MY INSPIRATION: Steve Luck | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle-based pianist and award-winning composer Steve Luck releases his new album, Sojourn, on Friday 26th November. A release which explores journeys in all their forms, it’s an intimate and subtle record filled with harmony and light.

Here, he talks about some of the inspirations behind some of the tracks on the album.

My new solo piano album Sojourn is a collection of twelve intimate modern classical piano miniatures exploring themes of memory and hope. It’s a collection of emotional, tender pieces. Drawing on hazy, indistinct, partial memories of previous sojourns as well as responses to places with a palpable sense of history, this collection of tunes attempt to combine a sense of poignancy and optimism.

Emerging from Covid-19 lockdown, the album was recorded mostly in the early mornings at my home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The aesthetic is intimate – the recordings capture the close-up sound of the felted upright piano, including some of the mechanical noises produced by the instrument, which help draw the listener into each performance as if you are in the same quiet room.

The pieces are wistful and tender but always with a sense of hope. I think this enforced time spent at home has made a lot of people more thoughtful about certain aspects of their life. These pieces were, in a way, my response to the inability to move around freely. I began to think about times and places from the past and this reflective mood inspired these compositions. I wanted to keep them short and quiet and slow, and it felt right to perform them using a felted piano to capture something of the opaque quality of the memories.

Below I attempt to explain the particular inspiration behind a selection of tracks from the album.

The Key

The Key was inspired by a visit some years ago to a French chateau in Normandy. The building and estate were elegant and charming and full of old world faded glamour. There were many parts to explore and a few outbuildings in the grounds and one of them had a key in the door. I turned it and ventured inside, to discover a room which looked as if it hadn’t been touched for fifty years. There was that sense that you can experience in some special places, of being very close to history and the people who had been there before – a different kind of magical, mysterious atmosphere that links you to the past and gives you a strong sense that everything is connected. This was the feeling I was trying to capture in the piece. It’s in three four time and in a minor key which gives the piece both a sense of place – it sounds very French – and it gives it an element of both mystery and nostalgia.

One Little Victory

Whilst composing I will often take some time to reflect on how a piece is developing. Leave it alone for a while and come back to it again with fresh ears and clarity of thinking. When the piece that became One Little Victory was nearly complete and I listened to what I had so far, I was struck by the restrained nature of the track, the simplicity and flexibility of the melody and a sense of smallness, a constrained emotion – gently unfolding and developing slowly, positive and maybe just a touch celebratory (after the minor key opening) but certainly not shouting it from the rooftops.

One Little Victory felt appropriate as a title. Then, as I always do, I googled it to see if it had any other associations which might sway my opinion on whether I could use the title or not. I was both surprised and happy to discover that One Little Victory is also the title of a song by my absolute favourite band when I was growing up – Canadian rock band Rush, with lyrics written by the late great Neil Peart. I had either forgotten it or had not heard it before but maybe I had seen the title written and subliminally stored it away. It includes the lines: “The greatest act can be / One little victory

The song is about how it is the small accomplishments in life that can turn out to be the most rewarding and satisfying. It is also about challenging yourself within rather than measuring yourself against others.

This chimed with the way that I think about these things and so the title again felt appropriate and the whole experience felt serendipitous. It’s not a victory in the sense of beating an opponent or winning a war but rather more to do with setting yourself challenges and trying your best to achieve them. To me the piece is about an inner dialogue and a reflection on those fleeting moments of satisfaction.

Tesoro

I was pleased with the recording of this very personal and intimate track. As a composition it has a simple structure, but I like the atmosphere I captured on the recording – using the felt on my upright piano to bring to life the soft and delicate mood I was trying to create. I was put into this peaceful, and gentle frame of mind when at the keyboard by looking at images of my cousin and his partner’s brand-new baby girl Ellie. The track was inspired by and is dedicated to Ellie Brown.

Oscillation

Oscillation is defined as a movement back and forth in a regular rhythm. It also refers to a fluctuation between beliefs, opinions and conditions. Emerging from lockdown, this piece reflects the sense of uncertainty, felt during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has a simple poignancy and amongst the intimate and meditative melancholia, you can detect a little bit of hope.

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