Paul F. Page – Philosopher Pianist

Paul F. Page, composer, teacher and performer, divided his time, for most of his career, between teaching high school English and pursuing his music. He is currently “retired,” recording music he never got a chance to do during the more active portions of his musical life, and having fun.

Paul’s music has been published by many companies, including J. Paluch/World Library Publications, Mark Foster Music, Curtis Music, The Oregon Catholic Press, Hinshaw Music, Lorenz Music, and CynMar Publications (his own production company). A number of his works have been performed and recorded in Europe and Canada, the former Soviet Union, Japan, and extensively in the U.S. Paul holds degrees in philosophy and English from St. Patrick’s College and San Jose State University respectively, and a Master of Liturgical Music degree from Santa Clara University.Paul has toured Europe on six occasions with the Santa Clara Choral Spectrum, a choir he formed and directed since 1984. He’s adjudicated choral festivals in Feldkirche and Vienna, Austria. In 1982, he conducted his high school choir in a performance for then Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. His Blessing has been performed in the Ukraine, Russia, and throughout Western Europe, Canada, and the U.S. and was featured on Austrian radio. Selections of his choral music appear in university conducting texts that have been published in the U.S. and in Spain.

For his contributions to liturgical music – including 33 years as organist, vocal soloist, music, and choir director – he was honored by the Diocese of San Jose with the Benedictus Award. His composition In Celebration was accorded top honors in a national competition and many of his liturgical works have been published and are performed in schools and churches throughout the U.S.

Paul’s cantata Wind Of Life premiered in the spring of 1993 and was followed by the publication of three of its movements by World Library Publications in its Spiritus collection. Hear Our Prayer and Like Incense Before You were published in 1994 and Litany of Saints appeared in print in the spring of 1995 in the acclaimed collection We Celebrate. A new book of children’s liturgical songs, Children of the Light, was released by CynMar Publications in January 1997 and an extensive collection of liturgical mantras (Mantras for the Seasons) based on Psalm texts was published in 1998 by World Library Publications, also the publisher of a number of his choral octavos.

With his friend, teaching colleague and internationally-acclaimed poet Judith Lyn Sutton, Paul has collaborated on some 26 “art” songs for voice and piano which he and Sutton have performed live on numerous occasions since 1996.

For the last six years, Paul has been annually awarded stipends from ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) through its ASCAPlus program for his unique work in composing and performing new liturgical, classical, and art music. Since 2003, Paul has composed and recorded 20 full-length CDs which include five solo piano collections (A Month of Sundays, All Dolled Up, Out Of My Mind, From A to Z, Polliwog’s Cakewalk), a series of voluntaries for pipe organ (Pipe Fittings), three disks of ballads for which he composed lyrics as well as music (Places in the Heart, Do You Believe, Make a New Day), single suites for oboe and English horn (In the Palace of a King, On a Calm and Starry Night) and flute (Beside Restful Waters), a collection of piano pieces for children (Like a Diamond in the Sky), two instrumental albums (The Cat’s Pajamas, In the Eye of the Beholder), and an album of liturgical songs (Seek and You Shall Find). He’s recently been sharing some of his music online at MacJams and iCompositions.

When not teaching or composing, Paul tells me he enjoys writing poetry, woodworking, bicycling, hiking, and caring for his 47 rose bushes. He swims a mile every day to keep “fit and sane,” he says. Married for 37 years to Theodora, he has two grown daughters and five grandchildren.

Any samples of your poetry you are wiling to share?

“Um, no.”

It’s very cool that you received the ASCAPLUS grant. How did that come about?

“Any composer can apply by going to www.ascap.com. The requirements include substantial writing in any genre, performances of one’s work in a number of venues, and membership in the ASCAP foundation. All of this info is available online. The program was established to provide a small stipend to composers who write music that is not normally lucrative or does not normally receive air time and yet contributes to the overall body of composition.”

You have been published many times. Any tips on how to have that happen, for those who would like to do that?

