MuzicNotez Crew: First off, it’s an honor to be doing this interview with you Walter, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us.
Walter Billingsley: To the MuzicNotez Crew, the honor is mine, gentlemen. I am excited about the promotion/exposure opportunities I am receiving from your on-line music magazine. I thank Nick Galien, your representative who has been guiding me thru my options. I am honored to be interviewed by him.
MuzicNotez Crew: What motivated you to start creating music? What age did you begin?
Walter: What motivated me was my fascination with the piano since I could reach the keys. I could reach up, press a key and get a sound.-.move down and get a lower sound.. Wow, I was captivated! Like many others, I grew up around gospel music, observing all the different ways I would see a piano being played. There were those players with a hard touch and the ones with that soft and tender touch. That’s the time I became aware of the style I had developed from my experimentation with the 88 sounds I had to work with… creating fancy & unique riffs and runs. I was big on octaves and big chords in my arrangements; yet I would also include the soft & tender. I was motivated to create music for the purpose of performing in front of audiences.
Throughout my childhood I was anxious to reach age 15, so I could enter a Teen Talent Search open to teens age 15-18. Already seasoned at singing & playing in my late Father’s churches, I began preparing for the competitions. I was ready to let my creative juices flow and choose three hymns/sacred melodies and start working them in my head before taking them to the piano for development. I worked the 3 melodies into a full composition – a work of art, and performed some impressive hymn medleys. Two of my eligible years, I competed at the National level, in 1972 competing in both piano and vocal categories.
These were formidable years for my abilities as a performer & as an arranger of hymn medleys for my piano solo competitions. These years were the stepping stone to me wanting to create music with melodies I had written. It became a fixation. I was attuned to the musical motifs running thru my mind & couldn’t wait to get to a piano to turn them into piano solo pieces – Compositions for Piano. I wrote my first Composition for Piano at age 15 – ‘Lakefire’, which has become a signature track of my recent CD release ‘Pieces of Nature’ – Nature-Inspired Compositions for Piano. I only dreamed as a child, of someday playing for others a piece of music I had written and that’s what I’ve had the privilege of doing most of my career years as a pianist & composer.
MuzicNotez Crew: Who were your musical influences, idols, or bands growing up that have helped mold you into the musician you are today? Or helped mold the music that you create?
Walter: My first influence was church music, however, as I matured in years my music matured, as did my idols & influences. I was introduced to the Masters since my first piano teacher Miss. Edna Beasley and throughout my college years of study. My music today, my Compositions for Piano, is heavily influenced by many of the Master Composers of piano music, including Debussy, Satie, Saint Sean, Chopin and numerous others. However, I find it interesting how much of my style of piano is influenced by the pop song-master Sir. Elton John, whose Composition ‘Funeral for a Friend’ is one of the finest ever written and whose Piano & song juxtaposition is ingenious.
My Sister, Diane, was an idol of mine, her 2 Yr. younger Brother & only sibling. She & I would sit at the piano picking out hymn tunes and songs we had heard on the easy-listening radio stations our Mother would choose to play. I always noticed Diane’s ability to fill-in the empty spaces and making the song sound ‘fuller’. I observed and tried some of her tricks when she wasn’t around to hear my attempts.
MuzicNotez Crew: What’s the greatest concert you’ve ever been to or performed?
Walter: May I answer both questions, Nick?
I’ve had the privilege of attending two concerts by the famed Van Cliburn, one including a sit at the piano chat during a student workshop, the other with front-row seats to closely watch his hands.
The greatest concert I ever performed was in 2003 when the Florida Dance Theater choreographed three of my works and presented them in live performance on the stage of the historic; Frank Lloyd Wright designed, Branscomb Auditorium on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland FL. Neither the dancers nor I ever missed a beat. It was truly exhilarating!
MuzicNotez Crew: What’s the ultimate goal you want your music to achieve, or for you to achieve in your career as a musician? Any particular message you wish to send?
Walter: The ultimate goal for my music is for it to be heard, appreciated, understood and enjoyed by anyone(s) who chooses to listen. These Compositions take you on a journey to the forest, the Ocean, the tumbleweed of the prairie, and to other locations where you can relax and listen to the moods of Nature. I want to continue the journey into other settings of Mother Nature that captivate me and inspire me to create music.
MuzicNotez Crew: In 2004 you had a major setback due to health complications. What happened exactly?
Walter: Nick, I would like to precursor that answer with a picture of an active musician, dedicating 22 years of his career as a fine-dining dinner pianist, 28 years teaching a student roster of exceptional students, many handicapped and/or disabled, actively sharing his talent for the Arts as a volunteer background pianist for show opening receptions and being a productive musician, when suddenly, the rug was yanked from under my feet.
