There are a lot of things that I really enjoy about teaching piano, but one of the aspects I enjoy the most is turning students and their parents on to some of my favorite contemporary composers. I discovered the music of Wayne Gratz five or six years ago when it was included in Narada’s New Age Piano Sampler - one of the first printed collections of so-called new age music. I fell in love with Wayne’s three songs in that book, and bought his first album, Reminiscence, to hear more of his music. That album quickly became and continues to be one of my favorites. A few years later, two of Wayne’s songs were included in The Narada New Age Piano Solos album and book, and I fell in love with his music all over again. Students were joining me in my enthusiasm for Wayne’s music, so three years ago I decided to see if I could make contact with him through David Lanz’ former assistant. Happily, Wayne called me a short time later, and said he’d enjoy doing an interview. We spoke on the phone several times doing the first interview, and have stayed in touch by phone and through letters since then. I’ve always found Wayne to be as warm, gentle, and direct as his music, and the people I have spoken with at Narada who know him always say immediately what a nice person he is. Students have been learning Wayne’s six pieces that are included in books, and he has also honored us by sending me several of his songs that are not available anywhere else. He promises to send more as he gets them transcribed for piano solo, and it’s always a very special treat when one arrives! This is music that needs to be heard, and I will continue to do everything I can to be sure that everyone around here hears it!
Wayne Gratz was born on June 19, 1954, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was the second of three sons born to Jack and Wilda Gratz. Jack, now retired, was an industrial engineer for AT&T, and Wilda is a housewife and mother (there is no retirement for either of her careers!). Bruce, the oldest of the brothers, played guitar. He is now a furniture-maker in Vermont. Kevin, the youngest, took piano lessons, and now makes industrial videos for AT&T. The family moved to Reading, Pennsylvania when Wayne was five. Wayne’s mom played the piano “a little”, but it was Mrs. Biedler, Wayne’s kindergarten teacher, who really turned him on to music. He says that she would stand at the piano and play kids’ songs, and her students would sing along. She had a really great time playing the piano, and Wayne loved to watch the way she made the keys bounce. He started lessons shortly after that with the lady down the street from where he lived. He took lessons for five or six years, and then continued on his own. When he was taking lessons, he was not encouraged to improvise or compose. Those motivations were within himself, and came out later. When he was about twelve, Wayne started listening to records and making up his own solos. Early in high school, he joined a couple of rock bands, and stayed with a group called MacBeth until he was twenty. He started writing songs for MacBeth when he was about sixteen.
Along with music, Wayne was an avid and talented swimmer. He started swimming on the local pool’s swim teams during the summer when he was seven, and continued until he was seventeen. He also swam for four years on his high school’s swim team, excelling in the butterfly and individual medley, and worked as a lifeguard for three summers. He was offered several athletic scholarships for college, but turned them down to stay focused on his music.
Wayne says that he probably knew when he was five and just starting to get into music that this is where he would center his life. His parents have always been very supportive of his musical goals, although they weren’t into the long-haired rock ’n’ roll phase. Wayne started making money playing music when he was fifteen. He and the groups he belonged to played at pool parties and other events, and he started touring during and after high school. During spring break in 1976, he toured to Florida, where he found so much demand for musicians that he decided to stay. He attended Seminole Community College, studying computers, and earned his two-year degree there. He then went on to the University of Central Florida for a year, but got burned out from studying so much and playing music six nights a week. He decided to take a year off, and says he is still taking that year off. While he was in college, Wayne took some music courses, but most of those were composing following the guidelines of classical composers such as Bach. He says that he doesn’t use any pre-set guidelines when he is composing now.
After graduating from high school, Wayne had several jobs to supplement his income from performing. One job was as a stock-boy. Another was packing boxes at a knitting factory. After college, he worked part-time as a computer programmer.
In 1978, Wayne and several other musicians formed the band, Paradise. The group is still very active, and plays mostly conventions in the central Florida area, although they often travel to other parts of the state. Paradise plays mainly dance and party music for people to have a good time to, and Wayne keeps his more serious piano work completely separate from his work with Paradise. The Orlando area has a large number of big hotels that attract a lot of conventions, so Paradise generally plays two -three times a week, and often more. Wayne sings and plays guitar as well as playing piano and keyboards for the group, and says that Paradise plays mostly cover music (music written and/or recorded by other people). In 1982, a video that Paradise sent to MTV was shown on “Basement Tapes”. They played a song that the group wrote called “Radio”. Wayne says that if his solo career takes off, he will probably leave Paradise. One of the other members is also pursuing a solo career, but hasn’t been able to land a recording deal.
In 1988, Wayne started seriously composing piano music. He made up a demo tape of some of his songs, and sent copies to several new age recording companies whose addresses he had written down during a visit to a record store. The people at Narada were very favorably impressed, and signed Wayne to a recording contract. The resulting first album was “Reminiscence”, which was released in 1989. (Included on that album are “Rain on the Pond”, “Going Home”, “Flight of the Seagull”, and “The Shallows” - songs that many students have learned.) In 1990, “Panorama” was released. It, too, is a gorgeous collection of piano music, but it didn’t have as much promotion as “Reminiscence” and didn’t sell as well. Over the next three years, Wayne contributed songs to Narada collections such as “The Wilderness Collection” (“Ocala” - another favorite to play!), “A Childhood Remembered” (“The Green Room”), “Narada Christmas Collection 2”, “Piano Solos”, and “Romance”. Wayne’s third album, “Follow Me Home” was released in 1993, “Blue Ridge” in ‘95, and a new album called “A Gift of the Sea” is due out any time.
