Richard Carr, 52, creates original piano and synthesizer music. About four years ago, he volunteered to put music behind Silent Unity® prayer services read by his friend, Rev. Blaine Tinsley. While neither is involved in the endeavor any longer, Richard continues to create and perform piano/keyboard soundtracks for the “soul, mind, and body.” Since 1997, he has released 14 albums. He lived in New Orleans, Louisiana for 10 years, but moved back to his native St. Louis, Missouri, after Hurricane Katrina. In May 2011, he began the Year of Music project, which involved posting a new piece of music every day for the entire year. Richard had so much success that he hasn’t stopped. He continues to post a new creation every morning, which people can sign up to receive free of charge. Here he talks about his music.
Unity: Why did you volunteer to provide music for the Silent Unity prayer services?
Richard: Like a lot of things, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. In my mind, music always enhances meditation. I really believe there’s some sort of spiritual tie that runs into meditations. The Silent Unity prayer service was just a written meditation, not something to give one the chance to really move into a meditative state. So Rev. Blaine and I decided to create an aural presentation for the entire Silent Unity community. There are some Sundays when I play music to a meditation and it’s just like, Whoa, that was right on target. There’s kind of zoning out and letting your fingers do the talking, and it’s obvious I’m not in charge. … Instead of using strings, you can slide to a wood flute. Or maybe you start with a wood flute and then the piano slides in somewhere along the line. I compare myself to an artist with a palette, and my palette is the different sounds I have to work with.
Unity: What does it feel like when you’re in that space of creating?
Richard: I am in that creative mode all the time. It’s just part of me now. My creative switch got turned on a long time ago and it has not stopped.
Unity: Have you ever had a period where it did stop?
Richard: When I was in grad school (for music composition) it came to a complete halt. I was still producing stuff, but it wasn’t anything I really liked. I was more or less doing it because the professor said I had to do this or that. I thought, Why? This is not music to me. This is not what I want to be doing. That’s probably why I don’t have my master’s degree in composition either.
Unity: How old were you when you started playing the piano?
Richard: I had formal lessons when I was 6.
Unity: Whose idea was it?
Richard: Probably mom and dad’s. We had a little Magnus electric air organ at home and I had been playing around with it for a year and a half or so. My grandma had a bigger one upstairs. My mom and dad said, “Well, he might have some talent here.” They took me over to my Catholic grade school and there were a couple of nuns who were teaching piano. The first nun said, ‘I won’t take him until third grade.’ I was in first grade. The other nun received an invitation from my parents, “Come over for dinner. We’ll have a nice dinner and then see what Richard can do and then you make a choice.” We started lessons right away. I ended up at a local Catholic college in their music education program … Another nun there said she’d like to take me as her student. I had her for seven years. I flourished. That was my foundation there.
Unity: Then you stopped lessons at age 14, is that right?
Richard: Yeah, I was a freshman in high school. High school got in the way of lessons. I just didn’t have time to practice. I didn’t stop playing. I just stopped playing classical music, basically. Instead I was playing Billy Joel, Elton John, Emerson, Lake and Palmer—all the stuff in the early to mid-70s … Being able to sit down at the piano any time, it got me through all those hard, emotional teenage years. I tell people music has kept me sane all these years.
Unity: How does music help you?
Richard: I think it’s different now than what it was back then. Nowadays, when I sit down and play what I call the ‘other people’s music,’ it’s a form of release for me. You just let go of everything else. It just takes you away from the pressures of whatever you’re thinking about right now. Whatever your troubles are, music is always able to ease that away for a little while. There’s a Harry Chapin song called ‟Let Time Go Lightly.” There’s a point in the lyrics that goes, ‘Music, has been my oldest friend, my fiercest foe, ’cause it can take me so high, yes it can make me so low.’ And that’s what it does. With music, you can reach out and pluck someone’s heartstrings, which is what I do regularly in a concert. Not intentionally, mind you. I’m just playing. I sometimes tell people, “I’m not playing for you, I’m playing for me and you guys get to come along for the ride.” At almost every concert at some point in time, there will be tears—tears of joy, tears of release, and tears of a fond memory. People wonder why they are crying. I say, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, you don’t have to know why. It’s just there.
Unity: Talk about the Year of Music project.
Richard: The Year of Music project started out to be one year. I had all kinds of material sitting around and I really didn’t have the wherewithal to just continuously put out CDs. So I was looking for a way to share this music because what good is creating music for if you can’t share it? So I thought, I’ll just put it up on my website. I got through the first year, and after taking a few months off, I began again putting it up on Sound Cloud and haven’t stopped since then … It’s gotten to the point where now I record any time I sit down at the piano. I have no idea what’s coming. It’s just part of me. I’ve been doing Year of Music for four and a half years now. It’s an enormous amount of music. I have a Facebook fan page and it’s up on Twitter. It’s a personal way of sharing my music and I’ve never really had any bad comments. Some days people will say, “It’s just what I needed.” Those are the kinds of things that keep me going.
Unity: Do you have a sense of why your music connects with people?
Richard: Honestly, no. I always believe, and I tell my students, if you cannot play with passion, don’t bother. I play with full emotion and passion. Maybe in that way it becomes more real for people, because they can feel the emotion and the passion of the music coming out. That would be my best guess.
Unity: What is your hope for your music?
Richard: I want it to find its audience. Unity has more or less embraced what I do. Somebody said, “Why don’t you write song lyrics?” I don’t feel that calling to create words with my music … I would love to be on the road much more than I am, playing, bringing my music to different churches. I also do some one-on-one music therapy-type stuff called, I Am Creative Sessions, which is a whole other world. I would love to be able to go into a church on a Saturday and do workshops, and then play the Sunday service, and have a concert on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.
Unity: But it sounds like you’ve been able to make a livelihood?
Richard: My high school buddies say, “Oh, man, you’re living the dream … you’re out playing music every week and you’re making a living.” Let’s call it eking out a living. I do teach piano and composition and theory too.
Unity: What would be your dream scenario?
Richard: Being able to introduce my music to a new set of ears two or three times a month. Being able to perform six to 10 concerts a month, and continue writing. Maybe start collaborating with other musicians more. I have started. I have a couple of projects that are in the very early infancy with other musicians. Ideally, I would like to have someone else handle the business part so I have the freedom to create and perform.
Unity: What keeps you doing this?
Richard: Every time I’m ready to throw in the towel, someone, or several ‘someone’s,’ come up and say how much my music has affected their lives. When I’m ready to quit, it’s like, Nope. Nope, you can’t quit. I have been blessed with all of this creativity in me. It would be a waste of what God gave to me if I don’t do it.
About the Author
Annie L. Scholl is a freelance writer and native Iowan who lives in North Carolina. In addition to writing for unity.org and Unity Magazine®, she is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and blogs at her website, anniescholl.com.