Tim Neumark is an artist that I've been working with since his 2007 debut, Biography
, both writing reviews and proof-reading his sheet music. We did our first interview in 2014
and we met later that year when he did a house concert here with Neil Patton. In 2015, I needed to re-do MainlyPiano.com because Apple was discontinuing their iWeb software, and Tim offered to help me out. What a job that was, but he's still my webmaster and is the reason that the site runs so smoothly! Tim has been composing and arranging a lot of new music lately, so this seemed like a good time to update his interview.
KP: Tim! How are things back East on this first day of spring?
TN: Hi Kathy! It's a bit overcast here, but there's a cat warming my lap while I edit this latest improv that I've completed. I'm sure you'll be getting another sheet music proofing request from me soon!
KP: Great! Those have been a lot of fun! You've been completing lots of improvs lately, but first, let's talk about your new album! You recently released Opus 8, and I said in my review that I thought it was your best album yet. It sounds like some other reviewers feel the same way. How is it doing so far?
Thank you for saying that! Fortunately, I've had a couple people say that, and it's really wonderful. I think the album has been received well, but honestly I rarely "check the numbers" or follow that stuff too closely. I just put the music out there and I'm thrilled that anyone is listening or looking forward to my creations. I did find that it was #1 on the "Amazon Hot List" for New Age music, so I guess that's a good thing, right? The album has only been out for about a month, and it often takes 3-4 months before listeners really start to dig into new albums.
I really like the music, but since this album includes songs from a three-year period, it's not quite as close to my heart as my more unified storytelling albums like Storm
. Don't get me wrong, I really like all the Opus 8
tracks, but I think there is a different feeling of releasing one story than releasing an album of many singles that were already out there. But getting those physical songbooks in hand, and having the actual discs, those things really feel quite satisfying and exciting. For me, somehow it feels more real when I see the physical songbooks than when I hold the discs.
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
KP: The physical songbooks are what will keep the music accessible for future generations! Speaking of songbooks, you're already more than halfway done with your next album, which is a series of solo piano improvisations. What inspired you to create these improvisations?
TN: Actually I think the last count is that I have 20 of the 24 improvs done! It's getting close to being ready because I've been doing maybe one or two improvs a week! I wouldn't say there's a specific inspiration for these improvs, but there is a goal: I've always wanted to release an album that has an improv in every key. So the album will be called 24 Improvs, and it's certainly no comparison to the 24 Preludes from Chopin or Rachmaninoff, but the idea is the same.
KP: Exciting! I'm sure your pianistic fans will be happy to know that the sheet music is being created as the improvisations are recorded! Do you plan to release the improvs as singles before the album?
TN: Well first of all, thank you for all the sheet music proofing that you do! I've been emailing you with new pieces for, what, a decade or more? And lately it seems like I'm sending you a new one every few days! That little bit of polish that you give to these things makes them so much better! Usually I've double-checked the sheet music against the MIDI that shows what I actually played, and I'm very confident about what I give you to proof, but you still find the occasional wrong note! But outside the actual notes, all the dynamics and such -- you really do make my sheet music so much better!
KP: Thanks, Tim! I enjoy working on it!
TN: Now to answer your question, I am not going to release these tracks as singles, except for the ones that have already been released and have been out there for years. Of the ones released, I really love "November Improv," and that's probably because the picture for that song is a picture of my daughter Ella, whose birthday is in November. Written in G-Flat Major, it has a sweet little melody that I love.
KP: I really like that one, too!
Since the release of my last album Moments
, I've released about 25 singles, not all for solo piano, and you can see how some are going to be on the same albums. I think I released five or six improvs already, and there are some solo piano arrangements of classical orchestral pieces that will one day go together, and then of course there are the orchestrated arrangements of holiday music. So I have a bunch of scattered ideas out there that will come together one day.
In fact, Opus 8
was finally an album because I was looking at all these singles and I realized I already had nine original solo piano compositions done, and I just needed three more to get a 12-track album out the door. I was in the middle of writing "Escape" at the time, and didn't even have titles or tunes for the last two -- "Lockdown" and "Conundrum" -- but everything came together quite quickly!
Tim in Florence, Oregon in 2014. Bottom photo includes Neil Patton.
