By Kathy Parsons
I was introduced to the music of Cory Lavine in the fall of 2015 when he sent me his debut album, Out of the Blue for review. I enjoyed the album very much and Cory went on to win the Best New Artist Award from EnlightenedPianoRadio.com. Last year, I had the pleasure of proofreading the companion sheet music book for the album, so this seemed like a good time to do an interview with Cory.
KP: Hey, Cory! How are things in Nashville these days?
CL: Things are busy here in Music City. There’s about $2 billion worth of construction going on downtown and there are cranes everywhere! We’re averaging about 83 families a day moving into Nashville.
KP: Wow! That’s a lot of new people coming in every week!
CL: On a personal level, I’m doing quite well and looking forward to seeing what the new year brings.
KP: Congratulations for winning the Best New Artist Award on Enlightened Piano Radio last year!
CL: Thanks, Kathy. It was quite an honor to win the award. I wasn’t at the Enlightened Piano Awards Show at Carnegie Hall in 2015, but it must have been quite an experience to be able to play there. The 2016 Awards were on the Carnival Triumph Cruise Ship!
KP: How was the cruise?
CL: It was awesome! It went from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico. I’ve been in Nashville for nineteen years, but I had never been to New Orleans. And that was a blast! What made the cruise extra special was having family there to support me. Neither I nor my parents had ever been on a cruise before.
Mom and dad came down from New York and my second cousin Debbie and her best friend came over from Texas. It was so much fun being there with pianists I already knew and others who I met for the first time. The weather was beautiful and the food was excellent! It was an experience I’ll never forget!
KP: You’ve been involved in music most of your life, but kind of took the long way to releasing your first solo album, Out of the Blue in 2015. How did you get started as a professional musician?
CL: I was in a band called, Free Fare which was part of Young American Showcase. I started in late 1990 after I graduated from high school. Our band did anti-alcohol and drug abuse assembly programs in junior and senior high schools across the country. The couple who owned the company, Barb and Lowell Lytle, were both Christians. They wanted to find a way to tell kids about Christ but knew they just couldn’t go into the schools and start preaching. So, they had to win the right to be heard. To do this, they decided to use the universal language of music.
By using Top 40 rock n’ roll music and combining that with our message of not using drugs or alcohol to accomplish one’s goals and dreams in life, we got our foot in the door. We did a 45-minute daytime assembly program and then we went back to the school for a 90-minute concert that night or a couple nights later. About three-quarters of the way through the night show, if the school would allow it, we would tell them that we were Christians. If kids wanted to talk to us after the concert about what it meant to be Christians, we made ourselves available to do just that.
KP: What made you decide to start composing and recording your own music?
CL: That’s a good question. Let me tell you how it all happened:
When I first moved to Nashville back in 1998. I needed to find a place to work to fulfill my graduation requirements for recording school. I contacted Mike Jones, who was a mentor in my days touring with Young American Showcase. He told me to check out the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. I knew I wanted to get back to doing music again, but whether to perform in a band or to work in a studio, I just wasn’t sure.
I was able to do an internship at the hotel that involved setting up and operating audio-visual equipment in meeting rooms and ballrooms. On my very first day, my boss told me: “Go get yourself lost, and then when it’s time to go home, find your way back.” I did just that and it was amazing! The hotel has 2,888 sleeping rooms! After completing my graduation requirements and working at the hotel for about six months, I was hired full-time.
However, in 2005, the company I was working for lost their contract with the hotel. For whatever reason, the new company that came in didn’t hire me, nor some of my co-workers. I wasn’t sure whether to go back home to New York or to stay here in Nashville to pursue something else related to music. I had come so far and just wasn’t sure which road to choose. I checked to see what else was available at the hotel, and there was a bellman position that had opened up. I thought becoming a bellman would be a nice fit since I knew the hotel and because I enjoy meeting people. Even though it would move me away from the work I was currently doing, I would still be in Nashville. With bills to pay, I needed to do something fast, so I decided to take the position. I went from $12 dollars an hour to $2.14 an hour plus whatever I would make in tips! When I started as a bellman in September 2005, I was feeling really low about not being hired for my old job. With my touring experience and my education, I just couldn’t understand why it had happened.
Not long after that, there was a rally at the hotel amongst my 3,000 plus co-workers. One of the things they talked about was the Chairman’s Award. A total of seven individuals (one award for each of the seven company values) would be selected from the four different properties. There more than 10,000 employees at the time. The award winners would be flown in to be honored at a banquet with the Chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment along with other company officials and dignitaries. It was the highest award and achievement that management or anyone else could receive within the company. The possibility of winning this award really got me thinking and helped me change my tune, allowing me to feel a little more optimistic about the situation I was in. So my goal from that point on was winning the Chairman’s Award.
From 2005 until 2009, I did quite well working as a bellman, and I’m proud to say that in 2008 I did win the Chairman’s Award for “Passion”! Things were going great, but then in 2009, I met a guest who would forever change my life. As I was taking her to her room, we shared our stories about what brought us to Nashville. Kinda like I’m sharing with you. I told her about my years touring with Young American Showcase and how I started working at the hotel.
