MERRY CHRISTMAS! The Rice Brothers (Chris, cello; Johnny, piano) play their arrangement of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Posted on December 25, 2008

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MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! We hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a terrific New Year!

We also hope you enjoy our arrangement of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Mendelsohn – Wesley), and that the coming seasons of your lives are filled with truly beautiful music!

With a special tip of our hat to John Hodges, one of our deeply loved and honored musical mentors. John was, for the better part of three decades, one of the two extraordinary ragtime piano players at Disneyland. He was the first person to introduce the two of us to the piano. Since then, he has spent years encouraging us in our musical development, and has remained one of our truly dear friends. As we’ve gotten older, he has spent a great deal of time with us. Among many other things, John has shared lots of what he knows about arranging music! He’s been Blessed with wonderful understandings and skills about such things, and his generosity with us has been an amazing gift! (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” the video which accompanies this post, is one of the first arrangements we’ve written. It draws heavily on John’s inspiration and guidance!)

A second special tip of our hat goes to Rod Miller, Disneyland’s other fabulous, long-time ragtime piano player. Rod was hired by Walt Disney himself … that was a long time ago, and Rod has brought a huge amount of musical joy to lots and lots of folks, over the years! He’s been our musical mentor and friend, too, since we were very little boys. Rod recently came to visit RiceHouse, here in Arizona … what a wonderful treat, a very special time!

It’s amazing to think about the number of children who have been contributed to by John and Rod. It would be understated to say that they’ve been a gift to us, but that’s exactly what John and Rod have been, a gift, and a Blessing … their presence, and guidance, and friendship, has always felt truly miraculous to us. We feel that, in being so utterly willing to go out of their way on our behalf, they helped us, as children, to develop our understanding of how our Father in Heaven cares for us, and looks after us, and the selfless role Jesus has played on our behalf. Which is to say that our love and appreciation for John and Rod go far beyond their contribution to us musically. We are thankful to them, and for them, and also for you, for all the times you have gone out of your way to take care of, to love, children and other folks. When we think of Angels singing, we think of the role God and Jesus have played in all of our lives, and the role you play, thanks to Grace, in the lives of those around you. That’s truly “beautiful music.” When we play music for you, today and always, we play in honor of that!

God Bless you. And… We wish you the merriest of Christmas seasons!

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“You have an honest face”: Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen, and … Paula

Posted on December 22, 2008

Anyone who’s paying attention can tell that she’s gifted, and gifted at the highest level. The passion is there, and there are a of couple of those unmistakable “telltale signs.” All a person has to do is watch Paula for a while. Y’know how there are dogs that … well, you only need to catch a moment’s glimpse of them, and there’s no doubt at all in your mind that that’s not only a biting dog, but a mongrel that’ll drag you out into the middle of a busy street and leave you there, if it concludes that you need running over. (Have you also noticed that it’s difficult, and maybe not all that smart, to take your eyes off a dog like that?) That’s how it is with about one in a million actors, musicians, and singers. You can tell at a glance, even when they’re really, really young, that they have an innate ability to grab hold of you and take you just about anywhere they’re moved to take you. They can do that because, as Mark Twain said, it’s “the law of their make.” They were born to do that. Having said that… I have to admit that, hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t actually heard Paula sing. (Not that I need to hear her to know what she’s capable of…) I suppose I could just find a way to sit closer, but it’s at least possible that she hasn’t yet learned to fully project that presence of hers, that voice, so that everyone can hear her! Some dogs, you can hear them howling from two miles away, and your entire being shudders. With Paula, it’s not like that. Yet.

Have you ever known anyone like that? Someone who is just compelling to look at, and you instinctively know better than to take your eyes off of them, but you can’t tell why you can’t stop staring. I mean, Paula’s gorgeous, no doubt about that. But goodness, the foothills to the west of our home can be gorgeous in a given moment, too … “gorgeous” is a fleeting thing. In order for something to be truly compelling … I mean, beyond cur-gonna-bite-and-drag compelling … it has to threaten to carry us right into the heart of a beauty which is eternal … and Paula has that “Himalayan Sherpa” quality. Read the rest of this post »

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The Rice Brothers (Chris, cello; Johnny, piano) play their arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria

Posted on December 21, 2008

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We offer our cello / piano arrangement of Ave Maria in the hope that all of God’s children will have a wonderful holiday season! For those of you who, with our family, are enjoying the Christmas season, and of course celebrating the birth of Jesus… Well, we wish to thank God for Mary, and for all other Moms, and we hope that our Ave Maria is understood to be part of the Praise which we feel in our hearts for all God has done for us through you.

We also wish to “tip our hat,” lovingly and respectfully, to our friend Kathy, for whom we know this particular Ave Maria is very special. We hope that our recording will be one of many, many Blessings which unfold in your life, Kathy, as the years move forward.

