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Interview with Dan Chadburn, January 2013
Interview with Dan Chadburn, image 1
Pianist/composer Dan Chadburn recently released Nocturnes, his first album in about thirteen years. I had reviewed his first two albums in the late ‘90‘s and then didn’t hear anything at all from him until a year or so ago on Facebook. I was really excited to learn that he was working on a new album, and this new music was well worth the wait! In this interview, we chat about Nocturnes and many of the other things going on in Dan’s life. If you are not familiar with Dan’s music, you’re in for a real treat!

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Click on the album covers to see Kathy's reviews
KP: Hey Dan! I’m listening to Solo Piano (1998), your debut album, to refresh my memory. No wonder I gave your debut such a rave review! I really loved Reflections (1999), too, and then you kind of disappeared until this summer’s release of Nocturnes. It’s really great to have you back, although, obviously, you never really went away. What inspired you to release a new album after thirteen years?

DC: Hi Kathy! First off, let me just say, it’s great to be back in touch with you! I’m grateful for all you do to promote the music of so many wonderful pianists/composers. Thank you!

You asked about the inspiration for Nocturnes. For quite some time, several friends had been encouraging me to create an album of music to “inspire, soothe, and heal.” Initially conceived as a “Lullabies” album, I wanted to include music which was considerably more melodic and simple in form than the music on my earlier CDs. Following the deaths of three good friends in a span of less than six months, however, the title and concept for the album changed somewhat. In early 2012, I improvised the piano tracks which ultimately became the foundation for Nocturnes. While I had initially hoped to create music to “heal, soothe, and inspire” others, the process of creating Nocturnes was, in its own way, healing for me and other friends who were dealing with the loss of loved ones this past year.
KP: You have a strong classical background, but are also exceptionally good at improvisation. How much of Nocturnes is improvised?

DC: Each of the tracks on Nocturnes began as a piano improvisation. With the exception of the first track, “Twilight,” -- which was improvised in the studio on a Steinway grand (at AirShow in Takoma Park, MD) -- each of the other tracks was improvised in my home studio using a Kurzweil PC3. Determining that a majority of those twelve improvisations would serve best as piano accompaniments (as opposed to “solo piano“ pieces), I then augmented those specific improvisations with additional melodic themes scored for English horn, French horn, and Violin/Viola.

KP: Do you have any music projects you are working on now?

DC: I’m currently working on two projects…the first is a holiday season CD with my partner (Tom Nichols) for release next fall. The second is an instrumental “Tributes” or “Dedications” CD. Each track will be dedicated to a person who has been instrumental in my life. While I’ve yet to finalize all the details, my concept is to have the proceeds from the sale of each track donated to the favorite charity of each of the persons to whom the track is dedicated. The encouragement of family, friends and teachers to follow music as a passion in life is so very important…this CD will be a small way for me to say, “Thank you.”

KP: Do you perform live often?

DC: I enjoy performing live. Because so much of my playing is improvisational, I prefer intimate settings where I can simply "let go" and allow the music to speak as it might to those listening in a quiet, candlelit room.

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KP: Let’s chat a bit about your background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

DC: I was born in Roseburg, OR, in July of 1959 (my parents lived in Myrtle Creek at the time). We moved to Grants Pass (in southern Oregon) prior to starting first grade. We moved to Salem the summer prior to fourth grade, where I ultimately graduated high school, and where my parents have lived since.

KP: I really hope you’ll be able to come and do a house concert the next time you’re out this way!

DC: I would love that! :-)
KP: Are any of your family members musical?

DC: While neither of my parents play musical instruments per se, each loves music and encouraged my own love for music at a very young age. My mom tells the story that when I was an infant, she would often play classical music LPs on the phonograph while doing housework (this, of course, was long before cassette and 8-track tape recordings, let alone CDs). I suspect this could be one of the reasons that, while I love many genres of music, I have always been drawn to classical music. While in college, one of my favorite pieces to learn and play was the Brahms D minor Piano Concerto. I was told by my mom (after the fact) that the Brahms was one of the works she would often play on the phonograph when I was a baby.