In addition to the piano, Wayne plays guitar and synthesizer. He taught himself to play guitar, and plays it on a couple of the cuts on “Panorama”. Wayne’s main musical influences have been Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, John Williams, and Aaron Copland. Some of his favorite composers are those just listed as well as David Foster. His favorite musical performers include Peter Gabriel, Riki Lee Jones, and Lyle Lovett.
Although performing with a band doesn’t bother him at all, Wayne says that playing solos concerts makes him tremendously nervous. He has only played one solo concert so far at the Enzian Theater in Orlando in February 1991. Once he gets his nerves calmed down, he’ll do more solo piano concerts. His long-range goal as a musician is to be touring and doing concerts.
Wayne hasn’t been commissioned specifically to write music for commercials, soundtracks, or television, but several of his songs have been used behind sporting events such as the Olympics in Barcelona, The US Open Golf Tournament, and The Breeders’ Cup. Hearing his music on The Olympics was his most exciting musical moment to date. Entertainment Tonight also used “The Shallows” on a video clip. He says he has several favorites of his pieces, but that he probably enjoys playing “Flight of the Seagull” most. He also really likes several of the songs on “Blue Ridge”, including “A Heart in the Clouds”, which he sent us. He feels that people need to hear all of his songs to get an idea of who he is because of his changing moods and feelings - they are all reflected in his music.
Since I wrote the original interview, Wayne has had a full recording studio installed in his home. He says that this has changed how he goes about composing because he composes from the piano, records the piano parts first, and then adds the synthesizer parts and orchestrations on digital tape. Wayne often records himself improvising, and goes back through his tapes later to find parts that he likes. These are sometimes the inspiration for new songs. Once he has the songs completed at the piano, he goes to his computer (a Macintosh) to do the arranging and orchestrating.
Wayne says that what he enjoys playing the most is the music that he hasn’t written yet. He loves to improvise at the piano, and often finds himself playing late into the night. Wayne’s music is extremely personal, and is based on his own feelings about people, places, and experiences. He doesn’t usually have a specific idea when he starts to write a song, but when an idea comes into his head that matches the music with a remembered place or feeling, the experience is very special. He tries very hard to match the titles of his pieces with the feelings he is describing so that others can relate and share the experience.
I asked Wayne if there were stories behind some of the pieces that students are playing, and these are the ones he sent:
Flight of the Seagull: There is a very interesting story behind the title of “Flight of the Seagull”, a piece many students have learned. Several of us agreed that seagulls must fly a lot slower in Florida than they do in California since this piece has such a slow, graceful flow. It turns out that Wayne originally titled the piece “Statue of the Seagull”, and somewhere along the line, it got unintentionally changed! He said this was a piece that went back to his childhood, and recalled a family vacation that included a visit to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. There is a statue there of Brigham Young, the founder of the church, with a seagull to commemorate when the seagulls came and ate the locusts that were destroying the Mormons’ crops. Now it makes a lot more sense to me!
Rain on the Pond: Wayne used to live in a townhouse that had a pond behind it. He wrote the song to describe the peace as the storm approaches. The song then takes a dramatic change, becoming a musical description of the thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Then the storm passes over and everything is calm again.
So Close doesn’t really have a story.
Cypress: Wayne used to take a lot of canoe trips down a river in Florida, and there were a lot of Cypress trees and Spanish moss along the route. This is his description.
The Green Room is about Wayne’s experience finding his first salamander as a child.
A Heart in the Clouds is about romance on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
The Shallows is about a place in The Bahamas. He and a friend were out walking on a tidal bay that didn’t have any water in it. By the time they were ready to come back, the tide had come in and the bay was full of water, so they had to swim back.
Going Home was composed right before a Christmas trip home to Pennsylvania. Wayne wrote the song while he was waiting for Karen to pack and do the things necessary to take a trip.
On the more personal side, Wayne enjoys fishing, traveling, and making things out of wood. He finds a sense of serenity by the ocean, and spends as much time as he can near the water. He says that he often thinks of the titles of his songs when he is at the ocean, and feels a sense of awe looking out over the water. His favorite colors are the colors of the sunset - red, yellow, blue, and purple. Wayne isn’t married, but his longtime girlfriend lives with him, and her daughter is there part-time. The Gratz family also includes a 13-year-old American Eskimo Spitz named Lexy who is always nearby when he is playing the piano. If Wayne could have any three wishes, they would be:
1) for everyone to have a home
2) to have a successful career
3) for The Miami Dolphins to win the ‘97 Superbowl (this is always one of Wayne’s Christmas wishes!!)
I asked if Wayne if he had any words of advice for young people studying music now, and he suggested learning to improvise and to play as many styles of music as possible. He said to start composing early, and to always follow your heart when composing.
Many thanks to Wayne Gratz for his continued interest in our group, and for taking the time to do an updated interview. Very best wishes for a huge success with the new album, too!