piano virtuoso Dan Chadburn has really enlightened music fans
with his great instrumental albums over the past decadeincluding
his masterpiece from 2015, Keys Of Light. Looking back on his
interesting career as a New Age-based, modern classical piano tastemaker,
Dan released Beyond Words, a 2016 collection
of newly recorded piano instrumentals that he composed over the past
30 years. Calling Chadburn's music reflective would be an understatement,
as each track on Beyond Words is filled with haunting reveries
that translate moods perfectly to these grand piano visions. Speaking
about Beyond Words, Dan tells mwe3.com, "This past
winter, I sat down with my husband and longtime musical partner, Tom
Nichols, and we talked about the idea of recording an acoustic solo
piano album; unplugged, if you will. Aside from Whispers The Falling
Snow, my 2013 holiday release, it had been nearly twenty years since
we recorded and released Solo Piano, my only other all-piano album.
Each of my other albums has included orchestration such as strings,
horns, flutes, and woodwinds. We both liked the idea of me returning
to my roots as a solo pianist." The 14 track Beyond
Words is a fitting title to describe Dans music on an album
that uses instrumental music to shine an emotional light on the joys
and sorrows that follow each of us. Case in point is track six, Tears
Of Angels, which was composed in memory of those murdered at
the Pulse nightclub in Florida on June 12, 2016all
this musical emotion by an artist who can so skillfully entertain
you with his piano magic. Performed entirely by Dan on acoustic piano,
Beyond Words is solo piano music at its finest. www.DanChadburn.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Beyond Words is a great recording idea to put
forth the idea of music without words being equally expressive as
songs with lyrics. Is instrumental music an easier way to express
emotions of musical ideas than words? Even pop songs rely on melody
first and foremost. Although the music was written at various times
in your career, when was the album recorded? How long did it take
to put the album all together and do you consider Beyond Words a retrospective
First, let me just say its great to talk with you again here
at mwe3.com! Its hard to believe a year has passed since we
spoke about my last album, Keys of Light!
Im really excited to share Beyond Words. As a shy kid
growing up, words often failed me. Music has always been, quite simply,
the easiest language for me to communicate my innermost thoughts.
I relate to the words of Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, who
once wrote, Where words fail, music speaks.
This past winter, I sat down with my husband and longtime musical
partner, Tom Nichols, and we talked about the idea of recording an
acoustic solo piano album; unplugged, if you will. Aside from Whispers
the Falling Snow, my 2013 holiday release, it had been nearly
twenty years since we recorded and released Solo Piano, my
only other all-piano album. Each of my other albums has included orchestration
such as strings, horns, flutes, and woodwinds. We both liked the idea
of me returning to my roots as a solo pianist.
Fortunately, with the benefit of midi recording, Ive been able
to capture and retain many of my piano improvisations over the past
twenty years, playing them on a Kurzweil synthesizer and recording
them into the computer via music sequencing software. Ive also
been able to record other improvisations with the video camera, adding
them to my library of works as well.
Tom and I spent several days listening to a random sampling of these
files from the past twenty years, ultimately choosing nine of them
specifically for this new album. Additionally, I selected one older
piece, Shelton Rain, which I first recorded and released
commercially back in 1987.
Each of the pieces captures a moment of time, a memory, an emotion,
a hope, a desire
In order to play and record these ten tracks anew in the studio, I
first needed to get each of them transcribed into a musical score.
Four of the ten pieces originated on the Kurzweil so I was able to
look at the generated midi data and transcribe them myself. For the
remaining six, which were either audio files, as in Shelton
Rain", or video files, I hired Donovan Johnson to do the transcriptions.
He is an amazing pianist who also happens to have an extraordinary
ear. Donovan was able to listen to the notes I had played in the video/audio
files and accurately put them onto manuscript, note for note.
With manuscripts in hand, I then rehearsed the ten pieces on the piano
for several weeks. The process of learning to play pieces
which were once improvised on the piano is, I suppose, not unlike
an artist freely painting a picture, and then some time later, painting
the same picture again, stroke for stroke.
