Original Jazz Combo, Disc 1 •
Jazz Standard Covers, Disc 2 •
Vocal Songs, Disc 3 •
Original Piano, Disc 4
Intrepretive Piano, Disc 5 • Soundtracks, Disc 6 • Spoken Word, Disc 7 • Children's Music, Disc 8
The Best of Tobin Mueller presents in seven discs Tobin's best recordings. Drawing from thirty albums as well as tracks that have never been released, this collection includes his highly acclaimed solo piano recordings from 2005 to the present, jazz combo sessions from 1998, musical theatre tunes from as far back as 1972, his early 1990s forays into experimental electronica, and several international collaborations with Grammy award-winning artists. Plus, for the first time on this website, disc 7 includes songs written for his UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honour children's theatre troupe, CenterStage Productions (1986-1994).
This box set has a planned release date of 2020. In addition to what is listed below, it will include the best of three solo piano albums currently in progress. Keep checking this page to find new tracks (and to discover which have been removed).
The collection is organized into seven discs: 1) original jazz combo and big band funk instrumentals, 2) original jazz combo and big band funk instrumentals, 3) rock, pop, jazz and theatrical songs, 4) original piano compositions, 5) piano arrangements of both classical and jazz standards, 6) soundtracks and experimental electronica, 7) spoken word recordings featuring Del reciting Tobin's poetry as well as the best from Tobin's spoken word/piano album Afterwords, 8) children's music featuring the voices of CenterStage Children's Theatre Troupe.
The collection displays a wide variety of genres, yet every style coheres around a distinct "Tobin Mueller sound." His solo piano work ranges from post-bop to stride, modal jazz to neo-classical. He was one of the early explorers of New Age music, before it settled within it's current formulaic relaxation/ambient boundaries, yet no genre can contain his imaginative explorations and musical dialogues. As Kathy Parsons of Mainly Piano has said, "One would be hard-pressed to find an artist with a more creative musical mind than Tobin Mueller’s - especially one with the playing chops to fulfill his or her vision." His jazz ensemble sessions move through Big Band to bop to old-school funk. "This cascade of styles could be wearisome," comments Brad Walseth of Jazz Chicago, "but not in the hands of this sensitive composer who moves the listener assuredly through the paces." His vocal recordings range from complex, layered progressive rock to mainstream pop to musical theatre. In addition, Mueller has written symphonies, ballets, jingles, film scores and video game soundtracks. Although this collection includes seven distinct discs, it does not contain the totality of Mueller's musical expressions, although it comes close.
Press the player buttons below to listen. You may need to wait a few seconds for the track to load. The comments written below each selection are by Tobin.
Contemporary Big Band overture to my 2009 album Rain Bather, winner of the "Best Jazz Album of 2009" awarded by ChicagoJazz.net
Perhaps my favorite octet tune I've ever recorded. Solos in order of appearance: Tobin Mueller, organ; Bob Levy; trumpet; Doug Schneider, tenor sax; Woody Mankowski, soprano sax.
Contemporary Big Band Funk in an unusual meter. Name refers to Woody's given name, Forrest. His solos are, indeed, on fire, on both alto and soprano saxes. My solo on B3 organ is truncated by the fade out - I still don't know how that happened.
Jazz Quintet arrangement of a solo piano piece featuring Doug Schneider on tenor sax. Three (four?) Decades ago I wrote this melody for the stage play The Runner Stumbles by Milan Stitt. It was sung by a young nun character. I then expanded it into a piano solo that appeared on my album Morning Whispers. In addition, I used the melody in Creature. So, you see, this one has gotten around. This is my favorite version.
Funk tune collaboration between Woody Mankowski and myself. All instruments played by the two of us, in the studio. Woody plays all reeds, I do all keys and drum programming. I always thought this would make a fine porn soundtrack :-)
Jazz-funk quartet featuring Ron Carter on mutliple basses, Tobin on multiple organs, Woody on multiple saxes. Woody has a very cool solo at the end.
Big band funk featuring Woody Mankowski on sax and Tobin Mueller on organ.
Moody late night jazz featuring Woody Mankowski on tenor sax, Jeff Cox on bass, Tobin on piano.
