Reviving the Composer-Pianist tradition of Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninov & others Original music performed by an award winning composer
A video still from "While Good Folk Sleep" | Marsyas Music & Old Red Beak ProductionsA video still from "While Good Folk Sleep" | Marsyas Music & Old Red Beak Productions

In 2011 I recorded my first solo piano album, While Good Folk Sleep. A DVD version quickly followed and later my single Ballade was made available. Sales have been strong, I've written and performed a lot of new music since then, and so it's high time to record a new full length album. So, one hand or two? The answer is both. Not only will One Hand or Two? contain new solo piano music (for both one hand and two), but also my very recent music for harpsichord (premiered the day this campaign launched) and even original music for synthesizer. I greatly appreciate your support!

About two years ago, after having broken my right hand (and then playing for a nearly 2 hour long silent film without realizing the bone was broken... but that's another story), I started work on a new composition. While my dominant hand was incapacitated in its cast, I decided to keep my left hand active by writing an etude for it alone. This proved to be quite an interesting challenge both to compose and to play. After losing the use of my right hand for months, talking to doctors, and weighing the risks of corrective surgery vs. letting the bone grow back in an imperfect position; a certain level of frustration and doubt set into my psyche. This frustration certainly came through in the music, I made no attempt to suppress it.

Once the bone had healed and my finger strength and flexibility had returned, it quickly became apparent that my tendons still had a long way to go in adjusting to their new physiology. After a lot of physical therapy I’m pleased to report that my piano playing is back to 100% now that my tendons and brain have fully adjusted to a slight hand deformity.

Atrophy in the unused appendage demanded that my right hand return to the piano as soon as possible. From time to time I would practice my left hand etude, but whenever I played it, my right hand would scream to play along. Pretty soon I let it play along, and the result is the two-hand version of this etude. The only structural change in this version is a slightly extended ending. Whereas the original version ends in lonely uncertainty, the two-hand version ends in triumph.

My first album, released in 2011 (While Good Folk Sleep -- Marsyas Music), contains original piano music written over a 10 year period. My new album (One Hand or Two?) is named after my Etude for One Hand or Two, which will be featured in both forms on the CD -- for left hand alone and again for both hands together.

This new album will also feature some other recent piano compositions, but also some earlier works, the first of which was written at age 16. In addition to piano music, One Hand or Two?will contain a newly completed Suite for Harpsichord (to be recorded on a beautiful double-manual instrument) as well as a Suite for Synthesizer which will give a taste of some of my latest experiments harnessing the synthesizer with a "classical" approach to composition.

Nathan Shirley has received one national and six international awards for his solo, chamber, and orchestral compositions since age 21. In addition to performing his own piano compositions in Europe and the US, his music has been performed by others in over a dozen countries around the world. In adolescence Nathan discovered classical recordings and spent countless hours improvising at the piano. He is heavily self-taught, but as a teenager was mentored in composition by Olga Harris, the last student of Khachaturian. At 17 he received a composition scholarship, but three years and three schools later abandoned the academic world, devoting himself to the study of classical composition as he envisioned it. Mr. Shirley's musical tastes and influences are very broad, from Vivaldi, Chopin and Prokofiev, to music of Eurasia, Latin America and Africa. He is President of the Asheville Area Piano Forum and lives in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and children.

Me experimenting at the piano as a babyMe experimenting at the piano as a baby

Piano Works:

Ballade No. 3, Transfiguration


Etude for One Hand or Two

Early Piano Works:

The Injured Toad


On the River

Non-Piano Works:

Suite for Harpsichord (in 4 movements)

Suite for Synthesizer (in 3 movements)

(and a surprise...)

Most recording projects can be quite expensive to produce and $4,000 is often quoted as a bare minimum for recording and pressing 1,000 CDs. Recording studio time is very expensive, recording engineers are expensive, editing and mastering is expensive, graphic design is expensive, and then there's the cost of actually manufacturing the CDs. However, my only significant expense for this particular recording project will be the last item -- having the CDs pressed.

