Our featured artist today is John Manchester. Let’s give him a warm welcome!
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I was featured here some years back as a writer of dark thrillers. I’m grateful now to get a second shot with my music! Fifteen years ago, after a long career composing music for media, I hit a creative wall. With over 500 instrumental pieces published, the scene between me and the muse was feeling tired. A dream kept me going: to hear my music played by a symphony orchestra. I was lucky to record with first call NY studio musicians. They did a great job, but the results sounded….small. I could afford 20 players. A symphony has at least 70.
My dream came true in 2003, when I flew to the Czech Republic to record with the Prague Philharmonic. Within minutes I heard my dream turn to a nightmare. The conductor didn’t speak a word of English and me not a word of Czech. That wasn’t the main problem. To explain requires a little trip into the musicological weeds. The musicians, while competent, weren’t versed in the musical idiom of pop syncopation. The music I grew up with (Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) is steeped in it. Notated, that music has more notes off the beat than on. But the feel of that syncopation is completely different than in classical music. Like most orchestral players of the time, the Czech ones had trained in conservatories where the pop feel was not taught. Bottom line: my music sounded big, but terrible.
Back from Europe a new obstacle to composing arose. The music that fed my family was happy, positive, optimistic! I had a dark side that longed for expression. I drifted from music into writing dark psychological thrillers.
When I was writing orchestral music, before recording with real musicians I’d mock up my pieces using samples. Though they improved every year, hearing the real thing in the studio proved how lame those samples were.
Not any more. I’ve noticed in the TV series I watch that samples have gotten so good that it’s hard to tell them from the real thing. In the back of my mind was the idle thought that if I took up composing again I might finally be able to put Prague behind me.
My wife found me a great FREE grand piano. I started playing Bach, realized in short order that this old back, neck and hands weren’t going to cooperate. But my old muse was back, giving me coy looks. And whispering, “Haven’t you had enough darkness?”
It’s funny how reality can suddenly hinge on an idle thought. I bought a super Mac, a couple of sampled orchestras, grand piano and a choir…and was composing again. In dollars, the whole rig cost a fraction of my adventure in Prague. The toll on my peace of mind is another story. I spent a couple of months tearing out what little hair I have left mastering the technology required to make a symphony orchestra come out of a silver box.
As I approached the summit of that great learning curve I got ever more frequent glimpses of a magnificent view. Listening to music can be a great joy. Playing more so. Nothing beats making it.
The same is apparently true of visual art. A fellow musician suggested that people might be less inclined to click away from my YouTube videos if they had visuals with motion. Just as I’d fallen into composing again, I fell into making videos. I’ve been working with my wife and with two fine painters I know – Janey Fritsche and Eric Kaye. I went to the De Young museum for the first time since the pandemic and wondered why I wasn’t getting the same buzz from the paintings I used to. Because I wanted to be creating them.
YouTube (FREE to listen and watch, a new video every two weeks.)
That’s my story, a work in progress. Questions? Comments?