What I love most about writing music reviews and interviews is the opportunity to get to know more about some of the artists I really enjoy and to get to know more about their lives and the inspiration for their music. Janine De Lorenzo released her first two albums in 2018, but she is no newcomer to the music industry. Her story is fascinating and I think you’ll really enjoy getting to know her. We did this interview via email in February 2019.
KP: Hi Janine! How was your vacation in Australia? I hope it was relaxing!
JDL: Hi there, Kathy. It’s wonderful to finally have a moment to chat with you. Yes, I spent Christmas and all of January 2019 enjoying some time Down Under in the town I was born in, Melbourne. It was 85F and higher over Christmas and New Year - a typical Christmas in the Southern hemisphere! It’s all beach and sunshine and no snow to be seen there!
KP: I’ll bet that’s not what you came home to in Colorado! Do you still have a lot of friends and family in Australia?
JDL: Let’s just say I felt the pinch when it snowed here on my return. I do have many friends and family in Australia. I left Australia for the US when I was 40 years old, so I love to connect with all of my childhood and lifelong friends when I am there. My family is mostly based in Melbourne, Victoria, but my father lives in the quieter-paced city of Adelaide in South Australia and my sister lives in New South Wales up on the east coast. We were all reunited for Christmas for the first time in many years so it was a special time for us all. I also had the opportunity to play a few concerts while I was there which was a first for my family and friends to experience, since my performing as a solo pianist is a relatively new chapter for me in my musical life.
When did you move to Colorado?
Click on album covers to go to Kathy's
JDL: I began living in Denver, CO at the end of 2015, although I had visited numerous times before that.
KP: It seems that more and more of the artists I’m meeting are from Colorado. There must be something in the water and fresh air!
You released two phenomenal albums in 2018: your debut, I’ll Start in A Minor in April and A Classical Christmas Courtship in December. Both are on my annual list of Favorite Albums. Do you have plans for more releases in 2019?
JDL: Well, firstly thank you for the compliments about both of those albums. I am very proud of them and feel honored to have had you review them so favorably. And I was so excited to see that they are on your list of Favorite Albums for 2018. That is quite an honor for me, as I am well aware of the company I am amongst ~ some very well-known artists in the solo piano world. I have a heart and a head full of music, so I am counting on there being another solo piano release in 2019.
KP: I’ll be looking forward to it! Tell us a bit about the title for your debut album and what inspired the music.
Well, to explain the title, I have to go back to when I was 8 years old and I walked in to the home of Margriet Pendavingh, who would be my classical piano teacher for 13 years. Her piano teacher was taught by Franz Liszt so I come from a fine lineage! In April 2015, I visited her and invited her to play something with me on her two grand pianos. For Margriet, improvising without printed music in front of her was not her forte and at that stage she was also losing her sight, but she agreed to join me, asking what key I would play in. I said, “I’ll Start In A Minor” and she replied, “I’ll do it with you as long as you stay in the key.”
I have always loved to play in A minor which has emotional characteristics of tenderness, thoughtfulness, and grace. It was the perfect key for us to start in. We improvised together, creating music spontaneously, and it would be the last time I saw her as she passed away 8 months later. I hold a special place in my heart for her, that day we visited her for the last time, and the experience we shared together in A minor.
Janine & Margriet Pendavingh
So really, the name came first when I was moving towards the idea of releasing an album. I thought it would be a perfect place to house my music, which almost tells a chronological story of my life. Some of the pieces I composed well before I left Australia in 2004, like “Over And Over,” “Just Play” and “Reverence.” Others were the result of having a dedicated year to compose without distractions, like “The Light,” “Freedom” and “If I Can Reach You.” Some were specifically written with titles in mind like “Journey Home” and “I’ll Walk Beside You,” and others came from ideas I have been churning over for quite some time. Some of them came out of the realization that I had resilience in the face of adversity like “Answers” and “Reaching Upwards.” It just seemed fitting for me to dedicate this debut album to Margriet who was such an influential part of my music education and life.