Featuring my nephew Chris Mueller on piano, percussionist Dane Richeson on drums and Tobin on B3 organ, this tune combines classical, jazz and musical theatre influences. An instrumental arrangement of a Creature tune.
I'm a huge Star Trek fan. The opening chord reminded me of the sound the Enterprise's transporter makes. I always think "Beam me up, Scotty" when the tune starts. This chart gives me the chance to move from keyboard to keyboard, showing off my plethora of gear (mostly in mothballs now). This Big Band Funk-Fusion tune doesn't feature a sax solo, but has a monster guitar solo at the end by Fran Dagostino.
Featuring Woody Mankowski on soprano sax, this is based on one of my favorite tunes from Creature. A trio without percussion (something I would do more frequently as I got older), this track features a fabulous solo on piano by my nephew Chris Mueller. I'm on organ.
Featuring: Woody Mankowski (saxophones), Lamar Moore (drums, percussion), Tobin Mueller (pianos, organ, synths, bass, additional percussion)
Featuring: Woody Mankowski (saxophone), Tobin Mueller (piano, organ)
Featuring: Woody Mankowski (saxophone), Tobin Mueller (pianos, synths, bass, percussion)
Featuring: Mike Nappi (drums), Paul Nelson (guitar), Tobin Mueller (pianos, synths, organ, bass)
Featuring: Woody Mankowski (saxophone), Tobin Mueller (pianos, organ, synths, bass, percussion)
Featuring: Lamar Moore (drums), Woody Mankowski (saxophones), Tobin Mueller (piano, organ, bass)
Featuring: Mike Nappi (drums), Tobin Mueller (pianos, organ, bass)
Featuring: Lamar Moore (drums), Pat Wayland (guitar), Tobin Mueller (pianos, synths, bass)
Pre-production concept track devbeloped in the studio, the first demo track that would grow into the Standard Deviations two volume project. This one includes me talking at the beginning. It was meant to be the "overture" track of the album but was moved to track #9 in the final shuffling.
As in most of the arrangements on Standard Deviations, I first recorded this piece on piano and then layered on electronic and acoustic augmentations. Two electronic pianos (Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes) double with the acoustic piano to create a resonant keyboard sound. EXS modules provide the other embellishments. A few carefully placed bowed piano strings round out the additions.
After recording this medley on piano, I had an idea to record individual notes and reverse them to create the feel of shooting stars in the background. One thing led to another and pretty soon I was programming a Native Instrument FM8 module to add additional augmentations. I like the way the acoustic piano moves in and out of the electronic enhancements. The bells occasionally dip below the surface of the moonlit river. Wind chimes and other whirling sounds remind the listener of the wind that will soon take Dorothy over the rainbow.
This dreamy, haunting rendition highlights the introspective aspects of one of the sweetest soliloquy songs ever written. I use a mixture of reversed and bowed piano, framed by synth and piano continuum, in the extended introduction in order to present the tune's hopeful yet chimerical context. The hint of synth in the air, at the very end, is a simple exhale, a silent reminder of the question who's answer often remains just beyond...
This is a simple voice/piano cover of Bob Dylan's self-described favorite song. It's one of two songs included on this disc written by someone other than me. Bob Dylan is my favorite artist to cover. His lyrics are full of surreal collage-like references and potent visual metaphors.
When I first began to recover from severe lung problems, I chose a song that I my obvious breathing issue might complement. "Frozen Man" by James Taylor seemed a perfect choice, since it was a first-person story told by a 160 year old man found in the ice and brought back to life. This is my original take, before most of the coughing was removed in the mastering process. Cleaner take appears on Song of Myself.
Joni Mitchell was a huge inspiration to both me amd my sister, Toni. This is to her...
On one of my performances for the United Nations UNEP, I went shopping (on a break) with a woman from Trinidad. She told me about how Jai Uttal is perhaps the most famous Hindu/Buddhist performer in the world. Sadly, I had never heard of him! This is the most affecting song on the album I purchased.
Like many great "Christian songs", it is easily converted into a love song, as I did for this. I change nearly half of the lyrics to make it my own. In no way do my changes alter the premise of the song, however. It is now an honest and intimate expression of my life and my art. As a playwright, I know well the way ghosts and lovers animate actors, lights, wood and stone.