Once rehearsed, Tom and I scheduled four six-hour sessions to record
the album in June. The tracks were recorded by Jeff Gruber at Blue
House Productions in Kensington, Maryland, and subsequently mixed
and mastered by Charlie Pilzer at Airshow in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Jeffs studio has a gorgeous 7 Yamaha piano that has one
of the most beautiful sonorities of any piano Ive ever played.
During the recording sessions, I improvised four additional tracks,
bringing the total number of tracks for the album to fourteen.
mwe3: Awakening is a great introduction to Beyond
Words. What key is that song in and tell us something about the
way you created it, choosing a time signature and more insights.
Awakening was originally improvised on August 27, 2010.
Its opening motif, with the use of major 7ths in the melody, represents
that exact moment in time when you suddenly remember someone or something
from earlier in life, perhaps childhood and the strong emotions once
felt are still very much here. There is a fair amount of interplay
between the left and right hands, a dialogue of sorts. The piece is
in the key of Ab (A Flat) major and alternates between 9/8 and 6/8
time signatures, depending on the length of the musical phrase.
mwe3: Joyful Morning was composed in 2010. Is this
the first time its been on disc? What key is it in and is the
song very much about childhood? You can almost feel the time fleeting
like when we were young. What time signature did you record in? Both
the first two tracks are so upbeat. I was thinking about a Vince Guaraldi
influence I detected.
Dan Chadburn: Joyful Morning was an improvisation
I first played on the Kurzweil and recorded on August 21, 2010. The
original midi file was posted on my website for several years, until
re-recording the piece on the acoustic grand at Blue House this summer.
Written in B major with a 6/8 time signature, Joyful Morning
suggests scenes of childhood. For instance, imagine children without
a care in the world, having the time of their young lives, while jumping
and playing in rain puddles.
You mentioned Vince Guaraldi. Ive enjoyed his music since I
was a kidparticularly
his scores associated with the Peanuts specials. I love his
frequent use of major 7ths and the laid back swing feel
and syncopation his music often has.
mwe3: Healing Waters is an improvisation done just
this past summer in 2016. You say its about the oceans and seashore.
Is the seashore often an inspiration in your music? Did you pick a
special key for that and is there a time signature or several in the
Dan Chadburn: Healing Waters was, indeed, an improvisation
played at Blue House this summer on the last day of recording. It
is in the key of F# minor. That particular key had not yet been used
for the recording, so I chose it as a starting point. The piece begins
in 2/4 meter, very relaxed, almost as if the ocean tide is resting
gently underneath a moonlit night. About halfway through the piece,
the tempo picks up ever so slightly when the meter changes to 6/8.
Imagine the rise and fall of the increasing tide, waves beginning
to crest and break near the shore.
Ive always been drawn to the ocean. Its energy is both powerful
and calming. Its sounds bring me peace.
mwe3: Crossroads was written way back in 2001.
Is this recording new? Do you have other songs that have never been
recorded? You mention there are also intersections of contrasts
in music compared with the crossroads of life. Is that what
inspired that track and is that why its so contemplative sounding?
Does Crossroads take you back to what you were thinking
and feeling back then? Premonitions perhaps?
Crossroads was originally an improvisation I played and
recorded - via the Kurzweil - on February 12, 2001. The original improv
was somewhat longer in duration than the truncated version heard here
on the album. It also contained in my opinion, a rather abysmal, meandering
ending which Ive replaced entirely here. The remainder of the
original improv remains intact.
Crossroads is comprised of four distinct sections, each
one musically different in tone and direction, each one bridged to
another at an intersection, if you will
During our first recording session in June, I took several takes to
record the piece. There was a certain frenetic energy in my playing,
however, that just didnt feel right. Jeff Gruber, our engineer,
suggested trying a slightly more relaxed tempo. Certainly, the nature
of the piece at times suggests contemplation, introspection, even
a sense of questioning, or being lost.
After that first session, I decided to scrap the initial takes altogether,
bring the piece home, rehearse it a bit more, and record it again
a week later, at a more reasonable and sensitive pace. I was much
happier with the result.