“For all the music I have had the good fortune to have published, there are countless rejection letters as well. Even when a publisher has taken several things in the past, it is no guarantee that he/she/it will take your latest masterpiece. Persistence is the name of the publishing game. It’s also useful to listen to a lot of music in the genre in which you are interested in publishing, just to hear what’s out there and what the publishers are doing currently. The trends change from time to time and it’s easy to get out of touch. It also takes a lot of time to stay current, and that’s something every would-be-published composer has to deal with. And, finally, learn your craft. Learning how to write music takes a long time and it takes a lot of listening and study. Most ‘composers’ just want to ‘play,’ but knowing something about how a song or orchestration or anything musical is formed, written, edited, recorded… all of these things are so important. A piece with two chords from Satie is great for one or two numbers, but if his whole output consisted of this kind of limited vocabulary, one would come away really bored. If you know two guitar chords, learn a third… and then more. Finally, steel yourself for rejection if you’re looking for a publisher. And be convinced that you have something worthwhile to share with the musical world. If YOU are not sure, no one else will be. Remember, too, that publishing music or anything else is not a reward in and of itself. The creation of something beautiful in the first place is the reward, period.”

How old were you when you got into playing music?

“I began piano lessons in the first grade after ‘breaking’ the violin my father had rented for my use. The problem occurred very early on when I tried to tune the violin (because it sounded awful) and accidentally snapped off the fine tuners. It wasn’t actually broken, but my father thought it was and was afraid of what it would cost to repair it. We owned a Lester spinet and so I segued immediately to it. It was much harder to break, apparently.”

Any early influences that led you to want to make music?

“Taking lessons was just expected for my older brother and me. I remember playing something called ‘March of the Toy Soldiers’ for a first grade recital. It was several pages in length and I memorized the whole thing. I have no idea how big the audience was, but it was exciting to play and that sort of sustained me… at least for a while. I still have the sheet music and occasionally pull it out to play. I dutifully learned all my scales and some rudimentary theory, but eventually came to hate the lessons by the time I was 11 or 12. I quit entirely when I was 14 and have not taken lessons since.”

Do you have any other formal music training?

“If the truth were told (and I guess I am telling it here!), my formal music training stopped when I entered high school. But my informal training also began then, too, and it made music more potent. My teacher was a marvelous organist (he’s 89 now and pretty arthritic, but sharp as a tack) and my head was filled up with his amazing improvisations as well as the Bach organ works he’d play in our school’s chapel. Eventually, he asked me to join the school choir (an all boy’s school), the only 9th grader in the group. I was thrilled. The summer after my freshman year I composed my first piece, a Latin mass. I have discarded most of the early things I composed, but still have that manuscript. For some odd reason I wrote it in red ink! When I played it for my teacher in the fall, he just said (and I remember his words precisely), ‘Maybe we can sing that sometime.’ We never did. It was, I admit, just awful, and I would be embarrassed to play it for anyone today. But from that moment—maybe I was 15 at the time—until now (quite some years later), I have not stopped writing.”

Do you recall the name of the organist who inspired you in high school?

“John Olivier. He is 89 now and has been retired for many years. He can no longer play because of severe arthritis, but I still consider him my one and only mentor. He has been a great inspiration to me for 45 years and continues to give me encouragement.”

Did you discover any other resources on your own?

“When I was a junior, my first choral piece was performed by the choir at our school. I’ve never looked back. I did my ‘formal’ study, though, on my own, reading Piston’s Harmonyand studying scores I was able to find in the library.”

I still have a copy of Piston’s book in my library. I have used it many times in my career.

“And, of course, I learned to play the organ, honing my performance skills by accompanying for services at a local church, sometimes four or five times on any given Sunday. It was an education in music by the seat of my pants—just about literally. Another teacher supplied me with recordings of classical music. The acquisition of a reel-to-reel tape machine allowed me to hear the classics over and over again. I still remember the first time I ever heard stereo sound through a headset (that’s what we called ’em in those days): the Beethoven Symphony No. 6. I stayed up all night listening perhaps 8 or nine times, and then did something similar for many nights following. I couldn’t get enough of the sound! (I don’t know if this is even remotely interesting, but to me it was something that radically changed my life.)”

Why didn’t you study music in college?

“My young academic and other personal goals were focused on pursuing a vocation as a priest. So, classical training was de rigeur: Latin, Ancient Greek, the classics, and philosophy were at the heart of my education. Happily, my life’s direction changed as a young adult. My love for philosophy and music, though, has not wavered through all these years. I was drawn back to music at the university level because I needed to attach some formality to my training.”

But you always wanted music as part of your life, right?