KP: I always find it sobering to learn how much a teacher can affect a student’s life - especially having a student for a number of years.
A Classical Christmas Courtship pairs traditional Christmas music with classical pieces. Some of the combinations are really surprising! How did you ever come up with pairing Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie” with “ Deck the Halls”? They work flawlessly, but are such unusual combinations!
JDL: I am so glad you asked that question, Kathy. The idea for the album was born out of being asked to play a guest spot at a Christmas concert here in Denver in December 2017, and not really having anything prepared. I don’t usually fly on a wing and a prayer in a performance situation, but the main artist who people had come to hear was unwell, and at the last minute I was asked to play more than a song or two in the guest spot and fill 45 minutes! So backstage before playing, I had to search the internal hard drive in my brain for some Christmas music that was familiar to me. “Jingle Bells” came to mind and I decided to just play it in a free-form way, very lightly and gently to create a little subdued sparkle of the season. I realized that it was something that people enjoyed and that if played in a style that spoke to me, I could enjoy it too.
In 2017, I started doing concerts in our home and I began to build my tribe here in Denver. When Christmastime came around, I decided to play a concert at home on Christmas Eve. My partner, Melanie, thought I was crazy and that no-one would come! Three days before concert, as I was sitting at the piano working on what to play, she shared with me that she had just heard both Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on her car radio. That was it! So right then and there, I played both of those pieces together. I felt instinctively that one would hold hands and walk with the other if I introduced them! When I played that piece for my audience of 50 on Christmas Eve, I promised them there would be more to come and there would be a Christmas album a year later! On that night, A Classical Christmas Courtship was born.
KP: Great story! How long did it take to put that album together?
JDL: I spent a concentrated few weeks in the spring of 2018 putting together the songs, until I reached the combinations I was happy with. But even in July during the recording sessions with Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven, I swapped a few of the pieces around. Some of them were limping along or walking in opposite directions, and I wanted to create a seamless blend of two pieces that gave the impression that they were walking along hand in hand. To me it was like trying different ingredients until the perfect dish was created. Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1” and “Deck The Halls” came to me in the car while driving. I grabbed my iPhone and sent myself a voice memo with the names of those two songs so I would remember when I got home to my piano.
KP: Your journey to becoming a solo piano artist is one of the more interesting ones I’ve read about. Actually, it would make a great movie! Let’s start with your time with Cirque du Soleil. How did you get started with them?
In 1998, when I was visiting an Australian musician friend in Las Vegas who had just been recruited by Cirque Du Soleil to play cello and sing on one of their shows, I was able to sit in on a band rehearsal for the show. I was incredibly inspired, which prompted me to reach out to the casting department in Montreal with my profile and experience. I was asked to audition for them in Melbourne a few years later. It would be another 3 years before they offered me a role as keyboard player on a new creation now known as the show KA
in Las Vegas, which is still running at the MGM Grand today. Following that, I was musical director on Amaluna
- a big top show that toured North America and Europe. I was with the company for 12 years, contributing to the creation of two shows, performing more than 4000 shows at an incredibly high intensity level with other artists from all over the world, and contributing to the 10 shows we performed every week. Over that time period, I played for about 8 million people. It really was an amazingly colorful and incredibly enriching chapter for me - despite the hiccup I had on December 28, 2011 that tested my patience and shattered my dreams.
The KA band with Janine in the center.
Janine's KA costume.
KP: That must have been when you fell on the ice, breaking both wrists just a few weeks into the second show. How did you deal with that?
JDL: Not very well! It was the first time I had ever broken any bones. It was an unfortunate accident but now I see it was the universe slowing me down. I had been running at such a fast pace and obviously needed to stop for a while. I would’ve been satisfied with a sprained ankle instead of that precious part of me that I relied upon for my well being, both financially and emotionally. Obviously this meant I couldn’t play piano for quite some time, although I wanted to. 2012 was a tough year, but I did pull through it with the help and support of my loved ones, good surgeons, physiotherapists, and friends and family.
