When I was just knee-high to a grasshopper, 2 to 3 years old, I yodeled off the porch to people sitting on the steps, who put small change in a jar for me while my mother played accompaniment on the piano. This came from mimicking my relatives who would sit around the house yodeling to each other from room to room.
Needless to say, my ancestors came from the Tyrolean Alps where this was common practice. The good nuns took me under their wings and started the 15 years of piano lessons from several mildly amused but often stressed piano teachers. One after the other they admonished me for changing the classics or any other written music and suggested that I go elsewhere, where creativity during the learning process would be appreciated. My last teacher could hardly contain her laughter as I continuously grumbled under my breath about the lack of color in her selected songs for me to practice. Finally, she told my mother to stop my lessons and let me loose to develop my own style.
While attending college, I played at various bars and resorts to help pay for my education as a physicist. This valuable exposure to the life of working musicians convinced me to continue my education and make my way in the world of science rather than the adventurous life of booze, drugs and free-spirited people willing to do anything for kicks.
Many things come together to shape, mold and influence a life. There were three major ingredients used to bake my life: a natural closeness to nature and its many rhythms, an unquenchable need to be near and on the water, and the need to be creative – especially with music. So, living on a boat that I built while going to school and playing the piano on the Put-N-Bay Islands on Lake Erie was the start and promise of larger things to come.
The aerospace industry scooped me up and suddenly the world got smaller. Sailing in the Pacific Northwest was the start of a long love affair with sailboat racing and cruising. The rhythm of the seas became my basic beat. Florida sailing out of Cape Canaveral brought the Bahamas and all of its delicious and outrageous counter beats into my music while the endless surf beating on the hot sands of hundreds of islands brought me their catchy melodies floating on the wind.
This bio is to show how and why my music style came about. My life with family, friends and associates would take a good-sized book to describe and would unnecessarily make public very private matters.
New Orleans and space rockets brought a mix of sound as tasty as the foods served behind old and rustic exteriors surrounding antique furnishings and indoor courtyards, and the beat goes on. A very big part of my musical life started here with the cross breeding of ethnic music in and around the Mississippi Delta. But also from here came my introduction to the islands of Mexico brought to me as a gift from sailboat racing.
The designing of spacecraft and training of astronauts brought me to the modern and hip town of Houston. I learned the true meaning of hustle and bustle and that there are 24 hours in each day. Raising a family, working hard and lots of air travel blended together, and time meant only deadlines. Sailing to Mexico became a mandatory sanity check while we all tried to stave off heart attacks and strokes while getting to the moon and learning how to live in space. We time-shared space achievements with fighting a cold war by developing smart weapons for obscene reasons.
My two great kids, Laura and Scott, along with music and sailing kept me going even at this pace. But many of my co-workers dropped out for one reason or the other and some made the big step – too young. I could see the warning signs in me – ailments that couldn’t be diagnosed, health problems that shouldn’t be at that age. I had been in martial arts for some time but even with working out it still wasn’t enough. I had heard of the internal martial arts based on teachings of the original naturalists of the world, the Taoists. I made this a lifetime study, working hard at Aikido and Tai Chi. I believe that this lengthened and enhanced my life. I learned to stop rushing from one place to the other and to enjoy the journey. I learned to feel the energy of the flowing tides and the osmosis in the trees.
Little by little creativity came back in all phases of my life, and music came flowing out. My trips to Mexico and other places further south were bonanzas of sounds imitating nature and the rhythms of the universe. My style had slowly evolved based on my experiences gained in every port and every island. I never realized exactly what my style really was until a close friend described it for me. It starts with the basic rhythm produced by the left hand and then the melody is played along with a continuously changing counter rhythm with the right hand. This is the essence of my style.
While in Houston, I found myself playing the vibraphones and keyboards with a Hawaiian music group. This added a new musical dimension and lifelong friends who helped me pursue island music beyond my known boundaries.
I spent many years visiting Mexico and developing close relationships with people from a different but beautiful culture and philosophy of life. I learned early on in my many trips south of the border that the reason Mexicans are late for meetings is because they don’t want to leave the people they are with. Every Mexican seems to be a musician looking to make friends and enjoy every moment as if it were the last. This was a much-needed ingredient in my life.