I have two sisters and one brother…my brother enjoys playing guitar while my younger sister plays piano and is a marvelous vocalist. My other sister loves listening to music.

KP: How old were you when you started playing the piano?

DC: I was nine years old (the summer prior to 5th grade). I had always wanted to play, but my family didn’t have a piano. My grandparents bought us an antique Davenport & Treacy upright grand piano as a gift and I began taking piano lessons shortly thereafter from a wonderful teacher named Maxine Martin, who was also the organist at our church.

KP: A funny coincidence - my piano teacher was Geraldine Martin, and she was also the organist at our church! How long did you take piano lessons?

DC: I studied with Mrs. Martin for eight years (5th grade through high school) and then, upon enrollment as a Piano Performance major at Pacific Lutheran University, I was fortunate and grateful to study for four years with another brilliant teacher, Dr. Calvin Knapp.

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KP: Were you encouraged to improvise and/or compose by any of your teachers?

DC: While both of my teachers focused almost entirely on the importance of learning technique and the classical repertoire, both were also experienced in hymn tune improvisation as church organists. Because of that, I think they understood my own desire to improvise and compose. I learned early on, however, that if, in between lessons, I spent too much time creating my own music and not enough time practicing their assigned repertoire, the next lesson rarely went well.
KP: Funny! Do you play any instruments besides the piano?

DC: I play the organ (although I still struggle mightily with the pedals) and I can play one song on the guitar (“Silent Night” in the key of G).

KP: I’m sure a lot of contemporary guitarists are breathing a sigh of relief! How old were you when you started improvising?

DC: While I’m certain it was definitely not musical, and instead a pure nuisance for anyone who heard it, I have a distinct memory of sitting down at a piano as a five year old while my parents did custodial work in their church and being mesmerized by the sounds that came from pressing the keys and pushing the pedals - not unlike any musically curious child I suppose.

My first consistent attempts at improvisation came several years later when I began taking piano lessons. Because my piano teacher was also our church organist, I would sometimes substitute as pianist/accompanist for Sunday School. This provided me an early opportunity to experiment with playing beyond the notes on the written page.
KP: How old were you when you wrote your first song?

DC: I was ten. As part of her teaching, our elementary school’s music teacher would often share lyrics and poetry with our once-a-week music class. One week, she challenged us to put one of the poems to music. Oddly enough, none of the other students even tried. I enjoyed the challenge and the exercise, and was thrilled when the teacher decided to teach the song to the 5th-6th grade choir. Several years later, while auditioning at different universities, I learned from the Dean of the School of Music at the University of Oregon that the song had since been shared with other educators as an example of what kids were doing in their elementary school music programs. Needless to say, I was both surprised and pleased.
KP: Your music teacher must have recognized your talents. It’s too bad you weren’t told about that earlier, though! Were you a music major in college?

DC: Yes, I majored in Piano Performance as an undergraduate and studied ElectroAcoustic Composition in grad school. So as not to delve so deeply into the avant-garde realm of ElectroAcoustic music that I'd “forget my Classical roots,” I wrote my dissertation on the life and music of Sir Herbert Howells. Talk about contrasts…

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KP: That’s enough to cause musical whiplash! What inspired you to go to graduate school in England?

DC: Originally, I was set to go to grad school at Columbia (Teacher’s College). Several months before moving to New York, however, I decided I wasn’t entirely dedicated to the idea. Ultimately, I took some time off and decided instead to take an opportunity to study ElectroAcoustic Composition under Denis Smalley and Simon Emmerson in London. It was a genre of music quite unfamiliar to me at the time so I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from these two masters in the genre and grow as a composer.
KP: How long did you live and work in LA?

DC: I lived and worked in Los Angeles for six years (1987-93) and Orange County (California) for several years prior to that.
KP: Did you do a lot of film and television work?

DC: Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, I enrolled in the Film Scoring Program at UCLA and was grateful to study with several highly respected composers working in the film and television industry. Not only was it an exciting environment in which to learn the craft of scoring for film, it also provided opportunities to network with other composers interested in writing for television and film. My first television credit, in fact, came while studying at UCLA, when I wrote the screenplay and ultimately the music score for an after school special which dealt with the effects of teenage drug abuse.

