Music

A few months ago, Rubi Lichauco, my student, obtained the score of Cristal by Cesar Camargo Mariano, a tune she was attracted to when she heard it played by Cesar himself. Here, the original composition for solo piano was adapted for piano and jazz guitar (Noel Borthwick). Despite Rubi’s busy schedule, she has pursued music in more ways than one and it is wonderful to see her commitment and perseverance pay off!

Another video showing a reharmonization of the popular Irish ballad ‘O Danny Boy’ (a.k.a. ‘Londonderry Air’) using techniques such as modifying chord color as well as time/meter changes, inserting chromatic passing chords among others, to enrich a standard tune. (Song starts at 1:05).

(Recorded on an Estonia L-190 using the wonderful Earthworks PM-40 PianoMic system, straight into Cakewalk SONAR X2 Producer. Some very basic mastering was done to add a touch of eq, dynamics and reverb).

So I’ve just unboxed and finished road testing my new Earthworks PM40 mic system. I’ve longed for the ability to record the grand piano in our home studio. Mic’ing a grand piano well can be a challenge for even experienced audio engineers. Not only do you need to have great mics, their placement greatly contributes to the quality of the sound. In a home studio environment this can be a daunting or near impossible task.

Earlier this year I happened to hear a demo of the PM40 system at NAMM 2012 and was floored by how good it sounded. After researching these mics and communicating with the company, we finally ended up buying one for our studio. Not only does it sound incredible, but you don’t need to be an audio engineer to install and use one! There is virtually no bleed from peripheral sounds outside of the piano and recordings can be done with the piano lid open or completely closed. I like that it is made in the USA (Earthworks is located in Milford, NH) and for a neat freak like me, the minimalist set up allows for boom and cable-free clutter with the visual focus remaining on my grand. In this video I show what I did to install this in my Estonia L190 grand piano.

Here, I road test the mics by playing my composition “One Of Us”. I recorded the Estonia at full stick, completely dry. The recording was done with Cakewalk SONAR X1 with no EQ or effects applied. Continue reading

A question I often get asked by my students is how to reharmonize a tune. This is a brief video outlining some methods I use. It is assumed that you are already familiar with jazz chord voicings, extensions/alterations & substitutions. Here is the leadsheet containing the reharmonization to Ode To Joy.

Reharmonization is a vast and beautiful area in which I continually encounter new insights and surprises. There are many books available on this subject, and transcribing reharmonized tunes by jazz greats will not only improve your ear, but give you a first hand look at how they approach improvisation on the new chord changes as well.
P.S. A minor slip of the tongue at 3:42 – the chord is a Gm9sus (not G9sus) and at 4:55 C#dim not C dim.

Visited a cool, damp Anaheim in mid-Jan to attend the NAMM show. With over a 1,00,000 folk passing through the convention doors over four days, the buzz at this music industry convention is powerful and contagious, this year being no less.

NAMM 2012, Anaheim, California

Strategically situated by one of the main entrances was the Cakewalk booth in the Roland arena where music production demos of the SONAR X1 were being held.

Cakewalk-Roland

What I really want for Christmas: The PianoMic System by Earthworks. The adjustable bar lies across the soundboard, and there are no awkward booms or messy cables. I think something this inconspicuous and easy to use will definitely be an incentive to record solo piano more often. Continue reading

Integratron, Landers, California

Visited the awesome Integratron built by in the early 60’s by aviation engineer and paranormalist George Van Tassel. Situated in Landers, CA about 20 miles from Joshua Tree NP in the Mohave desert, it brims with a colorful, if not fascinating history. The name “Integratron” actually applies to a machine, in Tassel’s terms – a high-voltage electrostatic generator, that would supply the range of frequencies to recharge cell structure. Magnetic fields and Tesla’s technique of creating high ionization static fields were also key principles in the development of this structure. Had an opportunity to sing in this all-wood acoustic chamber (only one of it’s kind in the world) and it was surreal. While I felt energy and a strong focus from my ‘center’, my voice had a re-inforced quality as if I had morphed into a tri-headed human with extra vocal cords. It was clear, rich and warm – no confusing bounce backs and garbled echoes, with the perfect amount of reverb. ‘Rejuvenating’ sound bath sessions are held here, and it would have been interesting to partake in one. The chamber is also rented out for recording sessions. Continue reading

Interviewed by Dr. Rick Holland | Aug 16, 2011

Dr. Rick – Ramona, please give us some of your background. Tell us where you studied music, maybe some of your biggest influences as a student of music.