“I ended up graduating from college with a degree in philosophy, but immediately began looking for a way to study music. I had been working as choir director and organist for a few years by then, but I felt compelled to learn more in the hope that I could teach music and maybe make a living in that way. Meanwhile, I was writing and had the good fortune to publish a few simple hymn tunes. I even teamed up with a young woman who ran a small ballet company and I wrote three full-length ballets for her students to perform. They were scored for two pianos and we played for several thousand school children over the course of a couple years way back in the late 60’s-early 70’s. It was an exciting time. Eventually, I entered a university program as a graduate student, sailed through classes that seemed too easy, and found myself a music teacher at a local high school directing the choir and orchestra and running a musical production program.

“And so it went. I worked for a publishing company for a number of years editing and arranging and recording music, making cassette tapes, learning about orchestration, and so forth. There were many adventures along the way, but it would take too long to tell the story.”

I am calling you “Philosopher Pianist” in the title of the interview. Care to share how your philosophy is reflect in or informs your music?

“That’s a huge question, one that I am not sure I can formalize into words. My background, training, and my life’s experiences all serve to inform me about what is significant about my world. I tend to abstract a lot and to make many connections among all the things I have read, heard, seen, and so forth. My outlook, a philosophy if you will, is one of positivity and inevitability: positive in terms of the goodness and blessings and opportunities the world offers in all its manifestations; inevitability in terms of time — the shortness of it — and the limitations of culture, environment, and life expectancy itself. I am not a particular risk taker, and that is reflected, too, in most of the music I write. I tend toward the melodic and harmonically satisfying in sort of a traditional manner of expression, usually avoiding sounds that are not particularly pleasing or enjoyable. I don’t like to write something that someone else would not enjoy listening to over and over again. I think: what’s the point in that? And I also think that music composition is only one aspect of who I am, albeit a significant one. I write mostly to please others, but am also very aware of the pleasure I find personally in being able to put down on paper and/or into a recording ideas or expressions that I cannot otherwise convey. But after all is said and done–like I have mentioned elsewhere in this interview–the music takes on a life of its own and I don’t really feel I either possess it or own it in any way. When I play something particularly well, or when I write something particularly focused and, well, erudite, I always let it go, sometimes with wonder that I am somehow just a medium of sorts. That actually suits me just fine. And that’s probably why I derive so much pleasure in knowing that someone else enjoys what I have composed. Once it leaves my hands, it is no longer mine. So, does this mean I have a ‘philosophy’ regarding music? I don’t know at all. I’ll happily subscribe to Plato’s ancient evaluation: the only thing I know is that I know nothing. Marshall McLuhan said that the ‘medium is the message,’ and Paul McCartney advised to just ‘Let it be.’ It’s hard to argue with those guys. Once the music is born, then it has its own little life.”

What is your philosophy of music, its place in the world, in your life?

“This is a question that might sustain hours of conversation. I’ll limit it to just a few comments. In Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ there is a line that I often quote: ‘The earth has music for those who listen.’ I love that idea: that the earth sings, that it has a harmony and a melody and rhythm that one need only pay attention to in order to enjoy. The Hopi Indians have a beautiful Creation Story that includes these ideas as well: that somehow the whole of creation is a song that echoes throughout the universe in the richest of ways, manifesting itself when and if one becomes attuned to it. It is interesting to me that Steven Spielberg chose music as the way to make contact with aliens and that Bill and Ted communicated with future ages through their music. Music/song is inescapable. Nietzsche once said, ‘Life without music is meaningless.’ Well, he was so right. I remember some years ago visiting the former Soviet Union and I wrote a song that was performed for a youth organization in a large concert hall in Novorosisk, Ukraine. A young girl who was the leader of the youth group played the guitar, and so we decided to collaborate. We spent about and hour or so rehearsing, neither of us understanding the other’s language, except for the music. On that level, we communicated beautifully and performed ‘our’ number to a standing ovation. Talk about the power of language! One cannot hear the Mahler ‘Resurrection’ Symphony and not be moved to tears. Nor can one listen to the music of Gregorian chant and not find solace even without understanding the Latin text. Music has been a defining part of my own life since I’d sit in a corner of our dining room as 3 years of age humming melodies I’d make up just for the heck of it. I write something nearly every day. I sing in the car, in the shower, and in my head when I am teaching my students an English lesson. I have no doubt that music is transformative. There isn’t and never has been a culture that didn’t develop a music to define its character, the accompany its rituals, to tell its stories.”

