—“Each day is a blessing, the future is not a given, so you have to enjoy the NOW”
Fiona Joy Hawkins is a mainstream composer/pianist/vocalist with an international following, whom she greets weekly with pandemic-inspired, livestreamed concerts. The event’s growing success might be attributable to a combination of her musical talent, a love for her fans, and her disarming Aussie humor. Her latest album is Moving Through Worlds, for her own label, Little Hartley Music. A prolific composer, she has always been interested in creating music that evokes images, emotions, and tells stories.
Fiona’s balletic performance style draws from a childhood spent learning classical piano, dance, and painting. She is best known for her romantic, melodic songs and lush arrangements, and with each new album, she bares a bit more of her soul, and her emotive music that defies genres, crossing into classical, contemporary piano, and New Age instrumentals. One can hear the inspiration of Mendelssohn and Chopin, and yet her music is often likened to modern composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Michael Nyman, Liz Story, and George Winston. She enjoys and regularly tours China and the USA and is also a member of the Contemporary instrumental group FLOW (Fiona Joy, Lawrence Blatt, Jeff Oster, Will Ackerman).
The world has rewarded the music with over 100 awards and nominations. Her song “Grace” was on a Grammy winning album in 2014. In 2016, she won two categories of the Independent Music Awards at Lincoln Centre in New York; since 2008’s Blue Dream, several albums have won Best Piano Album by global radio chart, The ZMR Awards. In Australia, she was an ARIA finalist (2008), but the nomination closest to her heart came alongside Pete Seeger for Best LIVE Performance Album in the Independent Music Awards. With FLOW, she won several IMA’s, two ZMR Awards, and two Peace Song Awards.
Fiona is proud to work with Australian handmade Stuart and Sons Pianos. With Blue Coast Records, a partner of Sony Music for hi-resolution releases, she recorded several analog albums, and is considered a female pioneer in the upscale audiophile world. Fiona is interested in new musical concepts and recording techniques for the audiophile world and has appeared on panels at audiophile conferences. Blue Coast owner/producer Cookie Marenco says, “Fiona’s melodic solo piano and masterful performances are the perfect music to debut the kind of clarity double DSD audio brings to the home listener.”
When she is not touring around the world at venues like NYC’s Carnegie Hall/Weill Hall, the New Orleans Jazz Museum, Sydney Opera House (MusicOz Awards), and China’s most stunning concert halls, she escapes to her home in a small village of 1027 people in NSW Australia. Her most memorable events include playing live on Echoes/PRI Radio, accompanying Deepak Chopra in NYC, giving a concert for the Mason and Hamlin Piano Festival in LA, Sydney Women’s International Jazz Festival, and playing with FLOW at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
I play a hand-made Australian Huon Pine concert grand piano made by Stuart and Sons. It is the second one Wayne Stuart made and has 97 keys and 4 pedals. It was a prototype of sorts and those that followed have 102 keys. Its stunning to play and has become my signature sound.
Watch Fiona in concert:
Interview with Fiona Joy Hawkins:
Jason Emerson: It’s piano month here at Making Music, but you are much more than just a pianist — you are also an orchestrator, a vocalist, a dancer, and a painter. How did all this start? What are your artistic beginnings?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: My mother was 17 years old when I was born. My grandmother moved in to care for me when I was eight, and she arrived with an old German iron frame piano that I fell in love with immediately. My mother showed me the staff and stave and where all the notes were placed on the piano. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that allowed me to teach myself to read music. Within six weeks, I could play the first page of Fur Elise (the easy part) I loved everything about the piano, but most of all it was the ability to tell stories and communicate at the piano that I loved most. It became a way to express myself, and as a child with TS Syndrome, it also became my escape.
The creative spirit is both a positive and a negative, it gives you a place to hide from the world, but it also leads you on a life-long journey to find balance.
Jason Emerson: How did you find your musical niche, which crosses genres of classical, contemporary, and New Age? Did you find your sound or did your sound find you?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: I believe my sound found me. Early on in my career, people didn’t quite understand my music or where it came from; I had no pigeon-hole or genre to explain what I was doing and where I fitted in. As a young girl in regional Australia, it was tricky to get anywhere with original work because it’s unfamiliar. It wasn’t until my early 20s when I heard George Winston and discovered Windham Hill Records that I felt I had found a place, a home, a direction. I felt like my music belonged somewhere.
I don’t know if Will Ackerman realizes how many lives he has touched by creating one of the world’s most successful boutique labels. Windham Hill Records gave a place to so much music and so many musicians. The term New Age Music allows our work to find shelves in record stories and slots in music libraries. Other terms like Contemporary Instrumental or Neo-Classical have come along since… I’m not sure why there is the need to ‘pigeon-hole’ music, but you are out there alone if you don’t find your tribe and your description. I was lucky enough to go on to record seven albums produced by Will Ackerman himself!
Jason Emerson: What does life as a musician/artist mean to you?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: Waking up each morning to be immersed in music, both the sound of music and the workings of the music industry. I probably should be jaded by the back-end work by now but actually I quite like it, it’s a challenge despite monetization being very difficult. Writing, recording, and performing are what makes it worthwhile. For me, that is where the joy is.
Jason Emerson: You have a flourishing career, and it looks like you’re having a blast doing it. What is your perspective and/or philosophy on the success of all this?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: Each day is a blessing, the future is not a given, so you have to enjoy the NOW — who knows what tomorrow will bring. The discovery of a new combination of notes, or a rhythm, or a story translated as music sets my soul on fire and allows me total escapism into another world. It’s a place of solace, it’s a safe place, and its one I love to visit.
