WALNUT CREEK -- Some parents read stories, and others sing lullabies to their children at bedtime. Justin Levitt looks forward to lulling his daughter and son to sleep by playing the piano.
His lullaby is his own creation: "Peace at Night," a musical piece he composed for piano. This is one of six compositions Levitt compiled for "Within," his first book of solo piano music.
"They easily adapted to falling asleep to dad playing his compositions," Levitt wrote in his book. "Occasionally I will get home later than usual due to a concert performance and my kids will already be asleep.
"This piece ("Peace at Night") was specifically designed and written to very gradually and carefully introduce the piano back into their ears and subconscious while they sleep," he continued. "The trick was writing/playing something so gently and sweetly that they wouldn't be disturbed out of their already peaceful state."
Levitt and the editor of his book, fellow pianist Arlene Woehl, will perform Levitt's music at two concerts -- the first at 8 p.m. Aug. 23 and the second at 11 a.m. Aug. 28, both at Steinway Gallery in Walnut Creek.
"Accomplishing something like this to this degree has been extremely challenging yet rewarding," said Levitt, a Concord resident. "To see it come out on paper was such an unreal experience."
The publication of "Within," which includes a CD, is a new milestone in a piano-playing career that began when he was a teen. Even though his mother encouraged him to learn to play the piano at age 7, it wasn't until he was 15 that he befriended a schoolmate who was a pianist. It wasn't long before the self-taught Levitt fully immersed himself into piano music.
As manager of the former Sherman Clay Pianos, now Steinway Gallery, in Walnut Creek, Levitt continued to surround himself with all things piano.
Fresh off his Carnegie Hall performance two years ago, Levitt continued to dedicate time to composing music and the end result, he said, has been a dream come true.
After he won first place in the Music Teachers' Association of California State Composition Competition in 2012, and first place and third place in 2013 in the same competition, music teachers and students wanted to play the music he composed after they heard him play his winning pieces.
"Fellow teachers asked me to send them a copy of my music," said Levitt, an Acalanes High School graduate. "I'm really excited to have something to hand to them so now these teachers and their students can play my music."
Woehl, a Lafayette resident who coaches pianists and teachers, said one of her students happened to hear her play one of Levitt's pieces titled, "Within."
"The student was impressed with the piece he wanted to know where he could get the music," Woehl said.
The process of editing the piano music book involved Levitt and Woehl listening to each other play his music to make sure what's on the page reflects as closely as possible to how it sounds and how it is played, Woehl said.
"I was blessed to have Arlene be as encouraging and supportive and as good at what she does," Levitt said.
Deborah Murray remembers the first time she heard Levitt play -- at an event where the featured performer was stuck in traffic, and Levitt filled in until the performer arrived.
"The audience was enthralled as Justin spontaneously played his own compositions, with both enthusiasm and sensitivity," said Murray, a piano composition teacher.
"That's when I became a fan. Since then, Justin has grown to become a respected musician and composer in the community, both through performance as well as community involvement. His compositions have been well received by audience and critics. I am personally moved by the depth of his music, which spans many styles and emotions. Each piece carries its own imagery, both musically new and refreshing, yet familiar and soothing at the same time."
In Levitt's new book, he describes how the compositions came to him, Murray said.
"This lends a personal touch to his pieces, and helps the performer to find a deeper understanding in his work," said Murray. "Teachers will appreciate the simple approach to notation, with easy to read format and straightforward dynamic instructions. As an instructor of composition myself, I will use these modern pieces as a model to which my students can aspire."
When Kaitlin Dey first met Levitt, she said she was a young, insecure pianist who was soon reassured by Levitt's words of encouragement.
"As I came to know that he had composed these works of beauty, my appreciation only grew," Dey said.
"It's a rare occurrence to find a composer who has such a wonderful balance of brilliance and humility. His new book tugs at your heart strings."
JOINT CONCERT FEATURING JUSTIN LEVITT'S PIANO MUSIC