Talks with Robin Spielberg
A New Kind of Love
A New Kind of Love:
AV: When did music first become an important component of your life and was there anything in particular that brought about this interest?
RS: Music has always been an important part of my life; it was all around me and a strong component in my family history. My sister began piano lessons when she was seven. I was five at the time and insanely jealous; I wanted lessons too.
AV: Many musicians that I have spoken to over the years have had strong encouragement at home in regards to their desire to play music to help them along. Was there music in your home growing up and did you have support from your parents in regards to your growing interest in music?
RS: Yes on both counts. My grandfather, Rubin Spielberg, was a flutist in Toscaninni’s NBC Symphony Orchestra. His brother was concert master of that same orchestra, so I suppose you could say the passion for music was somewhat genetic. My parents were very supportive of my musical interests and encouraged them.
AV: Did you have formal training growing up and has it always been the piano that held your interest?
RS: I was a very busy kid! I had piano lessons, organ lessons, violin lessons and attended ballet school. When I reached my teen years, the drama department caught my attention and I spent a great deal of extracurricular time in my drama club on and off the stage, but I would say that the piano was the one constant in my life. Other interests may have waned, but not my interest in the piano and its mysteries.
AV: Do you remember the first time you played for an audience other than family and what was that like for you?
RS: My first paying piano “gig” was in a VIP room of a dance club in New York City. It was an after-hours place and I played the piano from midnight until 3am on a piano tucked away in the corner in the room which was frequented by celebrities. The room was dimly lit and my job was to pretty much provide ambiance. This was the perfect initiation. There was an audience, but I did not have their full attention---nor was I supposed to! This gig lasted about a year, and then I went on to play in New York’s premiere piano rooms and fancy hotel lobbies. Again, I was “wallpaper”; sometimes people sat and listened, sometimes not, but this experience really helped me ease into playing before audiences.
AV: When was it that you remember composing your first piece of music and what was it like to create something new musically speaking instead of playing what others have written?
RS: I’ve been “making up songs” since toddlerhood. I never thought the act of composing was anything special or unique until I was old enough to realize that not everyone did this. The process has always felt very natural and organic to me; like writing a letter to a friend.
AV: How difficult is it to find your style and “voice” in terms of your compositions once you start writing music? Is there ever a tendency to fall back on what you have heard before in regards to your own compositions?
RS: I have heard people talk about “the Robin Spielberg sound”. I am not quite sure what that means, but I suppose every composer and/or instrumentalist has qualities that can be identified. My Dad used to tell me that before he saw me at the piano in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, he knew if it was me playing or someone else the moment he stepped out of the revolving door and into the lobby! My style or “voice” is a product of my musical experiences. I love the structure of classical music, am fond of a good Broadway/pop song melody and enjoy impressionism. Perhaps you could say my music is a combination of these elements.
AV: Tell me about the time you spent playing the piano rooms around New York City and how this helped to shape what you were becoming as a pianist and as a composer?
RS: I didn’t realize it at the time, but the hours I spent on the bench in piano rooms and hotel lobbies in New York City were invaluable in terms of preparation for life as a concert artist. First off, there is nothing that can replace the amount of time a musician spends with his or her instrument. Having six to ten hours per day of gigs in New York City, the music mecca of the world, is pretty amazing in terms of getting chops. The amount of musical knowledge required is also immense. No music is allowed on the piano desk so you need to be a quick study as you need to learn and arrange a large amount of repertoire that ranges from classical, to popular to Broadway to cabaret, to standards…needless to say, stamina is also required!
AV: When was it that you decided that you wanted to record your music and release CD’s? Was it difficult to go from playing live to doing it in a studio during the recording process?
RS: I think my journey has been very organic and natural. Nothing happened overnight. While I began composing music as a young girl and always had a penchant for arranging standards and pop songs, it wasn’t until I began playing steady engagements in New York City that I had the opportunity to share my original tunes with listeners. People really responded to this music and their response encouraged me to include more of my original piano solos on the job. It wasn’t until six years of doing this that I felt ready to commit the music to a recording.
AV: Heal of the Hand was your first CD release back in 1993. How would you characterize those 11 original compositions as you look back on it from where you are now?
RS: Well, some people are journal writers, some write poetry…others use photographs to remember their life’s journey. As for me, I have been creating a musical soundtrack to my life for a very long time. When I look back on Heal of the Hand, I hear where I was emotionally as a young woman in the early 90’s.
AV: It sounds like the CD was well received and garnered some pretty good press. How did this change things for you personally and as a musician? Were you ready to be in the spotlight and receive such glowing reviews of your music?
RS: The CD received tremendous reviews. I released it independently and had gone into considerable debt in doing so. Just six months later, the recording was picked up by North Star Music. They signed me to a 6-record deal and I was on my way to a recording career. This was 1994. Understand, I had been playing my music in New York’s piano rooms since 1986 so I was more than ready.
AV: Were the subsequent CD’s that you worked on easier for you to create after having been through that initial recording process for Heal of the Hand?
RS: The music for Heal of the Hand took years to compose and a day to record. I tend to live with my compositions for a long while before I decide to release them on CD. I make sure I am fully prepared; that way the recording process is enjoyable and somewhat carefree. I think if you are stressed in the studio the listener will some how hear that, so it is important to feel confident. You can only feel confident if you are prepared. You can only be prepared if you have practiced. So there you go.
AV: Are there any projects that you are more proud of or have a greater feeling for over the years? I now that is like asking you to pick your favorite child but I’m sure there have been moments that stand out in your mind more brilliantly than others about some of the work you have done.
