Along with learning about the classical composers, I think it’s extremely important to be aware of the people who are writing and performing music in our own time. Most students have been playing a lot of David Lanz’s music the past several years, and fifteen of us were fortunate enough to see him in concert in Moraga last month, and to meet him after the concert. This was the third time I have seen David perform, and I have been trying for the past year and a half to get an interview with him for a Composer of the Month story. After this last concert, I was able to put the interview questions into his hands, and within 10 days, he sent me a tape with his answers. This is a special treat for all of us, and I hope you will enjoy getting a little more acquainted with this wonderful composer and musician.
David Lanz was born in Seattle, Washington, on June 28, 1950. He grew up in Seattle, and has lived most of his life there. In his early 20’s, he lived in Vancouver, British Columbia for a few years, working and recording with a rock band. He has also lived in California and Florida.
David started playing the piano at age 4 1/2, and had two different teachers off and on for 5-6 years (how did he not learn to read music in all of that time??). He also plays synthesizers and a little guitar. He composed his first piece at the age of 10 or 11, and says that it was a boogie woogie piece. He performed in piano recitals as a child, and started playing with a band when he was 13. He played in talent shows and for dances in junior and senior high school, and considers his performing career to have started when he was 14. David studied music theory for a year at a Seattle junior college, but had to leave college because of the Vietnam war. He was able to get a deferment because of his pacifistic views, and did not actually have to go to Vietnam.
David has a brother, Gary, who is with a band called Van Gogh’s Ear. Gary plays the guitar, bass, and keyboards, and sings. He also has a sister who is a nurse, a half-sister who sings, and a half-brother who loves music, but doesn’t participate in it. David’s mother also plays the piano and likes to sing. She is retired. His father refuses to retire, and is a bio-chemist. He makes various products for people who are involved in cosmetics - soaps and shampoos, etc. He has also developed a liqueur called Chateau de Lanz which is almost world-famous.
David was 17 or 18 when he decided to seriously pursue a music career. His parents were completely supportive of his decision, and are still “right there”. David very much appreciates having their support.
David has been married to his wife, Alicia, for eight years. He has two step-daughters who are in their 20’s, and a son, Michael David, who is 7 years old. Michael has a Yamaha keyboard, and talks about piano lessons, but right now he’s into soccer and other sports.
David has written many commercial jingles for local television companies, and has done soundtracks for several local films. While he was getting his musical career established, he worked in car washes, and trained with a dog groomer for a few months. For awhile, when he was working with three or four bands who weren’t making much money, he worked for a company that made plastic parts for airplanes. He said that that was a low point in his life, but he still had fun playing music.
“Heartsounds” was David’s first album, and it was released in 1983. The album started out as a musical accompaniment for a seminar a psychologist friend of David’s was conducting on human energy systems. These energy systems, also known as chakras, come from a Hindu teaching that was dictated 3,000 years ago, and has been proven by modern science. There are seven chakras that control the emotions and other senses of the human body, and David studied with his friend about colors and feelings associated with them. He then wrote seven of the songs on “Heartsounds”. They were so popular that he added five more songs, and had his first album. “Farewell Amparo”, which has been very popular with students, came from that album. The next albums to come were “Nightfall” in 1984, “Natural States” with Paul Speer in 1985, “Solstice” with Michael Jones in 1985, and “Desert Vision” with Paul Speer in 1987. “Behind the Waterfall” came from the “Natural States” album, and is considered to be the first New Age single. David says that he wrote the song in about twenty minutes. “Natural States” and “Desert Vision” are both recorded primarily with synthesizers, and also have videos with footage of nature to accompany the music.
In the late 1980’s, new age music was starting to become more popular, and David started doing more piano work. His 1988 album, “Cristofori’s Dream” is a combination of piano, synthesizers, and other instruments, but the piano really dominates. In this album, David fulfilled a dream of being able to play one of his favorite songs from the ‘60’s, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” with the original keyboard player from Procol Harum, Matthew Fischer. The title song from this album could be David’s most popular, and will be very difficult to top. It is also one of David’s favorites. “Cristofori’s Dream” is about the inventor of the piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori, who was a harpsichord builder. As the story David tells goes, Cristofori was working very late in his shop one night, and fell asleep at his workbench. He had a dream of seeing his new invention going through its development all the way to a concert grand piano (with a “very, very cute piano player playing it”), and the song ends with the piano turning back into a child’s toy or music box. It’s a wonderful song, and David’s telling of the story as he sees it, is funny and heartwarming (especially the part about the “very, very cute piano player”).
David’s next project was very ambitious. “Skyline Firedance” is really two recordings. One side contains solo versions of several pieces, and the other side is most of the same pieces with full orchestral accompaniment. The orchestra he recorded with was in Munich, Germany. That orchestra was selected because it was world class, but very affordable. Many other orchestras have a lot of extra fees and restrictions, but the Munich orchestra did not. They had also worked on a lot of soundtracks and were used to working with headphones and “sound clicks”. That album was released in 1990, and most of the songs on it are in David’s second book of piano solos. Most of these songs are much more up-tempo than David’s previous releases, and several are among his best. The best of these are “Dark Horse” (a tribute to the piano), “Dancing on the (Berlin) Wall” (a tribute to the dismantling of the Wall), and “Vesuvius”. It also contains “The Crane”, which David composed for the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle.