Is all of your liturgical music Catholic?

“While the liturgical music I have been fortunate enough to have had pubished has been done so by specifically ‘Catholic’ publishing companies, it is, nevertheless, based on texts from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, mostly. To call it specifically ‘Catholic’ is pretty limiting. I imagine much of this music has also been performed in other christian liturgies… and maybe by other religious traditions as well.”

Your recent solo piano works are not religious, on the surface. Any reason for this?

“My recent solo piano works are not religious on any level. There is no particular reason for them not being so. Rather, though, I write what I think, what I feel, what pictures I see in my mind’s eye, what emotions I either am feeling or that I would like to describe. Liturgical/religious music is usually based primarily on liturigcal/religious texts of some sort. The piano music I write is not based on anything at all like a religious text. The old MGM logo has the Latin phrase ‘Ars gratia artis’ attached to it: ‘Art for art’s sake.’ That’s pretty much where I am with composition these days. I don’t feel bound by any one form or particular style, though I am heavily influenced by the romantics and neo-classicists…and the impressionists, I guess. I think, though, that I am also primarily drawn to things that are more “serious” if you will in contrast to things that might be considered more ‘popular.’ The titles to most of my pieces suggest ‘back stories’, too. I work best with a programme in mind. It keeps me focused and helps define parameters for what I write.”

What do you do for a “living”?

“How funny you should ask. I don’t know many (any!) musicians who make their entire living making music, especially composers. I have been a high school teacher for 36 years: 11 as a music teacher, 7 as a journalism teacher, and the balance as an English teacher. I’ve been fortunate to have taught at the same school for all these years, but to have also had the opportunity to have several careers within that school.

“I retired from the music director position at my church in 2001 after a 35 year run. It was time to do something else. I occasionally will give a concert or recital in my local area, but have always done so by presenting my own music entirely. I have some friends who are professional musicians and poets and have collaborated with them off and on, but always my own compositions. And today I have the happy circumstance of sharing my music on the internet with friends and especially with the Macjams community. I have published a good number of liturgical pieces, most notably with J.Paluch/World Library Publications, Hinshaw Music, Lorenz Music, The Curtis Music Press. ”

So, how old are you?

“Well, if you are trying to add up the numbers, you have no doubt guessed that I am not a youngster. I’m 61 and live in the U.S. (Also, I have 5 grandchildren.) I now have time to pursue writing with some renewed vigor and sufficient time and resources to record in my own home at my leisure. I am having a blast, but admit to being not much of a ‘technical guy.’ My son-in-law keeps my hardware going and another friend fixes my software when I install it incorrectly. All I really want to do is write, and they both know that.”

How have your musical aspirations changed since “retiring”?

“When I retired from my church job in 2001, I had a modest vision of just recording some of the music I had written over the years and writing some strictly piano music. Little did I know that I would be several thousands of dollars into MIDI-this and Roland-that and ProTools and, and, and… But I am fulfilling my dream of capturing the things I think about musically. I wanted mainly to share this with family and friends. But now I have expanded my thinking considerably to include my ‘virtual’ friends on the Internet. Through the encouragement of many of them, my first commercial CD A Corner Of My World was produced last August and was initially distributed by The Lost Records of the World and on iTunes. It will be re-released on CDBaby in late August. Pump Audio has accepted some of my music into their catalogue, too, and that is exciting. A Stately Affair has just been released on CDBaby and is also available on iTunes.

“An all-piano CD, Autumn Sequence, just about ready for release, too. I expect that to happen by the summer of 2008.

“I am not particularly interested in making money and it is unlikely that will make much, but you never know with the music business, eh? What does interest me, though, is finding ways to share my compositions and my recording with others. If it can have a positive effect, then all my efforts will have been worthwhile. I have met a lot of other composers online who give me all sorts of wonderful encouragement. And my work seems to garner positive remarks from rockers and classical piano enthusiasts alike.”

Has the Internet changed your music goals?

“I am starting to see the potential for reaching a much broader audience than just my family and some close friends. It is still astounding to me that I can post a song one minute; Feter will send me a note the next; and a couple of hours later I will have messages from England, Germany, Sweden, New South Wales, and any number of places in the U.S. I must admit to now devoting much more time than is reasonable to the pursuit of writing and recording because I know I can communicate with so many more people in such a hurry via the Internet.”