Like everyone else, Ive faced crossroads in my own life. When
the piece was first written fifteen years ago, I was facing certain
challenges which I ultimately worked through, not without heartache
and hard decisions, however. Life truly is a journey, one not without
questions and paths to choose.
mwe3: Shelton Rain sounds composed yet you say
its an improvisation. Tell us about your early music. I didnt
know you had released albums of Contemporary Christian music. Were
those also instrumental albums? Do you miss Washington state and how
does it contrast to life on the East Coast? Did you remember the original
1987 track or have ideas that you wrote down about it? Its got
a great vibe to it.
Dan Chadburn: Years ago, while I was a student at Pacific Lutheran
University in Washington state, I played keyboards and sang with a
group of musicians that ultimately toured and gave concerts in churches
across the countryabout
300 concerts in 300 different cities in one year alone. After I graduated,
I went out on the road again for another fifteen months with two other
Christian groups. The touring led to the recording of three different
Contemporary Christian vocal albums; the third album also included
an instrumental track, Shelton Rain.
Shelton Rain was originally recorded on a very rainy day
in Shelton, Washington, in 1987. Washington state is absolutely beautiful
but it does rain a lot! I asked the engineer if he could set
up a mic outside on the protected patio, and feed the sound of the
rain into my headphones, as I improvised on the piano. The original
recording of Shelton Rain includes the rain track.
When I decided to include a new recording of Shelton Rain
on this new album, I sent the nearly thirty-year-old audio file to
Donovan Johnson for a transcription. Donovan worked his magic, transcribing
the improv note-for-note, even including the errant note, outside
the key, near the end of the piece, which had been played and kept
in the original release of "Shelton Rain."
For the new recording, I did make a few changes from the original.
I transposed its key from G major to Gb majorprimarily
because one other piece on the album, An Evening In Florence
was also in G major. I changed the initial chord of the piece to a
tonic, with Gb in the bass, rather than the vi chord with Eb in the
bass, heard in the original. I also added a 4-note descending arpeggiated
figure in the high treble at the very end to give the piece more closure.
And yes, when I recorded the piece again in June, I did manage to
avoid playing that errant blooper note from the original.
mwe3: Regarding Tears Of Angels, everyone was stunned
by the Orlando massacre this past June. What do you make of it now?
They say its terrorist related stuff. Its a real blight
on humanity. It seems like theres so much hatred in the world
and no one can explain it properly. Tell us about the video of the
Tears Of Angels track, was it made just after the attacks?
When I awoke on Sunday morning, June 12th, I turned on the television
and was shocked and saddened to learn about the mass shooting at Pulse
nightclub in Orlando. As a gay man myself, I couldnt help but
believe that it was a targeted attack specifically against the LGBTQ
community, and even broader, an attack against humanity.
When Tom and I returned to the studio to record on the following Thursday,
we took a short break in the morning for our friend and colleague,
Dave Heneberry, to set up some video equipment, to capture the rest
of the days recording session.
When Dave was finished, I returned to the piano with the intent of
recording a few improvs. I closed my eyes at the piano and began to
play, thinking about those who had been killed or traumatized by the
shooting. I remembered seeing Christine Leinonen on television, in
the hours after the attack, crying and pleading for information about
her son, Christopher, who had been in the club that night with his
boyfriend, Juan. Tragically, she soon learned that both her son and
his soulmate had been among those murdered.
Tears of Angels is in memory of those killed and in solidarity
with all whose lives have been changed forever by this horrific event.
All proceeds from the sale of this track are being donated to The
OneOrlando Fund (www.OneOrlando.org),
a fund which is committed to providing 100% of all money being raised
directly to victims families and survivors.
mwe3: Is it a little ironic that Love Is Love follows
Tears Of Angels? It has another great melody that really
takes off. What key signature did you write and record in? I saw the
You Tube clip of it. Is so cool you wrote out all the music. It really
shows in the detail of the music how well the song is composed.
Dan Chadburn: Love is Love is a piece I composed
on July 14, 2003. Written well before marriage equality became law
here in the United States, this love theme was created in hope that
one day, all would indeed have the right to marry whomever they love.
