Behind the piano

Behind the piano: Stephen Weber

A while back I posted about the track Ever so still by the composer Stephen Weber, and now its time to take a look inside the mind of the piano player and organist from America, or Canada?

Where are you from? And where do you live? 
I was born in Winnipeg, grew up mostly in Indiana – which I still call home – and I currently reside in Oklahoma.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well? 
I started piano lessons at age 7. I’m also an organist and have performed on some fabulous pipe organs in the United States, Europe, and Asia. I play a little guitar and sing, but not well.

Tell us about how you started playing music.  
My parents, both of whom were very musical, required that myself and my two brothers take piano lessons. I loved the learning process and the collaborative body/mind experience of practicing and performing. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where music was an important part of life and an appreciation for the arts was fostered.

How long have you been making piano music? 
Well, I’m giving up my age here, but I’ve been performing or composing piano music for 53 years now. Piano and composition were integral components of my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. My dissertation focused on piano etudes and included eight original compositions, fiendishly difficult, which I recorded on the Opus One label back in the 1990s. Many of my piano compositions are available through publishing or Sheet Music Press. I use my own works with my piano students occasionally. Piano has also been my therapy. I’ve suffered from severe tinnitus and substantial hearing loss since age 9, and the piano has provided a tremendous release from that. 

Chopin Monument, Pere Lechaisse Cemetery, Paris

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself! 
I was a “closet” Scott Joplin fanatic as a youngster, but my piano teacher wouldn’t let me learn the Joplin rags because she didn’t consider them “real” music. In defiance I checked them out at the local library. I loved ragtime so much that at age 13 I wrote and notated my first composition, a rag for piano. 

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”? 
The piano has such a rich and diverse history, it’s hard to single out composers and artists. I can, however, relate some that were influential. I’ve always had a kindred spirit in Frederic Chopin and his music, so much so that I made pilgrimages to Paris and Warsaw to see his graves (yes, one for his body, the other for his heart). The piano music of Franz Liszt, Ludwig van Beethoven, J. S. Bach, and Claude Debussy have also been influential. I listen to quite a few contemporary composers and artists as well, many of which are quite inspiring.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
Not really. Honestly, I don’t keep much music “in my fingers”. I’ve worked really hard on improvisation over the past couple years, culminating in the release of my latest album of 18 piano improvisations, and I’ve found just sitting down and letting emotions, images, thoughts, and ideas happen spontaneously to be very gratifying.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken? 
I think there’s a misconception that music has rules. Those pursuing formal study in music are taught “common practice” often as rules. They’re really not; they’re just what composers and theorists have done historically. I guess one thing that seems a mandate these days is that music must be categorized, or put into a specific genre. That bugs me. I think we’re seeing some movement away from that, but the industry seems to demand that artists and their music be categorized by genre. It’s kind of shame.

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc. 
I have a full time job as a professor and administrator in higher education, so the things I do at my Digital Audio Workstation are just a hobby. I have a very modest setup, do all the creating, performing, mixing, mastering, duplication, graphics and such with a master controller keyboard, interface, mic, monitors, and computer with Logic Pro X and Finale along with various instrument libraries. Oh, and publicity/promotion; I have that part. I’ve also done collaborations with various instrumentalists and included their contributions on my albums.

Whats your take on sampled instruments? 
I have mixed feelings about this, of course. As a purist, there’s nothing like the action and sound of a fabulous Steinway concert grand. When I want that, I use the one at the university. But, I truly appreciate the technology that allows me to access all kinds of instruments. I sometimes write large scores for orchestra; since there’s no way I could afford to have those works recorded, using orchestra libraries allows me to at least archive the composition and get an idea what it sounds like. 

Anything else you want to share? 
I think I’ve been pretty long-winded already. I guess a parting thought is mentioning the intrinsic value of creating music. It’s hard for everyone to get heard in today’s world, but what’s ultimately important to me is what the creative process gives back to me; I discover, learn, experiment, grow, and continue to find my own voice, release, and modes of expression. It’s hard to find that elsewhere.  

The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 
Your son has gone right to the core of something that is very mysterious to me, the creative process. Honestly, where compositions come from continues to elude me. A complex answer is one’s “essence” or spirit, the combination of the mental, emotional, and physical self. The simple answer is somewhere deep within. I can say with certainty what inspires or instigates the creative idea or process; for me it’s nature, beauty in its various guises and manifestations, images, experiences, and curiosity.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

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