Immersion Therapy: Hannah Baiardi Unpacks Emotions on “Ascend Your Vibe: Music for Contemplation” Piano Instrumental Album
The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and pianist delved into jazzy sophisti-pop on her last two records, Magic (2022) and Straight From the Soul (2021), but Ascend Your Vibe explores the restorative side of mellow instrumental music.
“I brought all my emotions to the piano bench and got to unpack them in real-time at the keys,” said Baiardi about her fourth album. “The longer strings of phrases are riding a feeling while the pauses are the reflection and the process. The feelings drive the ebb and flow and unfolding of each piece.”
Throughout Ascend Your Vibe: Music for Contemplation, Baiardi unfolds feelings of hope, gratitude, and wonder across eight spiritual tracks, including the magical opener, “Pensive,” and the otherworldly “Somewhere East of Here.” Glistening keys slowly strike and pause alongside tranquil samples featuring soothing birds and a ticking clock.
“As a listener, you can choose where to direct your attention. The clock can ground or distract you,” writes Baiardi on her Bandcamp page. “The anticipation before a chord can make you focus on the next chord or can help you be in the in-between spaces.”
To get inside her headspace, we recently talked with Baiardi about her musical beginnings, favorite artists, and latest album.
Q: How did you get started playing the piano? Why did the piano become your instrument of choice?
A: It was like a moth to a flame. I was under the piano’s spell from an early age; something just clicked. I play, and the piano sings back to me, stirs me, moves me, and helps me connect with myself and others in a transcendent and universal way. The piano always brought me to a higher place; all I needed to do was show up.
Q: Who are some of your influences? How do they inspire you?
A: For this type of music, Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, Icelandic composer Gabríel Ólafs, and American new-age composer George Winston all inspire me. The way they touch the piano is fluid, enigmatical, and so tender. The piano is such an extension of themselves, and they can fully lose themselves there and be free of judgment and surrender to the flow state.
Q: What’s the first song or album that you ever loved? What makes it so special to you?
A: While I can’t pinpoint an exact song, it would have to be dancing side-to-side in my childhood living room listening to Michael Franks, Sade, Madonna, or George Winston. Probably Barbra Streisand and George Michael are in there, too. I call this the soundtrack to my youth. I’d say George Winston’s “Montana Glide” was one of my favorites as a little girl. I loved it so much that I learned it by ear because I loathed sight-reading.
Q: What’s the first song you ever wrote? How did it spark your interest in songwriting?
A: It was a little melody called “Mountains, I, V, I, V,” and it was a very simple idea. It reminded me of a Rocky Mountain western tune. I got a lot of encouragement from my family to keep writing, so I did.
Q: What’s the first show you ever saw? How did it inspire you to become an artist?
A: I think it was a George Winston concert in Detroit. I loved watching the interplay between the audience and the artist.
Q: What’s the first show you ever played? What did you learn from that experience?
A: I started playing in piano recitals from age 7 onward. Show-wise, I’ve played at The Ark, Hill Auditorium, the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Blue LLama Jazz Club, and some historic venues in downtown Detroit, including Cliff Bell’s. Whether it was a recital, a show, or a gig, they were all fun and unique experiences.
Q: What have you been listening to lately? What do you enjoy most about those artists and their music?
A: Lately, I’ve been digging the U.K.-based artist Sam Wills. He writes very evocative and jazzy-soul music along with artists from the French label Roche Musique, including Darius, FKJ, Jordan Lee, and other nu-disco music. I also love the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Raquel Rodriguez.
Q: What’s your favorite music video, documentary, or concert film? What resonates with you most about it
A: I think the coolest music video I’ve seen is actually a behind-the-scenes, in-the-process segment by Sam Wills on writing the music for his Breathe album. It’s a super cool, immersive look into what was going on in his life, mind, and heart as he wrote it. Anytime an artist gets that vulnerable and open with listeners is so special.
A: I’ve loved writing piano music from a young age. Until “Transit,” I just never recorded them. They’ve always started as little melodies that I played after coming home from school as a young girl. It wasn’t until much later that I realized, “Huh, if these little pensive melodies could help me relax and quiet my mind, then perhaps they could help others destress, too.” This album was done in one sitting, much like “Transit,” as a channeling.
Q: What’s it like to release your first-ever, all-instrumental album, Ascend Your Vibe: Music for Contemplation? How did writing and recording the album serve as a “wholesome and restorative experience” for you?
A: It’s pretty cool. There is no memory of this music, and I’d be hard-pressed to recreate it; there is also no sheet music. To me, the lack of a preconceived “song idea” opened up a new door—creating in the moment, what I liken to “channeling.” The entire process feels very healing and almost 5D. For a while, I’m not “here,” but somewhere else. My perception of time also changed while writing.
Q: How did the Boston grand piano serve as the ideal instrument for channeling and recording the eight tracks for Ascend Your Vibe: Music for Contemplation?
A: I’ve been playing Boston grand pianos since I was very young. The dark, stormy, and rich sounds of the Boston piano have always resonated with me. That’s why those silky overtones and dark timbres came through on this album. The realm of sound healing fascinates me; it posits that certain frequencies and vibrations can trigger and open up emotional centers on the body and sort of “shake things up.”
Q: How does Ascend Your Vibe: Music for Contemplation provide an “immersive sonic experience” for listeners and their mindfulness practices? How do the “birds, piano hammers, and a giant ticking clock” add special sonic elements to the album?
A: As an active listener, you can engage with the music on a profoundly deep and present level. I recently paired tracks off this album with a guided “chakra alignment” exercise, which I hope to put on Spotify soon. Those subtle sounds—birds, piano hammers, and a giant ticking clock—help the ears work in different ways and tune into different subtleties and nuances in the music and in our bodies. Maybe listeners will enjoy the album during a walk in the woods or during a bath. Oh, the possibilities!
Q: What’s your favorite track from the album? What do you hope listeners take away from it?
A: For “Somewhere East of Here,” I was envisioning a faraway place—Egypt, India, or Tibet, perhaps. While it’s undefined, “Somewhere” evokes that feeling of a distant land. I enjoyed playing with the time, rhythm, and pregnant pauses during this piece. The ending felt like a trance; it had that snake-charmer vibe, like a sonic hypnosis. By timestamp 3:40, I’m in full-trance mode … the melody dances above the intertwining lush harmonies below. I hope listeners can tune into their feelings and turn off their thoughts, if just for a brief moment.
Q: What’s up next for you? What can listeners expect from you in 2023?
A: I’ve been on a mini-writing hiatus, catching my breath before the next wave of inspiration hits. I’ll be writing more piano music for sure and hopefully working on more singles.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.