KP: I read that you returned to your piano teacher to help you regain the strength and agility you needed to continue playing. What kinds of things did she have you do?
JDL: Interestingly, Margriet had suffered an illness in her late teens and had to stop playing for a year. Her teacher also worked with her in the same capacity, and she in turn helped me. We were taking it right back to the basics: to retrain each finger to work individually, to feel the action and weight of the key, pressing it down, letting the key push my finger back up, relaxing my arm and shoulder muscles, and taking things very slowly. She really stressed the need to be relaxed at the piano, so we worked on that technique as well. I teach piano now and believe it or not, I am about to restart lessons with one of my 13-year-old students after breaking his wrist in a skiing fall, so the cycle continues!
KP: That’s pretty amazing! How long did it take to get your playing abilities back up to where they needed to be?
JDL: It took more than a year. I started playing again with the intention of getting my piano hands well 3 or 4 months after the surgery, and it was about a year before I was playing a show again. To be honest, I am still working on getting my playing abilities up to where I would like them.
KP: Do you have much pain in your hands when you play?
JDL: If I twist a certain way to reach notes I can feel pain. But mostly the pain occurs doing the little fiddly movements in day-to-day life like doing up a zip, opening tight jars or opening a Ziploc bag.
KP: Did you do any composing for the Cirque?
Each show has a composer and the music for the show is written and created for each acrobatic act, as well as the transitions between those acts. During the creation of a show, the musicians are in a position to add their flare, make suggestions and create on the fly. The on-the-fly composing can then lead to permanent inclusion in the show. Over time, the music for the shows does evolve and develop after opening night. It can morph and change due to a technical delay occurring where the music has to fill time, or when new acts are added to a show. Each show was a living breathing thing, which made it easy for me to play every night, as no two shows were exactly the same.
Here is a link to a video Janine did in 2010 that explains how the music comes together for the shows.
With so much precision required in the various performances, it’s really interesting that the shows keep evolving. What made you decide to leave Cirque and focus on your own music?
Janine's make-up for Amaluna.
Hot Bagels with Phyllis Diller.
JDL: I had been feeling the pull to take a different path and needed to create the time to dedicate to my own music. With the heavy performance and touring schedule, it simply wasn’t an option to do this concurrently. Also, since breaking my wrists, I gained a new appreciation for the gift I have and didn’t want to delay getting my music out there any longer. You might say I was pulled away from it by my own intuition. Or you could say that I ran away FROM the Circus!
KP: Hahaha! Before joining Cirque du Soleil, you did a lot of composing for Australian television and films. Tell us about that.
JDL: Aaah, yes. I fell into that chapter after beginning my performing career in Melbourne. I was involved in the theater improvisation world with some very talented actors, which led me to composing for theater. I became known as the piano player who could play anything and could make soundtracks up on the spot to live theater. It was a natural progression to begin composing for film and TV from there.
I teamed up with a guitar/producer friend and formed “Ridgidigital Music.” He played the guitar parts and mixed the music and I was able to look at the pictures and come up with a musical idea and give it a life of its own. The first documentary soundtrack we composed, called The Hillmen, won an Australian Industry Award for Best Television Documentary in 1996, so we figured we were onto something and kept going.
We composed for quite a few television and film projects culminating in more than 70 hours of material for Australian and International broadcast.
Combining our skills and talents in creating this company enabled us to write music soundtracks in a wide variety of musical styles for different genres including documentaries, children's television, adult drama and national radio programs. We became very good at reading a brief summary and interpreting what the director wanted the music to say in support of the story. We composed music for some very cool projects, including a 52-episode puppet series called “Li’l Horrors” which won "The Australian Guild of Screen Composers Award for Best Music in a Children's Television Series" in 2001.
