The Wonder of Christmas
author: Kathy Parsons
The Wonder of Christmas is a collection of eleven traditional and two original Christmas carols arranged for solo piano and performed by Rhonda Mackert. Mackert’s arrangements are light and gentle, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and expressing the joy of the holiday season. Rhonda often adds original interludes between the verses, giving the songs a fresh take without straying too far from the traditional melodies. Recorded at Piano Haven Studio on Joe Bongiorno’s wonderful Shigeru Kawai grand, the piano sound is warm cozy while Mackert’s frequent visits to the upper end of the keyboard suggest twinkling lights and flickering candles. With her nimble fingers and light, graceful touch, Mackert brings a lovely and welcome contribution to the large genre of piano Christmas music. A companion songbook will be available soon.
The Wonder of Christmas begins with a lively version of “Joy to the World.” Dancing and swirling around the piano keyboard, it expresses the jubilation of the season. “The First Noel” is also bright and cheerful and has a somewhat unusual, upbeat rhythm that is almost giddy with joy. I really like Mackert’s arrangement of “Deck the Halls.” Much of it is played in the upper registers of the piano with a flowing left hand pattern that just keeps moving and reminds me of a music box. (Having proofed the sheet music, I can say that this piece is as much fun to play as it is listen to!) “Silent Night” also begins at the high end of the piano, suggesting moonlight on new snow and a perfect peace. “Sing We Now of Christmas” isn’t as well-known as some of the songs in the collection, but I love it and Mackert’s arrangement is lively yet poignant. (This piece also appears on the new Christmas Whisperings 2 album.) “Coventry Carol” can be a heartbreaker, but Mackert has lightened it a bit and made it somewhat more lively – touching and beautiful rather than bleak and tragic. “What Child Is This” is quite unusual – almost bluesy in spots while it is graceful and flowing in other sections – it works! The title song is one of the two original compositions. The up-tempo and flowing left hand and playful right make this a magical piece that expresses joy, innocence, and warmth – definitely a favorite! “Hymn For Winter” is the second original piece and is quite different from the title track. The blocked chords at the beginning and end are very hymn-like, but the middle, main themes suggest the beauty and stillness of winter and the promise of renewal – I really like this one, too! “Huron Carol” has become a favorite of mine over the past several years. A bit on the darker, more mysterious side, it is considered to be Canada’s oldest Christmas song, written in about 1642. Mackert’s arrangement is beautiful and haunting. The album closes with a lovely arrangement of “Christ Child’s Lullaby,” a traditional Celtic carol that overflows with warmth and love.
The Wonder of Christmas would be a delightful addition to anyone’s collection of Christmas music. It creates and light, warm atmosphere as background music, but is substantial enough to enjoy with full concentration. It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
Safe Harbor is the third solo piano release from Rhonda Mackert and the follow-up to her 2011 A Wild Beauty. Safe Harbor tells the story of a personal journey onboard a sailing vessel and the sights and experiences found along the way. Most of the thirteen original pieces are calm and reflective and all are accessible and very enjoyable. Recorded and mastered at Piano Haven by Joe Bongiorno and performed on his exceptional Shigeru Kawai grand piano, the piano sound is warm, clear and very beautiful. Mackert’s graceful and expressive composing and playing styles effortlessly get her messages across, creating an easy connection between the pianist and the listener. There are no pianistic fireworks here, but that would actually work against the peaceful quality of the music. Instead, these are conversations between Mackert’s heart and the piano, captured in the pure language of music.
