Becky Billock | Muses Nine: Eight American Composers Plus One Pianist

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Muses Nine: Eight American Composers Plus One Pianist

by Becky Billock

The stylistic diversity of the 20th and 21st centuries comes alive in this exploration of piano music by women.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Spiral Journey
7:18 $0.99
2. Medium Piano
3:50 $0.99
3. Toccata for Piano
5:22 $0.99
4. Six Preludes, No. 1 Quietly
2:21 $0.99
5. Six Preludes, No. 2 Allegretto Grazioso
2:04 $0.99
6. Six Preludes, No. 3 Very Fast
1:11 $0.99
7. Six Preludes, No. 4 Vigoroso
2:39 $0.99
8. Six Preludes, No. 5 With Deep Feeling
2:09 $0.99
9. Six Preludes, No. 6 Exuberantly, Passionately
2:35 $0.99
10. Lament
6:06 $0.99
11. Dreaming
4:20 $0.99
12. Honeysuckle
2:35 $0.99
13. Scottish Legend
2:52 $0.99
14. From Blackbird Hills
4:31 $0.99
15. Mephisto Rag
7:34 $0.99
16. Troubled Water
5:21 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

Women’s music is music. And yet, there is value in celebrating the works of women. It’s important to me: the first time I played a piece written by a woman—and even more so the first time I played a full recital program of music by women—I thought I would explode with pride. These are my people! It’s important for the two daughters I’m raising: gender never goes unnoticed by them. I’m routinely required to change the gender of the characters in stories (if you pay attention you’ll notice that a vast majority of important characters in children’s books are male). It’s important for my students: my goal is to produce a new generation of pianists that do not ask, when seeing the name of an unfamiliar composer, “Who is he?” And my hope is that it will be important to you.
~Becky Billock


Diane Thome (b. 1942)
Spiral Journey was written in honor of Ruth Gerberding, a major supporter of the University of Washington School of Music, and a particular fan of piano music. The piece was a surprise gift for Mrs. Gerberding, premiered at a party in her honor in June 1995. Diane writes: “The title Spiral Journey describes certain structural features of the piece, including specific recurrent patterns presented in new contexts, suggesting a spiral. The constantly evolving and intertwining patterns are intended as a metaphor for the continuing life journey of the Gerberdings.”

Molly Joyce (b. 1992)
Preludes of Pace, for solo piano, was commissioned by pianist Michael Schneider of Austin, Texas for the 2011 San Angelo, Texas Piano Festival. Medium Piano is the first of three preludes based on different speeds or pace; I. Medium Piano, II. Fast Piano, and III. Slow Piano. As the names suggest, each prelude deals with the different speeds and some of the pianistic possibilities inherent with each. Medium Piano is dedicated to Becky Billock.

Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927)
The Toccata for piano was written in 1979 for the senior recital of UCSB piano student Nozomi Takahashi. Emma Lou writes: “The piece has an emphasis on timbre, an outgrowth of my work in electronic music at the time. I decided to mix on-the-strings playing with traditional on-the-keys playing as a gradual process in repeated patterns rather than the "plink here, pluck there" effects that are foreign to me. The "listening" to overtones in the middle section provides a respite from the generally rhythmic, active ideas. ….Finally, the initial impetus was joy in the anticipation of a loved one returning from an extended trip, perhaps expressed in the rapid repeated notes at the beginning.”

Marion Bauer (1882-1955)
When the Six Preludes were published in 1922, the publisher wanted to label the pieces Six Modern Preludes. Marion wisely speculated, however, that “what is modern in 1922 will probably be quite conventional in 1940…” so the title remained Six Preludes. The chromaticism of the pieces somewhat blurs the concept of a tonal center; however, each prelude is intended to be in a specific key. Marion intertwines dissonances and impressionistic harmonies, reflecting both the American and French influences of her training.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939)
The Lament was written as a contribution to the Carnegie Hall Millennium Piano Book project, which Zwilich herself inspired and instigated during the time she held the Carnegie Hall Composer’s Chair (1995-1999). The project was an effort to create an outstanding body of new music for the piano, and presents works by ten contemporary composers of diverse nationalities including Elliot Carter, Chen Yi, Wolfgang Rihm, Milton Babbitt and others. Zwilich writes of the piece: “Lament was written in memory of Judith Arron, whose visionary goals for Carnegie Hall were matched by her abilities to achieve them. Those of us who worked closely with Judy knew of her long struggle with illness (almost the length of her tenure as Executive Director of Carnegie Hall) and how hard she fought for life. Lament was my immediate and personal response to her loss.”

