END OF YEAR UPDATE: I've been hard at work in my studio over the last several weeks. Would you believe I've already recorded 6 new songs for a late spring album release?! Tentative tile is "Nightfall Over London" & the album will include "In the Bleak Midwinter," released just last week.
Will keep you updated as the new year progresses, but just want to again thank all of you who bought my music during 2016! Also, airplay by SiriusXM was HUGE for Rick Sparks Music this year, as they added at least 7 of my songs to their Spa & Escape channels (68 & 69) since early summer. No doubt about it: God is good.
Peace, joy & love in the New Year!
Leave it to me to release a new Christmas recording 5 days before December the 25th. But in the midst of all the wonderful music of the season, I couldn't help but begin work last week on a new recording of one of my absolute favorite Christmas carols.
The lovely melody by Gustav Holst & the simple yet powerful lyrics by Christina Rossetti make "In the Bleak Midwinter" a standout of the season. I hope you enjoy my version & many thanks for helping to make 2016 a standout year for my music. The single is available now for download from Amazon, iTunes & here on my artist website in the Music Store.
After 40 incredible years with she who is my wife, my soulmate & best friend, it was time to write a song for her. "Hearts As One" is the love theme to the story of our life together. The single is available now on CDBaby.com, iTunes, Amazon & www.ricksparksmusic.net.
Receiving the first review on a new album is always special! Many thanks to Kathy Parsons at MainlyPiano.com for her nice review of Matilda's Flowers. You can read her full review on my Reviews page, but here are a few excerpts:
"Matilda is remembered as a strong but gentle woman 'who loved flowers, her family and her Lord Jesus,' and these songs express those qualities so well. The album begins with the title track, a warm and affectionate piano solo that reflects the sweet innocence of the cover artwork. The painting is of a young girl picking an armload of flowers in a field - the piece is a favorite!"
"Memories of Her makes me think of Kevin Kern’s tender melodies - always a treat!"
"I love Sparks’ arrangement of (the Sting hit) Fields of Gold! It begins with the sound of heavy rainfall and thunder, giving way to flute, keyboard and strings - gorgeous and soul-satisfying!"
"Mountain Laurel is another favorite. A piano solo for most of the first half of the piece, strings and wordless vocals are added to the second half. I love the graceful simplicity of the melody and the contented feeling of the piece."
"Old Tennessee is a nostalgic look back to a less complicated time - also a favorite."
"Tildy’s Waltz is a charming solo piano waltz that alternates between major and minor modes, giving the piece a bittersweet taste - my favorite piece on the album!
"Nearer My God To Thee is said to have been played by the ship’s orchestra as the Titanic sank in 1912, the year of Matilda’s wedding. Sparks has arranged it as a lovely piano solo that brings the album to a close."
"Matilda's Flowers is an excellent second release from Rick Sparks! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!" -Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com, September 19, 2016
Received word yesterday that SiriusXM Radio has added my recording of Beautiful to their Escape channel 69! It's my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song & my first recording to be added to Escape. That makes 5 songs from the Endless album now in rotation on SiriusXM! (The other 4 songs from Endless are on Spa channel 68.) https://www.siriusxm.com/escape
"Matilda's Flowers" CDs & downloads are now available through my Music Store on this website (via CD Baby), Amazon & iTunes.
Packaging on the CD could not be more beautiful, a perfect representation of the music inside. I'm so grateful for these songs that God poured through me during this project. I believe Matilda would love them, too. :)
Thought you might enjoy the liner notes to Matilda's Flowers, with the backstory to "the 1912 girl named Matilda." It was a privilege to honor my grandmother with this album.
For all you SiriusXM radio subscribers, I just received word that Ch. 68 Spa has added at least 4 songs off my "Endless" CD. :) :) :)
I am excited to report that, after two months of hard work (& even a few tears), the music of Matilda's Flowers is finished! I wrote & recorded the album of piano-based songs around the theme of "the girl named Matilda." In 1912, Matilda Angeline Cannon turned 18 and married her sweetheart, my grandfather. Matilda would live a long life, raise a large family (5 boys & 2 girls) and was a wonderful, sweet woman who loved flowers, her family and her Lord Jesus.