Whereas Tears of Angels is in A minor, Love is Love
is in A major throughout; in its own way, a declaration of hope. It
begins in a 4/4 time signature, eventually broadening into 2/2, and
then returning to 4/4 near the end. Because the piece was originally
improvised on the Kurzweil, I was able to look at the midi data this
spring, with all of its notes and durations, and transcribe the piano
score myself. Of all the songs on this new album, Love is Love
likely utilizes the greatest dynamic range - mezzo piano to fortissimo.
mwe3: Falling Forward is a great opener for the
second half of the album. Since there are 14 tracks on Beyond Words,
do you sometimes think in the old way of dividing the album into
an A side and a B side? It sounds major key yet it goes into minor
keys too. It almost has an old European flavor to it. Is the idea
that Falling Forward is better than standing still? Meanwhile,
the clock keeps ticking. Is there an impetus or urgency in the melody
and would you call Falling Forward one of your deeper
Falling Forward is one of several pieces I improvised
during the first two weeks of January, 2014, each one recorded with
the video camera. The original improv was filmed and posted to YouTube
on January 9, 2014. Once again, Donovan Johnson did the transcription
for this piece. For the most part, I stayed fairly close to the original
when I recorded it again in the studio in June.
As you suggested, I do indeed sometimes still think of an album as
having an A side and a B side, and so "Falling Forward"
is much like the first song on the second half of the album. More
classical in style than many of the other pieces on the album, it
begins in D minor and is centered there much of the time, with shorter
passages occasionally being heard in the relative key of F major.
For me, Falling Forward represents those times when the
best, and sometimes, the only option of overcoming an obstacle or
unknown is to step forward and be willing to fall in the process.
As you said, lifes clock is always ticking. Standing still,
even if it's a choice, is not always the next best move.
mwe3: You call Lazy Sky Afternoon a kind of respite.
Is it easier to write respite songs or getaway songs than
more complex deeper songs? You can feel the major key relief in it.
What key did you take on this track? Can you write an upbeat song
in a minor key?
Dan Chadburn: Lazy Sky Afternoon is one of the
four tracks I improvised during the sessions at Blue House in June.
I tend to try and utilize as many key centers on an album as I can,
choosing to repeat keys as little as possible. When Tom and I arrived
at the studio on the morning of June 10th, for our second of four
sessions, I jokingly said to him, I feel like Eb major today.
As it turned out, Eb was a key that had not yet been used
for any of the pieces on the album.
As a boy, and admittedly, even now as an adult, Ive always enjoyed
finding an empty spot in a park or on a grassy knoll, to lie down
and look to the clouds in the sky, and daydream through the afternoon.
Lazy Sky Afternoon is an invitation for the listener to
take that respite and breathe in the serenity it brings
mwe3: Kal-Boy is about your cat? I heard he passed
just over a year ago. What are your thoughts on cats? I had a cat
when I was young. Cats and karma
cant beat it right? Whats
the secret to keeping a cat alive for 20 years? Bozgo is only 3 and
a half. When I adopted him, he was homeless and thats what the
vet told me when he was a year old in 2014.
Like your cat, Bozgo, our cat, Kal or "Kal-Boy," as we often
called him, was originally a stray, living on the streets of Washington,
DC, in an area known as Kalorama. Eventually, Kal was taken in and
adopted by a young man who had good intentions but a sudden need to
move forced him to give Kal up. Fortunately, another couple agreed
to adopt Kal and they gave him a good home for awhile. When the couple
later learned they were going to have a baby, they asked us if we
would consider adopting Kal. We, of course, said yes.
And so, we became Kal's family. And, equally important, Kal became
As best we could deduce by knowing a bit of his history, and as later
confirmed by our vet, Kal was about 5 years old when we adopted him
in 2000. He certainly had an adventurous life. He traveled in the
car with us many times to and from the seashore. He flew several times
with us to both Florida and Utah on Jet Blue, always in the cabin
with us. These excursions weren't always without surprises, however.
One time, while going through security screening at Reagan/National
Airport for a flight to Florida, Kal escaped my hold, jumped from
my arms and ran ahead into the terminal's sea of passengers, while
we chased him from behind. Thankfully, after a few frantic minutes,
we were reunited -- and it only happened once.
