"I have always had music in my head."
There's a curious combination that I've been contemplating for awhile. It's a particular tension: something in your life is unintentional- you certainly feel reluctance about it- and inexplicably, at the same time, you feel compelled to do it. I call this the Curious Combination, and it describes my career thus far as a composer and performer. I didn't set out to be a composer or singer/songwriter. (I was already a pianist). But composing found me. And ever since it did, I've felt called to engage with this whirlwind, and bring the music I have inside of me out into the light of day. *
I have always had music in my head. It's as if there were a radio or playlist accompanying whatever I did. In the past, this playlist/jukebox would spin out all sorts of things, from Mozart sonatas to pop songs which sometimes provided humorous commentary. ( Imagine hearing The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" or "She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals while trying to extricate yourself from a conversation.) To gain access to this ever-present sound track, I just had to be quiet for a few seconds and then listen - sometimes with surprise - to what was playing.
I played piano since the age of three, and could play by ear. I did typical piano studies, and although considered very talented, I felt uncomfortable playing-literally and figuratively- and believed there was something amiss in my playing. When I was in my early 20's, I was fortunate to meet a genius in Philip Cohen, who began to teach me the piano anew. I spent 10 years in Montreal learning how to play again, this time with the understanding of the choreography of the hands and the physical movements necessary to play well.
So there I was: a classical pianist who could also play by ear, improvise, and play some jazz. I made my living teaching, accompanying instrumentalists and singers, and at various times accompanied dancers, both modern and ballet, in their classes.
In 2003 all of that changed, however. I visited an alternative practitioner, an "energetic healer", to see if she could help me address insomnia. She told me, very matter-of-factly, that the reason I awoke every night was to write music. I told her, very matter-of-factly, that this couldn't possibly be true. I wasn't aware of any music within me wanting to be written, and simply could not imagine implementing her suggestion to get out of bed to write music! This prescription sounded too difficult, and struck me as very lonely.
I knew I could improvise, but deliberately composing was another mindset-(not to mention skillset). Nevertheless, soon after meeting with the healer a mysterious thing happened: I was very clearly hearing music in my head. But this time, instead of hearing a Mozart sonata or irreverent pop tune, it was my own music.
And so my new career, both strange and exciting, began. I would be walking around, not realizing I was hearing music. Then I would suddenly become aware of a short fragment repeating itself. Before I knew it, I would be hearing that fragment again, but this time in a new version with a longer phrase, or counter-melody or with the addition of one single note. The music would be different from what I'd been hearing only minutes before, and it was screaming quietly and persistently to be heard. (The music most often makes itself heard in the middle of the night, or when falling back to sleep, or when I am walking. It is always a surprise.)
My work started out with two piano pieces, which I see as the center of a galaxy.** All the other work emanates from that center - songs are spinning in orbit! Soon I had a wild sense of words becoming almost alive. Street signs would become completely evocative, having their own emotional tone and identity. It felt to me like the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the world changes from black and white to Technicolor. That experience comes and goes, and it has left me with awe and respect for the sound of words, which for me, is paramount in writing lyrics. The sound of a word determines whether it becomes part of a song.
Where a composition is headed, or what the" identity" of a piece is-these are things I often simply don't know. And I had to decide early on that it was okay not to have certainty, and to trust my process. The one thing that continues to guide me in choosing notes, rhythms or harmonies is the drive to distill emotion. Some of my songs tell a linear story, with a beginning, middle, and end, while others are more of a collage of stories layered upon one another. To me, that's how our lives are- with many stories super-imposed upon each other, not just one story.
At times I view my work as pictures that have undergone a transformation into a medium of words and music. It's not a surprise that I relate my music to pictures, as I grew up with the art of my mother, Jeanette Fineman. She was a great artist (she died in 2014) whose work I continue to love and admire, and I've showcased some of her work throughout this website. At first glance, her paintings appear to be one thing, but as you gets closer, nuances of color, detail and obscured elements (such as an image of the world as a globe or a face) begin to appear. While gazing at a painting of hers one day, I realized that my compositions mirror many aspects of her work.
I have taken on a certain responsibility in writing music. Even though I write music that tells personal and specific stories, I try to paint on a canvas that is large enough and open enough for people to put their own stories. I want to include whoever needs to be included. That is still my goal.
And as I think about that Curious Combination again- that sense of being overtaken by something you had no intention of becoming involved with- it seems to echo the way we describe falling in love. Perhaps that is what all creativity is.
*My pieces The Music of the Cotillion and Faraway Pavilion (Diptych 2 from the CD You and Me) attempt to express the sense of that whirlwind, of being overtaken by the muse.
**The two piano pieces are Who You Were Then and Always '(from the CD Everyday Secrets) and And The World Spins 'Round, 'Round (found on Mary Fineman Solo Piano) - the latter done as both a piano recording and an orchestration for the Oakland Symphony.