For those who enjoy learning a bit of music history: Ave Maria has been set to music many times. Probably the most famous settings have been those composed by Charles Gounod (1859), which added melody and words to Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier; and by Franz Schubert (1825).

Interestingly, while Schubert’s version opens with the greeting “Ave Maria” (“Hail Mary”), his original text is not from the traditional Ave Maria prayer, but rather is from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. However, the traditional Ave Maria prayer is often sung to Schubert’s melody. (In Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the Schubert melody is used with another text which begins with the same phrase.)

Other well-known composers who have created settings for Ave Maria have included Dvořák, Verdi, Mozart, Elgar, Saint-Saëns, Rossini, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky.

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“On the run”: Jesse James, Bonnie & Clyde and … Dan

Posted on December 21, 2008

To our astonishment, Dan Brenden dropped in to our most recent Bach-’n-All™, and listened to us play music for a while! He’s been on the run, again. Since we’ve known him, which has been quite a few years, now, it’s seemed as though he’s always been on the run, at least until the law drags him back in. Now, quite a few of the folks who attend our Bach-’n-Alls™ have a truly profound relationship to music. Almost everyone has some type of music which is their favorite. But not Dan. Mostly, he’s not even interested in sounds. When music is happening, Dan’s only listening for one thing: a run of notes. He says that a run of notes, any run of notes, gives him hope. But after a while, as is his wont, Dan stole one last glance at the piano, and made his getaway into the night. (Dan usually doesn’t take off unless he hears a gunshot. Jesse James, and Bonnie and Clyde, would have been embarrassed to start running if a gun went off … I mean, their inclination was to shoot back! But Dan seems to feel that, if a gun is fired, heck, even a gun which is probably only shooting blanks, the best thing he can do is to put as much distance as possible between himself and the shooter. To each his own, I suppose. But for folks who spent literally years “on the run,” it might have been a lot smarter for Jesse and Bonnie and Clyde to have responded to guns in the way Dan’s tended to. I mean, Dan probably won’t ever have the sort of records for robbing banks, or even service stations, that Jesse and Bonnie and Clyde did. But Dan’s got a few records of his own, after all, and he’s managed to live a lot longer than they did. Despite the law!)

We Rice Brothers played music for folks for the better part of four hours, as we do at just about all of our Bach-’n-Alls™, and, for the most part, everyone was pretty attentive. Of course, “attentive” is a relative thing, and, in any case, even though we’re mostly classical musicians, we don’t ask people to try to swim up-current against their attention spans. It’s fine with us if people talk to one another, and enjoy the host’s epicurean offerings, while we play music. Our goal is that everyone is thoroughly steeped in our music, and for that to happen, they just need to be sitting close enough to the piano. Read the rest of this post »

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Chris Rice (cello) & Belinda Chiu (piano) play Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, 1st movement

Posted on December 3, 2008

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Belinda (who I mentioned in the previous post) and I performed this piece together when we were twelve years old. That was about half of our respective musical lifetimes ago, since we’re now both in the vicinity of 20 years old. Each of us started into piano at a pretty early age… I took my first formal lesson three days after I turned two. Heh … I was sitting on my Dad’s lap during Johnny’s first lesson … Johnny was 4 at the time, the youngest child in a class of mostly 7-year-olds … and I was throwing a fit, according to everyone present … it was apparently not okay with me to be excluded from the class. (I don’t remember, of course, having been too young at the time, or maybe having “blocked it out” … but I’m guessing that the folks who were present that day, and who still delight in telling this story, probably aren’t lying about it… <smile) Dad was trying to convince me that “behaving” would be a good idea, but I gather that I was having a difficult time getting my mind around the concept. I wanted to sit at one of the pianos and play it, like the other kids were doing. The teacher suggested that Dad go ahead and let me sit at one of the pianos … she was probably thinking that, even if I hammered away at the instrument, I’d be less of a distraction than I was already being. To everyone’s surprise, I was able to follow her musical instructions, and could do what the other kids were doing, so I was allowed to join the class, instead of being required to stay home when the next lesson came around.

I’m guessing that Belinda, who was a very sweet child, probably waited in a well-behaved, dutiful way, and joined her first class when it was “appropriate” for her to do so, when she was about 5 years old. <smile> Read the rest of this post »

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“With a Song in My Heart”: Franz Schubert, Ella Fitzgerald and … Belinda

Posted on December 2, 2008

Franz Schubert wrote songs … hundreds of them. Ella Fitgerald sang ‘em. And Belinda? Well, she is a song. For the longest time, when I’ve thought of Belinda, it’s been, as Rogers and Hart wrote in 1929, and Ella Fitzgerald sang, nearly 30 years later, “With a Song in My Heart!”