KP: I quoted you in my review of Opus 8 as saying: "After the release of Moments in October 2015, I was musically and emotionally exhausted. Coming at the end of a 37-month stretch where I released five albums, I had nothing left to write. My first new music after 2015 was a classical music arrangement single released in 2017. It wasn't until 2018 that I released an original composition. That track, 'Yearning,' was my expression of wishing that I could get back to writing more original music." Would you like to talk about that?
TN: I get exhausted just thinking about that! Yes, I think I just got burned out trying to create all the time. I needed a break. It was also during that period that I realized I couldn't do music full-time any more. The costs of healthcare -- even for a healthy family of four -- were getting to be too much, and I still have marketable skills as a software engineer, so I went back to working a day job. The good thing about not having to write music all the time was that I could just pick up different things at different times... I just heard this classical piece that might sound good on piano? I'll do that. Someone wants a soundtrack, maybe I'll do that. Here's an improv, I'll release that. The timing of things was inconsistent but there was some freedom to not focus on creating, and just to create when the feeling was right. The time I would spend on the piano ended up being time I spent on the tennis courts. Nothing wrong with getting more exercise!
KP: Once the floodgates opened again, how did you choose which classical pieces and not-so-common Christmas music to arrange?
So both of these projects are interesting to me because they are like the opposite of each other. On one hand, I want to create solo piano versions of classical pieces for orchestra, and on the other hand I have been writing original arrangements of pieces for orchestra with no piano.
My idea for the classical album came from a conversation where someone said they didn't like classical music. And I thought, "well maybe you're just not listening to the right music." So I wanted to put together some piano versions of these large orchestral works and maybe my arrangements would inspire someone to check out the full work. I think that a solo piano arrangement is probably more accessible to most listeners, so maybe that will get them interested in the larger work. I still grin when I hear "Russian Dance" because I have trouble believing I even figured out how to arrange that, much less play it. There are three staves in part of that piece and I've never done that before. That's Michael Dulin type stuff. :D
Now for the holiday music, I think there were two things that got me going on this. First was that I see new holiday albums every year but they seem to recycle the same 30 tunes or so, and I thought that if I ever do another holiday album it would have more obscure tracks. I was thinking that there must be some other music that isn't in the standard American rotation of holiday music, or at least music that's not as well known, and I also thought I'd want to write this music for orchestra because piano can be a bit limiting. The second thing that really started this was when I heard "Fum, Fum, Fum" on my local classical music radio station, WETA in Washington, DC
and I was immediately interested in arranging that piece. I think I heard a vocal soloist with a backing choir, but my first thought was "that would sound cool with a virtuoso violinist as the primary instrument." It took me a few years from the time I heard "Fum, Fum, Fum" to actually start arranging it, but it ended up only taking a few days to finish that score! That piece was wildly popular -- 155,000 spins in its first month without any promo or advertising -- and I'd really like to see it performed live. I've contacted a couple conductors but nothing yet. Surely they must have 90 seconds of concert space available in December?
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
The other orchestral pieces I've done were selected because I just searched YouTube for traditional pieces from specific countries. Some of these pieces are so beautiful but I've never heard of them before! I know that I will release at least one traditional Serbian piece this year. One of the additional benefits of arranging unfamiliar pieces is that people can play them all year long, since they don't know the tunes as holiday tunes.
KP: How do you go about writing for orchestra?
I actually have a completely different process for writing for piano versus writing for ensemble. When I compose for piano, everything is done on the piano and I don't think about the sheet music at all. I finish the composition, then send it to John Zechiel who listens and turns it into sheet music, and then you and I tweak the score to match the recording. My piano has the MIDI data so I can verify that all the notes are correct, but I don't use MIDI to make those recordings; I'm not aligning notes or using MIDI to create a piece with a perfect tempo.
For orchestra or other ensembles, I'm actually writing the music on the staff, from scratch. I use Noteflight, which is a web-based music notation program. I can hear how things sound with their very basic sound library, and that gets me through the composing process. When it is complete, I export the score so that my orchestrator can put it into his system and get better instrument samples on it. My orchestrator is a little-known musician from the Boston area named Doug Hammer
. He's really quite good, and I'll bet you would enjoy his piano music too! ;)
KP: Hahaha! Yeah, I've heard Doug's name dropped a few times here and there. (Just joking, Doug!)