Safe Harbor opens with “Dreamer’s Lament,” which is the name of the boat she is sailing on. Gentle but more than a little melancholy, it’s a very intriguing beginning. “Shadowlands” goes much darker as “phantom voices whispered to me in the mist.” The changing rhythms in this piece give it an unsettled edge. “Approaching Storm” seems to gather energy and excitement as it progresses – a little bit foreboding, but not threatening. The middle section is actually very light and playful, and then returns to the original theme. “Eye of the Storm” is a favorite – so calm and peaceful. “Sea Glass” conveys the tumbling and tossing of a piece of glass by the shifting currents and tides of the sea while “Sea Birds” is more soothing and comforting. “Where Sea and Stars Meet” tells of sailing toward the horizon. Light and carefree, the seas have calmed and the music suggests images of sparkles dancing on the water. “Morning At the Marina” conveys the softness of fog wrapping itself around everything it meets and blurring all of the edges. “Breathing in the Sun” expresses the warmth of inhaling pure sunshine into your soul and letting it ease any cares away – blissful! “Journey’s End” brings us to the end of our travels, refreshed, renewed and ready to move forward.
Safe Harbor is a great soundtrack for an imaginary voyage in your mind (or your boat), driving your car, or simply for a pleasant and relaxing musical experience. It is available from RhondaMackert.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
Reviewed by Cathy Oakes
Enlightened Piano Radio
Rhonda Mackert is one of the best of the good Irish yarn spinners. She tells wonderful stories that take the listener on a journey of the soul. But she does it with music rather than with words. This was the case with her previous album, “A Wild Beauty,” which told the story of an Alaskan cruise she and her husband enjoyed. And she’s done it again with “Safe Harbor.” In this album, she weaves a common thread throughout thirteen delightful pieces, yet keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next turn in the plot. Her chord progressions are rich and her “velvet touch” on the keyboard (in the words of fellow artist, John Paris) is so pleasing and soothing.
This story takes the listener on a journey aboard a beautiful ship called “Dreamer’s Lament.” Mackert establishes the mystery of the trip from the very first notes of this piece. She sets the stage for adventure and prepares the listener for more to come as they set sail on the enchanting sea. From the calm seas, the vessel sails through “Shadowlands” where Rhonda describes it as a place “where phantom voices whispered to me in the mist.” She portrays this beautifully with a “question and answer” motif on the keyboard, some haunting, some joyful. The echo effect is wonderful and the changing meters of this piece add to the mystery and drama. This is one my favorite pieces!
The journey continues with an “Approaching Storm.” The introduction warns that something is afoot. The intricate patterns in the right hand seem playful at the beginning, but become more menacing as the piece progresses. After a dangerous passing through the wall of the squall, she brings the traveler to the beautiful, peaceful “Eye of the Storm.” One can almost see the stars shining in the night sky and feel the peaceful rocking of the ship. She masterfully guides the listener to that “other worldly” feeling of having a storm raging all around and yet being totally at peace.
After the experience of the storm, the journey continues through “Uncharted Waters.” Once again, Rhonda creates the actual emotions one would have and conveys them on the keyboard. This piece is mysterious and allows the listener to actually experience the caution and trepidation one would feel.
Next, Mackert portrays a beautiful piece of “Sea Glass” being tossed in the tide. I heard her play this piece in concert. She compared it to what we feel when we are tossed by the storms of life. With the next chapter in this wonderful story, Rhonda allows one a glimpse through her spyglass at the “Seabirds” as they soar and play in the wind currents, calling one to the other. “Sailing in a Gentle Rain” is so peaceful and restful. I love the walk-down in the bass on this one. You can almost feel the raindrops caressing your face.
Going farther into the journey, Rhonda takes the listener to the place “Where Sea and Stars Meet.” This piece is somewhat playful and yet, conveys the amazing mental picture the title conjures. The listener can almost see the stars twinkling and reflecting in the gentle waves. The end of this piece gives one the sense of sailing right over the edge of the horizon and touching the stars. As the traveler continues, they finally come to a “Safe Harbor.” I heard Rhonda perform this piece in concert, as well and I fell instantly in love with it! The uneven meter leads one to linger just a little longer in the peaceful rocking of the boat. At the end, you can almost hear the contented sigh of the travelers.
“Morning at the Marina” paints a beautiful picture of a foggy, misty morning on the water as the sun just begins to break through. The listener can feel the gentle rocking of the boats at dockside. “Breathing in the Sun” is a happy, carefree piece. It is so easy and relaxing. After the night on the sea, the traveler enjoys simply basking in the warm sun.
