Favorite Icon, Full size
Interview with Vicente Avella, February 2014
Interview with Vicente Avella, image 1
If the name Vicente Avella is not yet familiar to you, I suspect it will be soon! His first album, All The Days of My Life, was released last year and has been nominated for and has won an impressive array of awards. Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman, the album is a collection of traditional classical and original piano solos for weddings, arranged in a beautiful, contemporary style. A project very dear to his heart, Vicente made this a very special album. A professional musician in a variety of capacities, Vicente has composed music for films and TV, as well as this album. He will be performing in my house concert series on March 20th, and I can’t wait to meet him in person! Vicente has a fascinating story, and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know more about him, too.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 2
Click on covers to read Kathy's reviews.
Interview with Vicente Avella, image 3
KP: Hi Vicente! How are things in Los Angeles today?

VA: They’re very good. Thanks, Kathy!

KP: First, let me congratulate you on winning so many prestigious awards for your debut album, All The Days of My Life, including “Best Solo Piano Album” at the One World Music Awards and “Award of Excellence Instrumental Performance Solo” at the Global Music Awards, and for your nomination for “Album of the Year” from SoloPiano.com. That’s a really impressive start! How will you follow it up?

VA: Thank you. I’m quite pleased and extremely honored for all that’s happened with All the Days of My Life. It’s a project that means a lot to me and to see that others appreciate it is very rewarding. As to the future, I’m for sure looking into releasing a piano album. Now, I’m not sure if it’ll be a solo piano album or an album with other instruments to support the piano. Not sure. I’m playing around with ideas.

KP: What was your incentive or inspiration to record a solo piano wedding album?

VA: For the past few years, I’ve been working as both pianist and composer. However, for some reason both of these sides have always remained separate from each other. It’s kind of strange but I’ve been sought out as either Vicente the pianist or Vicente the composer. In the meantime, I’ve been wanting to do something that brings both of these sides together. A solo piano album where I composed, arranged and played the music myself was an answer to this desire.

As to why a wedding album - in my experience playing for weddings, I kept finding that couples wanted the traditional wedding classics but yet, at the same time, they wanted for me to add a personal touch, something contemporary. I think weddings are a beautiful thing. They are a very romantic moment when two people come together and declare their love and make a commitment to build a life together. I find that very inspiring. On a personal level, when Christi and I got married a few years ago, I had the hardest time finding music I felt really expressed what I wanted for that moment, the way I wanted it said. I ended up arranging and writing all the music for our ceremony!

All of these things, when you add them together, sparked the idea of me writing a solo piano album of wedding music.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 4
KP: Have you done a lot of marketing to the bridal and wedding industry?

VA: I have, but not as much as I would like to (yet). Being that this is an independent release and I’m doing everything myself, it all takes time. Even though I am already thinking about the next release, I don’t consider my work with this album to be done. Far from it. I feel I have a lot of work ahead of me still.

KP: It’s almost like planning a wedding! How did you come to have Will Ackerman produce the album?

VA: One thing led to another. By the time I approached Will, I had already written the album and recorded a demo. I recorded this demo myself at home and was now looking at where to record it for real.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 5
From left: Tom Eaton, Vicente, and Will Ackerman.
Interview with Vicente Avella, image 6
Recording at Imaginary Road Studio.
In my experience, it is a great idea to have an extra set of ears to guide you during the recording process. I had never worked with a producer before, but had had friends in the booth helping me out, telling me things like: “Hey, this is not such a good take” or “Yes! This is the one!” You know? That sort of thing. So, I knew I wanted to have a good set of ears backing me up.

Another thing is that, from the very beginning, I knew I did not want the album to have a classical sound. To me, the album needed to be like the music itself: a blend of the classical and the contemporary. Hence, the recording process and the production itself needed to be an extension of that thought process.