Dylan wrote this when he was 24 years old. I first sang it when I was 17. I am finally old enough to have the song apply fully. Like several other tracks on this album, every verse is played differently, creating through variation a sense of storytelling and journeying. The interjection of "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now," is from Dylan's My Back Pages.
A collaboration with Grammy award winner Michael Hedges (acoustic guitar), a huge talent who died too young. Seagulls were recorded on Cape Cod MA. Inspired by my wife, Suzanne.
Tango-Rock-Folk Fusion piece featuring Hungarian violinist Entcho Todorov. One of several songs written for a film shot in Bucharest, Romania, based on the Dr. Jekkyll and Mr. Hyde fable.
I wrote and recorded this in November 2001, while recovering from 9/11. I later integrated it into my 2005 musical Runners In A Dream written with Randyl Appel, set during the Holocaust. It remains one of my favorite songs I've written.
Written just before 9/11/2001, I sold this song through my Hong Kong agent to the South Korean pop music market. It still makes me smile.
This song is dedicated to all the waitresses that bring belonging and humanity to so many people eating alone, which I did many times during the 1990s.
I wrote and recorded this the day after Was There Once A Time. It is autobiographical, describing the relief effort that consumed me (and the rest of New York City) during the weeks following the 9/11 tragedy.
This is another song written in the 1970s. I was moved to record it because a friend of mine wanted to sing harmonies, Joseph Gray, a singer from L.A. The lyrics were inspired by a line from Ezra Pound's Cantos 81, "what thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross."
In early 2001, I wrote and recorded this in my apartment in a single day. My son, Anton, sings the highest harmony during the chorus section.
After a successfull run off Broadway, I rewrote Freedom's First Light to break my ties with the difficult collaborator who had rewritten my original script a year earlier. I also wanted to return the name to Robin Hood. This song ended up getting dropped in the rewrite. It is sung by Will Scarlet, the main character/narrator of Freedom's First Light. In the play, Scarlet is a flippantly sarcastic aristocrat who finds motivation after he joins the Merrie Men. He is the lead character behind the Sherwood Forest revolution against the tyranny of the day.
This progressive art rock piece was inspired by The Passion, especially the bits involving Jesus and Pontius Pilate. It's a turning point in the storyline of Revolution's Son, as it was the beginning of the final act for it's anticedent, a play I never finished: Dreamless. I enjoy the melodramatic/theatrical aspects of this song a great deal.
I wrote these lyrics for Suzanne before our wedding in 2003. The music came out of a collaboration with my nephew, pianist and music director Chris Mueller. This track was a demo given to an L.A. singer whom I haven't heard from since.
Written in 1984 for my second son, Will, I rearranged it for multiple instruments 20 years later and included it on my 2007 album A Bit Of Light. Since I'm now a grandfather, I'm resurrecting the tune in honor of my granddaughter, Will's first born, Nora.
This is an example of a pre-production demo I record for actors and music directors preparing to perform one of my musicals. I sing all the parts to model what I'm looking for, generally. I thought it would be fun to include a multi-character one to give insight into my process. Consider it a box set BONUS TRACK.
I wrote this song late one night in 1981. My wife came out into the living room to complain about keeping her awake. Then I sang it for her. This is me playing a nylon string guitar patch on a Korg M1 keyboard and singing.
Old school jazz featuring vocals by L.A. singer Angela Hope. Appeared only on the initial digital release of The Muller's Wheel and has never been available as a separate track until now.
Woody Mankowski sings this epic arrangement of Over The World, originally written for the Victor Frankestein character at the moment he discovers the secret of life, from my 1996 off Broadway musical Creature. This version was recorded in 1998, soprano sax also played by Mankowski. What Survives was written for the Mountain Girl to sing to the Creature, forming the second half of the medley. What Survives is reprised by the entire company later in the show, as a finalé, as well as later on this disc.
Woody Mankowski sings the role of Victor Frankestein again, this time at his mother's grave side. From my 1996 off Broadway musical Creature. Tenor sax solo by Doug Schneider.
Emily Rohm as the Mountain Girl singing a lullaby to the Creature. From the stage play Creature. The song was so well loved, I used it again in an early draft ofRunners In A Dream with slightly revised lyrics.