KP: From reading your bio, it seems that you have been a professional musician most of your life. What other things have you done in the music field?
Well, my first job as a musician was when I was at college playing in a French restaurant in Melbourne. I had a list of songs that I’d collected and noted the keys I would play them in. I couldn't believe they would pay me $50 a night for playing what I wanted for 3 or 4 hours. Then I answered an ad in the paper for my first real professional gig. They were looking for a versatile female piano player for a raunchy comedy cabaret ensemble of four women known as The Hot Bagels, who sang outrageous song parodies with four part harmonies. How could I resist? For my audition piece, I did a medley of 5 or 6 different styles, including classical, jazz, country and pop and got the gig. I was the musical director and keyboard player and we performed live in Australia’s comedy venues and festivals for four years. Being the 80’s, there was a lot of big hair and overdone make up! We did get to support some big international names in the comedy world such as Phyllis Diller and Craig Ferguson, and formed lifelong friendships along the way.
Janine on a beach in Australia.
Following that, I played in a few bands in Melbourne after a 3 year stint at the Hilton hotel in a piano/vocal duo, and recorded music beds for comic parodies for a radio station. At the same time, my involvement with comedians in Melbourne continued and I was the go-to musician for Theatersports, an improvised theater show, where I created the music on the spot for scenes on my Roland XP-80 synth keyboard. I drew on my childhood experiences of turning on the television and turning off the volume. I would then play the soundtrack live to the pictures I saw - a great training ground for a composer in my later years!
I also played in many orchestra pits for Broadway musical theater shows produced in Melbourne.
KP: You are truly amazing! Let’s go back and learn more about your early life. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
JDL: I was born in Melbourne, Australia, in an outer suburb called Dandenong. My maternal and paternal grandparents migrated from Italy to Australia in the 1920’s from a little island off the coast of Sicily called Salina. My parents were both born in Australia, and my siblings and I were the second generation. Somewhere along this road of combined cultures, I came to understand my identity. I knew we were Australian, but culturally the Italian background was a part of our everyday lives. This meant understanding the importance of family, big family lunch gatherings on Sundays, cooking together, friendships with cousins and extended family all being a part of my life. I grew up in Melbourne and lived there until the circus life called in 2004.
KP: When did you start playing the piano?
JDL: At around 7 years old, I was drawn to my Grandmother’s piano. I would pick out tunes by ear with one finger before I understood anything about what I was playing. I remember playing “Nearer My God To Thee” with one finger after hearing it in church one morning. I also remember the day I added a ‘C’ bass note with my left hand that sounded so good with the melody.
KP: How long did you take lessons?
JDL: I was classically trained for 13 years.
I laughed when I read that your teacher felt that anything that wasn’t classical music was jazz and she had no tolerance for jazz. How did you work with or around that?
JDL: Knowing that Margriet was taught by a student of Franz Liszt in Europe, I was well aware that she was strict about me learning the correct technique, and that my repertoire would be from the masters: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, etc. When I reached my teens, she really had to contend with me wanting to quit my lessons while having an unwavering desire to play Billy Joel, Elton John, Genesis, Queen and anything that wasn’t classical. She tried to explain to me that once I could master my technique and all the classics that I would then be able to play anything I wanted. As I already played all the music I heard on the radio by ear, we did not see eye to eye on that one. I was actually shy to share with her the music I loved to compose and play - perhaps because I knew it would fall into that “jazz” category in her mind.
In my last year of lessons with her, she asked me what I would like to learn to play. I mentioned there was a piece I would love to learn, but she probably didn’t know it. It was George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” I was so surprised when she walked over to her bookshelf and presented me with a copy. It was the last piece of sheet music I expected her to have, but she worked with me on this incredible solo piano masterpiece to perform in concert when I was 21. I understand now that there was no way I would have been able to master that piece without all the classical and technical training she gave me.
KP: Wow! You also toured and recorded with several bands. Tell us about that.
