Making Music With Pianist Gina Leneé
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Language of LoveMarch 2016
By Jordan Venema
Earlier this year, Gina Leneé returned to the bench, placed her fingers on the keys, and in front of an audience, did what came naturally. The pianist and composer had taken something of a break from performing – though not from her music – and for the first time since 2012, she returned to the stage to play her original work.
The January 15 performance, which benefitted the Art of Life Cancer Foundation, was the first concert (of that size) for Leneé since 2012, when she performed her album “Under the Same Sky” at Fresno’s Tower Theatre. Since then, she has taken a hiatus from performances, preferring to focus on family, though since her youngest child has left the nest, Leneé is returning to the stage to speak a language too familiar. Her music, she says, “is my way to express myself when words aren’t enough.”
“I grew up in a very musical family,” she says. Her father played guitar at church, her mother sang, and her brother is a multi-instrumentalist. Leneé may never have learned to read music – which she somewhat regrets – but she is able to play by ear. It’s something of a disadvantage when sitting down to play with other musicians who do read music, she says, but “If I listen to it, I can play it.”
Leneé is not a classically trained pianist, excepting those first few years of lessons as a child, but her musical affinity allows her to transform her moods directly into song. She calls her music genre “fluid,” ranging from traumatic to passionate and cinematic, but all directly connected to specific moods, something which can’t necessarily be translated by the notes on a music sheet.
Though she’s recently taken a break, music has been a full-time pursuit for Leneé “for, oh gosh, maybe 15 years.” She has written and released five albums, but things really began to “take off” for Leneé in 2010.
“I decided to combine the two things that are so close to my heart, really at the core of who I am – helping others and my music,” explains Leneé. With a background in nonprofit fundraising, Leneé has worked with hospitals and organizations like California’s Wish Upon a Star, promoting their cause through music.
“I have a heart of a servant to make the community a better place, and the hands of a musician, a pianist.”
Like two notes harmonizing into a chord, Leneé took those two passions and brought them together, performing various concerts to benefit different nonprofits. Not only would she donate ticket proceeds to that particular organization, “but I want to be able to magnify their voice in the community about what they do.”
Leneé’s 2012 Tower Theatre performance was a fundraiser for Break the Barrier, but the benefit concert was much more than a straightforward piano performance. Knowing there would likely be audience members with hearing impairment, Leneé created a multisensory project “to express the story behind every song through lyrical dance.” She collaborated with Visalia Dance Company Altered Modalities to create original choreography to complement her music, so “even with auditory challenges, people could see the story come to life.”
Leneé returned to the studio in January, where she was working on a new album and single, the latter which she wrote for the Art of Life Cancer Foundation. “It speaks to new beginnings. Every day is new,” says Leneé, whose mother and two aunts also had breast cancer.
Beyond the personal connection, Leneé is excited to support Art of Life because of the foundations method of working with patients. “It’s bringing the arts into healing,” she explains. “They encourage their cancer patients to really connect and discover the healing properties of art during their journey.”
The City of Fresno has donated three acres of space in Woodward Park, which the foundation will use to create an Art of Life garden, “a place to reflect, a quiet place,” and Leneé plans to perform at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Leneé’s next concert is Friday, April 1 at the Valley Music Center, where she will perform traditional hymns. Donations will benefit the Woodward Park Baptist Church youth group’s mission trip to Mexico. At 6pm on Saturday, April 2, Leneé will perform original music and covers at The Palms Restaurant in Fresno, (559) 438-0500. Tickets begin at $25, which can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com or at The Palms restaurant. As for her music, which she’s continually writing, she hopes “it touches people, and I hope it helps them reflect on their life.”
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