Ron Levy —
From the Beginning ...
My journey with music began fairly early, with piano lessons starting at age 6 - right around the same time I was introduced to the Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand.
And these two lines seem to run parallel throughout my musical journey...
My first lessons were in a tiny room inside a little music store that had an enormous (to me) accordion displayed at the front entrance. I don’t remember much about that first teacher, except that we used the Alfred method —and I do remember the little mustachioed man pointing to various items on the staff — and that is where I learned to read music, which ultimately has served me QUITE WELL!
We soon changed to my second teacher Mrs. Hyde, who taught out of her home. Two Steinway pianos side-by-side; very old fashioned Viennese style. She said more than once that her teacher’s teacher’s TEACHER was Leschetizky. She had a very white hair.
We moved to Texas when I was 10, and I believe I did not have piano lessons for that year.
We moved again and I finally resumed lessons when we moved to the San Fernando Valley — studying with Nina Marble. I do have a clipping from the newspaper pre-recital.
(Dig the ascot!)
We moved a little bit south to Playa del Rey ("Beach of the Ocean"?) and I started with Marie Curea in Santa Monica. I was a nervous performer and I remember having the shakes during the Bach Festival at the church in Santa Monica. I still have that program, and it is amazing to see that one of my jazz colleagues out in the world these days is also on that program. We moved around quite a lot so I didn’t really know anybody for very long then; that has since changed, fortunately.
After I really had Debussy’s first arabesque down around age 14, I asked my mother if I could quit piano lessons and she surprised me by saying "of course, darling". I had become interested in the guitar blues, rock, jazz… But in high school I realized that the skills that were in my fingers would stand me in good stead. I wanted to play music with others and keyboard players were in short supply. The first band I joined played one party and we played the Beatles "Birthday". I was in another high school band that played "White Punks on Dope" so I guess those were kind of lost years in a way. Never mind.
"Keyboard" meant "synthesizers", and those were becoming widely available so my first composition experience in college was with the electronic music studio, in which I spent many late hours.
Yes, the OC Weekly sent in a photographer to capture me at work.
Why? ... we'll never know ...
I took an independent study with my composition teacher Edie Smith which resulted in my first notated pieces for solo piano. I called them Mookwipps, which sounds silly, but it does have "Moog" sort of in there so I guess that kind of makes sense.
[UCLA undergrad... [My interest remained with electronic music as] I took the required music history, theory and breadth courses.... I also met my lifelong friend, pianist and really good guy Soichiro Matsumoto. He calls me Lon Revy
[UCLA grad... I was attracted to the one with the biggest and best electronic music studio — so that meant UCLA AGAIN!. ...but (fortuitously, as it turned out) the first assignment was to write for (wait for it ...)
Well the fact is my first hearing of these instruments up close and personal — BLEW ME AWAY!
The timbres were so rich and way more complex than anything I had heard in the EMS.
I composed Six Pieces for Woodwind Quintet.
Fast forward, when it came time to propose a thesis project, my professors unanimously said "no! no! no! you must write an instrumental piece". And as it turns out that was an excellent bit of guidance, because my interest in electronic music had waned to the point of extinction at the advent of digital synthesizers, which to me did not have the sound or feel of analog synthesizers at all; whereas meanwhile the sound of acoustic orchestral instruments was completely overwhelming to me in it’s richness and possibility.
Throughout all those years at university I did learn so much — but there was so much more to be learnt! And to do that I needed to get out of those hallowed (and yellowed) walls, and go into that very famous place, the "Real World".
And that is just what I did.
My first stop:
[pics from yearbook]
I had been working with dancers for quite some time (since undergrad at OCC) so my first "real job", as a dance accompanist at Idyllwild school of music and the arts, was fitting. I really studied hard to be a good dance accompanist; read every book I could find on the subject. Which was basically 1. Pathetic. I had to figure it out on my own. (One day I may write such a book myself, or at least a compendium of my personal experiences)
I also, naturlich, took every opportunity to compose my own music. First by writing the score to a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the Theater Department, which was a lot of fun!
I also composed a fanfare for the graduating class at the end of my first year there. The instrumental forces at the Academy were not really consolidated yet so the instrumentation for that short piece is unusual to say the least — but it works.
In the second of my five years at ISOMATA low and behold the wonderful young conductor who had conducted the reading of my masters thesis at UCLA, Jung Ho Pak, was hired as the musical director at ISOMATA.
Jung Ho was a great collaborator and champion of new music, commissioned two chamber symphonies to be played by his orchestra, as well as a unique and hard-to-catagorize work (he called it a Happening) for chamber ensemble, mixed choir, overhead projector, and audience participation (see what I mean?), entitled Nice SHirts (even the title is weird!)
[montage of images from nice shirts, incl. flyers and portrait of jung ho]
Seeing as nothing was left for me to do after THAT extravaganza, and that after all this time I STILL could not get through a single standard tune by memory, my focus abruptly shifted towards commercial music — JAZZ in particular.
From JAZZ to NOW
then changed for a while so that I could honestly call my self a working musician and I took several years to learn the jazz standards and work in jazz situations back in orange county.I had returned to Orange Coast College where I had started out as a teenager with the electronica music studio aforementioned, but now with the purpose of learning Jazz and I got wholeheartedly into the Jazz program at OCC.
After a little while though I gravitated back towards Symphony and one of my professors alan remington once he found out that I was a composer as well as a budding jazz pianist immediately offered to perform anything that I might write. This got that me back into writing concert music with Breathless.[PIC w rem at premiere - I was 12]
And so it goes, ebbing and flowing between the concert and commercial/jazz music worlds. Since that breathless performance I have written a few other orchestral works including pelican song, Modigliani's Arm, and portions of a magnum opus work-in-progress originally entitled Flowers and Stones and it will probably end up that way.
I also wrote a piece for concert winds, "Who Killed the Red Baron".
All along folks would ask me about my piano music and the funny thing was is I never was composing anything for solo piano. But that changed when I was approached by Jennifer Eklund to compose pieces for her Piano Pronto publishing company, geared particularly towards piano teachers and featuring works at the beginning and intermediate level.
The process of writing those solo piano pieces that I’ve done so far show me that that is actually the best way for me to start a project that might end up as a work for larger forces. First of all the piano is my first and main (Main?)instrument and inspires creativity in the best possible way, also it becomes very much easier to create the harmony and form on the short score rather than starting immediately with all those instruments and to get bogged down in the details kind of like oil painting.
You have to start with a good overall basic sketch so now I do start all my works as solo piano pieces.
I never did like “third stream” music or any kind of integrating jazz elements into classical, but now that is exactly what I have been doing: taking jazz or pop material and using it as a basis to transform into concert music having found that those materials are vital and current and very malleable. Plus people can relate to them! Odd Beethoven is my most recent piece utilizing this way of working.