Melodies buzzing around in professor’s head make it to print

arthur houle has published “Cowboy Jazz: Five Whimsical Pieces for Piano Solo.” Houle, director of keyboard studies at Mesa State College, says he is a rule breaker who encourages improvisation by students.

Buzzing around in Arthur Houle’s head are sonatas, snappy jazz pieces and tunes by The Beatles.

Chord progressions and themes for the piano circle in his brain. He calls them ear worms.

Houle, 53, director of keyboard studies at Mesa State College, is equally surrounded by music in his office. Piano books, compact discs and cassette tapes reach the ceiling on one wall. A file cabinet on the opposite wall holds all his unfinished original pieces. Two pianos sit in the middle of the room, just waiting to be touched.

Houle is happy to play excerpts from his new book of music, “Cowboy Jazz: Five Whimsical Pieces for Piano Solo.” He can play and talk while looking over his shoulder.

His book was published in November by Hal Leonard Corp., one of the largest sheet music publishers in the world, in the Composer Showcase series.

“They’re adult-ish, sophisticated pieces, but they’re kid-at-heart pieces,” Houle said. “Well, heck, I’m a kid at heart.”

The songs are catchy, upbeat, western Americana solos for the intermediate player.

“Definitely not dark and depressing,” he said.

With titles such as “Fancy Footwork,” “Prairie Gary” and “Sally Saddle,” the solos sound anything but bleak.

A while ago, Houle performed two of the pieces from the book live on the National Public Radio show “Eklektikos.”

The solo “Sally Saddle” was previously published in Piano Today magazine.

“Cowboy Jazz” songs have been buzzing in his head for years, he said. The song “Fancy Footwork” is based on a theme Houle wrote when he was 15.

He’s been writing music since he was 11 and teaching since he was 13, he said.

The genesis piece of the book is “Cowboy Karen” — a girl he admired from afar many years ago. She always wore cowboy hats.

He said he wrote the song in 90 minutes. The composition upset one of his own teachers because “it goes through more keys than a locksmith,” Houle said.

Breaking the rules of music isn’t something from which Houle shies away.

He encourages improvisation and versatility in students, which is partly why he founded and directs the Festival for Creative Pianists,

At the next festival in March, he plans to give out an award for the best recreation of a “Cowboy Jazz” song.

“Cowboy Jazz” can be purchased at Roper Music, 136 N. Fifth St., and a limited number are autographed by Houle. The book is also available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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