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Composer and Pianist Jeff Beal Combats Multiple Sclerosis with Piano Playing

The EMMY Award-winner has composed a new album, “New York Études,” and opens up about how piano playing helps combat his symptoms

 

A five-time EMMY award-winner, Jeff Beal’s scoring credits include films by Ed Harris, David Fincher, Oliver Stone, and Lauren Greenfeld; he also scored House of Cards, Pollock, Blackfish, The Price Of Everything, An Inconvenient Sequel, among many other films and documentaries. 

Beal composed the “New York Études” at his Manhattan home in the months after he relocated to New York in 2021. The album comprises ten works for solo piano, which serve as a reintroduction to Beal’s artistry and composition.

The works include Beal’s Riverside Revelations, Sun Surrounds (us), Invocation (for Joan), I’m With You (for Rosemary), Elation, Gratitude (hymn), Winter (snowflake), The More Things Change, Come Down, Angel, and Corridors of Calm.

“New York Études” is also a personal album for Beal. When he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007, he began researching ways to combat its degenerative effects on motor skills and cognitive function, which revealed to him the impact of piano playing on neuroplasticity, or the rewiring of the brain around areas of damage; this album is the artistic output of his commitment to improving his mind, body, and spirit, in the face of chronic illness. 

“An added benefit I discovered while composing and practicing the Études was the sense of calm and focus I experienced,” Beal said. “I’ve become keenly aware of the importance of wellness rituals for all of us that promote good mental, spiritual and physical health.”

Beal credits his current remission from MS to listening and creating music, healthy eating, exercise, and meditation. He has spoken of MS publicly and he hopes to inspire others living with the condition.

“I think gratitude is a choice,” Beal told NPR in an interview on creating the album. “This is how I feel about living with MS, for example. It’s easy when you have a chronic illness and your body's not the same to see yourself as a victim. No, I decided very early on that I can't control that this has happened to me, but I can control how I respond to it. Listen, there's stages of anger and grief and mourning and shame that go into having any sort of illness. But for me, at the end of the day, I realize how lucky I am, and I realize how lucky I am to be a musician and how much that's given me.”

To purchase and listen to the album, click here.

 

Born in 1963 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Beal taught himself piano while learning both classical and jazz trumpet. Encouraged by conductor Kent Nagano, Beal composed a trumpet concerto at age 17, which he performed with the Oakland Youth Symphony. He later attended the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Christopher Rouse, Rayburn Wright, and soprano Joan Sapiro Beal, whom he later married — in 2015, the couple donated funds for the creation of The Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media at Eastman. 

After graduating in 1985, Beal moved to New York City, where he was signed by Island Records, releasing several jazz albums and performing with his band at The Blue Note and The Montreux Jazz Festivals. In 1988, he was commissioned to write his first film score; international recognition soon came with the film Pollock, which saw him nominated for “Discovery of the Year” by the World Soundtrack Academy, who also honored him with their first “TV Composer Of The Year” award in 2019.

In 2016, Beal’s performing, conducting, and composing worlds merged when he led the National Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of House Of Cards in concert, with further performances in Miami, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Jerusalem. His works have since been performed by major orchestras and conductors such as Marin Alsop, Kent Nagano, and Neeme Jaarvi.

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