Amy Beach (1867-1944)
The four pieces by Amy Beach included on this disc reveal some of the diversity in her writing—from intimate and lyrical expression, to reflections of folk motifs. Dreaming is intended as a miniature tone poem. The motto below the title reads: “Tu me parles du fond d’un rêve” (You speak to me from the depths of a dream). The long melodic lines and the blurred accompaniment help to render the dream-image. Honeysuckle is a vivacious piece that reflects the invasive quality of its namesake plant. The quickly-spreading vines twist and turn and often choke out neighboring plants, the whole time exuding an intensely cloying scent. “Scottish Legend” masquerades as an arrangement of a Scottish folk song, but in fact is an original composition. Another piece which reflects Amy Beach’s fascination with ethnic and indigenous melodies is From Blackbird Hills (An Omaha Tribal Dance). This piece uses an authentic tune sung and danced by Native American children. Beach wrote of the lyrical sections that “the ghosts of long dead Indians were looking sadly over the shoulders of the happy living children at play.”

Libby Larsen (b. 1950)
The Mephisto Rag is a virtuosic showpiece that is inspired by Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz. Themes and motives of Liszt’s Waltz are recalled throughout the Rag, albeit there are only a few direct quotes. Libby describes the piece as having three main sections: “a fantasy on Mephisto Waltz themes, a game in two sections, and a presto finale.” Both sections of the “game” employ a more traditional rag texture with some elements of stride piano. The presto finale section opens with an extended motif reminiscent of scat vocal improvisation. After considerable development of the scat motif and further recollections from Liszt’s Waltz, the piece climaxes in a dazzling kaleidoscope of sound and color.

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)
Troubled Water is a fantasy on the spiritual Wade in the Water. Drawing from her African American heritage, Bonds juxtaposes this soulful melody against various backdrops—some more traditional, and some of a more intellectual nature—before building to a majestic and triumphant finale.


Becky Billock is an active recital soloist and chamber musician. She has appeared as soloist with regional orchestras in Oregon and California and has performed solo and chamber recitals in numerous locations throughout the U.S., including several tours of Northwest cities, and appearances on the Seattle radio station Classical KING FM 98.1, the Pittsburgh radio station WQED 98.3FM, and American Public Media’s Performance Today. Ms. Billock also concertizes, lectures and adjudicates frequently in western Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband Jonathan Aldrich and her two young daughters. She holds degrees from Walla Walla College (BA), University of Redlands (MA), and University of Washington (DMA), where she studied respectively with Leonard Richter, Louanne Long, and Craig Sheppard. Since focusing her dissertation on contemporary women composers, Ms. Billock has been actively advocating and promoting women’s music. In addition to showcasing works by women, Ms. Billock has been a champion of new music in general, having participated in premieres and commissions from a diversity of composers.

Ms. Billock maintains a thriving private studio in Pittsburgh, where her students have been chosen for numerous awards and honors including Dorothy Sutton Performance Festival, the Duquesne Young Artist Piano Festival and the Steinway Society Young Artist program. Several of her students have also appeared as soloists with the Pittsburgh Concertino Chamber Orchestra.

During her (mostly theoretical) free time Ms. Billock also enjoys knitting, remodeling, swing dancing, board games, bike riding, and spending time with her family and friends.


Sound editing and production
Curtis Dahl is a recording engineer and music teacher in Seattle, Washington. When he's not dealing with all things musical, he makes a great cup of coffee.

Cover art
Joel Henriques is an artist and toy designer who lives with his wife and three year-old twins in Portland, Oregon. He is author of the blog Made by Joel ( His paintings can be seen at

Layout and graphic design
Paul Johnson is a graphic designer living in Walla Walla, Washington. When not wielding a mouse, he enjoys smacking drums, thumping bass, Stewart & Colbert, and cream in his coffee. Given the chance, he'd probably not change anything, but still want to be able to complain about it.

Musesnine logo design
Paul Billock lives in Ventura, California where he passes his days working as a geographic information specialist. When time allows he also enjoys spending time with his wife, working in the ceramic studio and scheming about woodworking, glass blowing, and metal casting.

For more information about this artist and album, please visit



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