Eat. Sleep. Practice. Repeat. An interview with AyseDeniz

By January 19, 2014Music

AyseDeniz was considered a child prodigy in her native Turkey and made her concerto debut when she was just nine. At thirteen, she had already performed as a soloist with various orchestras and upon hearing her interpretation of a Chopin Sonata, Nikolai Petrov personally invited her to perform in the Kremlin Palace – a concert that was very well-received and marked somewhat of a mile stone in Miss Gokcin’s young career.

After three of her piano arrangements of Pink Floyd songs in the style of Franz Liszt went viral, AyseDeniz attracted the attention of the progressive rock world, and was supported on the group’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. Upon the requests of her fans, she completed a full album called: Pink Floyd Classical Concept, which has been released on iTunes and in limited hardcopy edition on her online store. She has been featured in media world wide – from the BBC over Classic FM to rock magazines and blogs and appeared on numerous TV shows, radio stations and magazines.

Aside from all this awe-inspiring talent, AyseDeniz is bubbly, charming and a complete joy to talk to. We were lucky enough to chat to her on Skype one afternoon last week and not only did we have a good laugh, we also spent nearly 1.5 hours talking when we had only booked half an hour – but then again, AyseDeniz does likes breaking the ‘rules’. #Liszttified

Can you tell us a bit about your background? Details that are not in your Biography.
Well, the general theme of my life is that me and the piano have been inseparable ever since I was baby! We had an upright piano in my family, which I considered to be my number one toy and my number two toy was my cat! I didn’t play with Barbies, put it that way! I was a serious child, very formal, very conservative. My first piano teachers didn’t want me listen to pop music, I was not allowed to wear nail polish, everything was very strict with super high standards, and you had to act like an adult instead of a kid. Fortunately, it was quite the opposite in my family life. The result of this upbringing has been living with two identities: one side of me is very proper and formal and the other side is an anarchist, and a fun party person.

Would you say you have an eclectic taste in music, or is your style quite specific?
Yes, definitely – although I was very influenced by rock / pop music when I was growing up. The first CD I ever bought was Michael Jackson. I love all the oldies…I listened to what my parents listen to. I think I am still stuck in the music that came before the millenium…

Do you have any favourite quotes that have stayed with you throughout your life journey thus far?
It’s very cliché but… “Do what you love and always put your heart into it” “Take risks but make sure there is room for mistakes before you do!” and “Never give up!” pretty much sum up my life. I think you have to be adaptable and recognize that the only constant in this life is change. That’s why you have to embrace your failures and turn them into constructive solutions.

You made you first concerto debut when you were just nine years old, and it’s been an uphill climb since then. Were there any hard sacrifices you had to make in place of your passion?
Yes – I hung out with a lot of older kids whenever I went to summer schools or festivals, because I would be the youngest one there. While my classmates would play dodge ball, I was giving concerts, performing for classical listeners who are mostly above 50, so I ended up not being able to relate to people my own age. I also took on a lot of responsibility by playing pieces by composers whom I deeply admired, in front of so many people that it had to go right otherwise I would be humiliated and embarrassed. So that made me grow up really quickly and I assumed everyone would be similar to me but that didn’t happen. I take everything too seriously, and whatever I do has to be done right – I have far too many high expectations which frustrates me very often.

How much time per week do you spend sat at the piano?
Ideally every day for 6 hours (more before concerts) unless there is a good excuse not to! You have to stay fit – your memory and your muscles. But I’m so busy that it’s hard to make the time nowadays – I end up going to bed so late in order to fit everything in! I wish there was more time in the day! I have started my own music business in London (AGOKCIN Music) so I am very busy building up a brand, managing and producing, finding the right team… it’s all very time-consuming. I also do a lot of interviews which takes up so much time.

What’s the longest period of time you’ve gone without playing, and why?
One week! I was in Argentina for two concerts and there was a week between each one so I met up with friends and we went to places in South America where there was no piano in sight! It was a nice break…but it’s something I wouldn’t normally do – it was too long.