Any people you’ve worked with we might recognize?

“I have not ever worked with any famous people. Well, I take that back. As a teenager, I once sang in a chorus in Arthur Fiedler’s summer pops when he came to town. I did this for three or four summers running and it was quite a thrill to work with him. But, really, I don’t know anybody famous and they probably don’t know me, either. I’m mainly just a solo writer who now has the possibility of using the Internet to share his music. (And I am not at all interested in MySpace, MyFace, or any other kind of Place.)

What obstacles have you overcome in your musical endeavors?

“I know some of you who are reading this may think this following statement is strange, but it is absolutely true: my biggest obstacle is my fear as a keyboardist/performer. I know. I know. It seems like I just rip off these piano inventions without a care in the world, but I am constantly aware of my skill level and my limitations. It all goes back to quitting piano at 14. Had I continued, I’d ‘really’ be able to play today. But I have developed ways around my insufficiencies. Just don’t put me in front of a real pianist or teacher because I don’t think I will make the grade!

“Other than that, I feel fortunate to have always found myself in circumstances where I could write and play just about whatever I wanted. I remember in school (my high school) that I was given the opportunity to write something for the choir every single week to sing for services in our chapel. What a challenge, and what a great place to learn. Ever since then I have always sought out opportunities to perform, and always on my own terms. Often this has been with amateurs, both instrumental and vocal, but the experiences have been altogether satisfying and I feel lucky to have had them.

“I don’t feel I have any unusual training or particular skills, but I do have a knack for melody and I have tried to develop that through the years with a lot of practice. I started rather late with university training in music (all post-graduate, eventually earning an M.A.), and am just now discovering an ear for orchestration, though I believe it is primarily on a rudimentary level. Having the computer and a small recording studio at my beck and call has started to open doors I never imagined just a very few years ago. What a marvelous digital age we live in!”

What gear do you use?

“I use a Roland RD 700 midi keyboard with weighted keys. My little studio is powered by a MacPro duel processor computer with a lot of memory. I have a couple of Roland sound modules that are sort of ancient but still have some excellent stops.

“I use Synthogy’s Ivory keyboard plug-ins and the Garritan Personal Library of plug-in instruments. I have my eyes on some plug-ins from ILIO – the Vienna strings and winds – but keep procrastinating because they are quite expensive. Maybe tomorrow…

“About 6 months ago I got into DigiDesigns ProTools and now do all my mixing on the computer screen. I don’t do anything that’s remotely fancy with levels and other parameters. I just don’t understand that much. But I do leave most of this to my ears which don’t fail me too often. One day I will know more about the whole process, but most people who listen to my recordings now seems to like them quite a bit. I must be doing something right.”

Was your CD Corner Of My World SYNTHOGY’s Ivory?

A Corner Of My World employs the use of Synthogy’s Ivory German Steinway. This was my very first foray into the world of a really fine digital/sythesized ‘piano’ and I found it to be a fascinating adventure in sound. Having tried to record my acoustic grand time and time again with so little luck (too much noise, too many squeaks and groans), I found the Ivory product to be absolutely wonderful in terms of clarity. I have used it ‘right out of the box’ without tweaking any of the factory parameters. The sound in my ears was/is really inspiring, and I continue to use this ‘piano’ as my main instrument. To those who hear this recording, they may find it odd to know that not one single note of this collection is written down anywhere. I am not particularly proud of my laziness in not scoring the whole thing, but I was so energized by the sound of this new instrument that I just improvised. Of course, I did work things out fairly carefully before committing to ‘tape,’ but each of these tracks is a single-run recording with no edits or cuts. When I listen to it now (it’s been over a year since recording this collection) I sometimes wonder how I did it. This is, I guess, the beauty of spontaneity. I use a Roland RD-700 keyboard with weighted keys and find that it is uniformly sensitive to touch, something that has helped me to ‘realize’ a very broad range of dynamics that always seem to be ‘true.’ I cannot get this responsiveness out of my acoustic piano, sad to say.”

What is your recording process?