Aside from such "outside" adventures, as well as his love
of observing wildlife while sitting on our screened porch, Kal was
strictly an indoor cat. I suspect that contributed to his long, healthy
As Kal got older, he naturally slowed down a bit, but was actually
quite active up until the very end. In early August, 2015, at age
twenty, he suddenly stopped eating and drank very little water. After
a few days, it was clear to us the time had come to say good-bye.
Kal was ready.
"Kal-Boy" was composed as a piano improvisation the evening
Kal crossed the rainbow bridge (August 11, 2015). Its recurring melodic
motif ("sol-mi" in solfege, or the minor third of F to D
in its key of Bb major), represents the same tones to which, when
used to call "Kal-Boy," Kal would come running, no matter
where he was in the house.
The original improv was posted to YouTube on August 31, 2015. Donovan
Johnson transcribed the piece from the video for the studio recording
mwe3: Heroes is a stately tribute to all the heroes
who serve and protect. Who are some of your favorite heroes and why?
What key is Heroes in and the time signature sounds like
3/4 or 6/8? Some nice key modulations in it. Do you use key modulations
a lot in your songs? Are modulations overlooked a lot by composers?
Chadburn: Not surprising, my biggest hero is my husband, Tom.
He is the most charitable person I've ever known, always willing to
give of his time and talent, as well as his resources, to help others
in need. In the twenty years or so I've known Tom, he has demonstrated
time and again that he's fully committed to making this a better,
more loving world for all.
Other heroes of mine include those men and women who protect usmembers
of the military, police officers, firefighters, nurses, and doctors.
My father was gravely ill this past spring after undergoing two emergency
brain surgeries within hours of each other. I'm convinced the compassionate
care he received from the nursing staff at the hospital greatly contributed
to his survival and recovery.
I also consider, as heroes, those who are willing to stand up against
racial and social injustice and inequality, despite others' condemnation.
Sadly, in today's world, there are still far too many opportunities
and reasons for such heroes to even exist.
Not unlike "Falling Forward" earlier, "Heroes
is one of several pieces I improvised and recorded with the video
camera in January, 2014. The original improv was filmed and posted
to YouTube on January 7, 2014. Donovan Johnson also did the transcription
for this piece.
"Heroes" uses a 3/4 time signature. It contains a fair amount
of major fifths and sixths in its melodic lines. One of my favorite
composers, Aaron Copland, often used such open intervals in his writing
to denote heroic and/or patriotic themes"Fanfare
For The Common Man" and "Lincoln Portrait," for instance.
Certainly, he has influenced my own writing here.
While the key signature of "Heroes" stays in Db major throughout,
there are occasional "key modulations" which imply the piece
may have moved elsewhere. One instance of this is about two thirds
of the way through the piece, when the left hand plays the bass note
octaves on the downbeat of each measure and then crosses over the
right hand to play short obligato notes above. The key signature sounds
as if it may have momentarily shifted into the relative minor (Bb
minor), and yet it has not. Another example is approximately halfway
through the piece, with the use of "A natural" in the bass
line and an F major chord, without its third, in the right hand, both
hands resolving into a Bb minor chord on the downbeat of the next
measure. The "A natural" is, of course, foreign to a Db
major key signature. It is, however, the crucial note in the relative
minor's V chord. And, it plays a vital role as the "leading 7th"
tone in the Bb minor melodic scale.
Admittedly, that's far more technical than I ever care to think when
I'm improvising on the piano. And yet, I've found those occasional
variances, or "surprise chords", from the key signature
can add a little more flavor or depth to a piece.
mwe3: Does Country Harvest take you back to happier
times? It always seems like our lives were happier back when we were
kids, even though there was still trouble in the world. Tell us about
Oregon. You were born in Oregon. What crops did you harvest?
As a kid growing up in Oregon in the 1960s and 70s, my summers were
no different than those of many kids in the Willamette Valley. I helped
harvest the crops - strawberries, marion berries, and beans - on a
nearby farm. As a nine-year-old kid that first summer of work in 1968,
I was largely unaware of all the turmoil and political unrest in the
world at the time, including the Vietnam War and the assassinations
of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. My
own attention was instead focused on catching a bus at 5:00 am every
morning, with the exception of Sunday, to start work in the fields
by 7:00 am.
