A Piano-Heaven Interview With:

Tim Neumark

 

 

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American pianist Tim Neumark was born on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and at school had a certain sporting prowess. Having focused initially in developing his undeniable ability in this area (with various scholarships to his name), he was a relatively late starter at the piano. However, he has more than made up for lost time with the release of two albums in quick succession- Biography and Christmas, and a third album is imminent. Tim's music is gaining quite a following, and the Columbia-based composer can only go from strength to strength. Currently, Tim is recording his new CD, Influence, but kindly took time out to discuss his wonderful music with Piano-Heaven.

Enjoy the interview...

 

 

S.C. First of all, many congratulations on Biography -your debut CD- which was released in 2007. Have you been pleased with the response to your album?

T.N. Thank you. The response from listeners and reviewers has been terrific. I really didnít know what type of response Iíd get after the album was released. Before creating the album I had some fans of my music, but these were all people who knew me Ė they were all members of the churches I had attended or they were family. I wasnít sure how the music would do when compared to other CDs and other artists. I was always confident that at least a few of the songs (especially Dawn, The Dream of You, City of Courage, and Prayer) would be received well, and I was sure that my Ďsoundí was similar to other established artists, but I didnít know how the music would be judged on its own by people who did not know me. Fortunately, people really enjoy it. Iíve actually had every track of Biography cited as someone's favourite! It's just great that I can provide music that touches someone else's life. My music is played on a number of online radio stations, but I haven't quite made an impact on the terrestrial airwaves yet. With the positive reaction to my music, I plan to put more effort into getting my music heard. Thankfully, it seems like when people do hear it, they really enjoy it!

How did the album come about? Was it the result of years of work, or did everything come together quite quickly?

The album was released in 2007, but the compositions are really much older than that. The track Beginnings was probably written in the fall of 1997, and Ė with the exception of Diamond Music Ė the rest of them were written somewhere between 1999 and 2002. When I first started playing the piano, I never really wanted to be someone who could play the worldís most difficult Chopin or Rachmaninoff pieces; I just wanted to compose my own music. In my mind, I knew the titles of my first three albums for years, but I never got around to seriously devoting any time to making them happen. Then I met Monica.

In the summer of 2005, my then-girlfriend Monica asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said that I didnít really need anything, but I wished people would just buy me some recording studio time. By the time Christmas came around, I had forgotten all about my comment from earlier that summer, but Monica (my then-fiancťe!) had not. Her Christmas gift to me was studio time for my album!

We began recording in late 2006. When Monica and I discussed album titles, I never mentioned my idea. She said, "these songs each tell a story about your life. We should call it Biography." That was the same title I'd always had in mind for my first album, so I knew we were on
to something!

Let's go back to the beginning. Were you formally trained? Did you come from a musical background? At what stage did you "break out" and start to produce your own compositions?

Music has always been a part of my life, but not always piano music. I remember listening to the radio when I was very little, and I pretty much listened to pop music until about age 14 or so. My only formal training at that point was for the trombone, which I played for two years in elementary school.

A big musical turning point for me was a week when I missed school because of a cold in the ninth grade. I couldnít listen to pop music because it gave me a headache, so I repeatedly listened to a tape my dad owned. It included Beethovenís Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovskyís Sixth Symphony, and Pachelbelís Canon in D. This introduced me to the world of classical music.

I always had some fascination with the piano, but I never learned to play, and we did not have one in my house. When I was a senior in high school there was a new girl who could really play. This renewed my curiosity in the piano, so my parents bought me a 61-key keyboard.

I donít have any formal training. I learned the scales by playing the melody to Joy to the World, and I taught myself to play by learning David Lanz pieces. Mostly I played them by ear, using the sheet music only when I couldnít quite make out the music. I still play most of my music by ear and memory.

I mentioned that I started by playing David Lanz pieces. I played pieces from his Christmas Eve album one year at my church Ė one piece each Sunday during advent. These were my first public performances, if you will. After playing those pieces, I thought of some of my favorite pieces that his album didnít cover. So some of my first compositions were my own arrangements of Christmas tunes.

I think I really started to compose during the year I lived in Pittsburgh, after college. I didnít really know anyone there, so I spent lots of time every day writing music. I would guess that about eight of the tracks on Biography were written during that year.

I was interested to read how the music literally poured out of you whilst alone in your church; the composition Meditation: Quiet Time in a Church being the end result. I know you're a religious man. Do you think you were inspired by being in "God's home" allowing your creative juices to flow to their fullest? Has your faith helped to bring out the very best in you, do you think?

I look back at that night Ė it was after an evening service Ė and I think that I must have been inspired not just to be in a house of God, but also to be free to do whatever I wanted on a piano. At that point (I was still in high school) I did not have a real 88-key piano to play on a regular basis, so this may have been the first time I was really able to just sit down and improvise and see what would happen.

My faith is important in all that I do, and Iím sure it has influenced how I perceive music. During high school, I started attending a Mennonite church where they sing in four-part a capella. Iím sure that I learned a thing or two about harmony just by attending that church.