KP: How long have you been in the Washington, DC area?

DC: I moved to Arlington, VA (a suburb of Washington, DC) from London in April, ‘95.
KP: I understand you also compose quite a bit of choral music. Tell us a bit about that.

DC: I was a member of school choruses for as long as I can remember. I've always enjoyed listening to choral music as well as the challenge of writing for chorus. Much of my early writing in high school and college was SATB and based primarily on sacred texts. In more recent years, I've had the wonderful privilege of writing several commissioned pieces with my partner, Tom Nichols, for the award-winning Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. We're extremely grateful to have a 200+ voice choir of GMCW's caliber to bring our compositions to life.
KP: Tom is also a musician. Do you work together often?

DC: We work together as often as we can. In addition to collaborating on choral works, Tom and I have written several liturgical settings together. We're also constantly listening to each other's latest solo works, giving encouragement and constructive feedback to one another. I've been honored to have him as producer for each of my recordings in the past fifteen years.

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KP: What kind of music is he involved in?

DC: As a singer/songwriter, Tom's music is very eclectic, ranging from adult contemporary to country to gospel to pop. In addition to working as a producer with many artists in the Washington, DC area, Tom has also been the producer of the Choice Hotels Music Initiative, a program which matched emerging artists with charitable causes, providing more than $100,000.00 to charities such as Operation Smile, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and the It Gets Better Project.
KP: Who and what are your biggest musical influences?

DC: As a composer, I would say those who have helped me to "unlock" my creative spirit...friends and family who have always encouraged me to listen to my inner voice, and not to be afraid to express, through music, the emotions I have within. My college piano professor, the late Dr. Calvin Knapp, had the biggest influence on me as a pianist. Not only did he teach me the importance of hearing every note played on the piano before it’s played, thereby allowing the tone and timbre and dynamic of the note to be controlled as its played, he was an exceptional man and mentor who, without exception, always encouraged me to be the best musician and person I could be. One of his trademark philosophies, not only in teaching but also in life, was to always start a conversation (or critique) with a positive comment first.

KP: What great words of wisdom to impart to a young artist! What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?

DC: I've sat here thinking about this question for nearly an hour now...and it's actually very difficult to name just one moment, in that I'm grateful for many wonderful experiences over the years. If I might name a few that immediately came to mind, they would include the thrill of conducting a studio orchestra for the first time while working in Los Angeles; writing choral works with my partner, Tom Nichols, and having them premiered and recorded by our favorite choral group, The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C.; and in a much more intimate setting, providing background music for a hospice care celebration of life service in Virginia a few months ago...

KP: Is there a particular philosophy that you try to convey in your music?

DC: My hope is that when people hear my music, they will be touched or moved in a positive way...that the music is a catalyst for calm and peace, strength and healing...
KP: Who are some of your favorite composers?

DC: John Williams, Aaron Copland, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy, Frederic Chopin, Sergei Prokofiev, George Winston, and yes, my partner Tom Nichols.

KP: Who are some of your favorite performers?

DC: Josh Groban, George Winston, Michael Buble, Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mary Ann Redmond, Barbra Streisand, and Tom Nichols.
KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

DC: Thankful for the opportunities I was given as a child, I would wish that every child who has the desire to play a musical instrument would have the chance to do so...I would wish that each of them has a teacher or mentor to encourage them to honor music for what it is: a wonderful gift...and I would wish the world to benefit by the music these children create...
KP: What’s up next for you?

DC: Besides our current music projects, on a personal note, Tom and I recently became engaged (with our wedding date set for June 1, 2013). Needless to say, we're excited to enter this new stage in our lives together. The big question our friends are asking is, "Who's going to do the music at your wedding?" :-)
KP: Wow!!! Congratulations! That’s really exciting! Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?

DC: I'd just like to thank you again, Kathy, for all you do to highlight and share the music of so many pianists/composers. It's an honor to be included among them. Thank you, my friend!

KP: You are more than welcome, Dan!

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Many thanks to Dan Chadburn for taking the time to chat with us. For more information about Dan and his music, please visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
January 2013