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Interview with Jeff Bjorck, January 2016
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Kathy Parsons and Jeff Bjorck - January 2016
Jeff Bjorck was one of the first artists I reviewed back in the late 1990’s when I was writing for the print version of Wind and Wire magazine. Over the years, we became good friends via correspondence, my reviewing his subsequent albums, and the three times he visited when David Lanz performed at my house. Jeff is releasing his first album of original compositions in more than ten years, Keepsakes in the Attic, in early February 2016, so this seemed like a great time to do an interview update. A full professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, Jeff is a person who is interested in many things. He used to say that his hobby was collecting hobbies, and that really hasn’t changed much. There are links to our previous interviews on Jeff’s Artist Page if you would like to learn more about his background. Here, we are talking about the new album and Jeff’s life now. Enjoy!

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Click on the album covers to read the reviews.
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KP: Hi Jeff! How are things in sunny Southern CA?

JB: Hi Kathy! Doing fine thanks. Just praying for a lot more rain than we’ve gotten so far!

KP: It was good to see a lot of snow on the mountains as I flew to and from Costa Mesa this past weekend, so I think relief is in sight!

I just read through the previous two interviews we did, and we said both times we weren’t going to wait so long between interviews. Well guess what - the last one was in 2008! In the meantime, you made the trek up here to Florence, OR a few years ago when David Lanz was here for a couple of house concerts. What else has happened since 2008?

JB: Well, musically, I released a Christmas album in late 2010. I also had a three-year arrangement with Guideposts. They were already distributing “Comfort Kits” to children in hospitals across the United States, and they decided to include a CD featuring eight of my most peaceful compositions in each one, to provide music and comfort to the children and their parents. I’m thrilled to say that they distributed 75,000 of these! I am always most fulfilled when I find that my music is a help those who are hurting, so this was a real cause for personal celebration in my life. I also developed my presence on Pandora, where I have had close to 120 million listens so far, and given that I almost never perform, this is very encouraging.

KP: You are just about ready to release your sixth album, Keepsakes In the Attic. What is the release date for it and where will it be available for sale?

JB: It is already available for digital pre-sale on iTunes, where you also get the first track to download immediately when you order. It is also available for digital pre-sale at Amazon.com. The official CD release date is February 5, after which CDs and Mp3s will be available for immediate delivery on iTunes, Amazon.com, Purepiano.com (my website), and virtually anywhere digital music is sold.

KP: What makes Keepsakes different from your previous albums?

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Jeff with Gary Giouard at the annual Whisperings Award Concert in Costa Mesa, CA. January 2016. That's Neil Patton photo-bombing in the gackground!
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Jeff in Florence, OR. January 2013.
JB: This is my first album of original compositions since Impressions in Black and White, back in 2005. I really enjoyed my diversion into arranging hymns and Christmas carols, but it’s good to be back. This album is very personal, and thematically structured around the idea of reminiscing. Each piece is inspired by either a real or readily imagined memory based on my own life experiences. They are also arranged loosely as a story, beginning with the idea depicted on the back cover. I imagine myself spending an afternoon in an old attic, leafing through personal mementos, with each one prompting deep feelings and vivid memories.

KP: What was the original inspiration for the album?

JB: I have always been nostalgic, but I believe I have been growing increasingly so in the last five years. My mother is the only one left from her generation in my family, and in 2010, she began to experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, she is still the happiest person I know – partly because she is the most grateful-to-God person I know – but with each passing day I become more aware that my strong connections to the generations before me will likely be only memories at some point in the not-too-distant future. With this in mind, I chose to create an album that honored mementos belonging to loved ones who are already gone.

Jeff with Gary Girouard at the annual Whisperings Awards Concert in Costa Mesa, CA 1/2016. That’s Neil Patton photo bombing in the background!

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KP: How did you pick the title for the album?

JB: Well, I think it is a pretty simple and direct reflection of my concept for the album. Not everyone has an attic anymore, but everyone likely has some hideaway place in their home where they keep their oldest heirlooms. As such, I am hoping that any listener will be able to relate to this title.

KP: I know you did the artwork for your cover, but are the pictured items of significance to you or did you just find “stuff” that fit the ideas you were trying to express?

JB: Actually, I have designed the artwork for every one of my CDs. This graphic design work, including the photography, has been the last bastion for my visual artistic expression. I use to draw, paint, and sculpt years ago, but these endeavors take too much time, given my current pursuits. Thus, every CD package is a labor of love. With this new CD, however, for the first time I not only designed the graphics but executed the design myself, having finally lifted my Photoshop skills from the “subbasement” to the “first floor” if you catch my drift! I really enjoyed the whole process!

As for the pictured items, every single one is a personal family heirloom. Some date back to the 1880s or even earlier, and all have emotional significance. I am building a photo album on my Facebook fan page with detailed pictures of all the items on the front and back, and descriptions of their origins.

KP: On your previous albums, you have made the first and last tracks hymns. You didn’t do that this time. Any reason why or was it just time for a change in format?

JB: Yes, it was time for a change. In addition, however, there was more that I wanted to communicate with original pieces. Moreover, one of my original pieces is entitled “Mother’s Hymnal,” and whereas it is not based on any hymn that I know of, it certainly sounds like one. I wanted my listeners to experience a broader range of my musical styles, and I do not wish to be pigeonholed as a “Christian music” artist.

KP: Do you have any particular favorites on the album?