“I use ProTools and am lost most of the time. I have learned only the rudiments of this system, but I at least am no longer afraid of it. My ears are my biggest asset in recording, but especially so in my ‘thinking’ about recording. Having unlimited access to a recording environment allows me the luxury of playing around with a lot of things because I know I can just delete them whenever I want with nothing of particular value (except time) lost. I have no doubt that a professional studio technician would find all sorts of problems with my manner of recording, but for now it suits me just fine. The digital world is pretty forgiving when one listens carefully to one’s work. I sort of know what a ‘loop’ is, but am not in the slightest interested in working this way. I usually just plod along track by track, layer by layer. Piano is always my foundation, though I have just written a couple of things recently without it. I am trying to learn how to be a woodwind specialist at the keyboard, techniques of ‘breathing’ and phrasing that need to sound authentic and reasonable if they are to be completely successful. I think I am doing okay, but the process takes constant vigilance. It is so easy to forget that a wind player needs to breathe once in a while.

Musically, what is your strongest ability?

“I think my strongest attribute musically is that I think a lot about what I am going to write and how I am going to record BEFORE actually doing anything. However, often when I actually set the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard, I come up with something totally different than what I had imagined. That doesn’t bother me too much. I usually chalk it up to the muse who seems to run my musical imagination with a mind of its own. I almost never become ‘attached’ to anything I write and often just forget about it once it’s happened. I am usually just thinking about the next thing I might compose. I don’t know if that sounds strange, but it’s just how I function as a composer. I don’t dwell on the past; I usually just worry if I’ll ever write anything else again. I think every writer’s biggest fear is the blank page.”

Weakest?

“While most people who know about my writing think I am driven at a furious pace, I view myself as something of a procrastinator. I play all the time; I write something down every day; I can sometimes stay at it for many hours at a time without a break. But I am simultaneously distracted by other things that fly through my mind and my fingers and often as not am writing two or three things concurrently on separate pieces of paper on in separate recording files. It seems like there is a musical train running through my head all the time, even when I sleep. It is distracting in my teaching, sometimes causing me to pause and jot down a random phrase I don’t want to forget. I don’t ever seem to ‘get around’ this nuisance, and so I have just given up and given in. After all these years, I just figure that’s how my mind works. I do, though, have stacks of papers with remnants of something or other that I think I might work on some day. Yet whenever I try, something new gets in the way and I always take the path of least resistance. I may, actually, just be a musical mess. It is a pretty organized mess, however, both in my head and in my stacks of files. I don’t forget much.”

How do you come up with a song?

“It all depends on the song, the day, my mood, etc. I write mostly ancient-sounding love songs that might have been popular in the 60’s and 70’s but are no longer. I still like them, though, and now and again I will pull one out or write a new one that I share with my family or friends or the MJ audience. People seem to like them, though they might just be humoring me. I’d like to write for the stage some day, but it’s not a likely prospect. My songs are all strictly structured, unlike most of my piano and instrumental music. And, so, I guess they are predictable. There is some comfort in that, though. Vocal music actually drives everything I write. I always hear a song and a voice no matter what instrument is playing.”

You write very singable, chromatic melodies. What do you think a melody should accomplish?

“There are a couple of things I’d say about a melody (well, maybe, MY melodies). Coming from almost 40 years of writing liturgical music, I mostly gravitate toward melodies that are singable, i.e. within the human vocal range. When I write, I am always singing – always. And I think that’s why the flute and oboe figure so prominently in my arrangements and orchestrations. Way back when, a teacher suggested to me that step-wise motion followed by occasional leaps was the most satisfying (and articulate) way to fashion a melody. I don’t really think about that at all now, but the notion has sort of become ingrained in my musical vocabulary. I DO like disjunct melodies, too, but if they are too much so, or too consistently so, it tends to disorient the listener and the ‘tune’ becomes not only unsingable, but also unmemorable. Having, too, listened to so much 18th and 19th century music in my life, it’s hard to find examples that do not follow this basic notion of step-wise and skips.

“As to what a melody should accomplish: Maybe it’s just the notion of something that is satisfying in some way. There are, to be sure, countless melodies that aren’t particularly ‘beautiful’ per se, but that serve as the basis for development that IS beautiful and intriguing. I can’t think of too many of J.S. Bach’s inventions or fugues that have strictly ‘beautiful’ melodies, but they sure provide the material for amazing development. One might say the same thing – and even to a greater degree – about the melodies of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, some of the most disjointed ‘tunes’ one might ever hear, and yet they are so richly developed that even they become singable. So a melody can be a catalyst for development or it can be strictly something that is evocative of a mood or a picture or an emotion. I suppose ‘context’ has something to do with all of this as well. Williams’ ‘Star Wars’ theme is a nice march and all, but in the context of the film, it provides a powerful mantra to describe the whole situation. There are countless examples of programme music/melody that ‘describe’ things, but they are perhaps not particularly beautiful or soaring or anything else. And, yet, we don’t forget them because of the subliminal message they imprint somewhere on our psyche. All of that having been said (and I will admit to it sounding pretty academic), I mostly enjoy writing melodies that are pleasant and that are enjoyable to listen to. If I can’t enjoy a piece of music (whether my own composition or someone else’s), I just set it aside and forget about it. The compositions with compelling melodies, though, I come back to again and again, rarely getting tired of them.”

