Project History

These compositions written for the piano comprise my entire output as a composer and lay abandoned and forgotten in a drawer for almost forty years. My musical training is limited to adventures as a mid-1970s clarinetist in the Springfield, Vermont High School Concert Band. I hated to practice and never progressed significantly. However, I had already developed a strong interest in classical music by way of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and then its source by Modeste Mussorgsky. I fooled around on the piano at school, so my parents bought a spinet piano with an atrocious tone and I spent hours on it, ignoring proper fingerings and stumbling through pieces of piano literature I couldn’t possibly ever play. They offered me lessons, but I declined — I knew I wouldn’t be able to master it to my satisfaction and at the time I was more interested in making the stuff up, not performing it.

By 1978, I had left the painting program at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and was sharing a large row house with an art school friend. She had recently changed her focus of study to voice, and as encouragement her mother bought her a brand new, state-of-the-art studio piano with the most beautiful sound and velvety action. It sat alone in the front parlor of the house and I couldn’t keep my hands off it, avoiding work at the easel I constantly scolded myself for shirking. I began to scribble musical ideas, then entire works. I was obsessed. I briefly considered going back to school to make a study of music, but after receiving a lackluster response to some of the pieces from a graduate student in the composition department at The University of Pennsylvania, I concluded my composing abilities lacked the necessary spark, and put the work away.

Then, in 2016, I came across the scores. Thumbing through the unfamiliar pages, I wondered how they might sound. I didn’t own a keyboard and I never could really play much of it anyway, but with the aid of a software program designed for music notation I was able to enter the pieces note by note, adjust dynamics and meter, and finally, for the first time, hear them played from start to finish in a piano simulation. An hour of music emerged from the manuscripts; four stand-alone works, and seven pieces grouped together in a suite.

The digital simulations are what friend guitarist/singer/composer Thom McCarthy first heard in my studio when he generously agreed to listen and give an opinion. His encouragement inspired me to seek a further evaluation from a pianist and composer Tom Lawton, who, to my surprise, was inspired to take the next step: to learn the music, play it, and record it.

Mr. Lawton rehearsed the material over the span of a year. We met several times together at the piano. It was a revelation to hear the music come to life. Mr. Lawton teaches at the Temple University Boyer College of Music, and there he solicited the skills of Sean G. Bailey, an expert recording engineer and editor, and a clarinetist and composer himself. Over several sessions, Sean recorded Tom on a concert grand piano in a studio at Presser Hall on the Temple campus. Sean and I met later and together we edited the tracks. It was a wondrous three-way collaboration and I am eternally indebted to them both for their interest and their efforts in service of a half-forgotten dream.

The entire album was performed live in a recital on November 18th, 2023, at The Rhoden Arts Center Auditorium at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Mitch Gillette, December 2023

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