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Jackson Berkey
Featured Keyboard Artist with Mannheim Steamroller
Omaha, Nebraska
Olympic Peninsula, Washington


Jackson Berkey
(Photo by Jackson Berkey)

People are always observing situations and telling me, "You ought to write a piece about that!" My name is Jackson Berkey. At the age of five I began playing the piano and I haven't stopped. All through grade school and high school when other kids were playing outside, I was,as Richard Carpenter wrote, "home bangin' on the keys." Mostly, because the Huntingdon Music Club's Steinway grand piano was stored there, I was at the church across from my grandmother's house. On Fridays at midnight the borough police would come and calmly ask me to stop practicing. I also regularly sneaked into Oller Hall on the Juniata College campus and took it upon myself to move their Steinway D concert grand piano centerstage, turn on the concert lighting, and pretend I was playing a concert with orchestra. (I wasn't playing concertos at the time - just the Mozart "Fantasia in D Minor.") I'm now a composer and pianist and have been playing keyboards with Mannheim Steamroller for more than thirty-five years. I guess that during my formative years I must have been hearing the orchestra playing along with me since now I'm writing orchestral music without ever having studied to do so. And this brings me to Cape May.

My love affair with Cape May, New Jersey, began when I was about four years old and saw the ocean for the first time. My mother had told me "it is so big that you can't even see across to the other side." Of course, I didn't believe her. When we arrived and parked the car (then very close to the shore), I ran to the ocean's edge, sure that I could prove my mom wrong. Such defiance from a four-year old! I still look hard to see if I can see the other side.

Since 1998, when I returned to Cape May with my lady Almeda, I have returned to this oldest American seaside resort every January to compose music. Some years back - in an October, as I recall - we stayed at a "bed and breakfast" called Colvmns by the Sea. One glance into Room 9 on the third floor was enough to convince me that I had to return there to compose music. The mind's eye of that four-year-old boy is now memorialized in one of my CAPE MAY WINTERLUDES called "First Sighting." That memory, along with many other Cape May experiences, is permanently etched in a large number of my CAPE MAY SOLITUDES, TIME TWISTERS, ATLANTIC FANTASY, and CAPE MAY PRELUDES for solo piano: "Beach Caterpillar," "Delaware Bay Ice," "Bernadette's Salsa Egg Dish," "Torts and Tarts," "Drivin' the Parkway," "Shrimp in the Sink," "Jeffrey Piper," "Gullfriend at the Beach," "Sunset Walk," "Jazz's Blues," "1-6-3 Jig," "Night Shore Fog," "Sunday Morning Fire," "Sunrise at the Colvmns," "Irish Fiddler's Dance," "S.S. Atlantus," "Ronnie's Blues," "Foxes in Furs," "Fire and Snow," "Shuttered Closed Windows," and "Frozen Sand" - also, some now well-known choral pieces such as my "Crucifixus" from "The Towers of Sagrada Familia," "L'Ultima Amor" which was premiered at an international women's choral festival in Seattle, Washington, and my "Open the Window, Aunt Minnie, Here She Comes!" - a song cycle about baseball. With all of these titles, I've come to realize that much of the essence of this great American place is in my music, a part of our country captured in sound and imagination. I guess I really "ought to write a piece about..."


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