JDL: I was one half of a duo with an amazing singer and we traveled together in 1990 through Asia, Europe and US performing wherever we found a piano. On our return to Melbourne, we formed Band Of Angels, adding a drummer and sax player. Our repertoire included cover songs by Ricky Lee Jones, Nina Simone, Indigo Girls, Judy Garland, and k.d. Lang. I played a digital piano in that band, and as there was no bass player, my left hand got a good workout at gigs! I also played keyboards in an all female swing big band called Swish. Both of these bands performed in outdoor festivals, cabaret venues and pubs in Melbourne. I also recorded a few piano and keyboard parts on friends’ albums over the years.
KP: Was your family supportive of your becoming a professional musician?
JDL: Yes, my parents were very supportive from the beginning. I was encouraged to go to college to get my teaching degree, which I am glad I did, as it opened up a world of other people to whom music was as important in their lives as it was to mine. I met great friends at college, and those friendships continue today. I am very grateful that my family has been supportive, no matter what direction my music has taken me.
KP: Are any of your siblings musicians?
My sister Julie plays piano and was also taught by Margriet. She is also a talented visual artist and paints beautifully. She contributed to the creation of the art work for my album, I’ll Start In A Minor.
The “A Minor” was handwritten by her in ink, and she replicated Margriet’s handwriting for that to tie in with the theme of the album.
KP: When did you write your first piece of music?
JDL: As I always played by ear alongside the classical training I had, I would sit at the piano and mimic something I’d heard on the radio or make something up most days. In my teens, I would write down the notes of a chord in a very basic way in order to remember them. In my twenties, I recorded a few original pieces on my Roland PF8, which ended up on a cassette along with some songs I chose from my piano bar days at the Hilton hotel. My mother and father each got a copy, and they were still playing those cassettes in their cars until last year when I was proudly able to present them with a real CD of my first album! So, although I would wait many years until recording my music professionally, I arrived at my first recording session with Joe Bongiorno in Sedona, AZ with a list of more than 30 pieces ready to go. In two and a half days I got most of them recorded. 15 of those are on the debut album, I’ll Start In A Minor. The remaining ones will be included on my next album.
It is a joyous thing to be able to share my professionally-recorded music with my parents who nurtured and encouraged my musical journey from a very young age.
KP: Were you a music major in college?
JDL: Our system is a little different in Australia. I studied for a Bachelor of Education specializing in Music, from Victoria College, Burwood and a piano performance diploma known as Associate Diploma in Music, Australia (A.Mus.A) Piano.
KP: Do you play other musical instruments?
JDL: I like to dabble on guitar, but it hurts my fingers. I am in my happy place at the piano.
KP: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
JDL: I think I always knew, but never imagined I would be good enough. In February I saw Matthew Mayer play “You Are Enough” at the Whisperings All- Star Concert in Atlanta. I find this piece mesmerizing and it is a message that I can certainly relate to. I have been listening to it over and over.
Matthew Mayer's Beautiful You
is a great album and won Album of the Year from Whisperings Solo Piano Radio this year.
In Sedona, AZ.
Recording at Piano Haven in Sedona.
JDL: I have a story to share with you. When I was 15, I won tickets from the local radio station to see Elton John in concert. I was in the second row and close enough to read what he had written under his piano. “F&*% off, this is EJ’s piano!” He was so energetic in performance and I loved the concert. That’s when I started seriously thinking about a music career, but unlike Elton, I am more than happy to share my piano with others!
KP: Funny story! What and who are the major influences on your music?
JDL: I believe that there is music in me all the time. It just takes a life experience, a thought, a longing, an ocean beach, a quiet house at night, a full moon, a breeze in the trees, gently falling snow or anything that I notice about life and nature to bring it out. Long drives are often where I compose music in my mind; then when I get to the piano it all unfolds. I recorded a piece called “Driving” which will be on my next album. It was inspired when we lived in a remote area of Colorado in 2016. I saw wide open spaces and mountain vistas as I drove along a winding river for 30 minutes to get home. I love nothing more than a good road trip with nowhere to be and everything to see. My piece “Freedom” from I’ll Start In A Minor also came from that feeling.