I’ve noticed that you rarely venture beyond the mainstream in your music. Is there somewhere musically you hope to grow or venture, a journey you haven’t taken, before you stop playing?

“I wrote strictly liturgical music for a very very long time, mostly because of my involvement as a church choir and music director. It was expedient that I do so. I retired from that about six or seven years ago and since then have been writing piano and instrumental music mostly. Yes, I do enjoy 18th, 19th, and early 20th century music very very much and those sounds resonate most articulately in my head. I have ventured out into a few other things – classical, I think most would say – and have enjoyed the excursions. I will no doubt continue to do so. But my musical perspective is mostly one of order and a desire to create a pleasant atmosphere. I enjoy that and it is satisfying to me. At MacJams I have found a number of others who also enjoy what I write and how I write it. On the other hand, every day when I sit down to write, it’s a new day, a new clean slate. I never know what will happen… and I am open the the vagaries of my musical muse.”

Any more tips you’d like to share?

“I don’t have any magical tips on anything musical (or, really, anything else for that matter). The magic happens when one just tries… and tries… and tries. There are so many books on the market that advise how to record this way or that way or to write songs that will be commercially viable. I don’t have any use for a formula. If one’s heart doesn’t show the way, then the musical composition/experience will come out as inauthentic, insincere, contrived, overly planned, and just plain bland. But I am a strong believer in solid musical theory. There is infinite room for experiments and new expressions and new melodies. No one ever really knows when they’ll write something moving or profound or evocative until they have actually done it. I guess, then, my “tip” would be to let one’s heart sing and don’t think of anything else except the music itself. Your head and ears will help drive the train, but your heart has to be the fuel to rev the engine and keep the balls spinning in mid-air. Like the theatre producer in Shakespeare in Love said, ‘I don’t know… It’s a mystery.’ How fun to be living in the dark when there is such hope for a passage to the light. That is what drives my writing.

How has your MacJams experience been so far?

“I joined Macjams in Nov. of 2006. I immediately felt so welcomed into this community of musicians. The feedback on my postings has encouraged me to write things I never would have thought possible a couple of years ago. I have always (well, mostly) found people from around the world who really enjoy the kind of music I write, even though they may write in a completely different medium or style. The comments are generally very positive and I feel energized and encouraged by a good number of other contributors to the site. The general experience has heightened my awareness of the necessity for details and precision and I think I have become a better composer and performer because I know my work will be scrutinized. I have also experienced a number of really exquisite writers and performers whose works, like mine, would never have been heard literally ‘around the world’ were it not for MJ. I think this is quite an awesome site and I am proud to be a small part of it.”

Has the MJ experience been helpful?

“I think the general experience of hearing from musical colleagues here in itself has inspired me on all levels: composing, performing, recording. There are a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends who do not write anything like what I write who have been so very kind in their comments and suggestions and criticisms. I always feel like those who listen to what I have written really enjoy what I have done, and it makes me happy as well as giving me a certain feeling of humility. (When someone says they are going to load you into their iPod so they can take you with them…well, that gives me a special feeling, to be sure.) I am also encouraged by the opportunity to collaborate with just a few people, too. That they would have the confidence in me to fiddle with their original tracks is very nice indeed. I am not particularly clever at all of this collaboration business, but if I can help add a small element to someone else’s track, that makes me feel valued and useful. And a few folks have given me kind advice regarding one thing or another, either technical or in the realm of promoting my music to a broader audience. There is no shortage of encouragement at Macjams.”

What MJ song you are most proud of?

