|Member Spotlight: Craig Abby, Under The Piano|
C: A spontaneous instance of childlike freedom and play culminated in the creation of Under the Piano. About 5 years ago, with excited anticipation, I had visited a piano store called Showcase Pianos to try out the wondrous new Italian Fazioli grand piano. While I was in the store, for some reason I remembered being a child lying under the piano as my mother played beautiful music and suddenly, there I was, a 47 year old man, lying under a $180,000 9 foot grand piano in a piano store. I noticed how the piano's vibrations enveloped me and resonated through my body and soon after I invited friends to my home to explore the idea further. Their response to lying under my grand piano as I improvised music was astonishment and amazement. I have never stopped since.
A: Could you share with our readers when and how did music affect your life?
C: I started piano lessons when I was 6 years old. I never wanted to stop playing from the day I started learning. However, the time that music truly captured my heart and soul was in my early teens. When I entered high school, I encountered bullying. My solution to the problem was to hang out in the art and music rooms - safe places. The worst part about bullying is the embarrassment and humiliation, so I hid it from friends and family. It was a lonely plight. However, at this time, my piano teacher gave me a Chopin Nocturne to learn. This was the first piece of music I had learned that required more mature adult emotions and sensibilities. In that one piece I found salvation. I found a place where I could express my emotions and dismay in a safe and fully expressed and authentic way. When I played that piece at a recital, people were moved. In that piece I found the nurturing and healing power of music for myself and others.
A: How has turning your artistry into a business affected you and your family? What real world rewards has it garnered for you?
C: I'm a single guy, so I do not have an immediate family to worry about impacting. This gives me a certain freedom to pursue my musical dreams because it most certainly is not an easy ride financially. First, I'd like to say that I tried NOT being a musician and that really didn't work for me. For over 10 years I had a graphic design and printing business. Originally it was a partnership with my brother and father. Then they retired from the business. As the business grew and the demands of keeping it moving forward increased, the opportunity for music in my life dwindled to almost nothing. I became miserable. In the end, it took all I had to stay in the office until 5pm each day. So despite good financial prospects for my business, I chose to close it down and return to music. My journey of marrying art with business is ongoing.
The impact can be a lot of frustration and very unpredictable cashflow. I soldier on because I am that committed to what I do. I wouldn't ever trade it back for my old life without music.
Right now, the biggest rewards are the simple joy of creating beautiful music and seeing the difference it makes for people. Over and over again people approach me after a concert or share with me after an Under the Piano session the difference that experience has made for them. To see the positive impact that Under the Piano has on a man who has lost his partner, a mother whose child was stillborn, people battling illness, or people who are overwhelmed by stress and anxiety gives me a sense of fulfillment beyond measure. Under the Piano provides a very powerful access to emotions that have not yet been expressed in language. On the lighter side, it provides the simple pleasure of giving a great date night experience for couples celebrating their relationship.
A: What is your vision for the future?
C: Music serves so many purposes. The principal purpose that lights me up and fulfills me is the healing and nurturing power of music.
My mission is to provide relaxing, beautiful and connecting musical experiences for individuals, couples and audiences and to create unique and intimate environments that dramatically increase and enhance the impact music has on people emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
My vision is transforming lives with beautiful music and sounds in homes, businesses, communities and the world.
In the future I see this looking like taking Under the Piano on the road to cultural hubs such as New York and London.
A: What other artistic expressions do you practice?
C: I am also a member of the Amicus Music Duo, which performs spontaneously improvised music concerts called "Quiet Hearts" most Wednesdays here in Vancouver at St Andrew's-Wesley United Church from 4:30 to 5:45pm. These are word free and applause free musical experiences which powerfully fulfill on my mission and vision as well. You can find out about Quiet Hearts and see a schedule of upcoming performances at www.amicusmusicduo.com.
A: As a entrepreneur, what advice do you want to give others who are considering starting their own business?
C: The sensible advice is to make a plan and clarify your goals so you can focus on the activities that will get you there. A source of income to keep you going as you build your career is also highly advisable if possible. Also, create relationships with people who can be powerful resources for you and advisors in areas that are not your strengths.
Of course, as an artist, I say go for it. You have to be unreasonable and sometimes impractical in the face of disagreement and simply not knowing how it's going to happen. If you wait for all the pieces to fall in place you may never start.
A: What are some challenges or pitfalls you have experienced as a businessman? What did you do to overcome them?
C: It's challenging. I won't pretend. Right now, my sense is that I have to find a way to balance pragmatic business sense with unreasonable and spontaneous creativity and self expression. This is a little hard to distinguish as I know that many businesses thrive because they have brought unreasonable and spontaneous creativity to their businesses. So I don't mean it that way. What I mean is that being an artist and creating art is a world that is entirely separate from being a business person. For me, they are like oil and water. When I am doing what I love, I honestly don't care one little bit about what's sensible and business-like and when the business activities overwhelm the artistic activities I get pretty antsy and resentful. I may well be wrong, but I suspect this is at the heart of why so many artists have a bad reputation for being good business people. It's not that they don't have the aptitude or capability to be good business people - they just DON'T CARE when the cards are down. So this is my biggest struggle and I think at the source of me not achieving business goals as fast I'd like to. But, I know the business approach is important, so I keep reminding myself and moving forward with business actions.
My other dilemma is that I have no clear business models for Under the Piano. To date, I know of no one else offering this musical experience - at least not as a dedicated business. The impact of that is really being out in the unknown and a lot of experimenting and failing. Gradually things are becoming clearer. I now have a clear picture of who my ideal clients are. I didn't even know that going in. Trial and error has been the solution in my case.
A: If you had unlimited financial resource right now, what would you be doing, and where would you be in the world?
C: I'd be doing exactly what I am doing now but on a much larger scale. A larger piano in a different dedicated studio space would be a valuable step forward. A larger high quality piano is a big investment. As I alluded to in my vision for the future, I'd be taking Under the Piano to the rest of the world which would require booking a wonderful private space in a hotel and then bringing in a good piano. Mostly, I'd be spending it on marketing. Under the Piano resonates instantly for a select and smaller group of earlier adopters. Right now, doing what's required to reach out to those people seems beyond my current resources in time and money.
A: Who inspires you?
C: Simon Sinek - Speaker and author who advocates getting present to "Why" you do things rather than "What" you do or "How" you do things as your access to being a powerful and successful leader in your field
Julian Treasure - World sound expert who is out to create a world that sounds beautiful. 5 time presenter at TED.com.
Benjamin Zander - Conductor that uses music and his discoveries about leadership as a conductor to inspire and train corporations and leaders.
A: Your bucket list?
C: A 7 ft Fazioli Grand Piano
A world concert tour
To create and maintain an amazing garden
To live in Europe for a 6 months
To compose music for films
A: Which artists do you respect and follow?
C: Keith Jarrett - Jazz Pianist
Renée Fleming - Opera Singer
Lisa Gerrard - Dead Can Dance - Alternative Singer and Composer
Sigur Ross - Alternative Music Group
Mikhail Pletnev - Classical Pianist
A: Best artistic experience you've ever had the pleasure of seeing alive?
C: Mahler's Symphony for a Thousand - heard here in Vancouver.
A: What do you do for fun?
C: Reading, Movies, Cooking & Eating, Walking through my beautiful West End neighbourhood, exploring new Coffee Shops.
You can reach Craig Abby at
Under The Piano
Tel: 604 662-3053
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