For my part, the tears would come occasionally with my memories of Matilda throughout the production of "her" album. I only knew her in her golden years, but Tildy's wonderful 1912 engagement picture was a constant inspiration as I wrote & recorded the 7 original songs (of 10). Matilda was raised by a loving Tennessee family after her parents died when she was just a little girl. She grew into a beautiful, strong yet gentle woman whose prayers for me as a young boy still resonate in my life today. It was a privilege to honor her with these songs.
I recorded two hymns of her era, including the final song on the album. Nearer, My God, to Thee was famously played by the orchestra of the Titanic as the ship sank in 1912, the year of Matilda's wedding. That song was the central theme of my grandmother's life - her constant faith & devotion to the Lord was a hallmark of Matilda's existence. She would happily tell you that she couldn't have done it without her faith in Christ. I would gladly say the same for my life & this album.
At this point, I am carefully reviewing all the musical & graphic elements of the album before sending it off for manufacturing & distribution. As with Endless, Matilda's Flowers will be available on CD as well as digitally through iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, etc. We'll also be sending the album to music reviewers as we prepare to promote Matilda's Flowers to broadcast radio stations (think NPR) & online outlets.
So how does the music sound? I'll let you decide, but I love these songs & can't wait to get them out. Between now & the album release in mid-August, I'll post some song excerpts to my artist page on Facebook as well as my YouTube channel.
It's mid-June - after five weeks and countless hours in the studio, half the new album is now complete! The album title is Matilda's Flowers, after my grandmother, Matilda Angeline Fortner. All seven of the originals (out of 10) on the album are for her, as is the perfect album cover (she loved flowers) by 19th century artist Ludwig Knaus. Songs finished to this point are Fields of Gold (the Sting hit), Matilda's Flowers, Simple Love, Tildy's Waltz and Nothing But the Blood. Five more songs to go with summer speeding by, but we're on schedule for release in August. Endless set the bar high for this album, so I'm sweating the creative & production details to make it the absolute best I'm capable of. Be sure to check my artist page (Rick Sparks Music) on Facebook for updates!
A check of the ZMR (Zone Music Reporter) site for 2015 album nominees reveals that Endless didn't make the 2nd round of voting. To be honest, it was a huge honor just to be considered. For Endless to go to #7 on the national radio airplay charts in Dec. '14 is a thrill I will never forget.
My new album, Matilda's Flowers, is set for release in August. I'll be sharing more about that as the year progresses, but I'm planning at least 5 originals this time around. Am already working on arrangements for a couple of the cover songs - achingly lovely music.
BIG NEWS! I have received word from my radio promoter that Endless has qualified for the 2015 ZMR (Zone Music Reporter) Music Awards in two categories: "ALBUM OF THE YEAR" & "BEST PIANO - W. INSTRUMENTATION!"
Totally & utterly unexpected but wonderful news. There are two rounds of nomination voting in February - if we survive that, then Endless will be one of the 5 finalist albums in either or both categories. The winners will be announced at the 12th Annual ZMR Music Awards on Saturday, May 7th, at the Joy Theater in New Orleans.
Whether we win or not, I'm grateful for the whole experience of recording Endless & receiving such a great response from radio, the reviewers and my friends. Most of all, thanks to my Lord Jesus for inspiring this album & my lovely wife's constant support, encouragement & love.
So many people to thank for this little CD that could - here are the liner notes from Endless.
Endless is hanging in during its 4th month on the radio! ZMR's Top-100 airplay chart for February has Endless at #16, down a few notches from #9 in January in the face of stiff competition from over two dozen new albums in the Top-100. Many thanks to the 120+ stations in the U.S. & around the world that continue to play my music. And heartfelt thanks to all those who have bought Endless.