As I was pondering these two things, I remembered an album I hadn’t listened to in years - an album I thought “Hey! this is probably the kind of sound I want for my album.” It was, of course, George Winton’s December. It never occurred to me to reach out to Will or George Winston. I didn’t think I could ever reach out to either one of them. Not long after that, I came across another album that I loved the sound of. This time, it was a recent album and to my surprise, Will was the producer. This was my answer. I had found the experienced set of ears I was looking for. To my surprise, once I reached out to Will, he was very accessible and easy to talk to. I was very excited that he agreed to work with me on this project. I am glad it all worked out the way it did.

KP: So are your listeners! I would imagine that the companion sheet music to the album would sell really well, too. Did you have books printed or is it just available as a download?

VA: I’m pleased at how the sheet music has been selling, especially the single download of the Bridal March. At this point, I’m only selling the sheet music as downloads. I honestly haven’t found much business sense in the printed book form. I mean, when I do the math of how much it costs me to make a book and how much it would sell for, it just doesn’t make sense. Then again, maybe this is a result of me, being new to all this and doing it all by myself, learning as I go. Maybe if I look into it a little bit more, I might find a way to make a songbook make financial sense. If you or anyone reading this knows, please let me know!

KP: I know artists who just have sheet music available for download and others who do books. Both seem happy with their own set-ups. There are pro’s and con’s for both.

Your bio says that you have a long history of playing music for weddings. How did you fall into that? Do you still play for a lot of weddings?

VA: I’ve been working as a liturgical musician for over ten years. That naturally leads to being asked to play for weddings. An added perk these days is that now I also get play my own arrangements and compositions!

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 7
Interview with Vicente Avella, image 8
Vicente in his home studio.
KP: That must be both fun and rewarding! Let’s find out some more about you and your early life. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

VA: I was born and raised in Caracas, the capital and the largest city in Venezuela. It was a great place to grow up during that time. I have so many fond memories.

KP: When did you start playing the piano?

VA: There was an upright piano at my house ever since I can remember. I would go up to the piano and mess around a little, like I think most kids do when they see a piano. But also like most kids, I would just bang at it. I had no idea how to play. For some reason, in my family, piano lessons were reserved for the girls. Both my sisters were the ones who took piano lessons, but not me. I have this early memory of them practicing Thompson’s Teaching Little Fingers To Play. I really enjoyed listening to them play; especially the Indian Song at the end of the book (I didn’t know it then but now I know why. I loved those open fifths!). Anyway, it really wasn’t until I was seventeen that I had my first real piano lesson. At that point I was really serious about it and practiced long hours.

KP: I still use Teaching Little Fingers to Play with my younger beginners. Kids still love it when we get to “From a Wigwam” at the end of the book!
When did you start composing music?

VA: When I was a teenager. It was the 80’s and I wanted to be a rock star! LOL! I was writing songs for me to sing. I got to play some of these with friends and bands in high school. I also composed some solo guitar and piano music.

KP: Are any of your other family members musicians?

VA: No, not really. My mom played piano proficiently enough to be able to play some Chopin, Beethoven, but she would never actually sit down and play. I remember hearing her play for the first time when I was about ten and I could not believe it.

None of my five siblings are musicians. However, each one of us adopted a different art form. It’s funny how this worked out. As I talk about it, I think we literally went out of our way to pursue something different from each other! Between the six of us, there is a writer, a graphic designer, a musician, a filmmaker and an architect.

KP: Interesting! When did you come to the US?

VA: I moved to the US as I was about to turn 21. I was accepted into the piano performance program at Indiana University and moved here to pursue my studies. One thing led to another and - I’m still here!

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 9
KP: In addition to composing for piano, you have scored and orchestrated numerous films and major network television shows. Tell us about some of those projects.

VA: It’s a very different process. Working for media is work for hire. What you compose is determined by the film, the story, decisions are made in conjunction with the director and the producer, the length of the cues are determined by what’s happening on the screen. Not only this, you’re usually working on a very tight deadline and also, the way things are in the industry right now, a composer has to be very tech savvy. You have to understand that sometimes the music is in the foreground and sometimes it’s not - it’s there to support a story. I love writing for film but it’s not the same as writing music for music’s sake. Some of the motivations that led me to work on All the Days of My Life were: to create something where the music was the center of attention, where there was no deadline, no expectations, I was in control, and that it put me in front of an instrument rather than a computer.