My parents always taught me that life is like a game of scrabble — every move should be the highest score you can get given the letters you hold, don’t save them up for a move that may never happen. Maybe that is why so many people get stuck with the Q. I keep saying I’m driven and passionate and determined, but the truth is that if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. The reward is the achievement of getting music out into the world and finding an audience that appreciates it. Every day that I am able to share music is a good day.
Jason Emerson: Your new solo album was released in July, and it started with songs you later marketed as fundraisers for firefighters and wildlife rescue in the wake of the Australian brushfires near your home. Please tell us about this album and what you hope listeners will take away from it.
Fiona Joy Hawkins: Moving Through Worlds was inspired by so many aspects of my life and the world around me. The music speaks about my childhood, the journey to my present career, the Australian Bushfires, COVID, and it also celebrates the maturity I have gained along the way as a writer with some inspired improvisations delivered on the day of recording.
I hope, despite the stories it features, that it brings some peace to the listener. The first track is a joyful and rhythmic Celtic dance, so it’s not all serious!
Jason Emerson: Unfortunately, the global pandemic has put live music on hiatus. You have circumvented that by going digital and offering free live performances every Friday on your Facebook page (@fionajoyhawkinsmusic). How has this shift to digital affected your craft and your career – both positively and negatively?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: In a positive sense, it has given me purpose and a way to keep my performance skills honed. I have found a way to grow an audience in isolation and connect on an international level, it’s something I will always do moving forward, mostly because I’m enjoying it. What has surprised me is the friendships that my Facebook friends have forged from the weekly events. I watch the replay and the same group of about 30 people are having a conversation with each other during the concert. They are extending greetings, asking after each other and sharing their news. How cool is that! It’s like a family that meets up each week for music and a chat.
The downside is that there is nothing like having a live audience to bring out the best in and gauge your performance. It’s taken quite a journey to find out how to connect and play to an audience at the other end of an iPhone.
I have had to hone my tech skills, that’s both good and bad. Its good because I learned new things but bad because it’s not my area of aptitude, so it pushed me outside my comfort zone.
The other negative is my wardrobe. I believe all my clothes may have suffered some shrinkage during the time I have been at home. My husband says it’s the refrigerator that is the issue…
Jason Emerson: What is the Number One thing on your mind as you take the stage/turn on the social media feed?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: First up, I would really like to know how everyone at the other end is faring, but that’s not possible so I encourage audience to chat and leave messages about what is happening in their world so I can read and answer later.
I’m often nervous, which seems odd given it’s my piano in my own living room, but the gravity of having up to 100,000 people watch a concert is a little disconcerting — and possibly more so than the stage. There is anonymity on the stage because there is distance between you and the audience. Living room or small concerts (including having an iPhone a few metres away) are nerve-wracking.
I got to meet Sting when he was about to play at the Sydney Opera House, and he said he was the most nervous he had ever been in his life because of all the faces on tiered seats in front of him. He had just come off tour in Japan with The Police playing stadiums of 10,000, but there were so many lights in his face and such a big stage that it felt like no-one was actually there. He felt the audience were invisible, so he could disconnect. It was a lovely conversation and one that I reflect on often.
It really does work that way — livestreaming takes courage!
Jason Emerson: What is the main motivation in your mind as you practice?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: I have devised a way to minimize the time I spend on finger and memory work so I can get to all the things I need to do in order to be an independent musician that needs to wear lots hats. Practice is a discipline that all aspiring pianists learn from their student days, and if you cheat on doing enough practice to perform well, you only regret the results. We all walk the line on that sometimes!
Jason Emerson: What would you say to a young child interested in learning the piano and taking up music in general?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: I would tell them to feel the music, learn to love the piano. Do the course work and technical practice first, but always save some practice time at the end to play what they love the most. My special time was movie themes and songs I had written myself.
I would also tell them that their parents make sacrifices to pay for piano lessons and the best way they say thank you is to play beautiful music for their parents to enjoy.
Jason Emerson: How would you characterize the importance and art of listening?
Fiona Joy Hawkins: Input is important. As a creative you want to be original, but inspiration has to come from somewhere and its often built on from those that have gone before us. It’s a part of musical training to study history and the world around us with open ears.
For more info on Fiona Joy Hawkins, visit the links below:
All Socials/listening: https://linktr.ee/fionajoymusic
Read more about Fiona Joy Hawkins’ new album: Moving Through Worlds:
As the Australian bushfires crept toward her rural home, Fiona Joy Hawkins turned to her Stuart & Sons piano to do what has always bought her solace: writing music. After crafting 4 songs that she later marketed as fundraisers for firefighters and wildlife rescue – and which are included on this album – she began final preparations on Moving Through Worlds. Although she began recording and conceptualizing the album three years ago, one could say it is an album 44-years in the making. One of the more classical-crossover pieces is “For the Roses” which a 12-year-old Fiona wrote for her Grandmother’s funeral.
Fiona says, “I believe music is a gift from another world, from ancestors of the past communicating to inspire and give us hope. Music is a universal language that connects us without prejudice, it speaks to us all equally, yet is received with great variation. My wish is to open a few more hearts to the power of music. Now more than ever we need the connection to our past to find the pathway to our future.”
The 14-track album was beautifully produced by Will Ackerman (Founder Windham Hill Records) and Tom Eaton. As per her usual style, Fiona defies genre by bringing Classical, Contemporary Piano, and New Age instrumentals together to create something uniquely her own, and reflective of all the worlds that she has moved through so elegantly while this powerful music gathered in her soul.