How often do you find yourself composing a completely original creation? What triggers these compositions, do you go out to seek inspiration or does it come to you when it’s ready?
I used to do a lot more original creations when I was younger, but it fits me better to do something that people know already. I might do spontaneous improvisations, yes, but that’s not creating something totally new. I like to take melodies and arrange them – I think I have an architect’s mind. I like to build something up and calculate the options, putting in voices etc. Not covers – it’s a mixture between composing and arranging really.

Your Pink Floyd compositions are truly inspirational – what’s the story behind these?
This started when I was doing my Masters in 2011 – it was Franz Liszt’s 200th anniversary and everyone was giving tributes. I found it all so boring though…I don’t believe they captured the essence, the spirit of what Liszt was about. Liszt gave people something more, he was so charismatic. What he did in his day was so modern, not at all formal. Everyone was blown away with his showmanship, he was a rock star of his time. He did charity concerts, he brought music to the people, he loved literature and art and was a romantic hero who had many personal problems sure, but he was super popular in society. As I thought more and more about this it reminded me of Pink Floyd’s lyrics and I got this crazy idea of merging their music to represent Liszt’s essence, like he did with the music of his time. He did so many arrangements and paraphrases, using music from operas, symphonies and poems and songs and taking them to the people who couldn’t afford to go to the fancy halls in big cities.

I never wanted to imitate Pink Floyd or Liszt while doing these arrangements, but only aimed to do a personal tribute that captured the essence through re-interpreting Pink Floyd’s music in a “Lisztified” manner. I was going to use it as my Masters project, instead it actually became real. I released the tracks and after 2 months it was all over internet. Some people have been so thankful to me for introducing them to Liszt and others (mostly elitist formal crowds) thankful for introducing them to Pink Floyd! So I accomplished my goal of merging the two audiences and bringing back this tradition.

Piano is your passion, profession and a part of who you are. Can you imagine a world without it? What sort of challenges do you face?
I can’t imagine a world without music. I would never leave the industry even if I wanted to. There have been a few times in my life when I was so sick of the challenges… Many times I thought I wasn’t successful enough, or that I had tried my best and no one cared except for my family members (who usually love everything I do anyway!) When I was 13 for instance I thought I wasn’t cool enough so I started playing drums and dyed my hair pink. I was mad at my parents for pushing me into classical music because none of my classmates talked about Beethoven or Chopin! I thought head-banging to Rachmaninoff was equally enjoyable if not more, to head-banging to Metallica. So I thought there was something wrong with me, but thankfully meeting musicians my age in summer festivals and then in university proved I wasn’t the only one.

Also, I began realizing that this was the result of the faulty education system with boring teachers, mass media, the elitist classical music listeners and the super old fashioned performers. The music was so great, yet the packaging and the social environment was just not helping young kids relate to classical music.

Thankfully now that I am a bit older, my friends actually listen to classical music and they enjoy it more than they did before. Also living in London makes me so excited – there are new theatre, ballet, opera and music projects all around. There are also amazing young artists who are embracing this century much more than they did when I was a child.

There is still the usual challenge which is to reach out to people and to make a project work so you can earn a living while doing something you love instead of having to do some other job you don’t enjoy. Thanks to Classic FM and Pink Floyd – they gave me so much support– I have managed to get to the next level. I have a growing fan base, and I am always in touch with them through social media. I want to hear what they want, and whether they like something I put on Youtube. I also use Facebook and Twitter, and often upload videos on Instagram from my practice sessions. I love sharing my life with others. I am working on two albums at the moment: one is all Chopin, and the other is half grunge rock and half classical – but I am not giving away any names! It should be out around December 2014 if everything goes right!

Tori Amos, a famous American pianist who has sold over 12 million records worldwide has been quoted saying ”Everybody told me this ‘girl on the piano’ thing was never going to work”. I wonder if you can relate to this… Have you ever had doubters around you, including yourself? If so what do you say to them?
I am the Nº1 doubter! It hurts when people who are close to you doubt you as you need the opposite. My family has always been supportive but everyone has something different to say. They are worried I will turn into a pop artist! Some said… “this Pink Floyd idea is never gonna work”. As an artist you get so many comments from people who have no idea, everyone thinks they know best. The trick is to build “A Wall” that protects you from all that.