On my third album, Iím including another meditation piece. I think I will add one of these per album. I think itís nice for the listener if I can include something that is very introspective and peaceful.

You seem to be a musician who likes to write about things he's observed or experienced.... little (seemingly insignificant) details appear to fire your imagination (e,g. Red Rain!) especially acts of Nature. Fair comment?

Absolutely. With the rare exception, Iíve always been more inclined to write a piece for an existing title than to try to find a title for an existing piece. In fact, on my next album, Influence, almost every piece is about something or someone who specifically influenced me and my music. Youíll certainly be able to pick out a bar or two of Dvorak!

You used a Steinway Model B Grand Piano for the album, which produces a lovely sound on the CD. What was that like to play? You recorded your album at the Omega Studios. Was that an exciting experience for you? Did you have to overcome any technical difficulties?

Omega Studios is a great place to play. They are very reputable and they have quite the client list. There are a few studios in the area, but they are definitely the best. Coming to them with no recording experience at all, they were quite accommodating and were able to give me the best options. My engineer was Kimo Van Gieson and he really knows how to make a piano sound great.

There were some technical difficulties when I recorded Christmas Ė a noisy bench or a clicking note Ė but not many problems on Biography. The Model B is a good piano, but I have always preferred Yamaha pianos. Iíll be using a Yamaha on the next album.

I read on your site that you enjoy playing anywhere there is a piano, regardless of whether it is a church or a hotel. Are you someone whose fingers dance at the sight of the instrument? If you could play at any one location in the world, where would it be, and what type of piano would you play? Do you play any other instruments?

Oh yes. When I see a vacant piano, there is always an urge to play Ė especially when I have new, upbeat material to play. (If people are around, I donít want to play a solemn piece!)

Iíve never really considered the ďany piano in the worldĒ question! Thatís a tough one. For holding a concert, I guess Iíd say that the Sydney Opera house, with full orchestra and a 9-foot Yamaha Concert Grand. If the question is simply about the beauty of a piano and its sound, Iíd choose St. Josephís Convent Chapel in Milwaukee. This is where Kostia recorded his first CD, and the sound is amazing. I think that playing at a place like that Ė without an audience Ė would be incredibly inspiring.

You've just mentioned the Russian composer Kostia- we have a mutual respect for him! What impresses you most about his music? In what way has he influenced you? Have you had any contact with him? You also state that Czech composer DvořŠk is your favourite composer. Can you explain why?

I saw some of the comparisons to Kostia in your review of Biography. This is quite flattering Ė he is far and away the best contemporary solo piano composer I have heard. Itís just unfortunate that he only has two albums! I think what impresses me about Kostia and Dvorak is their way of keeping the listener involved. The pieces seem to pick you up and take you somewhere, never letting you down. I donít really know how to explain it, but their pieces just seem to have the right shape and direction. As a listener, I end up knowing where the piece is going but at the same time itís not predictable. I guess it is their style of development. I have heard every Kostia piano piece I can find (fewer than 40 of them) and almost every piece seems perfect to me. I did share a few emails with Kostia but this was probably over 10 years ago. I donít know where he is now or what heís doing, but Iíd love to join him for a concert or just sit and talk about music.

Dvorakís music is simply amazing. He was certainly a master of melody by all accounts, but his use of harmony and orchestration is probably what makes his music stand apart from other composers to me. I think I could use many of his harmonic lines and use them as melodies! He was simply a master. I have researched Dvorak a lot and it seems we have some similar interests Ė we both love birds, and he had a fascination with trains (I did when I was a child). I remember being in a restaurant once and hearing a beautiful piece of music. I thought about this wonderful melody from time to time for over three years, only to learn that it was Dvorak who had written it. With Beethoven as the exception, I canít think of another composer whose music is this memorable to me.

Let's discuss the composition process, Tim. Are you someone who meticulously writes his music, constantly tweaking it, or are you a one-take man who just goes with the flow.... or are you somewhere in between?

I am somewhere in between, but I probably lean to the meticulous side. I'm not necessarily meticulous about individual bars -- Beethoven would fret for days about a single measure -- but rather with the entire piece. Let me explain.

When I am improvising on the piano and trying to find a melody, of course I just go with the flow and see what happens. After finding a tune I like, however, I am very meticulous about the potential shape of the piece and how a melody will fit together with other melodies.

The thing that draws me to the music about Dvorak and Kostia is what I try to emulate most in my own music -- I want a piece that makes sense to the listener. Melodies are incredibly important, but it is just as important to present a clear direction for the piece. Sometimes I will listen to music -- even by composers I like -- and wonder "how did this piece get here?" I try to avoid this as much as I can. Because I don't want the listener to get lost, I think I am most meticulous when considering transitions within the piece. If the melodies can get stuck in your head, this is a good start, but if you can be taken from one melody to the next in a logical fashion, this is even better!

