Solo pianist Lisa Downing believes all of life is A Delicate Balance, also the title of her third album (currently one of the top instrumental airplay recordings in the world). “It’s a fragile existence that we lead,” states Downing. “It is a challenge to balance your job with your personal life, your outer-persona with your inner feelings, working versus having fun, helping your children or doing too much for them, day-dreams versus accomplishments. The list is endless and it touches every aspect of our lives.”
Downing took these feelings of the yin-yang of life and used them for inspiration in writing the compositions which especially reflect the years she spent as a single parent struggling to raise her son on her own. “I have discovered that the idea of striving to find balance in life is very important because it encourages you analyze the circumstances and find the middle way. Even the best things in life can become negatively tarnished if there is too much of them. The reason we appreciate the good moments is because of the perspective given us by the tough times.”
Lisa Downing’s music and CDs can be purchased at her website (http://www.LisaDowning.com), at major online retail outlets such as Amazon.com and CDbaby.com, and at numerous digital download web locations including iTunes.com and Rhapsody.com.
Lisa, who earned a university degree in music, has three solo piano recordings—Think on These Things (original material), Christmas for Two (her arrangements of holiday classics) and the new A Delicate Balance which for the past several months has been in the Top 5 of the international Zone Music Reporter airplay chart (measuring broadcast results of gentle, mostly-instrumental music). Downing also has toured with pianists Liz Story and Lee Bartley (previously with the smooth jazz group Images); performed on single-show concert bills with David Lanz, Peter Kater, Joseph Akins and Suzanne Ciani; and has been joined on-stage by top native-wood-flute player Scott August.
Lisa was born and raised in Denver, Colorado (and she still lives in the metropolitan area). She saw her first piano when she was two-and-a-half-years-old and was immediately captivated and began reaching for the keys. A few years later she was playing the xylophone and writing simple songs on it. She began playing acoustic guitar at age nine and piano a year later. Beginning when she was 16, Lisa took lessons for several years from Bill Alexander, one of Denver’s most prominent jazz players and instructors. In addition, her father was a disc-jockey on both jazz and classical radio stations, so she heard that music growing up as well as what played on the pop stations.
In high school Lisa was an avowed “Metal-Head” listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple and Yes, but eventually she began listening to some softer pop-rock acts such as Dan Fogelberg. Downing simultaneously attended the University of Colorado at Denver and Metropolitan State College earning a joint, specialized BA degree in Traditional and Non-Traditional Music with Keyboard Emphasis. In college she took courses, including some on early childhood development, that prepared her for a career of teaching piano.
After college when she was in her mid-twenties, Lisa became a youth pastor at a church and played guitar and piano in Wings of Faith, a Christian folk-pop-rock band (she also composed most of the material for the group). But her private passion was solo piano music. The first recorded solo piano she heard was jazz improviser Keith Jarrett, but in the Eighties George Winston emerged followed by Liz Story. “Hearing these artists was a personal break-through for me,” explains Downing, “because what they were doing was closer to what was in my head than anything I had heard before. It inspired me to get serious about my composing.” She began giving solo piano concerts in Colorado with the first one at an auditorium in suburban Denver at Littleton Town Hall, followed by shows at venues ranging from the Boulder Library to the Arvada Center. Soon she also was in demand to play corporate events and weddings. She balanced her professional music career between composing and performing, teaching piano students, and founding and running Vision Quest Entertainment, a talent agency representing more than 1,200 musicians and event services in Colorado.
Her solo piano performances led to a demand from her audiences for recordings so Downing released her first album, Think on These Things, with many of the original pieces spiritual in nature and inspired by her active church-life at that time. She followed that album with her Christmas for Two CD in 2009 and a Christmas tour with Liz Story that included concerts throughout Arizona (Scottsdale, Sedona and Tucson) and a workshop for aspiring pianists. “Working with Liz was a dream come true because I have admired her music for so long.”
Now Downing’s latest recording, A Delicate Balance, has become an immediate smash at radio (channels, stations and specialty shows) that specialize in broadcasting music in the genres of new age, neo-classical, acoustic and solo piano. Recorded in the studio on a Yamaha C7 acoustic piano, the album contains a dozen tunes written by Downing who is quickly becoming known as a composer of strong melodies, and as a performer active with both hands, often playing counter-melodies or switching hands for rhythm and lead lines.
The image on the cover of A Delicate Balance (and repeated throughout the artwork) is a symbolic photograph of five rocks precariously perched on top of one of another in the midst of waves and swirling water which could topple the stones at any moment. “The concept of that photo is that it represents the challenge of staying balanced within yourself so you can weather storms and adversity. The whole idea of balancing our existence translates to the world of music because good music cannot just be constant sound; there has to be a balance between sound and silence. Someone once said the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves.”
Much of the music on the album reflects the theme of balance. “Speaker/Listener” was inspired by a therapy exercise of speaking about feelings balanced by the listener repeating what was heard before reversing the roles (the music reflects this idea with slight pauses and tempo fluctuations). The idea for “Slow Dancing” came from the courtship with her husband (“We made a conscious decision to slow down the rushing romance and take the time to really get to know each other.”). “The piece \‘Indecision\’ tries to capture sitting on that precipice between not being able to make up your mind and eventually moving forward with your life.”
When Lisa first began writing “No Matter What I Do” it was a piece reflecting her extreme frustration, but when she couldn’t finish it, she asked Liz Story for advice and Liz pointed out that at times no matter what you do you feel frustrated, but there will always be other times in which blessings flow, and that the flip side of pain is a positive feeling. The balance found in nature is demonstrated with the tune “Diaphanous Breeze” which got its name when Downing noticed delicate cottonwood seeds being blown about by a powerful wind. Downing also understands that childhood is that short-lived time when we were poised, balanced, between being a baby and an adult, a time of summer “Night Games” under the streetlight (performed here as a fast-paced, rollicking piece). She also explores the world of “Make Believe,” often felt to be the opposite of reality, except that sometimes the made-up world serves as a visualization and helps make the dream come true. This tune starts in the upper registers to give it a childlike feeling, and then becomes more complex with numerous tempo changes.
“I have a great love for solo piano music,” Downing states. “I feel there are endless variations available, countless emotional possibilities that can be explored, and numerous textures and colors that can be created. But even with my piano music I am now beginning to seek a balance in concert as I occasionally bring on-stage a flutist or cellist for a few tunes.”