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Jeremy Siskind: Piano in Motion

Jeremy Siskind: Piano in Motion
Jeremy Siskind from a video still by Steve Brickman

I don’t tire of listening to music – at least not usually – unless (as someone who reviews the works of others relentlessly) I hit a patch along the road where things begin to sound alike. It was during one such episode when, deciding to do something I rarely do, I piled all of the CDs that I had set out to listen to and looked online for fresh adventure – on YouTube, to be exact. This is where I first encountered Jeremy Siskind; well not at first, but it didn’t take long. I found a video of Nancy Harms, whose breathtaking voice and vocal style always seduces me, and pressed play. As it turned out the song was “Hymn of Thanks”. I believe I was feeling a bit dolorous after sweating it out trying to find something that held my interest and the word “hymn…” in the title was probably particularly inviting. But nothing could prepare me for what I heard next…

Long before Miss Harms sang a word, the piece began with an introduction played on the piano. To say that the introduction to the melodic line sounded mesmerizing would be an understatement. A fairly tight close-up of the pianist’s hands helped enormously. Watching the long fingers glide along the keyboard delicately inviting the black and white keys to utter, with solemn solfeggio, the most heavenly sounds, was hypnotic too. I discern harmonic elements informed by Black-American Spirituals, soaring Renaissance Church music – in particular German and English…

Shortly, of course, Miss Harms began to sing the soaring lyric. Intimations of Bach! So, I thought, I have to find out more. The pianist is Jeremy Siskind. His touch is extraordinary. Does the sound come from his fingers or the piano keys, I wonder? A little bit of both, I conclude, watching him play this extraordinary music with rich chorale-like harmonies I think I’ve heard before, but know that I have not.

I have to know more. So I dig a little deeper; find the artist’s website and immerse myself in the music of Jeremy Siskind. There are several videos of Mr Siskind accompanying Miss Harms in a section on his Video Page referred to as at Home/at Play. These are series of songs recorded at a house-warming, I believe. I find the one I am looking for and realize that I was only half-correct; there is a connection with Bach, but it isn’t what I thought it was. Mr Siskind explains:

“…“Hymn of Thanks” was the result of my study of Bach Chorales. One of my best experiences in college was doing an “independent study” course with Dariusz Terefenko that was focused on improvising fugues and other Bach-ian styles. As part of the study, he showed me a book which had all of the ways that Bach harmonized and reharmonized the same chorale melodies. This fascinated me and I memorized quite a few of the harmonisations.


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