RS: Well sure. Some projects stand out. I remember recording Heal of the Hand and thinking to myself, “A-ha! This is what I am on the planet to do!” It was a revelation. I wore my Dad’s lucky flannel shirt to the studio and met the engineer who would go on to work with me on 7 more recordings. I also enjoyed the process of recording Spirit of the Holidays with my piano, cello, guitar trio. That was a unique experience. The label rented us space for a month in New England for rehearsal and we worked together 8 hours a day for four weeks. That bonded us. The interludes on that holiday recording are very special and still hold up after repeated listening after all these years. My latest CD, A New Kind of Love was a pleasure to record. I was reunited with an engineer I had worked with back in 1999. It was like no time had passed between projects. We clicked from the getgo.
AV: What adjustments did you make in your style when you worked with the small ensemble on your 1997 release?
RS: That release, “In the Arms of the Wind” was different than recording the 1994 trio release because I used session players. Often when you use a session player, you work together for an hour or so, hand them a check and never see them again. They are hired to do a very specific task. So I pretty much composed and arranged all the music ahead of time, recorded my piano tracks in New York, ventured up to New England and had session players do the overdubs. All the parts were written out. Because this was a bigger album, this was the most efficient way of realizing the music.
AV: What was it that motivated you and your husband to form playMountain records in the summer of 2000?
RS: My contract was up with North Star after In the Arms of the Wind, and in 1998 my husband and I welcomed our baby daughter. I created a lullaby album and licensed that to North Star in 1999, but decided to self-release my next album of originals Dreaming of Summer in 2000. We started playMountain to facilitate that release. I jumped on the iTunes wagon through playMountain and was able to find licensing opportunities both in the US and overseas for the album as well as for specific songs. These were avenues that other labels were not regularly pursuing for their roster.
AV: Tell me what it is that you like the most about performing live in front of an audience? And the least?
RS: I love live performance. It is the ultimate way to express music. Playing before audiences allows artists to share music created in the moment; a moment that can never be repeated or recalled. Yes, it can be taped, but not experienced live ever again. This is how live theater is too. Irreplaceable.
AV: Music without lyrics is truly a universal language in that everyone can hear and appreciate it regardless of where the performer is from. How was your music received during your performances at the Seoul Arts Center? Were you surprised that about the reception?
AV: You have truly had some wonderful experiences and during your career and just recently you released your 15th CD. When you sit and consider it does it seem possible that you are already on your 15th release?
RS: It has been a fantastic journey so far. I do feel a sense of accomplishment when a songbook or CD project is completed, but mostly I feel like I have so many more things I would like to do artistically and there is not enough time in the day!
AV: Typically how long do you work on new material before you feel that it is ready for recording? When did you start working on the compositions that comprise your new CD A New Kind of Love
RS: I began working on the music for this CD right when we located our family to Pennsylvania. That was April of 2005. I sat down and began working on new pieces that first week---so it took about three years for them to gel and be ready for A New Kind of Love.
AV: Is there anyone else other than yourself that has input into your music in progress?
RS: Sometimes my daughter dances in the living room while I am working on something….sometimes I struggle for a good title and ask my husband what he thinks…but as far as the music goes, no one hears a piece in its entirety until it is finished. Then I play it for my husband, my mom and my daughter. My mom listens over the phone.
AV: Are you comfortable in the studio these days when it comes to putting your music down on tape? How much of the work on A New Kind of Love did you do and how much did you entrust to others who work with you?
RS: I prepare all the music and plan on doing a few takes of each song. For A New Kind of Love, Gerry Putnam (the engineer) and I experimented with having the piano lid on, off, half stick up, half stick down..that sort of thing. We worked hard on creating the sound we wanted. I also relied on Gerry to tell me if I was running away with the beat!
AV: What is it that your fans will find when they pick up a copy of A New Kind of Love? Have you wandered off on any interesting side trails in regards to the typical music that is included on a Robin Spielberg release?
RS: I think fans of my music will enjoy this new chapter, and hopefully, they will also enjoy the bluesy last track which is a tongue-in-cheek piece called “It’s All Just As Well”. I also introduce my listeners to two pieces that were popular in Korea a few years ago---beautiful songs I performed in Seoul.
AV: With this being your first CD of all original compositions in 8 years was it difficult to get back in the swing of things in regards to composing? Why the long gap in original material?
RS: After Dreaming of Summer (2000) I recorded two holiday CDs, a CD of standards, and a “best of” album and released several songbooks, so I wasn’t short on projects. I began working on new originals in 2005 and while the music for “A New Kind of Love” was ready in 2007, my concert schedule didn’t allow for recording time until winter of 2008.
AV: How has the new CD been received so far?
RS: Reviews are just starting to come in. I got a 4-star rating from The All Music Guide which was a nice surprise!
AV: I see that you are going out on the road through the southwest and through the New England states this year. Where can your fans find a listing of your schedule if they want to see you in person?
RS: Reviews for the CD, sound samples of all my music, video clips of me playing live and the tour schedule is on my web site, www.robinspielberg.com
AV: Any final thoughts about your career or music that you would like to share with my readers?
RS: Well, if you have made it this far, I want to thank you for your interest in my work. I also want to encourage people to check out the information available on music therapy. I am an Artist Spokesperson for AMTA, The American Music Therapy Association, and the studies connecting music and wellness are astounding! Check out http://www.musictherapy.org to learn more!
AV: Thank you for taking time out to speak with me about your music and your new CD. I hope that we will be hearing your music for many years to come. Good luck.