This rock anthem highlights my son Anton's heavy metal voice. Guitar work is by Canadian Darren Chapman. I'm singing lower harmony and playing keyboards. My favorite part is the build at 2:50, when the wall of sound is pulled back only to come back even louder...
This pre-production demo features Gail Goebel singing the part of "Heart", one of the body parts that makes its way into the Creature. It's an epic 11th-hour story-song that reveals how before her death she was betrayed by Vicor Frankenstein's older brother, Frederick. I sing the other character parts, including the chours and Frederick. From the stage play Creature. Gail never played the part on stage. NOTE: this MP3 may take a while to start streaming.
Rebekah Jacobs singing the part of Ilse at the beginning of Runners In A Dream, by Randyl Appel and myself. Even though she is only 8 years old, Ilse is her infant sister's main caregiver - while hiding in a basement from the Nazis. Ilse sings this song to her sister, Hilde, to comfort her. The show is based on a true story about co-creator's mother, Elli "Ilse" Appel.
Aaron Paul sings this simplified version of one of my favorite stream-of-consciousness songs from the stage play Runners In A Dream. In the show, it is sung to the young heroine, Ilse. I recorded a newer version on my album Hard Place to Find, but I like this version better. Aaron played the dual role of Moses/Amichai.
This pre-production demo features singer-actress Kacie Sheik (sister of Duncan Shiek). She sings both parts: Harriet Tubman and Ilse. Kacie played Ilse in the original cast. From the stage play Runners In A Dream.
This pre-production demo features Kacie Sheik singing the part of Ilse as she writes a letter to her mother, not knowing her mother has already been killed. The part of her mother's ghost is sung by Julie Haubner. From the stage play Runners In A Dream.
Aaron Paul playing the character Moses, singing to Ilse. This short tune is reprised several times during the show. From the stage play Runners In A Dream.
This demo was recorded in 1996 and involved the characters from Creature who are still alive at the end - a multi-layered reprise/finalé. Twenty years later, the music inspired the solo piano piece I used to underscore One With Stars on Afterwords.
This demo was recorded in 1996 (and involved the characters from )Creature) and features Emily Rohm.
This demo was recorded in 1991 (Robin Hood and the Free People of the Forest) and is a duet between the character of Robin Hood and Maid Marian's mother.
This demo duet was recorded in 1991 (Robin Hood and the Free People of the Forest) and feature's Emily Rohm.
This composer's demo was recorded in 1995 (Creature) and marks the moment that the Creature discovers his own voice - albeit still surrounded by the cacophony of spirit voices will continue to haunt him.
Originally used to illustrate quotations from "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, I later created this edited version without talking, letting the Oscar Peterson-inspired piano speak for itself. The music displays the upbeat fortitude, manic desperation and sometimes delusional optimism that propelled the characters of Steinbeck's novel forward.
The first movement of the New England Suite, the gentle yet chord progression combines the restless/purposeful movement of New Englanders with the seasonal grace of its natural surroundings. The rhythms harken back to New England's American Indian roots, in a stylized way. The shifting meters are like patches of river ice, conforming to the shoreline, then breaking off into the current, melting, changing shape. I move through the seasons with each movement of the suite...
A Mueller/Schneider piano duet recorded live at Lawrence University in 1998. It presents a series of variations on a theme from my off-broadway musical Creature.
An example of my more amorphic modal jazz style.
Originally used to illustrate a quotation by Dave Eggars for my 2017 album Afterwords, I later created a new version without talking, letting the piano stand by itself. The music combines old-school charm, whimsy and self-discovery.
The sixth movement of Suite: Flow is a theme and variation of the first movement, therefore I placed it first in the order of these 3 outtakes from the 6 movement suite. The second moevement is a Goldberg-esque variation of the first and sixth movements, borrowing from Impressionism, evoking a sense of undertow. Yin/Yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. It also stands for two styles of play emplyed to both deconstruct and distills the more complex chord progressions used in the other movements.
In the first movement, I present several phases of the moon. In the second, the quiet place evolves into one of Romantic power and heroic insight. In the final movement, Nyx, the goddess of the night, stands at the beginning, before there was Light. Her primordial chanting still echoes across the night sky.
