In 2016, at only 28-years-old, pianist John Burke has already accomplished the dream of a lifetime for many musicians -- to be nominated for a Grammy Award. It's for his newest album "Orogen," a breathtaking journey through what he describes as the creation of mountains.
Burke, a graduate of Oglethorpe University, joined Rickey Bevington in the GPB Performance Studio to perform songs from the album and talk about his creative process.
John Burke: Thank you, Rickey. Thanks for having me.
Rickey Bevington: Let's begin with some music to set the tone and let people hear your work. What are we going to start with?
Burke: I'll start with the opening piece of the new album. It's called Arise.
Burke plays Arise
Bevington: What does the word Orogen mean?
Burke: It’s not a misspelling of the state Oregon. Orogen comes from Oro, which is Latin, like ore. In Spanish, it's like gold. Gen comes from the word Genesis which is Creation. Orogen is a region of the earth's crust where mountains are formed. That’s where all the tectonic plates break and push and cause the deformations in the ground that we know of as mountains. With this album I try and replicate that by making each piece represent a tectonic force shift. They're shifting and creating this melody that you hear throughout the album. You can slowly hear it grow.
Bevington: The making of mountains pushing up from underneath the earth is so visual. Talk about how you capture a picture through a sound and music.
Burke: When I listen to music I always visualize shapes and movements. Whenever I write music I'm very inspired by orchestral music. And I said, how can I bring that to piano even though I'm only one instrument.
Bevington: One song where you certainly succeed is with Riverswept with some very flowing melodies. Why don't we hear that.
Burke plays Riverswept
Bevington: Let's get to the Grammys. It's every musician's dream. You said you have been playing piano for 13 years. What does it feel like to be nominated alongside musicians like Enya and Vangelis?
Burke: It's surreal. It was a pleasant surprise. I put in a lot of hard work, a lot of marketing myself. And it was grassroots marketing. I don't have a label. I don’t have a publicist. It's just so empowering to see that. I've thought, wouldn’t it be great if I got nominated for a Grammy. It's actually kind of terrifying too. But it's a good kind of scary.
Bevington: When you say grassroots self-marketing and promotion what does that entail?
Burke: It's hours and hours of connecting with the community. Facebook has been a great tool. Everyone fears the word networking but if you don't have a team behind you doing that stuff you have to pull it yourself.
Burke plays Earth Breaker
Bevington: That was Earth Breaker from the 2016 Grammy nominated album Orogen by Atlanta-based pianist John Burke. You joke that you call the song Fingerbreaker. As you’re composing music, do you ever write something that you physically cannot play?
Burke: That was that piece and I couldn't play it up to that speed. So that's why I taught myself. [I] just did it really slowly every single day to the point where it got [to be] second nature. So, at the beginning, in your head you’re like “I can't play that but I'm going to make myself play that.” That's practice, right? That's growth.
Bevington: Success can often draw people away from where they start -- to New York or L.A., for example. Are you going to stay in Atlanta?
Burke: I want to stay in Atlanta. I really do. I have my friends and family here, of course. But professionally it's been so amazing. I've just started a new year as a full time musician. It's only gotten better and it's because of this city. And I'm at that point where I want to keep investing in the city and making it known as “Hey, this is where the arts are happening.” The film scene is blowing up in Atlanta. There's an incredible music scene and there are all the genres. There's a metal scene in Atlanta. There's a huge hip hop scene, classical, you name it. It has everything. And I just enjoy being in the South. I love it. I'd really like to stay in it.
Bevington: Well we hope that we can hold on to you John Burke.
Burke: Thank you. I hope so too.
Bevington: Thank you for sharing your story with me today.
Burke: Absolutely. Thank you.
Bevington: Why don't you take us out on one final song and tell us what it is.
Burke: Alright. This is Orogen from the album Orogen. And this is that final melody that you've heard throughout the entire album in it's full presentation.
Burke plays Orogen