As prescribed by Paulina Constancia
Today, we head to the Netherlands to meet a most versatile pianist and warm personality – Ton-Herman Melis.
Dose #45-47 : ” Piano Men”
On Love, Harmony & more…
Dose #46- Piano Man # 2: Ton-Herman Melis, The Netherlands
It was the year 2000. I had just taken down my art exhibition at the Kunst de Meerse in Hoofddorp (a presentation made possible by the Vereniging Haarlemmermeer-Cebu VHC sister cities organization) while Ton-Herman was just coming out from a class he was teaching at de Meerse. He was very friendly- he smiled and started chatting with me. Next thing you know, he’s on the grand piano, I’m singing some jazz standards and a couple more musicians at de Meerse join us on the double bass and saxophone. A magical moment I will cherish in my heart forever!
I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you the world of this incredibly talented piano man who knows how to laugh, share his talent and have a good time.
Name: Ton-Herman Melis
City/Country base: Zutphen, the Netherlands
Training: Conservatory of Utrecht
Years of Training: Received piano lessons from when I was 6 years old until I got my degree
at the Conservatory at the age of 23. So 17 years of study with a teacher. After that I am still practicing and studying for 27 years.
Years in the profession: 27 years.
Type of Music: Mostly pop and jazz music, but I also play classical music and musical songs.
Nature of Practice: I try to divide my time evenly between performing (in a band or accompanying vocalist), teaching (at a music school and a conservatory) and composing, arranging and recording music in my home studio. And furthermore I’m the conductor of a local pop-choir named “Zutfun”.
DDoA: Did you come from a musical family?
THM: Everybody in my family plays the piano, my father and mother, my two sisters. But I’m the only one who made a profession out of it, although my youngest sister is a music therapist. My father was self-taught (and very proud of it) and played everything by ear. My mother also played the piano, mostly classical music, she couldn’t improvise. And my two sisters also received piano-lessons like myself and still play the piano.
DDoA: Who would you consider your mentor?
THM: In my profession that would be Edwin Rutten. I worked with him for more than 25 years. He hired me as a keyboard player for his children’s theatre shows when I was 23 years old. I learned a lot from him about the practice of music and theatre. He is a great improviser as an actor as well as a singer. And he is very generous and helpful with advice and contacts. But most things I learned from him by just looking at how he performed and organized his shows.
DDoA: What events/circumstances in your life made you realize you had a calling to be a piano man/musician?
THM: At the beginning of high school I didn’t have any doubts about my future; I wanted to be a physicist. But I also had a lot of fun playing the piano and the electronic organ. And at the end of my school I was in serious doubt which of the two ways I had to choose, so I attended open days at both the conservatory and the university to find out what I wanted to study. It was not the study, but the students that turned the scale for me. At the conservatory, the atmosphere was much warmer and more open, I felt right at home. I guess I didn’t want to become more of a nerd than I already was so I chose to become a musician.
DDoA: What do you love the most/least about your profession?
THM: The best: 2 things: Creating music, composing or improvising. And the rare moments when playing with others when the energy of music takes over. No words or even thoughts are needed anymore, everybody plays intuitively and goes beyond himself.
The least: administration
DDoA: They say music (or art in general) is a jealous muse. Do you find this to be true?
THM: Yes, more or less. It’s no nine to five job, it is done when it’s finished and beforehand it is often unclear how long it is going to take.
DDoA: What challenges have you experienced/are experiencing in your personal life/family life because of your profession?
THM: There is no separation at all between my professional and personal life. When I’m involved in a project that takes up all my creativity, I can’t think of anything else. And when I have to play somewhere I feel the obligation to be there in time and at my very best. This urge, combined with the fact that there are times with almost too much work squeezed into a day, makes it difficult sometimes to be a dependable family man.
DDoA: Please share your most memorable experience as a pianist (and lessons you have learned from it)
THM: I got a phone call once from a colleague who asked me to replace him for a few gigs starting the same night. There was this American band touring and their keyboard player had suddenly left to play elsewhere. He also mentioned that the bass player, Billy Haynes, who was the bandleader, had toured extensively with Tina Turner. Needless to say I was very eager to do the gig but nervous to the same extent because I didn’t know what to expect or what they expected from me. Did they have readable sheets to play from? Were they arrogant? I ended up playing that night and all my worries turned out to be totally unnecessary. The musicians from the band were very relaxed and immediately had confidence in me as a musician as we started. Playing with them was much easier than I expected. I wondered why. Even when playing the songs I had never played before it was always clear what I had to do. I guess it was because of the band playing as tight together as they did and their way of playing was as unmistakable as their communication. They behaved as warm and friendly as they were good musicians, an unbeatable combination.
DDoA: What traits/work ethics do you consider important in order to succeed as a pianist/musician?
THM: You have to be reliable, do what you promised and be on time. And be friendly and polite, but don’t be too modest, make no secret of your strong points.
DDoA: Tell us about your latest or current project (album/collaborations, etc.)
THM: I’m working together with an actress/singer who is also a writer. We’re writing songs, she writes the lyrics and I write the music. We have a lot of ideas we want to work out and it is very inspiring to work together trying to get the best out of each other.
DDoA: What message do you have for aspiring pianists out there…
THM: Study with attention and be greedy. Try out every kind of music you come across and try to understand it. Learn theory in order to understand what you play. And when listening to music try to figure out what you hear and then try to play it. And learn to read music; of course there are more ways to learn music, but being able to read opens up another world of beauty. And if you are a good reader, don’t forget to play without sheets. Not only music you have learned by heart, but explore, improvise and play on intuition. At the conservatory I teach improvisation for classical pianists. For them the biggest challenge is often not a musical one, but having the guts to play without a detailed plan and allowing yourself to make ‘mistakes’. These mistakes may lead you to musical territories you have never imagined.
When I say Ton-Herman is a musician who is versatile and knows how to have a good time – I meant that — here are some photos to demonstrate my point:
Here are some videos of Piano Man Ton-Herman Melis:
I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt)
Vocals: Mirjam Vriend Piano: Ton-Herman Melis Guitar: Jurgen Burdorf
Final song of the children’s theatre show “de Film van Ome Willem”
Vocals: Edwin Rutten Piano: Ton-Herman Melis Bass: Fried Manders
Special project with Edwin Rutten (jazz-singer) and Winne (rapper) to thank Queen Máxima for her gift to support music education for children
Vocals: Edwin Rutten, Winne & 40 Dutch children
Piano and production: Ton-Herman Melis
Double-bass: Harm van Sleen
So do… remember Piano Man Ton-Herman Melis wise counsel on how to succeed as a musician: “You have to be reliable, do what you promised and be on time. And be friendly and polite, but don’t be too modest, make no secret of your strong points.” and also “have the guts to play without a detailed plan and allow yourself to make ‘mistakes’. These mistakes may lead you to musical territories you have never imagined.”