TN: After Doug puts the good samples to my score, I figure out which instruments I want or need to be real performers, so I use SoundBetter to find, say, a clarinetist to play their part for a piece. Doug prepares an audio version that has the full orchestra without the clarinet, and even provides a click track for the performer. Then they send me the finished clarinet performance, and then Doug weaves that back into the score. It's quite a process, and frankly it's more expensive than writing solo piano works, but we do get an actual sound of a real orchestra because there are real performers playing. The violin soloist on "Fum, Fum, Fum" could only have been a real performance -- there's no way to do that awesome virtuoso work with a sample library.
I really do owe Doug a great deal of thanks for his amazing work on this orchestral stuff. He catches little things, makes little alignment corrections, and has even fixed a performer's wrong note or pitch. I don't know how he does any of that, but I'm glad he does! I really just want to compose the music and not have to figure out all the tools. Having Doug be the expert on the tools frees me up to just be the composer. Noteflight has also helped me to be a composer because all I need is a browser and I can just write the music. The two holiday tracks I released in 2021 were composed while I was on vacation that summer. I didn't have a piano, I certainly didn't have a 60-piece orchestra in my luggage, but I was able to write two works for a full orchestra.
All I really need to compose for orchestra is a browser and a strong Wi-Fi signal. Wasn't it Beethoven who first said that?
I'll have to check and get back to you on that!
I thought it was really fun that you orchestrated one of Michele McLaughlin's pieces (with her permission, of course!), "Hope," and included it on the album. How did that come about?
Arranging this piece was completely unexpected. I don't generally listen to other people's music, but I tend to listen to the Whisperings Album of the Year finalists. Michele's album, Sketches
, was one of those in 2020, so I listened to it. "Hope" is the second track on the album and it immediately caught my attention as something for orchestra. And I mean immediate! I was in my car and started the track over, and had my phone to sing some ideas for what the orchestra should be doing. I didn't even finish listening to her album at that time because I was so focused on arranging this piece. When I got home I actually messaged her and said "oh my gosh I need to arrange this piece!" I gave her previews throughout the process.
I started to arrange this piece in the manner described above, but for some reason I decided to use a real orchestra instead. I think I was confident in getting the right sound for this one because I didn't do too much out of the ordinary. It was basically just a string section, flute, clarinet, and horns. I guess I figured I couldn't mess that up too badly? So I sent it off to a real orchestra to perform. I have to tell you, I have the utmost respect for studio musicians -- or really anyone who can sight-read for their instrument -- who can just look at a piece and play it. Michele's piece is in 6/8, but there's a 5/8 measure in there too, and it just sounds right, so I didn't change it. This is no challenge to those pros in those orchestras!
For my other orchestra pieces, I don't think I was confident enough in my composition and I wouldn't want to spend the money and then not be able to fix something. For example, in "A la Nanita Nana," I thought I wanted a triangle, but Doug sent me the arrangement and I didn't like that at all. I switched that to a glockenspiel. Making a change like that is not something you can do after-the-fact with a real orchestra!
KP: Interesting! Switching gears a little, you often come up with the titles for your music before you actually compose it. What were your thoughts and feelings as you composed "Lockdown"? It's a very haunting piece.
TN: Yes! I'm very much a titles-before-song type of composer, and I still have a list of titles that I'll use for songs. "Lockdown" was a little different because I actually needed to come up with a title so I could complete the album. Like I said earlier, I realized I was close to having 12 tracks done, so I decided to listen to the nine completed tracks and get a feel for what I had done. Most of the pieces seemed a bit melancholy, and we've all been feeling a bit melancholy since COVID started, so I thought "Lockdown" was a cool title and also nice piece to set the mood for a pandemic-themed album.
KP: "February Moonlight" is one of my favorites. What inspired that (other than the title!)?
TN: Thanks! This is one of my favorites, too! The inspiration was purely the moonlight in February -- I looked out on the snow one February evening, and I got inspired and wrote it. This one came together quickly, and I think I composed it, recorded it, and had it mastered and released within about 10 days.
KP: Wow! I really like the playful nature of "Bows In the Mirror." Tell us about that one.
I am generally the morning taxi driver who takes the girls to school. They went through a period where they always wore these fancy bows in their hair, and it always made me smile to see those bows in the rear-view mirror. So that became a title, and the title because a song!
Tim's "music wall" with album covers, songbooks, piano, and a couple of other instruments.
KP: "Shining Through" was also inspired by your daughters. How old are they now?
TN: They are nine and seven.
