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Interview with Mark Looney, October 2013
Interview with Mark Looney, image 1
Mark Looney’s music first came to my attention when he sent me his 2010 release, Nocturnes of Faith, which I love. More recently, he sent me his first album of all original piano solos, A Time of Reflection, which I also love. I wanted to find out more about him and to help share his music with the world, so here is the interview we did the via email the end of October 2013.

KP: Hi Mark! How are things in Florida today?

ML: We are still having summer weather here in Central Florida (late October), but many of the early mornings are showing signs of cooler weather, lower humidity and temperatures in the 60’s - until the sun shows up.

KP: That sounds similar to the Oregon Coast right now! Let's talk about your most recent album and the first of all of original piano solos, A Time of Reflection, which stands a very good chance of being one of my favorite albums of 2013! What was the inspiration behind the music?

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Click the image above and below to read Kathy's reviews.
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ML: I have released seven other albums which are my arrangements of Christmas, inspirational, and pop songs. The past few years I’ve been reflecting on my life and decided to focus on composition for this 8th release. After meeting David Nevue about five years ago, I began listening to his and other Whispering Artists' music and that's what inspired me to begin doing more composing for piano.

KP: I think you told me that it was the first album recorded at Joe Bongiorno’s Piano Haven Studio after he relocated to Sedona, AZ. Is that correct?

ML: It was the first completed album recorded on his new Shigeru Kawai, but not the first album recorded at his Sedona Piano Haven. Others had recorded albums there, but on his other Kawai grand.

KP: Ah, okay! You live in Florida, so I assume the CD cover photo is from Sedona?

ML: I think so. I gave the graphic artist some direction and that is what the result was. I assume it is from Sedona, but I don’t know for certain where that particular location is.

KP: Since this is your first album of originals, how long of a time frame do the songs cover?

ML: I began the process for this specific album about three years ago, but most of it was done in the twelve months before recording it.

KP: Do you plan more projects with originals now that the floodgates have opened?

ML: Yes. Composing is going to be my main focus now. My wish is to do at least one new solo piano album of original compositions per year. I also have other piano projects going: one is a CD/piano book with a publisher for release and distribution by Hal Leonard next year, and at least one or two CD/Books per year after that for Inspirational piano.

KP: That sounds great! I’m really looking forward to the possibility of meeting you and having you play here in Florence, Oregon next year! Have you ever been out here?

ML: I lived in San Diego for six months, and have been to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but not Oregon yet. Hopefully we can make that happen in the near future.

KP: San Diego and Los Angeles are a world away! So is San Francisco, really! It's much calmer and more peaceful up here - it just rains a lot.

I really enjoyed your previous release, Nocturnes of Faith, which is a collection of your hymn arrangements. What were your releases before that?

ML: Titles of all my releases starting from the newest are: A Time of Reflection, Nocturnes of Faith, Walk With God, Reflections of Christmas, Quiet Reflections, The More I See You, A Christmas Portrait, and Stand Up Stand Up For Jesus.

KP: Tell us a bit about your music ministry.

ML: My music ministry began when I was just 15. My teacher at the time, James Sommerville, was a well known regional piano judge and pianist. He encouraged me to start teaching because I would learn a lot from my students as well as from my lessons with him. He was right, and I still learn from my students today.

KP: Me, too!

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ML: My concert piano ministry began in 1993 when I gave my first concert at my home church and played my first album, Stand Up Stand Up For Jesus. My main focus in my concerts is to encourage others to find their own ministry and go for it.

Everyone has talents that they need to discover and work on and then go out and encourage others to do the same. After getting into this frame of mind, one has a life-long ability to positively give back to society. It is too easy to downplay what you can do and will be able to do in the future. I know that struggle, and it's negative and produces negative consequences. It is better to look at the bright side of things, to remember what I am thankful for, and to give of myself and my resources.

My wife is a big source of inspiration. She has multiple sclerosis, scoliosis and constant pain that is at times so bad she can hardly stand it. Instead of quitting and going on disability, she teaches first grade and just loves it. She had major back surgery in 2012 and was out for close to a year. We did not know if she would be able to go back to work. It has been a huge financial drain on us, too, but we are still “moving forward” with our lives.

KP: I can only imagine what you both have had to deal with.

You also own and operate Central Florida Piano Studio. How many students do you have?

ML: I have not focused the last several years on teaching beginners - the level of the majority of students that make up a studio. I have focused on adults, and teens wanting to get into music school with a scholarship. I have been successful with that, but these students are not easy to find.

KP: I agree and have found that younger piano students are a lot less motivated to excel in music than they used to be. Have you found that to be true in your own teaching?

ML: Yes, I agree, but my experience is that even up through the college level, you will find less motivated students. The issue with the older students (teen-college) seems to be that they are overwhelmed with too many options and opportunities and homework. This also seems to be true with the younger ones. Their parents have them into many things that they have almost no time to develop their piano skills.