Inspired by Mulan Kundera's novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
There is something magical yet tragic about cut flowers, taking the physical represtentation of fertility - at the height of its greatest beauty - away from its roots in an attempt to preserve it, to possess it. An excellent metaphor for a love song, no?
I wanted to name this "Hummingbird Dreams." I watched them in the garden - hover, dart, hover, dart. I was unable to see through their eyes. Videos of hummingbirds in slow motion left me breathless, but I couldn't imagine what the world looked like from inside their heads. Their magic is too delicate, to fast, to ephemeral to comprehend. I would not presume to know how to bring to life hummingbird dreams. But I could write about the illusion of stillness they create.
When arranging the piece, I recalled George Sand's statement: “Vanity is the quicksand of reason,” conflating heroic posturing with vanity. Hubris and folly are sometimes the flip side of valor and daring. It is this interaction I try to illustrate by my twin-themed Tango couplet.
My adaption of this étude lends it a kind of Impressionistic sensibility, with an early Jazz vibe felt mostly in the left hand rhythms. This piece is often played with a certain frantic muscularity. I tried to give it a naturalistic gracefulness.
This arrangement is in two sections. The first invokes the color of wine, blending Jazz, Blues, Impressionism. The second section is brighter, more youthful at the outset. It gently morphs back into a well-aged sentimentality.
Based on Maurice Ravel's Jeux d’eau, my variations grew out of the rehearsal process, moments when I'd let myself get lost in the musical imageries. My internal fantasies lay alongside Ravel's own passages.
I thought it fitting to place Chopin’s Prelude No. 20, “Funeral March,” as an introduction to this wonderful posthumous Nocturne published 26 years after his death. The piece was famously played by Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp for the Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth, with Goeth being so impressed with the rendition that he spared Karp's life.
The devastating simplicity and emotional power of Bach's Prelude, even without that famous melody layered over the top, is thrilling to play, an example of Bach's perfection. Still, I wanted to bring something new to the piece: a starfield of triads.
The altered chordal harmonics accentuate the sense of sleepiness. The right hand improvisations represent the voices whispering, gently calling us to awake.
The Revolutionary Étude was written during the November Uprising of 1831, an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire. When Russia first invaded Poland, Chopin fled to Paris as a political exile, where he became friends with the cultural elite of the day, forever changing the trajectory of his life.
Chopin’s Études and Préludes are perhaps his greatest contribution to the development of music. But it is his Nocturnes that best illustrate his romantic sensitivity. For me, they represent his most effortless and essential music.
A berceuse is a ‘cradle song,’ or lullaby, written for the piano. The hypnotic two chord minimalist structure portends the music of Erik Satie.
Pavane, written in 1887 by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, was originally a piano piece, but became better known after Fauré arranged it for orchestra and optional chorus. Devastatingly simple, with a gorgeous melody, it inspired both Ravel and Debussy to write a pavane of their own. My first verse speaks to the "romantic helplessness of man", which is the subject of the choral lyrics.
The "Air on the G String" was one of the first Bach works ever recorded, in 1902, and remains one of his most famous melodies. I can still recall the first time I heard Bach's Orchestral Suite #3. The 2nd movement "Air" left me breathless. Such grace and beauty. I hope you sense my own humility and wonder as you explore these variations.
I bring some new elements to this classic tune, something outside the blues setting that has been done so successfully by Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Eric Clapton and others. Georgia On My Mind is about home, an elusive and changing concept. I intermix Impressionism, jazz, blues and tin pan alley to create a full life journey. The juxtaposition of styles speaks to the idea of how memory folds together disparate emotions with redeeming grace.
There are intentional parallels between this arrangement and that of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I wanted to interpret a journey beyond the rainbow, into the stars, something lighter than air, romantic, moonlit. One of the wonderfully balanced melodies in the American Songbook, I support it with chords that surprise yet comfort, uplift yet are not frivolous, creating a contemplative motion that both cherishes memories and looks forward with anticipation.
I've long wanted to combine these two rhythmically-themed Gershwin classics into a single manic romp. This arrangement combines swing jazz with progressive rock, updating the rhythmic innovations of Gershwin and Ellington with my own personal touch, including 5/4 time during the I Got Rhythm section.
