A Piano-Heaven Interview With:

Jeff Herge




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Self-taught pianist Jeff Herge hails from Alexandria in Virginia, USA. His only release to date, Jeff Herge, was released in 1993 and quickly met with critical acclaim. Jeff was nominated for the Washington area's "Best New Age Artist" in 1995, and his music has received warm praise from the highly-regarded Peter Kater. Jeff's music has featured on national and international radio, and has been used in commercials and even a White House presentation! Currently Jeff is indulging in some DIY at his home, as well as compiling material for his eagerly-awaited second album. He kindly took "time-out" to speak to Piano-Heaven.

Enjoy the interview...


S.C. Well, first of all, Jeff, a very belated "Congratulations" on your self-titled CD, some sixteen years after it was released. Have you generally been pleased with the response to your album over that period of time?


J.H. I have been very pleased with the draw and attention the album has received. Being a limited self-taught composer/musician, I was surprised that these excerpts of self-expression and musical exploration would be welcomed and respected so broadly around the world by music fans and critics alike.


Let's go back to the beginning. How did the concept for the CD come about? Was it a case of, "I want to release my own piano CD" or did other events take their course?


Not being a formal or trained musician, I originally wanted to record my music to share with friends and family. I didnít really look at this as a possible album until I put together a cassette copy of my songs and found people wanting it, and suggesting that it be released into a CD for broader use and interests (i.e. radio air play, compilation albums and critical reviews).


Have you come from a musical background? When did you learn to play the piano? Were you classically trained? When did you start composing your own music? Was this encouraged?


Not really. My brother played the guitar and trombone for a couple of years and my mom learned to play a Korean instrument called the kayagum and drums when we lived in Korea. My background prior to composing piano music was playing the drums as a teenager in my room. I never played in a band. I only started playing the piano when I took a music class in my senior year in high school. But because I am dyslexic, I found it difficult to read sheet music correctly or to tempo. There was a requirement for my class to read and perform from sheet music, but because of my disability, my music teacher and I worked together to find an alternative approach to my assignment. He assigned me with the task of attempting to compose very small piano measures and told me to transcribe them to written score. From there I finally found a place of musical and artistic expression. I was eighteen at the time. Just like all parents, they loved hearing me play music, but werenít sure how long I would be interested in it. So they offered to buy me a piano, only if I was still interested in music a year from then. I stuck with it by playing any piano I could get my hands on (the neighbours' piano and a piano at local historic park building in the community). They soon realised that it wasnít a fad and offered to purchase my first upright piano. Iíve had a number of pianos since then, even owning two at one time. Now I have a Roland digital piano.


Let me ask you about that tree- it's even named in the CD insert (Princess Ann). As well as featuring on the cover of your CD, what significance does it have? Has it been a source of inspiration to you? Have you always been interested in nature?


The Princess Ann tree was a tree located in the park that was located at the entrance to my neighbourhood at that time. I worked as a park employee at the time that I took that picture. Iíve always loved nature and photography. That particular tree was not a music inspiration, but a photographic inspiration. I loved its lines and how it resembles a large bonsai tree. I guess I have always been interested in nature. Iím always picking up bugs and intrigued by something while Iím out in the great outdoors.


My favourite piece on the album is Raindrops- I just love the melody. It appears in various forms at different points of the CD- is this because it had a special appeal to you? Would it be fair to say that this track has generated the most response?


I love that piece too, because of the imagery it evokes. I really love nature and like the challenge of creating something that draws those mental pictures. But truth be told Autumn Snow and Jeffreyís Theme have always been the songs that have drawn the most appeal to fans and radio programmer directors.


Can you talk us through the composition process? Are these carefully crafted pieces or improvisations- or indeed, somewhere in between? How long did the album take to compose?


Thatís a great question. Composition for me is a cross between improvisation and crafting pieces found through improvised exploration. I find myself messing around with certain rhythms and sounds. I later find a way to piece them together to create a cohesive melody or melodic path. When you take the time to hear what youíre producing, you soon find out whether itís a keeper or weed it out. You either use it now or later in another composition.


The full album took four years to come up with enough material suitable to share and record.


It's been quite some times since the original release. Have you been composing music during this time? Can your listeners expect a new release at any time soon?


I know it has been a long time since the original release. Unfortunately, life got in the way of my musical endeavours. You know- bills, work and family. I donít regret taking care of those other things, but I do regret having my music hit the back burner the way that it has. To be honest, I really havenít played in years. I sit down every so often; I find myself a little rusty, but Iím often pleasantly surprised to find that I still have that love and interest still in me. I have several new songs in my head that I want to go back into the studio to record for another album. Iíve promised myself and my family that Iíd love to do that this year. My daughter is eleven now and has never seen me perform in concert. That tears me up. Sheís got to see that, especially since one of the new songs I have is dedicated to her.


Well, I'm certainly looking forward to that! I read about your musical influences- no great surprises apart from one, the identity of whom was new to me- Bob Olshin. Could you explain to the readers why you rate this pianist so highly? (I've ordered his CD by the way, purely out of curiosity- couldn't find sound-clips anywhere on the Web!)


Bob Olshin was a local pianist to the Washington D.C area where I live right now. He was hitting the musical scene the same time I was. I met and performed with other artists before meeting Bob. But when I was looking to pair up and perform concerts with someone, I was soon impressed with the style, capabilities and talent of Bobís music more than any other artist that I came to know. But just like me, I suspect life got in his way of his musical career. I hope we will hear from him again soon.


You've received much-deserved praise from the highly-regarded Peter Kater. How did the great man himself come to hear your music?


All in all he was a friend of a friend of a friend. I got his permission to send him a copy of my album and was fortunate enough to talk to him one day to get his opinion regarding my music and the new age genre. It was truly an honour.


These are difficult times for musicians in the genre, especially perhaps independent ones.... or do you see your independence as an advantage? Why do you think "New Age" music has taken something of a bruising in recent years from his undisputed popularity of the 1980s? Can anything be done to halt the decline?


Itís actually a difficult time for most musicians, with the invention of peer-to-peer music sharing on the internet. Itís kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand our music is being shared and becoming more broadly known, but on the other hand we donít see the financial return or rewards on the sharing of our music.


Iím glad that Iím an independent artist for the mere fact of being able to see more profit on the sales of my music, but I wished that my music was picked up by a record label to help in promoting the CD. Itís hard doing everything by myself.


As for the popularity of New Age music, itís always had a certain stigma attached to it. But like anything, there are always peak times of popularity. Yes, New Age music is not as popular as it was in the 1980s, but I feel that it still has a strong and sustaining presence in the evolutionary track of music.


I love the sound of the piano you use on the recording- please could you tell the readers the make and model you used? Were you happy with its performance?


The piano I used to record my album was a Yamaha C6 Conservatory Grand Piano. I was extremely pleased with the sound and feel of that piano. It was a little stiff, but not overly. That piano became a dear friend to me and enabled me to produce the beautiful sounds emulated in the songs on my album. Iím grateful to have been able to record using it.


...and finally, Jeff, how do you relax away from the piano?


I love to listen to music, audio books, and take pictures.


Thank you, Jeff, for your fascinating answers, and the very best of luck with the production of your second album.














Jeff Herge





















Debut piano album

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