Just two years prior, in 2002, Mark Marquardt, a sculptor & art administrator, and I Co-founded Arts in Healthcare, Polk, Inc. , a 501c3 non-profit organization with a mission of providing the Arts, of all genres, to patients, their families and to their care-givers in hospitals and Cancer Treatment Centers throughout Florida’s Polk County. There is more abut the success and demise of that mission in my website.
I was appointed Chairman of VSA Arts Florida-Polk Co. Chapter, providing art opportunities for the Exceptional Student Education department of the county’s schools.
In 2004 I suddenly became part of the disabled community with which I was working. I suffered a rare adverse reaction to a prescribed heroin-based pain killer. My body and mind rejected the newly introduced drug and the reaction suddenly changed All aspects of my life.
The story is aptly told in my website. While you’re visiting and reading my inspiring story, you will listen to one of my signature Compositions – ‘Butterfly Waltz’.
Loss of memory was critical. Thousands of songs in my memorized repertoire were ‘erased’ as was my collection of original compositions-archived only in audio. I had no recall of the fifty years of training at the piano. I didn’t want to even approach a piano for fear that a visit would lead to frustration, anger and often, tears. All the time, I knew I would someway-somehow get back to where I belong- to playing again.
My recovery began in ’05 when a psychiatrist realized the damage the drug had done to my brain, severely fraying nerve endings that connect from my CNS to my brain – leaving me void of any sense of reason or logic, resulting in unintentional mishaps without warning.. ie fires started in house with no clue of wrongdoing.
With a medication to counteract my psychosis & mania, I began to experience some normalcy in my life again.
MuzicNotez Crew: How has music and playing piano aided in your recovery and regaining health?
Walter: Nick, The piano has meaning and purpose for me now/again. I am fortunate that my ability to sit and play one of my songs from my dinner pianist days, such as Time Goes By, and then there was the question-what other song do I want to try to play – from memory. I thought of & played “Send in the Clowns”. & it went quite well. This led me to a new excitement at the piano. This experience is part of the healing process on my journey to total wellness.
I am now working on re-learning more of my Compositions, with plans to do a ‘Pieces of Nature’ tour of a major city in the South East, or embark on another Great Plains Tour by Spring 2015.
MuzicNotez Crew: How has this life altering event changed your life and made you stronger in the end?
Walter: Nick, I find it amazing the power of music to lift one from the depths of gloom into a world with hope. I am not a young man and knowing the fragility of life, my life has meaning & purpose. I am living with a new hope that my dream will come true that people will both enjoy and benefit from my talents at the piano.
MuzicNotez Crew: Fans can learn more about all of this from your website, what else can they expect to find there?
Walter: They can listen to some beautiful, relaxing piano music, learn about the inspiration behind my music, read what critics & colleagues have said about my music and read my personal, inspiring story of survival/recovery. I think they will find the site unique and fun to visit. I do ask that visitor leave a message, if so inclined. They will also be introduced to my first two CD releases – ‘In the Mood for Love’ in 1999 and ‘Americana’ in 2001.
MuzicNotez Crew: What inspired your ‘Pieces of Nature’ album? Is nature a big part of your life?
Walter: Nature has been a big part of my life since childhood. I explain in my website that throughout my childhood I lived near waterways and forested areas. I always enjoyed going to sit somewhere that I could feel the wind blow & watch the critters scurry. I always have musical ideas running thru my head and even more so when in these personal settings of Mother Nature. I realize those ‘ideas’ – musical motifs, are my creations. Thus, they become part of my Pieces of Nature collection.
MuzicNotez Crew: Any new releases you’re working on for the future?
Walter: Pieces of Nature II will probably be next, featuring five other compositions in my ‘Pieces of Nature’ collection.
I am looking forward to someday having a play -and- print piano keyboard. Who knows what I might release once that happens.
MuzicNotez Crew: Anything else you wish to say about yourself or your music? Any message for your fans?
Walter: Yes, Nick… I want my readers and fans to know that the days of mania & psychosis were truly a defining time of my life, but I don’t want that to define me. I am a strong person who overcame obstacles and decided it was time to live the rest of my life with a mission to be ‘the best I will ever be’. I close with a final thought regarding my ‘life-changing event’. The ‘event’ that developed into psychosis and mania, truly was a defining time in my life; however, I do not want it to define me. I am a person who overcame obstacles & is living life with determination and perseverance to be ‘The Best I Will Ever Be’. I vow to continue sharing my talents at the piano with others in need of some music in their life.
My message for my fans is to be strong during the challenges of life. Find Love, Hope and Courage… all else will find it’s place.
I look forward to getting to know you, my new fans. I hope this interview helps you understand my music & me with a clarity that is convincing that this new artist friend Walter, is indeed on a mission to share his talents with others , in hopes that it becomes beneficial in lifting your spirits, or just making you feel cozy good inside. To the MuzicNotez Crew
Thank you again for this opportunity to reach out and touch others around the globe. Again, the honor of this interview is mine.