Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am just beginning my career in music, and I am 76 years old. And what has truly inspired me to pursue it is the love and reactions of my fans. They encourage me musically because they love what I do, which I thought no one ever would, and they “get” it. They find it healing, no matter how wild and dissonant it gets. They feel the peace. I am in awe.
Unlike many, I was not a good pianist at first. I studied classical piano until I was 15, but I was always physically weak and it was difficult for me to play or even practice. Although I studied at the High School of Performing Arts and Chatham Square Music School in New York, nobody really thought much of me as a pianist and I was terrified to perform in front of anyone, even the plumber who might be in the house. At 15, I became chronically ill and disabled, and I had to stop playing the piano altogether. Every time I tried to return to it, I would manage for a week or so, and then I would become extremely crippled. For example, after playing for a few weeks, I could no longer lift my arm to feed myself. I had to give it up.
In my mid-50s, I composed some CDs of music using computers and virtual and digital instruments, but I couldn’t play. I hated it. It was excruciatingly painful physically to create music at the computer, and I never thought of it as something I would do ongoingly, and I never thought of music becoming a career path. Then at the age of 73, an inner voice guided me to buy a fantastic acoustic grand piano, which I couldn’t play and which we couldn’t afford, and a miracle awaited me. My guidance was that I should not even try to play classical piano. Instead, if I only improvised and if I didn’t try to fit into a mould, I could actually play what my body was capable of at any given moment. It worked. And now I am broadcasting Beth Green’s Magical Piano Improvisations, a weekly improvisational piano concert, on my Facebook page, with over 10,000 followers, and I’m also performing here and there via the internet. And I am releasing my first improvisational solo piano album, and I’m just getting started.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
First, I don’t fit into any niche musically. I have the heart of a classical pianist, but 100% improvised music has not been recognized as classical. I don’t play jazz. I’m not easy listening. People can’t categorize me, so it’s hard to find a way to promote myself as musicians normally do. Second, I still suffer from severe fatigue and pain, and I can’t play too much, or my body crashes. So that limits me, too, although I am still somehow constantly improving.
And lastly, I have been plagued with self-doubt. My hands move around the keyboard as though they have a will of their own, I can’t remember what I just played and I don’t have perfect pitch. Yet music comes out, created on the spot, as if it were composed. It’s hard to fathom.
To overcome my self-doubt, I have been blessed with minor miracles. My fans lift me up. They validate the music as valuable to them. I realize I don’t have to be perfect, that I need to recognize that what I am already doing is nurturing people, and I shouldn’t judge it.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the album I am in the process of releasing: Peace Beyond Reason: Piano Improvisations from the Soul. This is my very first solo piano album, and it’s all improvised. It just flowed. I also love the album before that, which was called Emergence to Transcendence. I made it in a different way. First I improvised a track on the piano, and then I layered on top of it one or two tracks done with beautiful virtual instruments. I found the music very impactful, but that was the last time I worked at all on the computer. I hope to never have to face that physical pain again, and I don’t need to, because I can play the piano, and this incredible instrument can tell the whole story itself.
I guess I am just proud that I have been able to overcome my ego that told me I was no good. I don’t think about myself when I play. I focus on the music and forget that most of my life I was terrified of performing.
A piece from Emergence to Transcendence
This is a private version of the first piece from my new album, not yet released, called Peace Beyond Reason. I will be uploading the entire fully-mastered album June 25, 2021.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I stay connected to myself and my purpose, to channel supportive energy to others.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
My living room. I am thrilled to perform online because I am too ill to travel much. In fact, I have barely left the house since 1983.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I think the whole field of classical music needs to incorporate more improvisational music and improvisation studies. Some classically-trained pianists feel frozen when they go to improvise and they would like to feel more free to express themselves spontaneously. I am NOT an expert in what the universities and piano studios are offering, but I have seen some students focusing on jazz for improvisation guidance and performance. Why can’t we improvise modern classical music as well or instead? For that reason, I am offering “Liberate the Improviser Within,” which consists of piano lessons to help coach traditionally-trained pianists not only to improvise, but to play more freely and expressively in general. I am fortunate to have both skills as an improviser AND over 40 years of experience as a counsellor to bring to the endeavour.
In addition, I have just launched a video blog on YouTube called The Improvisational Pianist. Here’s a link to the first vlog, https://youtu.be/slK_-NzuWxk, and more will soon be coming. I am already planning to interview others who improvise and who are helping others do the same. If anyone is interested in joining me on this blog, let me know.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
They happen all the time: Every time people tell me that I have helped them with debilitating anxiety or grief, or every time I feel incredibly uplifted and in another dimension, it’s a memorable experience.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Speaking to people and the universe through music. Finding new audiences and connecting to them, while staying true to myself and growing as an artist and a person. I would also love to encourage other pianists to be more free in their expression and I hope to support the music world to recognize improvisational piano as an art form deserving of respect.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Dare to think outside the box. Be yourself. Remember, the purpose of music is not to impress, but to connect.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Alive, not totally crippled and still playing the piano. In addition, since I have been at home and isolated from other musicians almost all my life, I would love to be connected to others and feel part of a community.
What is your most treasured possession?
My piano, of course, my Shigeru Kawai SK6.
What is your present state of mind?
Hopeful and excited about possibilities. COVID really stopped a lot of musicians, but since I’m sick and housebound, it had the opposite effect for me, since there are increasing opportunities to perform via the internet. I want to say that playing the piano is a privilege. I know what it’s like to not be able to play for nearly 60 years, so it’s an incredible gift I receive every time I touch the keys and my hands move. I am grateful for the divine energies that flow through me as I play, and when people respond with their hearts and souls, I know that I have finally found a way to really speak that divine language to others. Playing the piano was my first language. It was my way of crying out to the universe. My cry is being heard, and so is my faith.
Brief Introduction to Beth Green’s Magical Piano Improvisations
Facebook livestream of Beth Green’s Magical Piano Improvisations and other videos