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KP: Okay, let’s find out about your background and early life. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

ML: I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. I had a great childhood - lots of friends to do things with, the run of the neighborhoods with them (tag, football, hide and seek, camping, etc.). Church played a vital role in my upbringing and my social life.

KP: Are any other members of your family musicians?

ML: Yes, Mom played the piano, Dad played the guitar (acoustic, Hawaiian, steel,) my wife, Cheryl played piano growing up. My daughters, Kristen and Rebecca, played flute and clarinet in band.

KP: How old were you when you started playing the piano? When did you start piano lessons, and how long did you take lessons?

ML: There is a photo of me reaching up to play the piano when I was a year old, and I loved hearing mom play hymns on the piano. I began lessons at age 8, and played in annual recitals. I have never completely departed from lessons as the more I have learned, the more I realize I do not know.

KP: That seems to be part of the maturing process. Were you encouraged to improvise or compose by your piano teacher(s) or anyone else?

ML: Most of the improvising and composing encouragement I received as a younger adult was from two marvelous teachers/performers, Joe Weisberg and David Wheeler. My earlier classical teachers did not seem to approve of composing and improvising.

KP: That seems to be the norm, unfortunately. Do you play other instruments?

ML: No.

KP: How old were you when you started improvising?

ML: Around age 15.

KP: How old were you when you wrote your first song?

ML: Around age 16.

KP: Were you a music major in college?

ML: Yes, at Ohio State University. I studied with Robert Brooks and George Haddad.

KP: Do you perform concerts very often?

ML: I perform concerts every month now, mostly house concerts.

KP: Do you ever perform with the Whisperings group? I know at least a few of the artists are in Florida.

ML: In July I performed in Orlando and Clearwater with Joseph Akins and Philip Wesley, two great new friends. I plan to do a lot more performing in the future with other Whisperings artists.

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KP: Do you have sheet music for any of your pieces?

ML: I have 148 pieces of sheet music from all of my albums. I actually have well over 1,000 pieces if I include my whole library of manuscript pieces which includes pop, classics, inspirational, light jazz, and originals. Some are still in manuscript form, others I have done on Finale, Sibelius, and Encore notation programs.

KP: Was your musical training in classical music?

ML: Yes, classical piano.

KP: Who or what are your biggest musical influences?

ML: Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Schumann, Mozart, Debussy, to name a few from the classical genre; Dino Kartsonakis, Roger Williams, Liberace, Joe Weisberg and David Wheeler. I studied with the last two, and both of them composed, arranged and improvised very professionally. Also David Nevue, Michelle McLaughlin, Jennifer Thomas, and Joe Bongiorno, to name a few, from the Whisperings group. There are too many to list! I am always running across a new composer these days thanks to online radio, TV, radio, etc.

KP: What inspired you to start composing your own music?

ML: Actually from the standpoint of my newest release, I would have to say David Nevue. I never really considered going in this direction until I met and spent some time with David. I did not know about the Whisperings group or the growing trend of this kind of music. I was into classical, church, and pop music.

KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?

ML: One event sticks out from my high school days. I was the guest piano artist at a Christmas show at Battelle Memorial Institute in 1974. The house was packed which I remember being over 400 people in the auditorium. I played on a Steinway Concert Grand which was very exciting to me. I performed two pieces: "The Polonaise Op. 53 in Ab" by Chopin and "Rhapsody Op. 11 # 3 in C" by Dohnanyi. I was pretty nervous because these were challenging pieces. My mom gave me something to help calm me down which it did. As I began to play my second piece, the Rhapsody, I actually dozed off for a half-second, I was so relaxed and skipped a whole section of the piece as I played. No one knew, but my piano teacher at the time, James Sommerville. After the concert, had this big grin on his face. It was a scary but very exciting moment to play these pieces as a teenager. I got a long standing ovation, too, so it turned out to be quite an exciting experience.

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KP: Is there a particular philosophy that you try to convey in your music?

ML: Peace and inspiration. Music brings peace to the soul and inspires.

KP: Indeed! Who are your favorite composers?

ML: Probably my all-time favorite ones are Chopin and Liszt in the classical genre.

KP: Who are your favorite performers?

ML: Dino Kartsonakis, Murray Perahia (classical pianist), and Michael Rickman (my current classical piano teacher/professor).

KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

ML: 1. That the rest of my life increasingly glorifies Jesus Christ!
2. That my wife, Cheryl, is healed of all her diseases and all of her constant pain.
3. That I can have the growing resources to help others in need and encourage them.

KP: What’s up next for you?

ML: Musically, more composing, more house concerts and traveling. Also right now I am in the process of learning the Chopin Etudes and the Lizst Transcendental Etudes, an eight-year project. I am studying with a teacher who has played these so he is actually saving me many years of work on them. I have played many of them, but decided I should go ahead and learn all of them, perform them and record them.

KP: Impressive! I hope to be able to hear you play live soon!
Many thanks to Mark Looney for taking the time to chat. For more information about his work and his music, be sure to visit his website as well as his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
October 2013