I’d guess that a lot of folks might have thought of Belinda and myself as competitors. When a piano competition was held in our State, there was a pretty fair chance that one or the other of us would win it. I’d have to really work to remember which of us won any given competition. But it’s no work at all to recall the beautiful music that Belinda played on the piano. Or to bring back to my mind her shy smile, which was always as wonderful a presence as the music she played. We were little kids when we first met, and both of us were far too shy to do anything quite as outrageous as, say, talk with one another. Her teacher, back then, was Manuela Pagano, who is regarded as one of the world’s very best piano teachers. As Belinda got a bit older, she began to be taught by Manuela’s husband, Caio Pagano, who I think most would agree is the greatest pianist ever to emerge from Brazil (and that’s saying a lot)! My teacher at the time was part of Caio and Manuela’s studio, so we kids did a lot of listening to one another playing the piano. During those early years, Belinda was the young pianist I most looked up to who was my own age. (I also looked up to Jian Liu, and to Wei Xing, of course, but they were practically “old folks” back then. I mean … Wei was already in high school, and Jian had started into college!) Read the rest of this post »

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Johnny Rice plays George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (solo piano version)

Posted on December 1, 2008

Part One:

Part Two:

Click here for the higher-visual-quality version of this performance! (It’s not divided into two parts, as was required by YouTube’s 10-minute limit.)

George Gershwin had his priorities straight… He dropped out of school when he was 15. That’s the thing we most admire and appreciate about him. We’re thankful that he provided us Rice Brothers with such a terrific role model: depart “school” as early as you possibly can, head straight for “Tin Pan Alley,” and share your music with anybody who’s willing to listen! Which is exactly what Johnny and I have done, although at a bit younger age than George. (“Tin Pan Alley” long ago ceased to exist as a place … but its spirit has endured, and calls out to musicians who, like George, have the “keys” to bring it alive!)

Next, we love it that, in 1924, when he was just a little older than we are now, he wrote his beautiful “Rhapsody in Blue.” (For those of you who follow this videoblog from somewhere other than the U.S.A., and haven’t been to our country yet… Well, make a point of listening to Rhapsody in Blue before you visit. Once you’ve heard it, nothing much about our country will surprise you once you get here. <smile>)

There are a number of versions of Rhapsody in Blue: one for solo piano, another for solo piano and a jazz band, and yet another for solo piano and orchestra. George even wrote a “four-hands” version (for two pianists playing the same piano … uhm … at the same time). In the two videos which accompany this post, Johnny plays the solo piano version. (The piece is too long for YouTube’s 10-minute time limit, so we had to divide it in two; you can see the full version, all the way through, in better-than-YouTube visual quality, by clicking the “higher-quality” link, above.) A little while back, Johnny performed Rhapsody in Blue, as the piano soloist, with our favorite orchestra, The Symphony of the Southwest, led by our favorite conductor, Cal Stewart Kellogg. (We’ll post the video of the latter performance some time soon.) Read the rest of this post »

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“Play it again, Sam”: Humphrey Bogart (“Rick”), Sean Astin (“Samwise Gamgee”) … and Teresa (again)

Posted on November 25, 2008

It is always available to us, when life deals us a tough hand, to become bitter, cynical and self-absorbed. Sort of like Rick, at the beginning of the classic movie Casablanca. Rick, the character played by Humphrey Bogart, and Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, had fallen in love, several years earlier, in Paris. At the time, Ilsa believed that her husband had been killed trying to escape from a Nazi concentration camp. But soon after Rick and Ilsa had fallen in love, with the German army on the verge of capturing Paris, Ilsa learned that her husband was in fact alive and in hiding. She left Rick, disappearing without any explanation, to tend to her ill husband. As the story progresses, Rick eventually emerges from his bitterness and provides a phenomenally inspiring example of what it means to act in a completely selfless way.

And then there is the inspiring character Samwise Gamgee, so beautifully crafted in the J.R.R. Tolkien book “The Return of the King” (The Lord of the Rings, Part Three), and so magnificently played in the movie by Sean Astin. Samwise’s passionate declaration, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you,” has been a phenomenal inspiration to so many people!

But what about “real life?” Have you ever known anyone who contended with difficult circumstances in the sort of inspiring way which we associate with the greatest of our fictional characters? We can’t say we’ve ever known anyone we’d describe like that … but only because the heroes and heroines of fiction pale in contrast to Teresa. And, when it comes down to it, they pale in contrast to Josh (Teresa’s husband), too. Read the rest of this post »

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Chris Rice plays Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23

Posted on May 13, 2008

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Frédéric Chopin, who is our “other” famous great-great-great-great grandteacher, was of course from Poland. As was our great-great-great-great grandmother (on our father’s side), Ida Weisman Rice, who came to the United States around the year 1910, when she was about the age we Rice Brothers are now. Perhaps the fact that we are Polish-rooted, both biologically and musically, explains, at least in part, why both of us have such a profound love for Chopin’s music. His music, after all, is quintessentially Polish, and is universally considered to embody the Polish spirit. (But on the other hand, we have friends from all over the world who absolutely love Chopin’s music, so maybe we’d have loved it just as much if our ancestors came from somewhere entirely else!)