JB: I think they are all unique in their own ways, but if I had to pick several – in no particular order – I would pick “Afternoon Reverie,” “Hearts Far Apart,” “Midnight in Moscow,” and “Justine of County Clare.”

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Florence, OR (Kathy's house). January 2013
KP: I know you have sheet music coming, too. Do you plan to do a printed songbook or just downloads?

JB: At this point, I will start with downloads, but I am considering making printed songbooks for several of my CDs.

KP: Do you have any idea when the sheet music will be ready to sell?

JB: I will release several tracks on February 5 when the CD releases. The remaining tracks will likely be released throughout the year.

KP: Music is just one of a wide variety of things that you do. Are you still at Fuller Seminary? If so, what are you teaching these days?

JB: Yes, and it’s hard to believe I’ve been there 25 years. I still teach in the psychology doctoral program, which means I train future psychologists. I teach courses on legal and ethical issues for psychologists, as well as a course that surveys the entire range of psychopathology (i.e., mental health challenges). I also teach a course focused on integrating psychology and Christian theology.

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Abroad with the Lifewater organization
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Kathy and Jeff in Hercules, CA. 2006
KP: Do you still have your clinical psychology practice as well?

JB: Yes I do. I help adults, adolescents, and kids with various issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and marital and family problems. I really find this to be very fulfilling.

KP: Are you still on the board of Lifewater?

JB: Yes, entering my 16th year, and my passion only grows with each passing day for this vital work. I’m tremendously excited to see how Lifewater continues forward, making inroads in the battle for safe water, hygiene, and sanitation.

KP: I know you’ve done a lot of traveling with Lifewater. Where are some of the places you’ve been and where do you expect to go this year?

JB: I have travelled to Haiti, which is literally one of the poorest places on the planet. I have travelled in Afghanistan. I have made three trips to Africa and traveled through Ethiopia, Uganda, Mozambique, and Zambia, with side stops in Kenya and South Africa. I was actually landing in a plane in Kenya when the terrorists blew up the mall in 2013, and I could see the smoke rising. I then needed to wait at the airport for a couple hours, knowing full well that the airport might be the next target. Experiences like this increase one’s empathy for those suffering around the world.

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KP: What kinds of things do you do with/for the organization when you are in foreign countries?

JB: As a board member, it is my responsibility to make sure that Lifewater is actually doing what it says it is doing. If I am going to encourage donors to invest in this work, I am ethically obligated to be able to confirm that they are making a wise and sound investment. There are many volunteer organizations around the world that do not practice good stewardship of the funds people invest, and my first responsibility is to make sure that our work on the ground is top-notch. Thus, I travel with upper staff people (e.g., the CEO, the Program Director) to various worksites, meet with various partners and staff locally, and sometimes meet with local government officials as well. In addition, I always bring a camera and try to capture images that tell the story of the amazing, life-saving impact of safe water, hygiene, and sanitation. The third reason I go, frankly, is to keep my passion alive. In spite of my deep heart for the poor, it is still difficult to maintain the utmost urgency while living in a heated house with electricity where I have a toilet that uses safe drinking water to flush. In contrast, when I hold the little hands of healthy children who are the beneficiaries of Lifewater’s work and see their bright eyes, my passion burns to a flame because I know that, without safe water, hygiene, and sanitation, one of these little ones still dies every 60 seconds. But it used to be every 15 seconds, so we are making progress!

KP: Are you still hang gliding?

JB: I do still hang glide whenever I can, but I have been flying a bit less in these later years due to my continued involvement in so many interests at once. I hope to resume flying more regularly in the spring, as I still find hang gliding to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. For me, it is not an adrenaline rush, but rather, a deep experience of peace and the spiritual awareness of just how big God is and how small I am. It’s easier to realize how small you are when you’re soaring a mile or more above the earth, where our local majestic mountains look like little bumps on a massive plain.

KP: What other kinds of things do you do to use up all your spare time (ha ha!)?

JB: Well, one thing, I have been doing step aerobics for more than 23 years every Monday and Friday night, and I still have a crush on the instructor! Seriously, Sharon started volunteering to teach that class in 1992, and I am her biggest fan. It’s great that we get to work out together because we both value exercise. I also do my best to do regular weight training. Sharon and I are also actively involved in a local church. We also love our home in a little wooded patch of the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and I enjoy being the gardener. We both enjoy birdwatching and critter watching in our yard, including coyotes, bobcats, deer, and bears. We never feed them, of course, which is the worst thing to do with wild animals, but we love to see them passing through, and Sharon has captured some great videos.

KP: Is your wife, Sharon, still working full-time, too?

JB: Sharon continues to teach English for academic purposes to those for whom English is a second language at a large community college near our home. She has been there since 1995, and she’s very good at what she does. All her classes are taught in English, but she can sometimes have students from 13 countries or more in the same room.

KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

JB: I guess I would like to say “thank you” for all you have done and continue to do to promote so many independent pianists. Your support of our work in your reviews, amazing sheet music proofreading, and your monthly newsletters are all a great encouragement to me, and I am sure I speak for many other artists too. Thank you, Kathy!

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A small slice of music history. From left: Scott D. Davis, David Lanz, David Nevue, and Jeff Bjorck. Hercules, CA 2006 (at Kathy’s house for a workshop with Kathy’s piano students.)
Many thanks for Jeff Bjorck for taking the time to chat! For more information about Jeff and his music, be sure to visit his website as well as his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
January 2016