Ramona – I grew up in Bombay, India where I had most of my formal musical training. Born into a musician’s family I was fortunate to have had private piano lessons in classical music twice a week starting at the age of six. In addition to practicing the instrument, assignments in music theory and history were aplenty. In junior high I got good enough to sub at school for the music teacher when she called in sick 🙂 This was my first solo gig playing experience, it was Continue reading

By Richard Kamin in ‘StepTempest’

“Who’s Your Mama” opens this recording, with the trumpet of Ingrid Jensen intoning the the notes to NPR’s “Morning Edition” before the band takes the piece on a romp. It’s a fitting and joyful beginning to the program, pianist/composer/vocalist Borthwick’s second release as a leader. She’s a fine player, displaying a style that has its roots in mainstream jazz. Her solos are often lyrical (listen to the beauty and strength of the title track) and she can really dig into her phrases. Her wordless vocals add yet another color to several of the tracks, mixing well with the guitar and trumpet or flugelhorn. One hears the influences of Pat Metheny and McCoy Tyner in many of these pieces (and Herbie Hancock in several of the solos.) Her compositions are smartly constructed, with the rhythm section of Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Adam Cruz (drums) really pushing the pieces along. Continue reading

By Dr. Rick Holland | Aug 2, 2011

Great new release by Boston pianist and composer, Ramona Borthwick. This contemporary release embraces beautiful melody and an undying sense of groove. The group dynamic is superb, and the rhythmic interaction, from Rubato, time signature differences, straight eighth feels to straight ahead swing is met with a confidence and musicality. The soloists are excellent, spatial and melodic.

Disc starts with Who’s Your Mama. Ingrid Jesen really opens with a beautiful statement. Her sound is round and inviting. The tune embraces different melodic statements, with Ramona singing a wordless vocal style over an inviting melody. Then the solo’s hit with a hard groove. Many will enjoy this small group arrangement which delivers a big sound. Most of you know what a dynamic soloist Ingrid is, but Noel and Ramona are musical forces on this disc. Continue reading

Roughly about a year and a half ago, I decided to start a search for a grand piano. Aside from several local stores & dealers in the Boston area, my area of exploration extended to out of state New Hampshire, Connecticut & New York businesses as well. Adding to this were helpful friends, local musicians, teachers and piano technicians – willing accomplices in my search, who would inform me of a potential instrument if it appeared on their horizon. (Thanks to Victor Belanger, whose largesse included cheerful and complete responses to my many technical queries). And of course Craigslist, which can be a bit of a wild card, but worth a try nevertheless. To find the ‘perfect’ instrument would be complicated, as perfection is elusive, but my checklist was tangible.

  • Size: between 5’8” – 6’8”, preferably larger than 6′
  • Manufactured after 1950, it’s age preferably 5-20 years, requiring little or no major repair or maintenance for the next 20 years
  • Width not greater than 61” or else it wouldn’t fit through the studio entryway. (The concrete bulkhead could be modified, but I wasn’t prepared to undergo a demolition to accommodate a piano)
  • Deep, warm, rich sound, with notes in the upper and lower extremities that you’d actually want to play and not shy away from
  • It would serve well for both classical as well as jazz repertoire
  • Suited to my budget, which would place it somewhere in the mid-level range of pianos
  • This one a phantom stipulation but of great importance – a piano that would inspire my creativity and compositional flow

Almost all research was done on the internet – piano companies, model specifications, dealers, customer reviews, Larry Fine’s The Piano Book, and browsing through piano forums. Among the stores visited were Darrells Music Hall (Nashua, NH), Londonderry Piano (Salem, NH), Steinerts, Boston Organ & Pianos (Natick, MA) & Allegro Pianos (Stamford, CT).

My early search started with Steinways in mind – not the new pianos – despite the revered name and surrounding hype, I wasn’t enamoured with the sound or price, Continue reading

By JOHN McDONOUGH | Downbeat Magazine “HotBox” review | May 2010

DownBeat_May2010Cover“Borthwick, who authored all the pieces in this self- produced and self-released CD, walks both sides of the street, playing excellent, if not quite distinctive, straightahead piano throughout, while adding her shimmering, wordless soprano lines to selected ensembles along the way. She does this sparingly, sometimes subtlety, and frequently hauntingly, never scatting or soloing but instead embedding and camouflaging herself deep into meticulously orchestrated unison lines in which her voice seems to float on piano, guitar and horn…”
—JOHN McDONOUGH, Downbeat Magazine

“I like the warm spiritual vibe, especially Borthwick’s wordless vocals, a la Flora Purim.”
—PAUL de BARROS, Downbeat Magazine

downbeat_hotboxreview

altriSuoniApril 28th, 2010, SoundContest Magazine Interview
Redattore: Maurizio Spennato
[Tranlation in English below]

Sound Contest: Ciao Ramona, grazie per aver accettato la nostra intervista per i lettori di Sound Contest. C’e’ qualcosa di nuovo – aria nuova – in questo tuo ultimo CD, One Of Us… una palpabile maturazione delle tue composizioni…

Ramona Borthwick: Grazie a voi. E’ stato molto piacevole scrivere questa musica, ed io sono sempre impaziente di riascoltare i risultati delle registrazioni con la band in studio. Parlando poi di maturita’ – spero che sia una buona cosa (ride) – immagino che il trascorrere del tempo mi abbia rilassato nell’accettare il jazz come un approccio piuttosto che uno specifico genere o stile. E’ come essere autorizzati ad infondere idee da frontiere esterne al jazz, le cui possibilita’ possono essere illimitate. La musica del nuovo CD e scritta per un quintetto, ma richiederebbe un numero maggiore degli strumenti per suonarla, quindi e’ l’uso della voce e delle sovrapposizioni di diverse parti di tromba e chitarra che a volte fanno suonare il quintetto, per cosi’ dire, come una “piccola big band”. Continue reading