Mary Lou Williams and Deanna’s trip to Pittsburgh

UPDATE: Click to hear audio from Deanna’s December 2018 performance-lecture on the sacred music of Mary Lou Williams.

As a musician, the sensation of being “in the flow” occurs when music is easily moving through me; when group interplay rises to unexpected levels; when everything happens with ease. I experience this on many occasions while playing music, and less often off of the stage or away from the piano bench. So on a recent trip to Pittsburgh which yielded new friendships, introduced me to new colleagues, and opened up a plethora of work opportunities, I kept marveling at how “in the flow” my life felt during my ten day sojourn.

In front of Mary Lou Williams’ elementary school in Pittsburgh.

Last spring when Christa Burneff invited me to perform a solo concert in Pittsburgh at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts, I immediately started thinking about making an extended trip to continue my research on Mary Lou Williams. At the time when Christa contacted me, I had recently received an inquiry from the Catholic publisher, Liturgical Press. They approached me with the idea of having me write a book on Williams for their “People of God” biographical series. After the book contract was finalized, I knew that I had to take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time in Williams’ hometown of Pittsburgh.

Leading up to my trip, I started questioning my decision to go to Pittsburgh an entire nine days in advance of my December 8 concert at Hillman. After all, I hadn’t yet made many contacts in Pittsburgh, and I didn’t want to sit around without having meetings set up in advance.

The flurry of events that followed quelled any doubts that I had about the length of my trip.

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NEW! Comfort Ye: 5 Advent and Christmas pieces

As a former church music director, I know what it feels like to look at your upcoming calendar and realize that you need to quickly fill a spot or two for the Advent or Christmas season. With that in mind, here are five of my Advent and Christmas pieces (ranging from unison/soloist to SATB choir)- complete with recordings and sheet music.

Special thanks to vocalist Sarah Kervin for singing all three parts on the brand new gospel choir track of Comfort Ye.

Deanna’s Advent/Christmas music:

Comfort Ye: The classic 17th-century Advent text, “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”in an original three-part (SAT) gospel/R&B setting. Choral/piano score and lead sheet.


Love Came Down: Original gospel/funk unison setting of the Christina Rossetti poem, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” Piano/vocal score and lead sheet.


We Three Kings: Swinging jazz instrumental trio arrangement. Piano score and lead sheet.

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GRAMMY For Your Consideration: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns

Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns is in three pre-nomination categories for the 2019 Grammy Awards! 

•Category 33: Best Jazz Instrumental Album (#287, Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns)

•Category 31: Best Improvised Jazz Solo (#391, “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”– for my piano solo)

•Category 63: Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella (#224, “St. Elizabeth/Fairest Lord Jesus”). If you don’t know the “original” of this hymn to get a sense of how different the arrangement is, here is audio of the original 19th century music from a hymnal. Now listen to my version here).

Through October 31, you can stream the entire album at this link.

Whether or not you’re a NARAS (that means “National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences”) member, I urge you to check out the recording. And if you are a NARAS member, I ask for your voting consideration. Thank you!

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