KP: When we did the last interview in 2014, Renee was starting to show musical promise. Has that continued? What about Ella?
TN: Neither of them has formal, persistent training on an instrument, but heck neither do I! They are both musical, though. Renee has been in a local musical theater group and has performed in a number of shows. She also takes some basic violin lessons at her school.
Ella got really excited because her music teacher recently gave her some chords to play on the piano. That song was "Count on Me" by Bruno Mars, and Ella likes to play that one on piano and sing along to it. She recently said something like, "I like our house because there's music all around." I like that too!
Both of them have been playing a bit of ukulele lately. There are some good videos to help people learn, and my wife Monica has been finding them some chords to songs they like. So they are excited to learn music. I think they are learning very much the way I did -- find something I like to hear, and then figure out how to play it.
KP: Kids are amazing! Tell us about the piece, "Conundrum."
TN: This was the final track written for the album, and boy it's something different for me, isn't it? Different chords, a different style, quite a change. The title for this track was unexpected. I was messaging with Michele one day and I said something like "that's quite a conundrum." And the next thing I typed was "Hey, 'Conundrum' sounds like a cool song title." So there it was! I was thinking that a conundrum was a difficult situation to get out of, something hard to resolve, so I tried to capture that in music. I'm quite proud of that piece.
KP: What about "Earth, Paused"?
TN: This one was written during the worst times of the pandemic, where people couldn't go anywhere or do anything. It just seemed like everything was on hold. I gave myself the challenge of using the same four repeating melodic notes but to change the harmony enough to make things interesting. I like this piece! The cover for this piece is an earth in an hourglass, and the idea was mine but it was created by Emmanuel Le Gal, who is quite the artist. She's married to Doug Hammer. Have I mentioned Doug before? Quite the talented couple.
After such a long dry spell, were you ever afraid that you wouldn't compose any more music?
Honestly, I didn't even think about creating music, or the lack of creating it. I think those thoughts would have made things worse. I just sort of shifted to other activities -- tennis, mostly -- and really cleared my mind without thinking of music. I went years writing at least one song a month, and I think it was a bit of a relief to not think about that at all. After visiting Prague for a month, I started to get more of the composing itch, but even after that I sort of paced myself and just wrote music when I felt like it, without any self-imposed deadlines.
Dvorak's tombstone in Prague.
KP: Do you have any idea of what ignited the inspiration again?
TN: I really enjoyed the multiple Dvorak museums and things in Prague. That was the start. Since then, I've released a bunch of music but it's been spaced out. I think having the time to get more "input" has resulted in better "output." I actually heard this input/output idea from Peter Frampton in his episode of the Ben Folds podcast. He said something like "It's not always possible to output new music. Sometimes you just need to be living your life and feel things (input!) that will eventually result in some outputs." Come to think of it, the Ben Folds podcast (called Lightning Bugs) has been a source of inspiration, too. It's a podcast about creativity. He interviews musicians, artists, authors, and even scientists. It's just people talking about creativity. It's been giving me ideas for sure.
KP: Switching gears again. You have been the webmaster for MainlyPiano.com for almost seven years. Do you do that for a lot of other sites, too?
TN: Actually no! Yours is the only one. When you posed the question in a group about redoing your old website, I was doing only two things full time: composing, and I had this software called NeuCart that I wrote to help other musicians sell music from their websites. I realized how I could use NeuCart as a foundation to make software for you, so I suggested to you that I could do it, and I did!
I still have a number of people using NeuCart, but that software is mostly self-sustaining. So other than your full website and those people's stores, I'm pretty much out of the tech game.
KP: What an enormous project it was to re-do the whole site, but it sure has grown over those years (close to doubled)! Thank you so very much for all of your help and for creating a site that I could mostly maintain myself without having to go back to school to learn how to do it! I very literally couldn't do it without you!
TN: I am so glad I could help. It was a huge project at the time, something like 2,800 pages. But I know it's made things easier for you! That was always the plan.
KP: MANY THANKS!!!
Are you looking at starting to do live performances again soon?
TN: Not at all! Between having a job and being a father and husband, I don't really have time to travel around and play. But more than that, I've forgotten most of what I've written! I'm sure I could learn some of the older pieces that I played many times, but recent tracks are out of my brain almost as soon as I've finished them. That's true of songs on Opus 8, but even more apparent with these improvs I've been completing. I sent one to my wife to review and she said something like "I really liked the harmonies in this one part" and I said, "thanks, but I don't even remember how this song goes!"