KP: Do you play any instruments besides the piano?

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 10
VA: I can program soft synths, virtual orchestras, etc. It’s a must in the film scoring world. Now that being said, I’m not sure that counts as playing an instrument. I do however, regularly play the organ although I would never call myself an organist. What I am is a pianist who plays the organ. I also play a little guitar. The guitar was my first instrument, but as I focused on the piano I let it go. This is something I regret. It can be such an expressive instrument. I have recently picked it up again, but now I just don’t have the time to play it at the level I know is possible. I also sing. This was actually what first got me into music - singing. I wanted to learn to play an instrument so that I could accompany myself singing. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with instrumental music and focused my energies more on that.

KP: Where did you study music and composition?

VA: I started studying back in Venezuela when I was seventeen. I had a private piano teacher for a couple of years, but we were not a good match at all! I was coming from the songwriter background and he was a stuffy, avant-garde composer. Ha! I don’t think I learned a thing from him! When I went to college a few years later, I started taking composition lessons and classes. During my undergrad I was a piano major. However, all my electives were in composition. I took orchestration classes, counterpoint classes, private composition lessons, etc. I did learn a lot there! I was getting my music played by different musicians and even had my first orchestral reading. Talk about a memorable experience! After I graduated, I decided I would do a Master’s in Composition. I loved performing but I was always interested in creating music. I really wanted to get some guidance and develop my compositions. I started a Masters program at Rice University and then transferred to the Eastman School. During that time, the piano took a secondary place and sort of sat on the back burner.

KP: You have won the ASCAP Award every year since 2006. What does that entail?

VA: It’s not so much of “the” ASCAP Award as “an” ASCAP Award. This is an award this society gives out to encourage writers to keep creating music. It’s a cool thing.

KP: You have also won honors from the international Waging Peace Through Singing competition. Tell us about that.

VA: This was an award that was given to me because of a choral piece I wrote after 9/11. At the time of the attacks, I was living in NJ, only a few miles outside of NYC. Needless to say, it was a very emotional time. Normally, my music is a reflection of my personal experiences, but this time I was moved to write a choral piece about this collective experience. Titled “Phantom Towers,” this piece used texts extracted from the New York Times’ coverage of the World Trade Center disaster, written by different people and responding in various ways to the tragedy. They were thoughts from a relative of a missing person, the opinions of an artist, a poem by a fifth grader, an excerpt of the Requiem Mass, and a sign in front of an Islamic center. This is one of those pieces I hope to be able to release as a recording someday.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 11
Vicente, Christi, and Abby.
KP: And you have also worked as a Music Minister in several states. Are you still doing that as well?

VA: Yes, I am. The “several states” part is because I have lived in multiple states and have worked in such a capacity in each of them. So it’s not like I’m constantly traveling between states to do this! What I’m constantly doing is traveling all over town! I currently work for three different parishes throughout Los Angeles. In one of them I am the music director and pianist; in the second, the accompanist to their contemporary choir; and in the third one, I play both piano and organ. Keeps me busy!

KP: I guess so! Changing the subject altogether, you and your wife (and daughter) recently welcomed a baby boy into the family. How is he doing?

VA: He’s doing great. He’s a beautiful boy who’s happy as long as he’s fed and being held.

KP: You are getting ready to release a new track called “First Kiss.” Is this part of your next album?

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 12
VA: Yes. I am sure I’ll include it in the next album. I’m particularly fond of this piece.

KP: You will be appearing in concert here in Florence, OR on March 20th. Where else will you be performing on that tour?

VA: I’ll also be playing a concert in Portland, OR on the 22nd at the Recital Hall at Classic Pianos. I’m really looking forward to both concerts!

KP: I’m very excited to meet you and hear you play live! How did you come up with your company name of Pandora’s Boombox?

