I don't remember learning to play the piano. My mother told me I started when I was two, crawling up on the bench trying to make music like my father. One of my fondest childhood memories is of playing piano duets with him, or singing while he played. He was a composer as well, but came from a family where "musician" was not an acceptable profession. I can still see him at the dinner table while we listened to some piano concerto, conducting the disembodied orchestra with his knife. I am currently working on transcribing and recording some of his music (He died in 1981).
My influences come from a lot of different places. My father exposed me to classical music from the very beginning; Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and of course, my beloved Chopin. At the same time, I can remember my sister in 1964, crouched beside our ancient radio, waiting for the next playing of I Wanna Hold Your Hand by the Beatles. I thought it was totally cool. (Yes, I'm that old.) Soon I discovered musicals, which I adored passionately. I cut my vocal teeth on (don't laugh, now) Mary Poppins. When I was eight, I sang the music from The Sound of Music over and over, trying to get it right. I can't think of anyone better to emulate, technique-wise, than Julie Andrews. When I was eleven my sister came home from college with a guitar. It was 1969, and she was playing Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Peter Paul and Mary. I got hooked on folk music and guitar playing.
In the 70s I became interested in art rock, listening to, and playing, music by Kansas, Queen, Styx and ELP, but I still listened to the acoustic artists like Cat Stevens, Livingston Taylor (James' lesser-known but just as wonderful brother) and CSNY. And, of course, more musical theater. I played the guitar and piano incessantly; all the junior high talent shows, coffee houses, local theaters, and then bars when I was old enough. By the time I was eighteen I was playing in my first band, complete with Les Paul and black bellbottoms. (Well, it was 1977.) Over the years I've played in many bands; keyboards, guitar, always singing.
In the 1980s the popular music scene turned its eye on scantily clad guys prancing around with big hair. Fun to look at, but largely a "boy's only" club, unless you could play wailing guitar leads, which I couldn't. For an acoustic guitarist/pianist there wasn't much work, and I looked silly in spandex (still do). Since I'd always loved classical and rock music, it's not surprising that it was Keith Emerson's example that finally sent me to music college. Here was someone who had integrated two very disparate styles of music. I figured if he could do it, so could I.
Music school was wonderful. It was an opportunity to devote my time to nothing but practicing and studying, something I never had enough time for in the "real" world of a performing musician. So I went to Combs College of Music in Philadelphia, and stayed until I had a Masters Degree in Piano Performance. While at college I seriously considered the life of a concert pianist, but I wasn't willing to focus exclusively on classical piano. I wanted to play guitar and rock, too.
Just before I left college, three things happened that changed everything. First, my father died, which was devastating for me and also threw me into a musical “identity crisis.” Second, his death left my handicapped mother with no one to care for her, and so I assumed that role. Third, I had been plagued by very bad tendonitis while I was in music school, and after I graduated I actually had to stop playing for awhile out of frustration and pain. After assuming all my life that I would be a professional musician, it suddenly seemed like I would have to choose another profession. I was devastated. I had lost two things that I loved, that helped to give me my identity. I floundered. Finally I turned to writing. I had been writing all my life, but the devotion to music had eclipsed it. For about three years I cared for my mother, wrote science fiction and poetry, and studied writing. The two most useful things I gained during that period of my "life without music" were: 1) I developed stronger writing skills, which have helped my lyric writing immensely, and 2) I realized that for me, a life without being actively involved in music was like just passing the time until I died. Music was what gave my life meaning. I resolved that no matter how much trouble I had with tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome (I have that too), I had to get back into playing music.
In the late 1980s I returned to performing – popular music at first, classical was too hard on my tendonitis - first solo and then with bands again, and was pretty successful. The one band I was in went far enough to open up for Eddie Money and The Little River Band. Yet I was still discontented. I missed classical piano and musical theater.
Around 1990 I took a long look at what I really wanted to do with my musical life. I had always wanted to write my own music, but for a long time my attempts just didn't sound right to me. I knew I wasn't ready yet. For some reason it finally seemed like the right time, and I started writing in earnest. This eventually resulted in the release of Labyrinth (1995) and dancerdemonloveranswer (2001). The process of creating both these albums was a great joy. There is nothing quite like watching your music come alive in the studio.
After the release of dancer I went back to the piano. The piano is really my home, and my first true love. So I started writing for the piano, and one of these new works appears on dancer. I also began to write instrumental works for the piano, harkening back to my classical roots and training.
At long last, having overcome my tendonitis through exercise, massage, homeopathy, and careful playing technique, I have thrown myself whole-heartedly back into piano study. I am currently studying piano with a Master teacher, and studying composition again as well. I fill my days with teaching, composing and performing. It's a little odd sometimes, being a classical and a folk/rock musician at the same time, but it certainly keeps my world interesting and full of different musical styles, people, and ideas.
This varied and sometimes crazy lifestyle offers me the opportunity to write or perform whatever strikes my fancy, without being categorized as a particular “style” of artist. It's really just about devoting your life to the arts in any way you can. This lead me to record Cover to Cover (2007), which has some covers on it that not only are the favorites of some of my fans, but remind me of my roots and the music that made me who I am.