The ZMR Top-100 album airplay chart for January has been released - it shows Endless maintaining a high radio profile in the U.S. & Canada at #9, down only two notches from last month's chart. My deepest thanks to our 120+ radio partners (many of which are NPR stations) for playing our music. Latest stations include 90.9 WDCB, Chicago; 88.5 KSBR, Mission Viejo, CA; 90.7 KSER, Everett, WA; 89.7 KMSU, Mancato, MN; 90.5 WICN, Worcester, MA; 98.1 KBAC, Santa Fe; 90.3 WXXI, Rochester, NY. Public radio rocks!
I thought you'd enjoy reading some responses from radio programmers to my thank-you's for playing Endless:
"No problem, Rick - happy to play good music." - Jamey
"Your music is great & we play great music - a lot!" - Michael
"Great album, Rick - best wishes for your continued success." - Val
"Cream rises to the top." - Christopher
"All you have to do is keep up the great music. My regard for your CD is 'endless'." - Pete
"Happy to play your music, Rick! Keep creating!" - Sherry
Not that it wasn't deserving, but I never thought Endless would chart so high on ZMR's album chart. To zoom from #64 in November to #7 in December was an incredible experience for me as an artist. During all those years I spent in radio, I could only imagine what it was like for the artists I played to see their music rise up the charts - now I know.
I would have recorded Endless regardless of whether it received a single spin on radio, but it's wonderful and truly humbling to receive the validation that comes from my music being aired around the world. I'm thankful to God for His inspiration and blessing of this "little album that could."
Significant event alert: My radio promoter messaged me this afternoon that ENDLESS HAS CLIMBED TO #7 ON THE ZMR TOP-100 ALBUM AIRPLAY CHART!!! That's a jump of 57 positions in 4 weeks - unbelievable (but I'll take it!) Many thanks to Ed & Stacey Bonk of LAZZ Promotions for carrying the banner for Endless to stations & programs around the world.
We're now in Week #8 since promotion began - a total of 99 stations & programs have added the album to their playlists. Latest adds include MusicChoice.com (NYC) & RadioTunes.com; 91.5 WTUL, New Orleans & 91.3 WWUH, Windsor, CT. Other stations include 89.5 KOPN, Columbia, MO; 89.3 KCUR, Kansas City; 105.5 The River, Modesto, CA; 88.5 WFCF, St. Augustine, FL; 88.3 KDNK, Aspen, CO; 97.9 CJLL, Ottawa, Ontario; 106.3 The Lounge, Queensland, Australia; Radio Despi, Barcelona, Spain; Radio Relax, Minsk, Russia. Programs & networks include Montana Public Radio; Missouri Public Radio; The Cove/Live365 (of course); Highlander Radio/Celtic Radio; Celestial Reasonings, CalmRadio.com, GotRadio - Piano Perfect; Music Beyond Words; Instrumental Hits Radio. Heartfelt thanks to all for playing Endless!
ZMR is Zone Music Reporter (zonemusicreporter.com), THE source for monthly airplay charts of new age, world, ambient, electronic, solo piano, relaxation, instrumental and many other genres of music. So far, while sales of Endless are nothing to write home about, I'm hoping that airplay will make a difference. In any case, to be played on 99 stations & programs around the world is validation for this little album that I knew early on in production was going to turn out to be something special.
Above all, thanks to God for inspiring me to record Endless - my spirit has been replenished. :)
Six months & counting - that's how long now I've been at this project called Endless. Studio work began in June 2014 and finally wrapped in late September. After that came copyrights, mechanical licenses, graphics design & licensing, photography, packaging & manufacturing. Distribution followed to CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and about 20 other online outlets.
The next major phase of launching Endless is promotion, starting with garnering some respectable press. In the last few weeks, the album has received wonderful reviews from critics like Bill Binkelman, Kathy Parsons and Michael Diamond. You can read their reviews here, on their websites and on the Endless album pages at CD Baby, iTunes & Amazon.
Now it's up to Ed & Stacey Bonk at LAZZ Promotions to do the hard work of promoting the album to radio. I've personally mailed out over 200 CDs to programmers in the last several weeks with my 1-sheet of album info, reviews and artist bio. Between now and March 2015, LAZZ will be making multiple contacts with radio stations, programs & in-flight music services. To date, several dozen stations & programs have added the album to their playlists. It's a good start.