All of a sudden, she asked me: “Are you doing anything more with your music?” My response to her was, “No, not at the moment.” She then said, “Just don’t forget why you came here.” When she said that, something happened inside of me. It was like divine intervention. To this day, I don’t remember her name, where she was from, or what she looked like. She was here one day and gone the next, never to be seen again.
Not long after this, I was inspired to get back to the music and came across a workshop that David Nevue was presenting at the Sound Kitchen, a prominent studio here in Nashville. He was promoting his book, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet. It was there that I met not only David, but also Joseph Akins, Philip Wesley, and David Lanz, none of whom I had heard of before, but who inspired me to that maybe, I, too, could be a solo pianist!
From 2009 until 2015, I composed the music for my album. At the same time, I built my website not once, but twice. I got myself out of debt, purchased a new keyboard, software, etc. It was quite a long process of learning what I needed to do and who I needed to become to make this album a reality. But it’s how it all happened that I’ll never forget.
KP: That’s quite a story! Let’s backtrack a bit and find out about your earlier life. When did you start piano lessons? How long did you study music?
CL: I started piano when I was about nine years old and took about seven years of classical piano lessons. In later years, I studied music at St. Lawrence University where I received my bachelor’s degrees in both music and sociology.
KP: I’ve read that you had trouble learning to sight-read music as a child. What helped you to overcome that difficulty?
CL: I did have difficulty reading music when I first started. What helped me, Kathy, was learning piano via the Suzuki Method, which was developed by Dr. Suzuki in Japan. It teaches you to recognize the notes by hearing them first. Once you develop your ear, then you’re able to recognize the notes on the staff. He based this ideology in how we learn a language. Young kids more or less learn their language by listening to it first. After they develop their ears for hearing their language, they are taught how to read and write it.
KP: Are you still able to play by ear as well as read music? I’ve found that not that many pianists can do both very well.
CL: Yes. I’m still able to do both.
KP: Where did you grow up?
CL: I grew up in a little town called Norwood in Upstate New York. One of the first things people notice when I speak with them is that I’m not from Tennessee! Sometimes, people ask if I’m from Canada, and some have asked if I was from Ireland. When I tell them I grew up about 20 miles from the Canadian border and that my great, great grandfather came over from Ireland, then my accent makes more sense to them.
My hometown has about 1600 people in it. It’s in a beautiful rural area of New York, about 20 minutes from where the Adirondacks mountains start. I think one of the reasons why I like Nashville so much is that, to me, it’s a city with a small town flavor.
KP: Are any of your relatives musicians?
CL: My mother can play piano and my father and brother played drums in school. My great grandmother was also a pianist and wrote some music. Music was passed on from both sides of the family.
KP: It sounds like the hotel where you work is huge! Tell us about it.
CL: The Gaylord Opryland Hotel can hold about 5200 people when all 2,888 sleeping rooms are full. The building itself is approximately 52 acres and sits on about 120 acres. There are about half a million plants in three glass atriums that are the equivalent of nine acres of gardens. There are waterfalls and a little river boat that goes a quarter of a mile inside the hotel as well as a water fountain show that features lights, music, and a geyser that shoots approximately 80′ tall. There are five ballrooms and the largest can seat about 7,000 people theater-style. About 70% of the business year-round is trade shows and conventions. The convention center itself is 700,000 square feet.
On an average day, I walk over 26,000 steps, which works out to 8-10 miles. If nothing else, it’s a great workout! There are about 3,000 employees from about 96 different countries around the world. It’s been fun meeting and taking care of so many people from politicians to pop artists and Opry legends that perform next door at the Grand Ole’ Opry. There’s no other place quite like it.
KP: I think I might have to come see this place! Do you ever play the piano on the job?
CL: It would be neat if I could. With all the work I do with bell services, I don’t have time during the day. However, I am hoping to do so in the near future.
KP: When did you start writing music?
CL: I started when I was in high school. I had really gotten into synthesizers, and my first keyboard was a 61-key Yamaha DX27. I had an Alesis HR-16B Drum Machine and a couple other sound modules. I also had a Commodore 64 computer that was running Finale music notation software. I had a lot of fun coming up with instrumental pieces and seeing what I could create with the gear that I had. One of the first piano pieces that I wrote was called “Autumn Evening.” I created it when I was about 16. That piece and one that I composed at St. Lawrence was all I did for piano prior to 2009. The other songs on my album came later.
KP: You did the transcription for your solo piano songbook yourself. Did you enjoy that process?
CL: I really did. And thank you so much for the proofreading you did on it! It’s funny that I didn’t really start the songbook until a year after I had recorded the album. I think the fun part was making sure the songbook matched the recorded version. This, I believe, was one of the benefits I gained from learning to play by ear!
KP: That and hiring a good proof-reader! (LOL!!!) Are you working on the music for your second album yet? If so, what will it be like?
