his YouTube videos and have been very
impressed. He is performing a number of concerts on the Oregon Coast this summer, and I’m very excited that one of those will be in my home on August 27th. Milo has also written a musical, She Loves Me Not
, as well as songs and piano pieces in a variety of styles. We did this interview via email in later July 2016. Enjoy getting to know Milo!
KP: Hi Milo! I’m really looking forward to your house concert here in Florence, OR next month! It sounds like you have several concerts lined up on the coast this summer. Where else are you playing in the next few months?
MG: I just performed in Yachats and Newport, and my next two concerts after yours are in Siletz (house concert, 9/11) and at the Lincoln City Cultural Center (9/30).
KP: I know from your website and YouTube videos that you are a very versatile pianist. What kinds of music are you planning to play for us?
MG: I try to include as much variety as I can. I always include some classical, some ragtime, and some original music – and usually a couple of other styles, depending on how the program comes together. My original music often falls into a singer-songwriter or folk-rock category (for lack of a better term), but I’ve been known to occasionally write in a classical style, too.
KP: Are most of your compositions for solo piano? I know you’ve written a musical, but aside from that, is most of it solo piano?
MG: Sometimes solo piano, sometimes vocal. The vocal music is usually adaptable to various instrumentation – so I could do a piano/vocal, or band/vocal, version of the same song – or occasionally an instrumental variant on it. I haven’t written anything specifically for other instruments that I’m particularly proud of.
KP: YET! As a big fan of ragtime piano, I’m hoping you’ll be playing some of that, too. I used to play ragtime a lot more - when I had students who were advanced enough to play it - but have set it aside for a while. I’m hoping you’ll inspire me to pull out my ragtime books again! Do you have any favorites?
MG: I pretty much like anything that Scott Joplin wrote... For a while, “Gladiolus Rag” was an easy favorite... but I’m working on expanding my Joplin repertoire, so another one may beat it to first place.
KP: I love “Gladiolus Rag”! “Maple Leaf Rag” is fun to play, too! I also really like “Magnetic Rag,” which was the last rag Joplin wrote before he died. It’s much more minor-key than most rags. Joplin wrote so much great music, but most people are only familiar with “The Entertainer.”
I’ve started playing “Maple Leaf Rag” in A major instead of A-flat, just because I need to keep it fresh after performing it so often... The two most recent additions to my repertoire are “Paragon Rag” and “Solace,” which aren’t quite polar opposites of each other, but they’re definitely different!
KP: Yes! The Spanish rhythm of “Solace” makes it a real stand-out from other rags! I never thought of playing “Maple Leaf” in A! I prefer flats anyway, but that’s a really interesting approach to keeping it fresh! On a different topic, I have read that you have completed a full musical, She Loves Me Not. Tell us about it.
MG: Yes... She Loves Me Not is about a young woman introducing her college boyfriend to the family the day before she comes out as a lesbian. Porthole Players, Ltd., in Newport, did a staged reading of the show in July 2014 – which was successful enough that we were petitioned to add an extra performance in Yachats. Then we brought it to Lincoln City and Florence on a one-night-only basis. There is some talk about doing a fully staged production in a few years, but I don’t have any public details on that yet. I usually sample some of the music from SLMN at my concerts... because, why not?
KP: I think you should! And yes, why not? Writing a musical is a very major accomplishment for a young composer! Have you lived in Yachats, OR all of your life? [Yachats is about 26 miles north of Florence.]
Mostly. I was going to school in Eugene [University of Oregon] for a year and a half, but aside from that I’ve been living in Yachats all my life... until recently. I just moved up the road to Newport this month. I found myself commuting to Newport for shows and gigs more often than I was actually spending time in Yachats, so it was a way of cutting back the driving without changing my routine.
KP: Makes sense! When did you start playing the piano?
MG: I started taking lessons at the age of 4.
KP: Were your piano lessons mostly classical?
MG: My first piano teacher, Jessica Treon of Waldport, who I studied with from the age of 4 until I left for college at 19, does a wonderful job of adapting her lessons to what the individual student needs. Thanks to her, I got my classical background, but was not ever discouraged from branching out into ragtime and folk and other styles. At university, the entire program was classically based (which was one of the reasons why I didn’t graduate, as I knew I couldn’t stick to only one style of music).
KP: I’ve heard a lot of really good things about Ms Treon, but I didn’t realize she was your teacher! When did you start composing music?
