Why I Wrote a Piano Sonata

Joseph Seif
Sep 16, 2019 · 5 min read

Many of you who’ve known me a long time might remember me from my “piano days.”

The piano has been a constant presence in my life. It was my first artistic medium, going back to early childhood. Growing up, I thought I would pursue it into a full time career. I studied the greats and practiced religiously. But my life took a few detours, and a “pianist” gradually became something I used to be. Looking back now, I strongly believe I owe my success as a cinematographer and photographer to being a musician first. The piano gave me a heightened sensitivity to mood and atmosphere, a technical foundation, and most significantly, the capacity to connect the heart to the mind.

The author at the piano, age 6.

While this year has been about introspection and reflection, it has also been nothing short of prolific. Between shooting a feature film and several short films, to promoting my fine art photography book ONWARD, to creating a children’s book, to traveling between San Francisco and LA several times every month for commercial film and photography shoots, to (most importantly) trying to be a good father to my almost two-year old Stella, one would think there is absolutely no time or spare energy to write a full piano sonata and a few additional pieces, score them note by note, book a recording studio and engineer, and record them- all within the space of two months. But that’s not how art works. Those of you in the arts know this: It’s the urge to create that keeps you up until 3AM when you have an early morning the next day. It’s that thing that seems to materialize itself out of thin air, like it’s been channeled from some other dimension. It has an innate truth, it is all-encompassing, it has duende.

Throughout my life, I’ve been told to focus on one thing and do it well. But what if that one thing isn’t “cinematography” or “photography,” or even “piano”? What if that one thing is simply the act of connecting the heart to the mind? Does the medium even matter any more? As the world seems to be plunging deeper into chaos, and our connections to the planet and each other wither, I can’t help but react, in my own small way. I am so privileged to have a career in the arts, something I cherish and feel eternal gratitude for. This did not happen on its own. It was built on relationships and support from family, friends, and complete strangers. But a career is a career, and art can indeed exist within AND outside of a career. So I composed a piano sonata and a few additional pieces.

These new compositions materialized during a recent drive up the California coast. The landscape seemed to howl and twist, the ocean growled in C# minor, and memories of childhood, distant lands, and people lost all hummed in unison. I came home and started writing the score. I worked late into the night, for weeks. When it was finished, I immediately booked a studio and an engineer, and, just last week, recorded it.

The recordings are currently in post-production, and will be released as an EP on Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, and Amazon Music hopefully by late November. I’m also exploring a limited vinyl run, though that will likely be in early 2020.

Here is the current track list:

Joseph Seif — Piano Sonata No. 1
I. Allegro in C# Minor
II. Andante in D Minor
III. Presto in A Minor

(Additional tracks)
Adagio in A Minor
The Fountain at Huntington Park

The sheet music will also be available for download in pdf format, and hard copies may also be available in early 2020.

I am seriously thinking about doing a multi-city book tour for ONWARD while performing these pieces at the same venue- most likely small piano recital halls in LA, SF and NY. Why the hell not? Would you be interested in attending?

This has been an incredible and deeply fulfilling experience so far. I’m already working on Piano Sonata #2, which is even more complex and in a completely different key. I’m also playing around with a piano concerto concept, complete with orchestral arrangements, as well as a film score for a film I have yet to shoot. While that is happening, and Piano Sonata #1 is in post, I am even more excited to be doing cinematography and photography projects for my clients! I feel like I’ve somehow achieved a rare sense of balance, and professional contentment. Those people who tell you to focus on one thing — I think they’re wrong.

I would really like to thank Barbara for her never-ending support with what is yet another one of my all-consuming passion projects, Eric at Clearlake Studios in North Hollywood for his excellent engineering of this record, and my lovely friend and longtime collaborator Mareesa Stertz for documenting the experience with photos and video.

Here is a video of the 1st movement from Piano Sonata #1. Please use headphones or nice speakers for best results. Hope you enjoy it!

Here are some Behind-the-Scenes images from the studio session, captured by Mareesa Stertz.

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