In 1953, this exquisitely balanced tune from the musical film Calamity Jane introduced Doris Day to the world. If this were the only version of the song, I would never have picked it for this collection. Many others have covered it, from Frank Sinatra and Freddy Fender, but it was pianist Brad Mehldau's live version that made me realize how supremely pretty this songs is. The slow tempo and subtle shifts into modal jazz adds an air of hushed melancholy. Secret love can be thrilling, but more often ends in tragic longing and emptiness. I've tried to make this version more about sweet remembrance, however.
"The First Noël" is a traditional classical English carol, most likely from the 18th century. Noël, the French word for Christmas, is from the Latin word natalis which translates as "birthday."
Ever since I played this carol on my flutophone in 5th grade, it has been one of my favorite corals. I love the sense of freedom, the lighter-than-air balletic joy. I change keys several times to keep the swirling chordal play moving upward.
I started with Ralph Vaughan Williams' lush orchestrational style, as well as Bill Evans' jazz piano voicings, as inspiration for my initial version of this American carol. But I end with something more akin to my own image of St. Louis, as a wry nod to Brooks' organist.
With a nod to Charles Wesley, I have set this version in a more solemn New Age jazz-blues universe. In keeping with this style, the music shrugs off the sadness of the world and finds strength in the grace and elegance of each melodic variation.
"Silent Night" was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics penned by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf. Young priest Father Mohr brought the words to his organist Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on Christmas Eve.
Progressive rock overture created through a long distance Internet collaboration with musician/composer Shadow of Nine, from Vancouver B.C. He provided all percussion and guitars, I layered in all keys.
Composed and recorded in 1992, this track was to provide background music to a science fiction musical I never completed. It was then going to become a soundtrack for a multi-media ebook of the same name, Dreamless, which also was never completed. It was then used as background music for the 1996 off Broadway rock opera Creature during the grave robbing sequence (which, from the point of view of the body parts taken, was a profound moment of liberation). I especially enjoy the ending.
Originally composed and recorded in 1992, this track was re-recorded in 1995 as underscoring for the off Broadway rock opera Creature. This new stand alone instrumental version was done in 2006, with additional piano and other instruments taking the place of vocals that had been used in the stage version. Audiocracy then used portions of the background to sing and play over for Revolution's Son. The this version layers 64 different tracks, the most complex mix I ever created.
Composed in 1994 and recorded in 2004, this track was to introduce the character of the Lady of the Lake in a Celtic musical I never completed, Merlyn. I have discussed dreams that helped inspire the show in my memoir Book of Dreams, pages 44-50.
Composed in 1995 and recorded in 2004, this track was to underscore a triumphant scene involving Merlyn in a Celtic musical I never completed. All the instrumental sounds are played by keyboard except the hand percussion which I played and recorded by hand. I have since played this at a friend's wedding for her processional, as well.
A medley based on several holiday tunes, including Toyland, Carol of the Bells, She Moved Through the Fair and Auld Lang Syne. It is the Bonus Track on my Christmas album, Midwinter Born. Jim Edwards provided the original concept and guitars.
This collaboration was forged as a n experiment through the website MacJams.com in 2006. The late great guitarist Fran 'Ziti' Dagostino from Boston posted an acoustic guitar track. This track was then proccessed, flip, manipulated by 'Deputy Doofy' then passed along to me. I provided all the other editing, synth, moog, keys and producing. This was the result.
Written for four hands, this piano duet was created by me overtracking myself. It combines two pieces from 13 Masks into a single unique medley. It served as an intense background to a video about sailing on the ocean.
This solo piano piece has been used several times as background for documentaries, once for PBS. There is a moment in one of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Douglas Adams) books when the hero kisses his love and they, without realizing it, float up into the air. I was thinking of that moment when I sat down to play.
...for more text, please see the complete poem: As Simple As Soap
...for more text, please see the complete poem: Old
...for more text, please see the complete poem: The Fall
...for more text, please see the complete poem: Wall of Heaven
...for more text, please see the complete poem: The Cigarette and The Actress
When I first encountered Merlin giving this advice to young Arthur, he might as well have been talking directly to me. Buoyed by optimism, nostalgia, playfulness, curiosity and the power of learning, this piece has all hallmarks of the magical wizard.
