Young pianist literally makes it up as she goes along

Young pianist, educator, literally makes it up as she goes along

Artistic ability
Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News
Pianist Haley Kallenberg performing at The Fridge in Al Quoz. The pianist and educatorbranched out from her strict classical tutelage.
Gulf News

Dubai: You might not think that Alaska and Dubai have much in common, but they have one person in common. Haley Kallenberg has brought her unique brand of music to the desert, all the way from the snow-capped mountains of the USA.

Far from being predictable, Kallenberg, 27, spontaneously composes during performances, giving her audiences one-time only shows that won't ever be repeated again.

Having learned the piano from the tender age of three, the pianist and educator branched out from her strict classical tutelage, into contemporary and jazz music around the age of 14.

"I had the strict pedagogy, but in tandem with that I was constantly making my own music," she told Gulf News of her strict classical tutelage from Russian teachers.

"I had a lot of freedom to write my own music... I was always composing, always writing my own music as a kid. I really liked having the freedom and environment to do that, because a lot of kids don't," she said.

Spontaneous composition is a relatively new concept — in fact, according to Kallenberg there are only two schools in the US that teach the method.

So how does it work? "You're creating spontaneously, which has many different layers of creativity. If you play in a group, you listen to the other players and you act spontaneously according to what you hear. It's not necessarily always call and response," she said.

The drummer in an ensemble she played in described the musical method as if everyone in the band is holding hands and running through the dark.

Moments of brilliance

"You know in the moments of brilliance we have, it's as if lightning strikes and the whole scenery is lit up... you have these wonderful moments of art and you might see trees and mountains... and then it falls dark again," Kallenberg said.

These splashes of light are a metaphor for physical moments, she explained, "this is the moment we search for".

The musician has lived and worked in Dubai for two years, and moved here after taking a walk through the emirate on a stopover from Japan to Austria.

Spontaneous composition, she explains, has three main requisites: always say ‘yes'; divorce yourself from your ego; and think about the breath.

Saying ‘yes' is important, in the same way as it's important to say ‘yes' when ideas are thrown at you in improvisational theatre. Saying ‘yes' and accepting the ideas that musicians playing with you are giving you also means you need to divorce yourself from your ego.

Breath is the third important element. "The power of breath is really important. The rhythm we speak is all due to breath... our language revolves around our ability to breathe, music is much the same," she said.

Kallenberg gave a performance of spontaneous composition in Al Quoz on Wednesday. She first explained the concept to the audience: who were then enthralled to witness three black keys fly off the piano during one flourish.

"I've never, ever broken the piano before. I meditate heavily on what's going to happen most of the time. But after the keys broke, I thought I have to keep playing the rest of the concert and so it was totally new music, different arrangements," she said. Kallenberg had to complete her recital missing two F#s and a G#: "It was an interesting experience for me."

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