I am also very drawn to and influenced by water: the movement of it, the tides, the waves, the beaches and shores they lap, and I can often hear music as I am gazing from a shore into the water. Perhaps it’s a generational connection, as my ancestors were from an island in the Mediterranean.
Since beginning this chapter as a solo pianist, I have discovered so many others who do what I love to do, and I am following the path and finding great insight from many of them now. But the composer whose music speaks to me is Ludovico Einaudi. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert in Vancouver and handing him a rose after his concert, and of course thanking him in Italian for his performance. It was at this time that I started thinking seriously about sharing my piano music with the world.
KP: Do you perform in concerts very often?
I have performed in some amazing places around the world with Cirque Du Soleil and I would love to add to that list as a solo pianist. I have performed solo piano concerts in California, Texas, Colorado, Melbourne & Adelaide. I intend to continue and cannot wait to play alongside some of the amazing composer/pianists that I have recently met through being a part of the Whisperings family of artists.
KP: We’ll have to get you up to Oregon soon!
JDL: I’d love to come to Oregon to perform!
KP: Who are some of your favorite composers?
JDL: I’ve always been drawn to film soundtrack composers, such as Ennio Morricone, Riuchi Sakamoto, Ludovico Einaudi, Phillip Glass, David Sylvian, and Pat Metheny. Really this list could continue for a few pages!
My mother would buy the soundtrack albums of those 70’s movies she loved, like Love Story, Ryan’s Daughter and The Godfather, so the sounds of Paul Mauriat, Michel Le Grand, Francis Lai, Nino Rota and Maurice Jarre would fill the house. I would sit in front of the speakers, listening to the orchestrations and reading the cover notes on the album, yearning to be just like them. These composers undoubtedly were early influences on my music.
KP: Do you have any favorite performers?
JDL: I am enamored with beautiful vocalists, so talents like Tina Dico, Jane Siberry, Bonnie Raitt, Rufus Wainwright, just to name a few. There is something about the human voice that can connect to me on a very deep level. The resonance of a voice can speak volumes to me.
I like performers who take the time to connect with their audience, who share a little of themselves and who are authentic.
I love to watch other musicians play, to see how they approach their instrument, their relationship to it, how the music they are creating feeds them and how it affects the audience listening. At the Whisperings Conference in Atlanta, I can honestly say I was in my element. Never before have I been around so many talented piano players. I really felt like I was part of a family of artistic creators again - just like I felt when I was with my Cirque Du Soleil family. It was very inspiring for me.
KP: Whisperings is an amazing group of artists and I love being part of the group even if it’s mostly in the background!
If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
JDL: It’s a big ask but I’ll try to limit it to just three.
1. I would love to be able to travel lightly and quickly. It would make those trips back home to Australia across the Pacific Ocean a little easier.
2. I wish for a world that offers kindness, recognizes talent, cherishes heart connections, encourages artists, supports creativity, loves all living things, develops intuition, understands sensitive souls, and is full of music.
3. I have my eye on a Fazioli Grand Piano.....stay tuned!
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
JDL: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to connect with you and your audience, and for all you do in the world of solo piano. Your support is greatly appreciated, Kathy.
2019 is the year for me to stretch my reach and to perform concerts in other cities, so I am willing to say “yes” to invitations to play to enable me to introduce more people to my music in an up close and personal way. My concerts are best experienced in intimate settings rather than the 2,000 seaters that I played for 12 years with Cirque Du Soleil! These days I’m in my happy place performing for a closer, intimate audience in order for me to really connect with them and to share with them the real heart of my music and the stories that inspire it.
Many thanks to Janine De Lorenzo for taking the time to chat! To learn more about Janine and her music, be sure to visit her website
and her Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com!