“The last song I uploaded… always! I sort of feel I don’t own the musical children I create, so the further away from me they get, the more I tend to concentrate on the newest addition to the family. Those new ‘children’ get all of my attention and I try to take care of them as best as I can: getting them ready to show to the world; putting them on display in appropriate clothing; taking them out to see the world for the very first time. It’s always scary, but I can’t help myself but to show them off. The older tunes can pretty much take care of themselves.”

Is there anything the MJ community might not know about you?

“I swim a mile every day – at 5:30 a.m. Most of my colleagues find that insane, but I love it and rarely miss a day. I also love hiking, though I am decidedly not a camper. Body surfing and boogie boarding are passions in which I indulge when I can. And I care for 47 rose bushes I have planted at my home. I have been married for 37 years to Theodora (Greek for ‘gift of god’). She is my inspiration every single day.”

Any additional anecdotes we missed?

“My choir singing one of my songs in St. Peter’s Square for then Pope John Paul II has to be a highlight. But also writing and then singing a duet with the leader of The Young Communists League on a stage in the Ukranian city of Novorysisk in 1989 to a packed house was also something I will never forget. A trip to Japan got me writing a song for the City of Miyakanojo in Miasaki Prefecture, a tune that was subsequently adopted by the local school district in that area as a sort of theme song was also a memorable musical event. And I will never forget having to transpose Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze from Bb to A because every Bb pipe on the organ was out of tune provided me with one of my more harrowing adventures. The list goes on and on and on. There are many funny stories and, fortunately, hardly any that I regret.”

Thanks. This was great. I love to talk to pianists.

“You ask some really interesting questions, things I don’t normally think about. Hope they make sense in the whole context of the interview. (Wow. It’s a LONG interview.) Thanks for considering my thoughts.”

LINKS:
• CD REVIEW: Paul F. Page: A STATELY AFFAIR
• Paul’s official website: CynMar Publications
Paul F. Page Profile on MacJams

Discography:
Paul F. Page: A STATELY AFFAIR (CDBaby)
A Corner Of My World from The Lost Records
A Corner Of My World on iTunes

Coming soon:
Autumn Sequence from CDBaby.com and iTunes

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You write very singable, chromatic melodies. What do you think a melody should accomplish?

17 Responses to “Paul F. Page – Philosopher Pianist”

  1. Dee1962z Says:

    Wow !!
    I think he should be called ‘ Sir Paul F Page’ he is ‘Magnificant’ seriousely.
    Well done and congratulations Mr Page :)

    I had the very greatest of honour to Collab with Paul He played the flute and added the orchestra to my song below. He gave it wings to fly . I have also be inspired by Paul to carry on practicing my Piano playing after listening to all his Doll series.
    Thank you Tobin. He well deserves it.

    I feel happy final .
    http://www.macjams.com/song/41704

  2. Yeman Al-Rawi (Birdman Wayne) Says:

    I’ve been looking forward to that interview for a long time.

    Mr. Paul is truly a great and a master artist. Very interesting life and glad to know about him. His 3 movements of piano is really one of the best piano compositions ever heard posted at MJ.

    Thanks for doing this interview Mr. Tobin, Sir Paul deserves all the best and you know how much you mean to me!

    Take Care
    – Yeman A. Al-Rawi

  3. davisamerica Says:

    Paul … a wonderful read and I cannot think of a person who more deserves this “nod”, any more than you kind sir! From those of us who know and love your work… bravo maestro!

  4. Bill Says:

    Really enjoyed reading this whole blog, what a treat ! Paul is one of my favorites here. I think he is truly most gifted and talent, humble artists here at MJ. The depth of creativity, in his knowledge of expression here in the article is really amazing to me. It seems almost like I’m receiving a musical education with this blog.

    I like how he places music as the important thing, not so much the software or computer and I think he has the right priorities for an artists such as himself. And really reflects great artists around the world and Paul is in that class. Though he seems to be very humble about that.

    Paul is a great GIFT to Macjams! Always a joy to listen to his beautiful compositions!

  5. Paul (Reinholt56) Says:

    Paul

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful, peaceful world with everyone here at Macjam’s and for the joy that all your music has given me personally, as well as your kind words.

    Words cannot express……

    As always, take care.

    Paul

  6. Paul Panetta Says:

    A fan whose always been a fan and always inspired me even after the decades of the non-collaberation.Miss our working together,but it’s in my warm memories and
    heart.Keep on truckin’ and never grow old!!!
    Paul Panetta
    (class of “77)

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