Lara Downes is an acclaimed classical pianist who has taken her love for all things classical to a new audience with her release 'Nocturnes For Night Owls: Classical Treasures for Sweet Dreams'.
The album is a wonderful collection of classical quiet-time music that both children and their parents will love. The album is an eclectic mix of beloved masterpieces like Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and Schumann’s "Traumerei"(Dreaming) that meets little-known gems, including Aaron Copland’s "Midsummer Nocturne".
Listening to this timeless release is comforting and as it is soothing - it's complete musical bliss for children and parents.
I had a chance to connect with Lara and ask her all about music, her children and her love of all things vintage.
What made you take on this project and record an album with children as your main audience?
Ever since my kids were born, I've wanted to record something lovely for them. I've loved watching their responses to all the different kinds of music we listen to together, from Bach to the Beatles to hip-hop! They're 9 and 6 now, and they've developed pretty broad musical tastes: my daughter Charlotte loves Beethoven, and Simon is into Lyle Lovett. Nocturnes for Night Owls started with Charlotte's request for a recording of the Moonlight Sonata to listen to at bedtime - I recorded that for her, and then I started coming up with all kinds of ideas about other beautiful night-time pieces, and the list got long enough for a CD. As the project developed, I realized how important it was for me not only to share this wonderful music with my own kids, but to create a beautiful, eclectic collection that children everywhere can enjoy, maybe even as a very first introduction to classical music for some listeners. This album has everything from early 20th-century American music (Copland) to 19th century Russian Jewish lullabies, to, well... the Moonlight Sonata. I love the idea of a 3-year-old listening to all this very diverse music without any preconceptions or categorization, just taking it in and hearing how beautiful it is!
You've mentioned that in your house 'good music for bedtime is essential'....what is about music that is a perfect way to end off the day?
I think that we get so many sensory inputs all day long - the world is a noisy place! Essentially we're hearing cacophony all day - a mix of talking, traffic noise, radio/tv, phones ringing, etc. When you're snuggled in bed in the cozy dark, and there's finally silence around you, I think that music can fill that quiet with a beautiful landscape where your mind can break free of everything it's carried during the day, and roam and relax. It's true that "Music has charms to soothe the savage beast"... or the cranky toddler, or the over-tired 8 year old (or the stressed-out mom!)
Since becoming a mother, has your musical perspective changed?
Becoming a mom has put music into a clearer, better place in my life. Instead of a single obsession, which it was in my 20s, it's now a passion and a very vital part of the balance of work and family. I feel like I understand my artistic priorities better and better, as I learn more about the priorities of my life at large. I really think that I'm a better musician, now that I have more to care about in my life than just music.
Do you look at music differently now that you are hearing it through the ears of your children?
As a professional with a lifetime of strict classical training behind me, I have so much information about the music - I know all about how it works: structurally, technically, historically. Listening with my kids as they hear something for the first time gives me fresh ears, lets me move away from my "insider" perspective and just appreciate the sheer beauty and emotion in the music.
Favourite place to perform?
I have different kinds of "favorites"! I love traveling to small towns where I've performed before and have already made friends, so that the concert is also a chance to see them again. Of the big, prestigious American halls, the Kennedy Center in DC takes such great care of visiting artists - it's always a treat to be there. My home base, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in California, is my home away from home. I'm there all the time, rehearsing and performing. My kids used to call it "Your Davi Center" when they were little, because they thought I was saying "My Davi Center". It's a fabulous venue and I'm fortunate to be in residence there. One of my favorite cities is Montreal, where I've made good friends at the Chamber Music Festival. I absolutely love Montreal's eclectic, sophisticated, totally international culture, music scene, and fantastic food! And it's a beautiful experience to play in the old concert halls of Europe - there's nothing like the sense of musical history when you play in the great music centers like Vienna, where Mozart and Beethoven lived and worked.
Top 3 artists/songs that you are listening to right now?
Glenn Gould: Bach Goldberg Variations; Lucio Dalla (Italian singer/songwriter): Tu non mi Basti Mai; She & Him: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here
I always say that music is food for my soul - it's like breathing - need to be surrounded by it every day - what is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word MUSIC?
Honestly (sadly ) "practice"
Best piece of mommy advice you ever got?
My mom has always told me to enjoy every minute of the time while my kids are so young, that all of it, even the stress and tiredness, is something to treasure. Whenever I watch old videos of the kids, I realize how fast the time has passed already, how you forget your kids' baby voices and baby faces as they grow into new stages. It really does fly by. So every night when I go to bed, I try to run through that day in my head and file away at least one special moment to remember.
What have your children taught you about yourself?
That I actually have a lot more patience than I ever thought! And that I can be just as silly as the silliest 1st-grader.
You have a free day to yourself...how do you pamper yourself?
I love to curl up and read our hammock, meet a friend for coffee and a long talk, get a pedicure, shop for shoes, do an extra-long workout at the gym or go to my Bikram yoga class, have a glass of wine in a long hot bath.
Top 3 must have beauty products - the stuff you can't live without when out on the road?
Neutrogena Norwegian Formula hand cream (totally essential to keep my hands in working order and makes a good emergency face cream/lip balm too); my favorite Jo Malone Tuberose cologne (I keep the big bottle at home and stock up on the little sample spritzers at the cosmetics counter - LOVE samples!!); Bobbi Brown bronzer.
What's your most comfortable fashion ensemble (I've read you have a slight obsession with all things vintage)?
Boots! (almost always) with a mini or wrap dress, and a slouchy sweater or a vintage leather bomber jacket. And sometimes wearing yoga clothes all day is very nice.
What makes you happiest right now?
The streets covered with beautiful copper leaves; watching my kids in their hip-hop class; Bartlett pears; listening to my 6 year old reading Dr. Seuss out loud; girl talks with my daughter; Monday night "movie night" at home with my family; my shearling-lined boots.
Lara Downes new album, 'Nocturnes For Night Owls: Classical Treasures for Sweet Dreams' is available on iTunes, CDBaby, Etsy and eMusic Canada...and makes for a perfect holiday gift idea.