Here's how I accomplish it:

1) Unlike popular music, the best classical recordings are NOT recorded in studios. Instead a large room, church, or concert hall with excellent acoustics (and a quiet environment) makes for the ideal recording location. In my case, I will be recording in the home of Daniel Angerstein, an organ builder (and all around music enthusiast). He has a beautiful home with a very spacious acoustically treated music room housing two 9 foot concert grand Knabe pianos from the late 1800's, plus an excellent two manual french style harpsichord. He has very graciously offered for me to record in his home.

2) I personally have professional experience recording solo, chamber, and symphonic music. As a composer it is very valuable to possess these skills as it's quite handy to be able to get a high quality recording when a musician or ensemble performs your work. I also own my own equipment so nothing will need to be rented.

3) With classical music, "mastering" is VERY minimal. The balance is done by the musicians in the performance space, the microphones are very carefully placed and adjusted to capture the perfect sound BEFORE the first take is ever recorded. The only thing done in post are edits and very minimal "polishing." Again all things I happen to have plenty of experience with.

4) I have significant experience with graphic design, including CDs, a DVD, and plenty of miscellaneous promotional materials. I also enjoy photography as a hobby and in general love working on every aspect of most any project.

Thanks to all this, and my slight control freak tendencies, I am able to keep overall costs to an absolute bare minimum. I've succeeded in a very similar project before, recording and producing 1,000 CDs for less than $1,400. That was my first all-original, solo piano CD project,While Good Folk Sleep -- I highly recommend adding it to your collection if you don't yet have it!

Risks and challenges

This CD project is about as low risk as you might find. I've got the instruments lined up, the recording equipment is ready to go and thoroughly tested on the instruments which will be used, all of the music has been worked up and recently performed live, and I've produced two other projects with the CD manufacturer I will be using. The post production software which will be used for audio and CD graphic design has been used on many projects as well.

There is always the risk of some unforeseen tragedy, severe illness, or natural disaster which could derail the project -- but barring anything unfortunate like that, the project will most certainly be a huge success. But of course that's only true with your support!

pledged of $1,400

This project will only be funded if at least $1,400 is pledged by Tue, May 10 2016 11:58 AM EDT.


  1. Pledge $10 or more

     3 backers

    Digital download of the new album "One Hand or Two?"

    (High quality MP3, FLAC, and "car ready" MP3)

    Estimated delivery:Jun 2016
  2. Pledge $20 or more

     1 backer

    Signed Physical CD of the new album "One Hand or Two?"

    (Free shipping within United States)

    Estimated delivery:Jun 2016
    Ships to:Anywhere in the world
  3. Pledge $25 or more

     1 backer

    Signed Physical CD & Digital download of the new album "One Hand or Two?"

    (Free shipping within United States)

    (High quality MP3, FLAC, and "car ready" MP3)

    Estimated delivery:Jun 2016
    Ships to:Anywhere in the world
  4. Pledge $150 or more

     4 backers Limited (1 left of 5)

    This commissions me to compose an original, fairly simple little piano piece, dedicated to you (or a loved one). If you wish, you can give basic suggestions as to the character of the music (fast, slow, soothing, disturbing, major, phrygian, etc.). It will be recorded and included on this CD, plus you'll get recognition in the liner notes and on the sheet music.

    Estimated delivery:Jun 2016
  5. Pledge $300 or more

     1 backer

    This will bring me to your home to perform a "mini-concert." Invite your friends over for about an hour of music and discussion. I'd be happy to stay awhile afterwards and chat.

    Don't have a piano? No problem, in that case I can bring my electric setup and give a virtual demonstration of the evolution of the piano, ending in a performance of my "Suite for Synthesizer" which will grace the new CD.

    These mini-concerts will be scheduled in the order they are "backed."

    (Must be within 150 miles of NC zip code 28752)

    Estimated delivery:Jun 2016