Your song ‘Libertango (Piazzolla)’ is a very powerful piece of music, especially when coupled with the music video. For those who haven’t seen it, it tells a story through music and motion that raises awareness of women and children in unsafe living environments, and the beautiful piano that’s featured in the video was donated by a charity ‘Community’s Child’ working to help with this problem.

What was it like shooting such a strong video, and was this the original inspiration behind the arrangement?
I have always wanted to make a music video for this Libertango arrangement, which I had done long ago. People expected tango dancers in the video, yet you don’t need dancers in Piazzolla’s music – it dances by itself! I wanted the passion and drama in it to be the main focus, by doing something that had a strong message. As a female, I have seen so many problems – women are very sensitive and are too often exploited and misunderstood. I worked with Boondock films and we brainstormed together. We shot so many scenes in two days… It was very intense that I had no idea how it was going to turn out, because editing is the magic part where it all comes together. It ended up being exactly what I wanted to say. The main character is very naïve…it could have easily been me. What she fails to see, though, is that success is not related to how much you let yourself be used; it is about being patient, embracing failure, creating the right environment in which you can progress, and of course, having people around who believe in you and support you… Yet she does all the opposite things. It is what many people choose, which is very sad. We all need to realize that there are always other options for all of us, and that if one doesn’t work, we should not give up or let ourselves be exploited.

The piano in the video was donated by Community’s Child, which is a charity that’s offering women & their infants safe living environments, training and education to help end poverty, neglect, abuse, and addictions. I really wanted to support this charity and to try and change things in a positive way. I would love to do more projects like this soon.

Taking into account everywhere that you’ve traveled, do you have a favourite place in the globe?
Depends, wherever my friends are really. New York is one of my favourite places as most of my friends ended up there after university. In terms of sunshine, I love the West Coast (USA) but it’s a bit of a hassle moving around there. I also love London so much, I just wish there was less rain and clouds! Istanbul is wonderful too – the city planning though is a bit of a nightmare – there is too much traffic, too many people, it’s all a bit chaotic. I want to travel more and revisit the places I have already been to and want to go to Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand soon. Although not for playing, otherwise I will be stuck in a practice room ☺

In a few words try to describe the life of a pianist.
Eat. Sleep. Practice.

Favourite musical artist right now?
“Right now” is a bit tricky! Usually I would give you names from the 50-90’s!… But I’ll try: I listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Daft Punk, Radiohead, … Sometimes

Performance wise – Martha Argerich is definitely my idol. But if you want younger names, then Yuja Wang and Lang Lang (both Chinese pianists) are great because they are vibrant, energetic, and full of charisma. Likewise, Dudamel is a great conductor, and one of the most well known alumnus of El Sistema –the music education program that changed hundreds of thousands of young people’s lives in Venezuela. (I recommend checking out their TED talk)

Favourite musical artist when you were 15?
I think I really had a wide range… I have to admit, I listened to lots of Britney Spears and Shakira ☺ And also Eminem! I would wear baggy pants and stretch tops and teach all my friends at classical festivals the lyrics! His song with his daughter made me really like him at the time. Also the rhythms of the words.
When I was 10, I was a hardcore Spice Girls fan – once even did the role of Mel C in a school dance!

If you could make more time for something, what would it be?
Honestly I just wish I could spend more time at the piano and at the computer arranging music… If I could do it all, without sacrificing anything it would be amazing. I love socializing, reading, travelling, learning new languages… I also love to sleep (who doesn’t?) – I wish I didn’t so I could do much more in a day!

The video that thousands of people have already seen on Youtube titled ‘Street Piano’ in which you are playing on pianos in different locations on the streets of London, what was that about? Tell us a bit about it and your experience.
This is my interpretation of Fazil Say’s arrangement of Mozart’s Turkish March. Fazil Say was on trial for ‘retweeting’ an old, sarcastic poem that criticised religion. As a very valuable Turkish musician, I respected his works and decided to support him in a peaceful way, so I played this piece on 50 pianos in London, to promote freedom of speech and thought, tolerance and an environment that promotes discussion rather than punishment.

AyseDeniz chose our #SundaySessions for this week. Listen to them HERE!

For more information visit AyseDeniz’s Website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube