DAN CHADBURN
Beyond Words
(Dan Chadburn Music)

 

Virginia-based 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 Dan’s 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
DAN CHADBURN


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 of sorts?

Dan Chadburn: First, let me just say it’s great to talk with you again here at mwe3.com! It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we spoke about my last album, Keys of Light!

I’m 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, I’ve 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. I’ve 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. Jeff’s studio has a gorgeous 7’ Yamaha piano that has one of the most beautiful sonorities of any piano I’ve 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.

Dan Chadburn: “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 it’s 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. I’ve enjoyed his music since I was a kid
particularly 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 it’s 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 track?

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.

I’ve 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 it’s so contemplative sounding? Does “Crossroads” take you back to what you were thinking and feeling back then? Premonitions perhaps?

Dan Chadburn: “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 I’ve 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…crossroads.

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 didn’t 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, I’ve 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 it’s an improvisation. Tell us about your early music. I didn’t 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? It’s 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 country
about 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 major
primarily 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 it’s terrorist related stuff. It’s a real blight on humanity. It seems like there’s 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?

Dan Chadburn: 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 couldn’t 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 day’s 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 songs?

Dan Chadburn: “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, life’s 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, I’ve 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… can’t beat it right? What’s 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 that’s what the vet told me when he was a year old in 2014.

Dan Chadburn: 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 our cat.

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 life.

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 in June.

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?

Dan 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 us
members 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?

Dan Chadburn: 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 back then.

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? It’s 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? It’s a great closer that kind of leaves you wanting to hear it again as it’s 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? It’s a shame there’s 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...

mwe3: 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 it’s 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!


 

 
   
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