Needless to say, my own world view was extremely small and simple
Despite the long hours and the physical exhaustion of working through
the afternoon heat each day, my own memories of working on a farm
are all positive. It certainly helped me to appreciate the value of
hard work at a fairly young age.
I originally improvised "Country Harvest" as an homage to
that time in my life and posted it to YouTube on January 10, 2014.
The original improv has an extra eight bars or so at the top of the
piece which I ultimately deleted for the studio version heard on the
album. Donovan Johnson did the score transcription.
mwe3: An Evening In Florence is another Oregon
related song? Its great you have so many of the demo tracks
up on YouTube. Is that another favorite that you finally got around
to recording? I did not know there was a city called Florence, Oregon.
Tell us about your work with the Oregon Coast Humane Society. What
do they do? Did you have an exact kind of musical idea in mind when
you recorded this track?
Dan Chadburn: Florence is a beautiful town with incredible
sand dunes and beaches on the central coast of Oregon. As a kid, I
sometimes vacationed there with my parents and siblings.
Each of the past three summers, Tom and I have traveled to Florence,
where our good friend, Kathy Parsons, and her mom, Carol, host a home
concert series. Each of our concerts in Florence has been a benefit
for the Oregon Coast Humane Society.
"An Evening In Florence" began as an improvisation I played
during our first concert in Florence on August 1, 2014. The original
improvisation from that concert was posted to YouTube on November
4, 2014. For that concert, I asked an audience member to name a key
- F major, Bb minor, etc.... She named G major. I then improvised
in G major the piece that is now "An Evening In Florence."
Later, Donovan did the transcription so that we could accurately re-create
the original improv in the recording studio.
I attribute it to "concert nerves," but the original improvisation,
as seen in the concert video on YouTube, is considerably faster in
tempo than the more relaxed, studio-recorded version of "An Evening
In Florence" released on the album.
mwe3: The closing track on Beyond Words is Lullaby
For Peace. Is the track dedicated to your parents? Why did you
choose to end the album with that track? Its a great closer
that kind of leaves you wanting to hear it again as its only
2:21 and the shortest track on the CD. Even if it brings peace to
someone (and not the world) I guess it serves its purpose. Peace sometimes
starts within. Any thoughts on peace? Its a shame theres
not more peace in the world these days.
Dan Chadburn: On June 10th, during the second of four recording
sessions this summer at Blue House, my parents called right as I was
getting ready to record an improv. We talked for a bit, and then as
we were getting ready to hang up, I told them that the next piece
I played would be for them.
"Lullaby For Peace," a simply stated improvisation in C
major, is the piece that came through my fingers. In the months since
Dad's brain surgeries, my parents have frequently taken afternoon
naps together while listening to music that Tom and I have recorded.
Knowing that, Tom suggested the title for this closing piece.
It's my hope that the music brings peace, not only to my parents,
but to all who hear it who need some peace and love too...
You just came back from being on a cruise with the Enlightened Piano
Radio Network. What is the inside story on that and what else are
you planning this year? Hard to believe its almost 2017!
Dan Chadburn: Yes! We just got back from a terrific cruise
to Cozumel, Mexico. Enlightened Piano Radio Network had its 2016 Awards
Ceremony and Concert on the ship during its return to New Orleans
a couple days ago. I was thrilled to learn last spring that Keys
Of Light was among the nominees for EPR's "Album of the Year"
and thankful to be included among musicians whose work I greatly admire.
Joseph Akins' beautiful album, Castle Moon, was named "Album
of the Year" at the end of the concert featuring performances
by fourteen EPR artists, including me.
The end of 2016 will, indeed, soon be here! I've begun work on another
album for solo piano which I plan to record and release in the new
year. I'm also excited for Tom, who's been working the past several
months on a very special project, both as a songwriter/composer and
producer. More details about that the next time we talk...
Thank you again for the chance to sit down and talk about the new
album. I appreciate you and the readers at mwe3.com so very much!