Science taught me about the boundless energy in the universe; Tai Chi taught me how to feel the energy and use it. The island people and the deep-feeling people of Mexico taught me how to put emotion and passion into music, and boats are my vehicle for the journey.
What is the allure of island music, and where does it come from? Music is an emotional stimulus, and we all respond differently just like with the other arts. This is particularly true if we compose, arrange and perform the music. A good example is a storm: many people respond with some level of fear or apprehension. In my case a storm is part of the yin-yang relationship in nature. It’s an energy exchange that maintains a balance in nature, so my response is a very strong release of harmonious, positive and exciting rhythms.
Most of my life I have watched people’s response to music, and to my music. No matter how sedate, people cannot resist a strong and exciting rhythm and will eventually move in some basic responsive manner. And, if the melody contains a counter rhythm, the response is even more enthusiastic. If you really love music and enjoy making music, you have a wonderful way of fulfilling your basic needs for creating something. But if you’ve noticed that other people enjoy your creations as well, this is all the more reason for providing a website that can be enjoyed by anyone.
Many people have asked why not provide words to the music. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question. Why do we enjoy a painting? Because, with at most a title, we can let our senses and imagination, which is a form of creativity, run wild weaving our own lives into the artwork, creating our own story line. This is most certainly true with music, which is like a painting that is continuously changing for several minutes. It can also be enjoyed while we are doing other things without having to listen to words which would interrupt our own private thoughts. Therefore, I have concentrated on putting expression into instrumentals only.
How do we get real expression and emotion into music? Being out in nature, for example the sea, away from all other influence and assistance brings out our inner emotions. Nature doesn’t know or care who we are so it can roll right over us and also make us witness to the extraordinary beauty and wonder of the universe. This rids us of pretenses and brings out our fears and idiosyncracies, basically stripping us down to our raw essentials. There is nothing more cleansing, and it leaves us totally disarmed with all our feelings out in the open. This prepares and opens us up like no other experience can. So, when we arrive in a new port we are deeply sensitized to experience new cultures and ways of life. The emotional stimulus of the music we are subjected to under these conditions is quite extraordinary, to say the least. My emotional response to Spanish music or songs like “Yellow Bird” is very unique at these times. My resulting compositions are very different than if I had listened to these same songs in a normal setting in my home or while watching a movie. Therefore, the creation of music, in my case, is based on the emotional settings and my response to them. This surely produces a uniqueness and originality not found very often.
Each song comes from unique locations under interesting circumstances that provide memories that are brought out each time I perform the song. This type of emotional stimulus has to provide better results than artificial stimulation and high tech studios. A typical example of deep emotional stimulus and its effect on my music occurred during a 730 mile sailboat race to Veracruz, Mexico, and the cruise back home to Houston. The Mariachi street bands and roving musicians around the many sidewalk cafes had a huge effect on me. Some of the roving bands would have up to 6 trumpet players placed strategically around the huge city square. The Marimba bands played everywhere, and all the sounds blended and echoed off the cathedrals and government buildings surrounding the square. This music in varying degrees went on for 24 hours a day during the weekend, and to a lesser degree during the week. While sailing back home, I kept hearing strains of the music in my head and I would actually look back over my shoulder for its source while many miles out at sea. These kinds of experiences never leave me and continuously guide my fingers over the keys. My music does not exactly emulate the songs and sounds of these many experiences, but it reflects my emotional response to the music and rhythms that I hear. The energy from the universe, especially at night, stimulates me to compose, arrange and perform music based on all my emotional experiences.
About the CD Production
We even use emotions putting our CDs together. Sharon, who is very clever and artistic, uses mostly the pictures she takes on our trips for the artwork. We are also considering writing short stores about the origin of each song and either putting them on the webpage which can be copied, or on a pamphlet in each CD, or both.
I now live on Pine Island, which is located on the southwest coast of Florida. It is a beautiful and mostly unspoiled place surrounded by estuaries and dozens of little islands where colonies of birds live. In this setting, especially on star filled nights, my creative juices flow with music. Frequently, in this beautiful, energy-filled setting, I take my Tai Chi students to an island beach to perform Tai Chi and feel the energy at the interface of sky, sea and earth. Please join me and listen to the rhythms of the universe.