Dr. Andy Villemez is a composer, educator, and performer based in Cincinnati, OH where he teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). As a composer and arranger, his works have been praised for having their variety in style, affect, and level. His piece, CH, CO, US will be performed on our upcoming Solo Soundbox by pianist Kara Huber.


CSB: Could you tell us a little about your musical activities?

AV: For my day job, I serve as Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at CCM where I get to coach amazing pianists on how to be effective and memorable teachers. While “CH, CO, US” is an exception, most of my other composing is primarily for educational purposes. I love being able to write pieces that have lasting value and contribute to a musician’s growth. I’m currently working on writing a keyboard musicianship textbook that has quite a lot of original pieces, arrangements, and sequenced instruction. On the concert side, I also have a commission to write a fantasy for solo piano based on themes from West Side Story set to be premiered in the Spring of 2020.

CSB: When did you first start collaborating with Kara? How have your collaborations evolved over time?

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.

CSB: How has your collaboration with Kara developed over the years?

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.

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