David’s 1991 release, “Return to the Heart” was recorded in four European locations. It is all piano solos, and many of its songs are also in the second songbook. Parts of the album were recorded in Holland, Spain, Germany, and Italy. David made up a “wish list” of the places he where he wanted to record, and his recording label, Narada, set up the sites. Because of political and other restrictions, they weren’t able to go everywhere they wanted, but the results are beautiful. Another favorite of students and myself is the beautiful “Dream of the Forgotten Child”. There are also solo versions of “Cristofori’s Dream” and a medley of “Behind the Waterfall” and “Desert Rain”.
David is currently working on a new album called “Bridge of Dreams’, which will be a collaboration with his producer, Paul Speer. He says there is a story behind the album, but will save that for later.
Some of David’s favorite composers are Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. He feels that he has been strongly influenced by the music of the Beatles (Lennon/McCartney), Procol Harum, and The Moody Blues. The latter two bands used a lot of classical influences in their music, and were unusual during the ‘60’s. David has also been influenced by jazz pianists Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and McCoy Tyner. He has always been a big fan of Victor Borge, and Borge’s use of humor in his performances has also influenced David. David says that he has been concentrating on his own music so much for the past ten years that he hasn’t paid as much attention as he used to to other musicians and performers.
David lists his main hobby as writing music. He calls himself a very “focused” composer and music person. He loves to take walks, as he lives in a beautiful area, and is also something of a movie buff. In addition, his son keeps him busy playing sports.
I asked David how he feels about electronic keyboards as opposed to the piano. He said he doesn’t like to pit one against the other - both are a matter of application. “Each has its own voice and use.” Personally, David can create music on a piano and feel very satisfied with the results. Around electronic instruments, he feels it usually takes more than one instrument to support a musical idea.
When composing a piece of music, David writes almost nothing down unless he is working with chord charts. He doesn’t read music, so he plays with a tape recorder going, and gets his musical ideas captured that way. If he has a really strong musical idea, he can usually finish a song in 3-5 days. Sometimes he comes back to a musical idea a year later and finishes it. Sometimes he starts out with a phrase, chord progression, or a feeling, and just works with it until he fleshes it out. To get his music into print, someone from Hal Leonard Publishing transcribes the pieces from tapes (listens to the music, and writes it out in music notation). After that step is done, David hires a local pianist to play the transcriptions, and David makes the corrections. He feels the Hal Leonard is about 99% accurate, which is amazing!
One of the aspects of being a professional musician is doing concert tours. David says he usually enjoys touring very much. It’s strenuous, but he gets to meet a lot of people and see various parts of the country and the world. Usually he is only away from home for a few days at a time, but once in awhile he has to be gone longer. He was in Spain for a month in May, which was difficult, but he says that coming home is very, very nice.To deal with the stresses of travelling and performing, David has learned some self-hypnosis and meditation techniques to keep himself focused and relaxed. He has also learned to eat right and to take care of himself.
Asked if performing makes him nervous, David said that it used to make him extremely nervous. He learned to focus on how he would feel after he was done playing, and how he would feel when people told him the performance was great. Rather than worrying about the performance itself, he visualizes and focuses on why he is doing what he is doing, and tries to connect with each person in the audience at a higher level, striving to make the performance a wonderful experience. Before going onstage, he does a lot of breathing exercises and meditation, and even when he feels nervous, after playing a little bit, he loosens up and relaxes. Performing is a very spiritual experience for David.
For the future, David is working on his new album, and says that his next concert tour will include other musicians. He plans to focus on issues such as world peace and solving the problems of the planet. He hopes to see “more light coming into our consciousness”. He is also working on a “Peace” concerto, which is finished musically. It will involve other media, so David has had to put that project on the back-burner until he finishes his album.
David’s definition of a successful musician is similar to Phil Aaberg’s (1/92). He says that being able to play the music you hear and to accomplish what you hold in your mind is his definition of success. Making money is one way to measure success, but it is not one of the more important factors. David says he felt successful long before anyone else considered him a success because he was able to take his desire to be a composer and musician and make it a reality. He says that it is vitally important to have a vision and to be very clear about what your goals are. He suggests writing out goals every six months or so, and projecting out where you want to be in the future.
I asked David if he had any advice for young people studying music now. I’m paraphrasing somewhat, but basically he said: “Put in as much time as you can. A good solid 20 minutes a day with total focus is more valuable that several hours just putting in time... Pick pieces that you like to play, and develop a love for music.... Visualize how you want to be playing, and what you would like people to say to you. Visualize how you want your music to sound. Keep those pictures in your mind. Visualize how you want your life to be, and what part music will play in your life. You can’t manifest your goals unless you really know what you want, so be clear about that.”
Many, many thanks to David for taking the time (apparently several times!) to answer my questions. He has touched and moved many of us with his music, and we’ll all continue to spread the wonderful sounds with our own playing of his music. David’s assistant said she was forwarding the video of the June recital to David, and he said at the concert that he was looking forward to seeing students playing his songs. So, again, thanks, David! God bless you, too!