CL: I am. I believe the title track will come from a piece that I wrote a couple of years back. Sometimes when I was working on my first album, I would take the time to try something else, to go off on a different tangent so I wouldn’t burn out. The next album will pick up from where my current album left off. I am going to incorporate some more chords in this album. By doing so, it might add a little more of a mellow feeling to it. Overall, it’ll still be what my fans would expect from me, and I hope they’ll like what they hear.
KP: Do you think you’ll ever do music full-time?
CL: I do. Music has been an important part of my life and is something I am very passionate about. Seeing how many of my colleagues are full-time musicians inspires me to know that if I not only work hard but am willing to put in the time and effort needed to be successful, it can be done.
KP: Do you enjoy performing?
CL: Performing is a lot of fun. I would have to say my favorite type of performing is via house concerts. Although being on a stage is nice and formal, I love a more intimate setting where I can share the stories with my audience. It’s a little more relaxing and I am able to connect with my audience better.
KP: Hmmmm. I know someone on the Oregon Coast who does a house concert series!
CL: I would love to come back to Oregon! That would be so much fun!
KP: Do you play any instruments besides piano?
CL: When I was in 4th grade, I started playing the trumpet. In high school, I played in both band and jazz band. I played trumpet on some pieces and the piano on others. It’s been 25 or so years since I’ve played the trumpet. Although I still remember the fingerings, my chops are definitely shot.
KP: Yep, that certainly happens! Who or what are some of your biggest musical influences?
CL: My faith in God and the love of family have gotten me through a lot in life. My parents have been a big influence on me. With their love and support, I wouldn’t be doing music today.
Kids have been a big influence on me and my music. You may recall, Kathy, that my first song, “Give Thanks,” was influenced by a young boy. “Child’s Wish” was influenced by a young girl and her wish to go to the Grand Ole’ Opry via the Make a Wish Foundation. Both of these kids had really set the tone for my album. I was blessed by both of them and their families. They made a lasting impression on me, and I am really grateful and thankful for that.
Another big influence is Avril Griswald, who was my piano teacher growing up. Avril was great! She had never taught the Suzuki Method, but instead of passing me on to another teacher, she took it upon herself to learn a whole new way of teaching. She still teaches using the Suzuki Method, having been successful with me 39 years ago. Finally, Lowell Lytle, who owned Young American Showcase with his late wife Barbara, played a big part in much of the success I’ve had in my life. When I started touring I was just out of high school. I had a lot to learn about life and about myself. Lowell was a great friend and mentor. He pushed me to be my best and often said, “Make it happen.”
KP: Who are some of your favorite performers?
CL: When I was a teenager, if a pop or rock band had a keyboard and /or a piano, they would be a favorite! It was during this time I was also introduced to the music of Yanni who I thought was cool using keyboards with live orchestration! And through the years I’ve enjoyed the music of Jim Brickman, who I had the privilege of meeting here in Nashville when he was doing a songwriter’s workshop.
KP: Who are your favorite composers?
CL: Of the classical composers, I would say, Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. My favorite contemporary composer would be John Williams. Movies he scored such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and ET are some of my favorites.
KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment so far?
CL: Wow. That’s a tough one, Kathy. When I first got the word that I made the national audition for Young American Showcase in 1989, that was really exciting. Making the cut to tour with Showcase was also exciting. I would probably say, winning the Best New Artist Award with Enlightened Piano Radio would be the most exciting. Thinking back to all that I had done and all that I had accomplished to get to that point was very exciting to me-especially having my mother and father there. It’s been quite a journey that has blessed me with great friends and colleagues both inside and outside the world of solo piano.
KP: How do you go about starting a new piece of music?
CL: For me, it would be to start with a simple melody and to build from there. I also want to make sure I am relaxed and free from any distractions. Sometimes I just go out for a walk. This not only helps me to relax but also helps with the creative process. And it does work!
KP: What’s next for you?
CL: I want to continue to get my music out there to the masses. I am planning on doing some radio campaigns, performing, recording, and also some video production. It’s quite the challenge, and I do love a challenge. If anything, I believe that’s been a big part of my success, Kathy: looking at what I need to do and developing and devising a plan to follow it.
KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
CL: Peace on earth, a cure for Cancer, and for our youth to be free from neglect and abuse. It’s sad seeing what many kids have to go through. No family is perfect, but many kids are torn and caught in the middle of heated arguments and abuse with no one for them to look up to. Hopefully, artists life myself might continue to provide the healing powers of music. To transport people who are experiencing pain to another place, a place where they can imagine being happy, healthy, and free. And with the continued support, Kathy, of people like yourself, we will be able to do just that.
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?
CL: Sure. First off, I would like to say, “Thank you so much, Kathy,” for this opportunity to share my story with you, and for the support you’ve given me and the support, you continue to provide for all independent artists. Again, “Thanks.” And last but not least, believe in yourself. Go for your goals and go for your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be whatever you’re wanting to be in life because dreams do come true.