VA: Great question! During my student years, I wrote a piece for clarinet and string quartet titled “Pandora’s Box.” I had a poster (still do) of a painting by John Waterhouse about that subject. It’s a gorgeous painting and I was fascinated by the story behind it.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 13
Unable to resist her curiosity, Pandora opens this box she was told not to open. As she opens the box, all these fantastic things, both good and evil, come out and change existence forever. I love the energy, the magic and all the possibilities. Anyway, when I was trying to come up with a name for my publishing company, I simply played with the words and replaced Box with Boombox as a way to bring the music element to the Pandora story. After all these years, I must still like this because I keep using that name for everything I do: my film/TV music company, my record label, etc.

KP: Interesting! What has been your most exciting musical experience so far?

VA: It’s really hard to say. I can think of so many moments. I already mentioned the first time an orchestra read one of my compositions, but there’s also the first time I played with a band, the first time I stood up and conducted, the first time I heard a score of mine being played in a movie theatre, or played by an ensemble, and of course, there’s always that moment when you’re composing or performing and you feel everything just lines up, you sense that everything clicks. It’s magical.

KP: Who and what are some of your biggest musical influences?

VA: There are so many! On the one hand, I feel pop and rock are in my blood, even if it’s not clearly heard in my music. Of course, classical music is also in the melting pot. I came to classical music later in life, but fell in love with it and embraced it wholeheartedly. Film music is a big part of me, too. Also, just in the last few years, I discovered solo instrumental artists that play their own music and I’ve found a strong connection to them.

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

VA: I think, to me, the ideal music is that which is well constructed and every detail is cared for. Music that is fresh and brings something new. At the same time this music is accessible and people can relate to it.

KP: Who are your favorite composers?

VA: It’s a long list! As to the classics, I find I keep coming back to Mahler, Richard Strauss, Górecki, Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, Einaudi. As to pop music, I keep listening to U2, Muse, Radiohead, Sarah McLachlan, Sigur Rós. Film composers I keep going back to are Newton Howard, James Horner, Jon Brion, Angelo Badalamenti.

KP: Who are your favorite performers?

VA: In addition to all those I just mentioned before - I mean all those composers who are also performers, like Sarah McLachlan, Einaudi, etc. - I’d add Vladimir Horowitz, Martha Argerich, Dawn Upshaw, Jessye Norman, Hilary Hahn, Yo-yo Ma. Not all of these are pianists, but they all are masters of their craft and their instruments, and they feel and deliver the music with such intensity that you as an audience have no choice but to be drawn in.

Interview with Vicente Avella, image 14
Proud papa with his kids!
KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

VA: Will they come true?

KP: No guarantees, but we’ll see what we can do!

VA: First, I would like to be able to make a good living writing and playing the music I want to be making. I don’t need to be rich, but would like to be comfortable, to be able to support and provide a decent living to my family. And this would be by me working on my own projects or being able to pick and choose the projects I work on and not have to take gigs I don’t really want to take.
Second, I wish for me and my loved ones to live happy and healthy lives. Not that we’re not happy and healthy right now, but if I have a wish, I’m not going to take a chance. I want to make sure we stay that way!

And my last wish would be for something that’s been really troubling my heart. I want to see my beloved country, Venezuela, find a prompt and peaceful end to all the turmoil, injustice and abuse that’s happening down there.

KP: Great wishes! Besides the upcoming tour, what’s up next for you?

VA: In addition to working on new material for a new piano album, I’m also working with Natalie Nicole Gilbert, a talented singer/songwriter, on a vocal project.

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

VA: I’d like to thank you, Kathy, for all your support as well as for having me play at your concert series. As a newcomer to this solo piano scene, the support you have shown me is greatly appreciated. As to the concert - I’m really looking forward to it!

KP: You are so very welcome, Vicente! We’ll see you in a few weeks!
Many thanks to Vicente Avella for taking the time to chat with us! For more information about Vicente and his music, be sure to visit his website as well as his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
February 2014