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time.
That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who
have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been
loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But
these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to
people who don't understand.'
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and
misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other
people are as real as you.
― Ian McEwan, Atonement
Flourishes of garden faerie magic and childlike storytelling open the piece. Once the Wooden Horse explains the physical downsides of becoming Real, I switcheds into a more adult blues style. The bluesy middle section is a testament to the fortitude and resilience required to be Real.
There is a different quality to longstanding "old" love, a different pace, expressed best by a slow waltz.
“Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart,” said the Butterfly. “I would break my
body to pieces to call you once by your name.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Based on the fantasy novel The Last Unicorn, this piece combines jazz, tango and blues to create a sense of magic, struggle and redemption. In addition to motifs for the Last Unicorn and the oracle Butterfly, a bit of the menacing Red Bull has worked its way into the music, especially during the tango portions.
This music was originally written for a Stravinsky-like piano concerto I had begun in 2010. I completed the first movement and part of the second, then I got sick. Six years later I decided to appropriate the piano part for my solo piano / spoke word project, Afterwords. The first half of the piece is based on the concerto; the second half is new. The second half is one of my favorite pieces I've written. In fact, I released a version of Part 2 as a separate piece on Afterwords: Solo Piano Bonus Tracks.
There's a place beyond words where experience first occurs to which I always want to return. I
suspect that whenever I articulate my thoughts or translate my impulses into words, I am betraying
the real thoughts and impulses which remain hidden.
― Jerzy Kosiński, The Painted Bird
I love the structure of this piece. It represents my favorite form: A melodic opening section that, when the second section begins, seems more like an introduction than an intial theme. Each transition seems to redfine the opening. As each variation is stated, the opening becomes more and more like "home," the memory every path echoes, the destination every phrase is pulled toward.
…Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song.
My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and every thing else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from,
The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles, and all creeds.
Divine am I inside and out.
I fly those flights of a fluid and swallowing soul,
My course runs below the soundings of plummets.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from under the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
― Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (edited/rearranged), Leaves of Grass
The music under Whitman's moving words is the title track from my first solo piano album, Morning Whispers. There are two versions available of the music without talking: on Morning Whispers as well as Afterwords: Solo Piano Solo Tracks.
Originally written in 1993 for CAPE (Children's Alliance for Protection of the Environment), this song became the theme song for the Youth Movement of UNEP and was later incorporated into my environmental musical To Save The Planet as an encore.
Mickey Spleen Saves the Day is an educational musical about human anatomy and health set in the jazz-influenced whodonit film noir world made famous by the likes of novelist Mickey Spillane. This tune features Lucy Lymphette and the Lymphette sisters as they help Mickey Spleen prepare to take on the RNA Mobsters. The male chorus are "the G.I. Guys" (for "gastrointestinal.") Written in 1993-94.
I Want to Know! is a musical about the history of Science and Invention. This overtured song introduces the main themes. Tracks 12 & 13 (below) give examples of some of the historical moments (or eras) brought to life on stage by the young performers. Some of my musicals were meant for young kids, some for older ones. This is more a junior high/high school production. In fact, it was developed through a 3 month artist-in-residence at Polaski High Shhool, Pulaski, Wisconsin in 1991. Their voices are captured in this recording.
My 1990 environmental musical To Save The Planet toured all around the world, was performed in by schools and drama clubs 11 different countries on 5 continents, and has been seen by over 600,000 people. It was the main reason my theatre troupe, CenterStage Productions, was inducted into UNEP's Roll of Honor in 1994. I wish you could've see these fabulous young performers sing and dance. Their earnestness and self-empowerment was inspiring to behold.
It only made sense to follow an environmental anthem with a song about breathing clean air. The Lymphette sisters re-enter the spotlight as they revive Mickey Spillane after a huge scare brought on by Vinny Virus.
Before there was the off Broadway musical Creature there was the shorter children's theatre 1992 production Frankenspell Superstar. This song features The Mountain Girl (played by 11 year old Emily Rohm) helping the Creature learn the ways of the world. It includes a 5 year old mice chorus, mostly middle school gypsies, and a teenage Creature just learning to speak. It's an extended dance number, thus all the repeats.