I've always considered myself a composer first, and a pianist second, so the lack of performing time isn't a bad thing. I'm pretty happy now that I have the ability to create scores for additional instruments.
KP: At least one of your singles is up for an award this year. Tell us about that.
TN: I think right now it's just "The Ghost" which is up for Best Solo Piano Single, a category for One World Music Awards. Those guys listen to lots of music and I'm very happy to just be nominated. I actually prefer nominations to winning because I like the idea of being lumped in with a bunch of tracks that someone thinks are good.
KP: Last year, you composed the soundtrack to a short film called On Fire. The music was for solo cello and is gorgeous. How did you get that gig?
This is my second score that I've written for Drew Broadhurst, who wrote and directed both short films. He's a local filmmaker and has actually done about 6-10 films. He's a friend of friends, and I don't know why he chose me for the first film, but I've enjoyed working with him. My first film with him was called Unfinished
and you can find that on YouTube here
and On Fire
use my scores to tell the story, which is quite interesting. There's minimal dialog in both, and the music is essentially another character in those films.
When he gave me the script for On Fire
, I immediately recorded an idea on the piano but only the melody. When he gave me the film to add my own music to it, I realized that a melody is all we would need. This is a film about domestic violence, and I thought the cello would convey the vulnerability much better than a piano would, plus it is probably the instrument that most closely sounds like a human voice. The cellist was Raúl Andueza from Spain, and he did a tremendous job. I wrote the score but didn't have a click track or anything, so I had notes in the score like "this note should be played at 37 seconds" and things like that. He totally nailed it. It really is gorgeous. On Fire
recently won Best Short Film at the Maryland International Film Festival; it's quite an accomplishment and I'm proud to have been involved.
KP: Do you plan to do more soundtrack work?
TN: 24 Improvs will be released in the next few months or so, but other than that I don't have firm plans on what is coming next. I imagine I'll just continue to work on pieces here and there when I get the inspiration. I have an idea for a larger work for orchestra but no details that I want to release yet. In the meantime, I'll probably work on some smaller pieces for orchestra to really learn more about how the sounds go together. I like arranging holiday songs because they've been around for centuries so I don't have to think about the melodies and harmonies as much as I get to think about how the individual parts of an orchestra work together. I'm taking that knowledge and creating a series of shorter pieces for orchestra, similar to the Dvorak "Slavonic Dances." I already have one of those completed but I need to get back with Doug Hammer to finalize it. Have I mentioned Doug? Talented guy.
KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
As a planet, it would probably be nice if we could stop shooting each other. I'd also like to see microplastics removed from the oceans; boy, we've really created a mess. As a personal wish, I always would like to have more time to write music!
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
KP: Well, I think we about covered everything. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
TN: Actually yes! There are some people who need to be thanked! I can't create music in a vacuum, and I've had lots of help. For sheet music, you and John Zechiel have been with me since the beginning to make sure pieces look right.
Of course I always like to mention Monica, who proofs all the songs and sometimes gives ideas. Plus she is the one who keeps the girls occupied when I need time to compose, and she's been helping the girls to become more musical.
Then there's always the Whisperings group, which is just a bunch of artists who are generally trying to help each other. I randomly messaged Kurt Bestor while composing a couple of the holiday songs, because I had questions about the dynamic range of castanets or something. We've never actually met, but he was happy to send a reply and give me recommendations. That's great.
For my piano music, Joe Bongiorno is just the ultimate help. Right before releasing Opus 8, Joe told me how I could improve my process with different equipment and tools, and it has transformed my world. I can finalize a song now in an hour, where it used to take me maybe six or more. The reason I can keep sending you new improvs to review is because Joe hooked me up with all the right tools. I've said this before: Joe has given me lots of advice over the years, and only one piece of advice was bad, and I don't remember what that bad advice was! I am so thankful. He's a major reason why I am able to release so much music.
Joe, for my piano music, has really allowed me to just focus on creating the music. I don't have to think about all the external tools and technologies. I work on the composition, and Joe takes care of the sound. It's so refreshing. Doug Hammer has done the same thing for my works for orchestra.
Have I mentioned Doug?
The Whisperings group at the annual awards concert in 2017. That's Tim in the front row right in the middle!
Many thanks to Tim Neumark for taking the time to chat! For more information about Tim and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.