MG: The Oregon Music Teachers Association has several annual festivals and recitals for the young students to participate in. One of these festivals has an option for students to perform an original composition, which could, if selected, be published in a book. I think I felt obligated to do the compositions, but I didn’t write anything I was happy with until I was 12... I wrote a 2-minute, classical-style piece of music, which I (somewhat inaccurately) titled “Song.” I still play it occasionally. But inspiration is a funny thing... Throughout my teens I composed a lot, but wasn’t happy with the bulk of it. I’m getting a higher yield rate now – I’m not composing as much, but more of what I do write is usable.
KP: Interesting! When did you start performing?
MG: As mentioned in my last answer, OMTA encourages regular performance. I probably started when I was 4, as that’s when I started taking lessons. It may have been a couple years after, I don’t actually remember. My first solo recital was at the age of 15, and that was the only time I ever performed an all-classical program.
Who have some of your music influences been?
MG: There are quite a few, many of whom I’m not even fully conscious of. One of the earliest influences I remember would be my uncle, Ian Smith, who is a guitarist and a prolific songwriter. There are a number of other people in my family who play music, at least for fun; and music on the stereo would always be inspiring. Over the years, I’ve gone through various composers and artists who I would listen to repeatedly for inspiration... Andrew Lloyd Webber, Girlyman, Pentatonix, PostModern Jukebox, Team Starkid, Beethoven, Holly Near... just to name a few. But I’m also constantly inspired by many of the musicians I get to work with as well.
KP: Who are some of your favorite composers?
MG: That really varies from year to year. Just including classical composers for argument’s sake, this year I’ve been looking into Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy in particular... but I think it’s more about the composition than the composer. I may have a couple favorite pieces by one composer, but not be very intrigued by other material in their oeuvre.
KP: I totally agree with that. Some of the same composers have written both my favorite and least-favorite music. When did you discover a passion for the piano?
MG: I don’t remember a particular moment, so I think it was early on. It’s definitely renewed every time I have one of my own gigs coming up.
KP: Have you released any recordings yet?
MG: I have a live CD that is the entire concert I gave in Yachats on 6/7/15. It was not professionally recorded, but it is available on Bandcamp and in person. I’m planning to release another live CD that reflects the format my concerts have evolved into more recently... so I’m taking audio at all of this year’s concerts so I can pick and choose the best takes and the best music that is original or public domain... and I hope to have something I’m proud of by the end of this year. ... I don’t know if I have any interest in doing a studio album, because I find that whenever I try to record music at home, I just do it over and over again and am never happy with it – because it’s missing the adrenaline rush from the live audience. Also, a live recording is understood as “live” and doesn’t have to be 100% free of any slightest glitch.
KP: Have you settled on a specific goal for your music or are you seeing where the roads or paths take you for now?
I’m keeping my options open. I like where I’m at now, with a church job, one regular accompanying gig, musical theatre, and my own concerts – so I intend to stick with this until I get an indication that something has to change. I’m not planning to finish my music degree unless at some point in the future I need the degree in order to get an opportunity.
KP: Are any of your family members musicians?
MG: Quite a few... particularly aunts, uncles, and grandparents... although my mother is a singer, as well.
KP: Do you plan to teach?
MG: No. I’ve been asked about this by several people, but I don’t think I would be good at teaching – or I wouldn’t have the patience for it. I don’t mind leading rehearsals – and I’d be open to doing something more along the lines of a masterclass, should that ever come up, but I’m not keen on having regular students.
KP: I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” It sounds kind of sarcastic, but there is a lot of truth in it. And I’ve been teaching for 35 years! Being a good musician doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be a good teacher for the very reasons you so wisely mention. A bad teacher can do a lot of damage to students. You might feel drawn to teaching later on, but it’s certainly okay if you don’t! If you could have any three wishes, what would they be???
MG: The only one that immediately comes to mind is to wish for more compassion in this world. Everything else seems selfish.
KP: More compassion would certainly make a lot of wishes come true! What has been your most exciting musical experience so far?
MG: Last November, I played in the pit orchestra for a local production of Avenue Q. We had a really amazing group of musicians, and it was one of the best musical scores I’ve had the opportunity to play.
KP: Is there a particular philosophy or point-of-view that you try to express in your music?
MG: Not consciously... but I’m a pacifist, and pretty liberal about a lot of issues – so maybe that shines through inadvertently. Of course, the music in She Loves Me Not was less subtle, thanks to the use of lyrics.
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
MG: Wow, I think you’ve covered more bases than had even occurred to me. I think that’s it!
Many thanks to Milo Graamans for taking the time to chat! For more information about Milo and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.