When we play Chopin’s music, we have a very specific goal in mind. Our hope is that we will play it in such a passionate, moving, and beautiful way that, one fine and Blessed day, we will be invited by modern-day Poles to play it for them in Poland.

Said slightly differently: Kiedy gramy muzykę Chopina, mają bardzo konkretne cele na uwadze. Mamy nadzieję, że będziemy grać w taki sposób, ruchome i piękne, że prędzej czy później, zostaną zaproszeni przez dzisiejszej Polaków do odegrania dla nich Polska.

Which may or may not be a good translation (we got just a tiny bit of help from Google translator…) But we hope that someone in Poland will read it and understand, and that our music will move their Spirit so deeply that… Well, we’ll let you know how it all works out. Read the rest of this post »

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“Doing what you ARE!”: Artie Shaw, Mark Twain, and … Sami

Posted on May 7, 2008

Lately, our family has been re-watching the Ken Burns *Jazz* series. There is a wonderful interview segment with Artie Shaw. (He was an American jazz clarinetist, composer, and bandleader, widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians of his time.) Speaking of something which hugely influenced him when he was in his late teens, Shaw said, “I went to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage [to see Louis Armstrong play], I took a week off and went up to Chicago, I had a little car, and I found my way to a place called the Savoy. And I sat on a rug-covered bandstand and waited, and he came on, and the first thing he played was ‘West End Blues.’ And I heard this cascade of notes coming out of a trumpet, no one had ever done that before. I was obsessed with the idea that this was what you had to do, something that was your own, that had nothing to do with anybody else, but I was influenced by him, not in terms of notes, but in terms of doing what you are, who you are.”

Now… Great musicians, whether they play jazz or classical music, always bring to bear their own personalities, who they are, when they play. It doesn’t matter whether they’re improvising or playing something which has been arranged or composed earlier. When a performer is just copying someone else’s way of playing something, they’re just playing notes, and there’s no life in the music.

Which brings me to Sami, a spectacular new young friend of mine. (Well, hey, she’s five months and three days younger than I am.) There is something truly and powerfully unique about her. She’s a musician, but it’s not her main thing. She’s spent a lot of time traveling … Read the rest of this post »

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The Rice Brothers (Chris, cello; Johnny, piano) play the Haydn Cello Concerto in C, third movement

Posted on April 6, 2008

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Franz Joseph Haydn is three generations back, on our “teacherly tree,” from Franz Liszt, making “Papa Joe” our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandteacher. So far, he’s better known for writing “The Haydn C,” which is what many people call his Cello Concerto in C, than he is for being part of our teacherly line… <smile>

We just love the piece, and our audiences seem to love it, too! Probably this is at least partly because of Papa Joe’s sense of humor! I mean, he writes things which are amazingly beautiful, and which really let a musician “show off” what she or he can do, technically speaking. This latter is called being “virtuosic.” If we musicians don’t demonstrate some degree of virtuosity in our playing, members of our audiences … if anyone is willing to listen to us at all … tend to doze off, and maybe even snore. Except infants and other very young children, who aren’t likely to doze off, but often start screaming. As they should. (Adults are usually too inhibited to start screaming. But not always…) Read the rest of this post »

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Great piano teachers: Franz Liszt, Robert Hamilton, and … Teresa

Posted on April 3, 2008

There are two reasons we wanted to welcome you with Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” First, we think it’s stunningly, vastly beautiful. And second, we want to honor two of the teachers who are most loved by us (and also the teachers you love the most)! (We intend to rhapsodize about such teachers… <smile>)

Franz Liszt is one of our two famous great-great-great-great grandteachers. One thing about terrific teachers … they have a way of making comments that are … memorable. This is almost always a good thing, a Blessing. But not always.

Our piano teacher, Robert Hamilton, the first of the two teachers we wish to honor here, is one of the world’s most respected and honored pianists and teachers. He has a profound ability to convey ideas in utterly unforgettable ways, so he seldom has to make the same point twice. 98 or 99% of the time, we wouldn’t have it any other way! But then there was the comment he made about two months ago… Read the rest of this post »

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Chris Rice plays Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Posted on April 2, 2008

Sometimes there’s a smile or a nod first, but we most often play music for people … a bit of piano, a bit of cello … before we talk with them. For us, this is like first handing someone a rose, to honor the beautiful music which lives in them (whether or not that “beautiful music” involves instruments and the like). In that spirit … welcome … and … we hope you enjoy Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, by Franz Liszt!

Click here for the higher-visual-quality version of this video!

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