My production of Robin Hood put a lot of emphasis on the women of the era, since most middle and high school performers are female. In additon to the obligatory cast of Merrie Men, there was a women's chorus led by Maid Marian. The show's main character was not Robin Hood; rather, it was a fiery idealistic woman, Diana, named after the Roman goddess of the hunt. She is the one that spurs Robin to lead a revolution, to "export" the freedom of Sherwood Forest to the rest of England. This song is Marian and the women reminding Diana of the larger dream of eventual peace.
"Just say no" was a big deal in the 1980s. It dominated anti-drug health classes. Say "Yes" to Life was an attempt to expand the conversation to include an honest discussion of the problems kid's face, especially family issues and peer pressure/peer encouragement. This is the first scene, showing the performers backstage as they prepared for the show. The play was endorsed by the NASADAD organization in 1989.
I've been a big fan of Adam Smith, the famous Scottish economist and philosopher, since I was in my twenties. Mr. Smith himself introduces this piece. Created in collaboration with the Wisconsin Council of Economic Educators, The Sound of Money presents basic economic issues through scenes like an auction (during which money is invented to assist the exchange of goods), finding value in specific items after crashing on a deserted island, and a peak inside of a pin factory to discover the importance of the Division of Labor.
Kids love dinosaurs. Danger, Dinosaurs! combines current dinosaur facts (which have changed quite a bit since I was young) with important self-help tips. The play stars a tiny Tuatara who tries to warn her larger dinosaur friends about coming tragedies, all in vain. Each dinosaur ends up being killed by a different apocalyptic event (in this way the play explores the different theories regarding the dinosaurs' extinction.) But each death could've been averted if the dinsoaurs would have heeded the Tuatara's common sense advice. (Note: the tuatar predates dinosaurs historically yet has survived to this day off the coast of New Zealand.)
Music of the Planets was my first children's educational musical. The overture song, Happy Birthday World, is the story of the formation of the solar system. The narrator is sung by my friend Janet Planet, a jazz/R&B singer. She sang on several of my children's albumsand always had fun singing ina completely different style than she did professionally. Personal note: this was my mother's favorite song written during the 1980s.
Although it may be controversial to suggest that the origins of science can be found in "magic," that is because we define magic as slight of hand illusions nowadays. But I refer to the old world magician, the shaman, the healer, the person who reached beyond the present surface to find the causes beneath and summon the essence within. The scene goes right into the next, so please disregard the track getting cut off.
That's me singing about Einstein, one of my personal heroes. He repesents the "modern age" of science, even though I would place Galileo as the true father of the science (and maybe call Einstein the standout grandson). If I Want to Know does anything, it helps to sort out and personalize of the roots of scientific advancement. I hope it inspired several youths to persue careers in the sciences. (I'm quite pleased that my second son, Will, is an RNA researcher / molecular biologist. Personal note: he played the role of Mickey Spleen when he was 10 years old, after the guy in front of him grew up and left the troupe. Further note: the guy in front of him was Justin Leath, who eventually made it to Broadway - as did a handful of other kids from CenterStage.)
My version of Robin Hood was greatly influecned by my generation's experience in Viet Nam. There is a great deal of "collateral damage" caused by the Merrie Men's happy crusade to liberate England from evil Sir Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham. There is no straight line to eventual redemption. In the end, when they sing a reprise of We Can Change the World, it is with a great deal more wisdom and measured hope then the initial version.
In the original version, which this track is from, Friar Tuck is played by a fun loving male actor. When the show went to Manhattan, we changed Fria Tuck into a voluptuous earthy wicca-style woman. It added another layer of color. This song is one of the best dance numbers in the show, thus all the repeats. I think it was the kids' favorite, as well; but they mau have had more to do with the guy who played Tuck than the music itself.
This is my composer's demo of the song that becomes the truning point in Say "Yes" to Life. The character has just witnessed a stylzed moment of potential domestic violence and is cast out onto the street. He sings the song alone as his friends can only encourage from afar.
A song of shared strength and mutual encouragement. A testimony to what theatre is. What life could be. A fitting finalé sung by a room full of my friends.