Denis, from Cork in Ireland writes in to ask whether you would consider yourself a natural musician? He'd like to know if your musical ability is the product of musical genes or hard work?

Well I'll let you in on a little secret. I am distantly related to the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein. I don't have the precise information immediately available to me, but I believe he is a second cousin of my paternal grandfather. Don't hold me to that relationship exactly, but it is something close to that. Also, my maternal grandmother talks about the piano in her house from her childhood. She says it was rare in those days for people to have their own pianos, but they owned one and her mother was a very good pianist. As I recall, her mother played mostly by ear. My parents are both musical, if not musicians. My mom took piano lessons as a child and has been an active member of a bell choir for years, and my dad always seems to have a tune to hum. I think I grew up in an environment where music was important. My dad had a wide collection of music that I would listen to, from Elvis and the Beatles to John Williams and Tchaikovsky.

I think for me, there are probably some musical genes -- maybe it skipped a few generations? -- but I think it was mostly the environment that made me interested in music. One can be interested in music without having the talent to create music, so how am I able to create it? Well, I really don't know. I think it is a gift and I am thankful for it.

Well, we also have a mutual love of sport as well as Kostia (I must give you a game of tennis sometime!) Do you still have time to pursue your love of sport, or does music-making and your job in computers occupy your time?

My full-time job and the piano do take up the bulk of my time, but I do find time for the occasional racquetball or tennis match (I'll let you know the next time I'm in the UK!) I do wish I could return to athletic endeavors, however. I would enjoy coaching local high school baseball and soccer teams, and eventually I think I will get into this. Right now, Iím just focused on making music.

I know you're very much into computers. Have you used technology to help you with your music? Do you see software and hardware as a useful tool for composing? How would you respond to purists who would frown at the use of technology in the process of making music? Do you use software such as Sibelius? People say that the Internet is responsible for falling sales and closures of record shops, etc. but do you consider the Internet to be a friend or foe?

Well thatís a loaded question! I have not actually used Sibelius software, but I have used Finale from time to time. I donít write my music down (I had Biography transcribed by John Zechiel) because Iím too busy making the music to take the time to determine how it should look on the staff.

Iím not sure how I would respond to the purists. I generally think any technology that makes tasks more efficient is worth trying. Maybe the purists argue that the technology gives a less talented person an advantage, but I imagine that a 21st century Beethoven would be just as much a genius with or without these technologies.

This year I bought a Yamaha Disklavier piano, and I have been making use of its features for recording my next album. I know other artists who do this, and it makes a lot of sense Ė with a Disklavier, I can record the tracks at my house and make any necessary edits. After the piece is perfect, I can send the data to a recording studio with a 9-foot Yamaha, and they record the music. Is this cheating? I donít think so. I have simply changed the process from record-then-edit to edit-then-record. It is still my music being played and recorded on an acoustic piano Ė I just donít happen to be sitting at the piano at the time.

The internet is definitely a friend of the independent musician. Websites like CDBaby and PayPlay help to make music available to people all over the world, and sites like Piano-Heaven or MainlyPiano give credibility to artists with their independent reviews and interviews. This would not have been possible fifteen years ago. One interesting thing about the internet is that it is changing the future of what an ďalbumĒ is. Weíre getting to the point where artists no longer need to wait to compile a full ten or twelve track album. Artists can literally release EPs with three or four tracks, or they can even release a single track at a time! Iím not sure this is totally practical for todayís audience, and it doesnít work for my first three albums (which are indeed full ďstory booksĒ where the tracks belong together), but I think this phenomenon is not too far away. The physical CD may be a thing of the past in the next five years or so.

You've recently released your second album, entitled Christmas, but what next for you? Do you hope to continue composing? Will solo-piano music continue to be your preferred choice, do you think? Have you ever considered the addition of other instruments?

My album, Influence, should be released between December and March. I already have about eight tracks complete. After releasing Influence, Iím not sure what is next for me. Iíd like to perform in more concerts and just generally get my music heard by more people. At some point, I think it would be nice to write soundtrack music for a small independent film.

Solo piano music is my preferred choice only because it is the most practical for me right now. Being a Dvorak fan, I would of course love to write for orchestra, but I would probably need some training for that, and frankly it is easier to have one piano in my house than 80 musicians with their instruments!

One of my outstanding goals as a musician is to perform with an orchestra. In fact, I can often hear other instruments in my head when Iím composing or playing pieces. My "Summertime Suite" from Biography is in the standard symphonic format, and Iíd like to see how that would sound arranged for piano and orchestra.

I wish you continued success with your outstanding album, Tim, and I really look forward to hearing Influence. Thanks for the interview.

Thank you! Keep up the good work on your website.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Neumark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIM NEUMARK: Biography - Solo Piano

 

Read the review of Tim's debut album, Biography

here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIM NEUMARK: Christmas - Solo Piano

 

Christmas CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Information

Tim Neumark's Website

 

Tim Neumark on MySpace

 

Ralph ZurmŁhle's music is available to buy from CD Baby and other retailers.