The first radio charts of 2015 will be released by mid-January - they should give a clue as to whether Endless is going to fly. As for me, I'm hoping, praying & working hard to do right by this little album that I've put my heart & soul into.
I love melody – every song on Endless has strong melody. I think that’s why I’ve always loved the music of The Beatles & Beach Boys. Once those great melodies got stuck in my head, they were there to stay. In college in the early 70s, I took a required music appreciation course; the focus was entirely on classical music. One day in class our professor had to leave the room for a few minutes. At the urging of my classmates, I went to the harpsichord and played a verse of the Beach Boys’ song, Darlin'. My classmates loved it. Got back to my seat before the professor returned, too – it was the class secret. :) All these years later, I love that I chose to play one of Brian Wilson’s songs - great melody & harmonies.
Now, about the songs on Endless.
Beautiful is my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song and was the first song I began working on for the album - it ended up as my choice for the first song on the track list. The song is a tender, reverent tribute to the wonder of being in love; I wanted my arrangement to reflect that, starting with the slow, ethereal first verse and chorus. Maybe my choice to make it first on the album reflected my hope for the album as a whole, that it would be beautiful for the listener’s spirit.
In my late 20s, as a pianist working on my master’s degree in music, I came to love the music of Rachmaninoff. It was infused with the poignant, tragic beauty of his life; he yearned to return to his home in pre-revolutionary Russia, but never did. There is a mystery and emotionalism about his music that was probably an influence on me when I composed the title song on Endless. Specifically, I wanted the song to reflect the beauty, mystery & vastness of both the celestial night sky and of God’s love for us.
For much of the album, I was drawn to songs that reflect my Scotch-Irish ancestry. Like Russian music, the music of Scotland is strongly emotional, tragically so in the case of Loch Lomond. That song is so iconic in Scotland, to me it has become almost like a national hymn. I tried to reflect that reverence in my arrangement, especially with the acapella voices at the beginning and end.
A traditional Scottish lullaby, Dream Angus, became a hit in Scotland in 2013 with English folk singer Jackie Oates’ hauntingly beautiful vocal recording – her version inspired me to include the song on Endless.
I was especially pleased to include a couple of songs which reflect both my Irish ancestry and my Christian faith: Be Thou My Vision (arranged by the late great Tom Howard) and Wexford Carol. I didn’t plan for the original vocalizing bridge on Wexford Carol to morph into the English carol, What Child Is This?, it just happened as I recorded that section. I think of those voices as angels, so maybe they guided the bridge into the perfect ending. :) In any case, it sounded right to me, so I kept it in.
Fellow musician & composer, Bill Leslie, kindly gave me permission to record his lovely original, Portree, named after a small town in Scotland. I sent him my version when I asked for his okay - he responded, "Gorgeous arrangement - simple elegance! I love the pace and feel - you captured the magic of the song!" Thanks, Bill!
I began composing At Rest the week after the tragic death of a troubled young man who was the son of a good friend. I wanted the song to comfort his family and musically reflect his final state of peace that he struggled to find in this life.
The last song on the album almost didn't get recorded. Just as I was ready to release Endless, I decided to pull a song at the last minute – Be Still, My Soul was its replacement. The arrangement came very quickly and may be my best performance on the album. It’s one of my favorite hymns, both lyrically and musically, and (I think) serves perfectly as the album’s final call to inner peace.
I love every song on the album, and am very happy with the results after starting with a blank slate for each song (except Be Thou My Vision). From beginning to end, it took me several hundred hours to arrange, record and produce the album - I did my very best to make each song a worthy listen. The critics have been kind, and the album seems to hold up well even after repeated listening.
I plan to record more albums in the future, with the same goal of playing "quiet piano to replenish your spirit." I hope to have more originals on the next album; for now, I'm grateful to have been able to record Endless and hope it finds an audience that will enjoy it.