The journey is almost over. The final piece, “Journey’s End” is my absolute favorite. The chord progressions are rich and beautiful. This is gorgeous piece with a “singable” melody. One can feel the peace left over from being in the rocking boat and yet the sadness that the journey has come to an end. It is a perfect ending to a wonderful story!
When the last note has sounded, as in the best stories, the listener comes away not knowing whether this journey was a dream or reality. In this case, it doesn’t matter. The journey is so delightful that one will find themselves wanting to go again and again, enjoying the adventure and coming once again to “Safe Harbor.”
This is an excellent CD for those seeking rest, relaxation and a journey of the soul. I am giving it a very solid 5 stars and highly recommending it. Wonderful work, Rhonda! I can hardly wait for the next story in the series!!!
A Wild Beauty
“A Wild Beauty” is the second release by Seattle pianist Rhonda Mackert and was inspired by experiences she and her husband had on a cruise through Alaska. The fifteen piano solos are soothing and graceful, yet they convey a sense of wonder and awe. The album was recorded at Joe Bongiorno’s Piano Haven Studio, and the piano sound is warm, rich and crystal clear. Mackert’s song titles are descriptive, but her liner notes give an even better idea of where each piece came from; Matt Strieby’s always-excellent art direction completes a very lovely package. The album begins with “You Beside Me,” which was inspired by a perfect moment when everything in the world seemed right. “Blissful” is the first word that comes to mind, but tenderness and feelings of love also sing through the notes. “First Light” is one of my favorites. It begins with only a few notes and a lot of sustain, creating a sense of vast openness and stillness. The tempo quickens a bit as the piece develops, but it maintains serenity and calm throughout. I also really like “Blue Ice,” which was inspired by glaciers and ice floes. It begins in the upper registers of the piano, bright and sparkling, and then becomes more dramatic, depicting the power of the moving ice. “A Quiet Day in Ketchikan” is tranquility set to music – pure contentment and grace. “A Wild Beauty” uses a bit of extra reverb (or pedal) to create a sense of atmosphere as well as open space. As the pace picks up, feelings of motion and excitement build and then return to the original theme – gorgeous! “On Silver Waters” gently glides with effortless motion, hypnotic in its peacefulness – another favorite. “Glacier Bay” and “Inside Passage” continue in a similar mood, each with its own magical story to tell. The lively and joyful “Bow Riders” was inspired by watching porpoises putting on a spontaneous show in the ship’s bow wake – a delight! “Solus” tells of watching a solitary grizzly bear looking for food along the shore. Poignant and touching with feelings of aloneness and perhaps loneliness, it’s a wonderful piece! “Night Song” closes the album with a composition about the dark, quiet beauty of the night at sea – a calm yet magical ending to an exceptional album! If you are looking for some peaceful yet compelling solo piano music, this is a great choice! Recommended!
When the Moon Cries
When I first heard Rhonda Mackert’s CD “When the Moon Cries” released in 2007, I felt a personal connection to her compositions and a tasteful touch on the piano. Rhonda’s expressions are spiritual, emotional and tender. When I read that Rhonda was also a flutist, it made sense to me hearing her melodic writing incorporated in the compositions.
I was delighted when Rhonda agreed to let me feature her and the music on Sky.fm’s Solo Piano Channel. My audience enjoyed her feature and we are still playing Rhonda’s tracks daily in our playlist. I look forward to the next release.
Gary Farr, Sky.fm Solo Piano Channel Creator, Programmer and Host Pres. of Secret Formula Records, Inc.
When the Moon Cries
Rhonda Mackert’s solo piano debut “When the Moon Cries” is a must buy for those looking to touch nearly every emotion in one hours time.
Rhonda Mackert is a musician/pianist from Washington state, and this solo piano project is the first of many promising CD’s… It’s the heart beating behind the keyboard that makes her music special to any listener of Moon Cries.
Rhonda shows depth and maturity in her compositions and we can be certain that her future projects will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. But for now, Moon Cries stands on its own beauty and touches every emotion the heart can render.
Paul Gentry, Sockspider Radio