in brief with a focus on the music and writings
Part 1, 1956-79
EARLY YEARS (a musical journey) 1956-75
Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1956, I began taking piano at age nine and guitar at age ten; by eleven, I played guitar in a pop-rock garage band, wrote my first song, “On Mars,” and over the next few years started playing semi-pro gigs in a blues based rock band. Toward the close of this period, I started taking flamenco guitar lessons, had the first of a handful of backstage lessons with folk-blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and began a course of study with jazz icon Bob Erlendson (the legendary jazz guitarist Lenny Breau studied and later performed with Bob).
By age sixteen, I increasingly focused on songwriting and composition, with most instrumentals being for piano. During the next three years, I enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Music for classical piano and theory, participated in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop under multiple Tony Award winner Lehman Engel, and showcased originals both as a solo artist as well as with bands (e.g. toured Southern Ontario via an Opportunities for Youth [OFY] grant).
At eighteen, inspired by the virtuosic piano repertoire of the Romantic Era, I penned “Piano Sonata No. 1,” closing out my teenage composition years with a bang. Soon thereafter, I attended the North Carolina School for the Arts summer program at the Tibor Varga Festival in Sion, Switerzland, studying with Hungarian pianist Bela Nagy, a three time winner of the Liszt Prize.
At the age of seventeen, I suffered the first of a lifelong series of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) which affected how I work. For more info, see "Body vs Art" at bottom of page.
UNIVERSITY YEARS 1975-79
At age eighteen, I was accepted at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music, as a music major. My professors included (click links for bios): Oskar Morawetz (counterpoint and orchestration); Derek Holman (harmony); John Hawkins, Derek Holman and Lothar Klein (composition—yrs 2, 3, 4 respectively); Earle Moss (piano); Geoffrey Payzant (philosophy of music and aesthetics). In 1979, I graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in composition.
1. In my sophomore year of university I was diagnosed as having keratoconus, a progressive eye disorder, which eventually resulted in my becoming legally blind and requiring two cornea transplants. For more info, see "Body vs Art" at bottom of page.
2. Looking for a summer job in 1977, I responded to a newspaper ad for a keyboard player in what turned out to be a five piece, Afro-Jamaican funk band. Although I wasn’t familiar with the band’s repertoire (T-Connection, Commodores, Brothers Johnson, etcetera), I passed the audition and soon found myself en route to Gatineau, Quebec, where we played the local night club circuit. Great experience.
3. During my junior year of university I composed my first film score, the soundtrack for a 30 minute drama produced by film students.
4. Major works composed during my university years include:
• 1975 String Quartet
• 1976 The Mini Cow, a lyrical orchestral work for dance on an original story.
Part 2, 1979-93
A ROCK BAND 1979
At age 22, delighted to be finished with university, the first thing I did that spring was put together a four piece rock band. Within a few months, we played some of the most popular Toronto clubs and briefly toured Northeastern Ontario. When the only act on the bill, the band usually performed four sets: two sets of my originals, one set of Jimi Hendrix classics and a set of reimagined covers. Aside from being the lead vocalist, I played keyboards and guitar, the latter often strapped across my back until it was time for a solo. At any rate, by the end of the summer, the usual issues which plague struggling bands arose and we called it quits. To be frank, I was happy to move on from all the craziness and live the quiet life of a composer.
Q-107 RADIO’S HOMEGROWN COMPETITION VOL. 2 1979-80
In the fall of 1978, during my senior year of university, I hired a bassist and drummer and booked time in a recording studio to produce three original progressive-punk songs. After the band I assembled post university broke up, I caught wind of Q-107 Radio’s Homegrown Competition and decided to go back into the studio to make a few changes to the songs before entering the contest—e.g. I re-recorded the sci-fi vocals on two of the tracks with straight ahead singing and replaced the gritty rhythm guitars with orchestral synth lines. This turned out to be a good move as out of more than 500 submissions, my song, “Rockit Trip,” was one of ten tracks to win the contest and be featured on the Q-107 Radio Homegrown Album, Vol. 2. The song also received a ton of radio play, making it onto the station’s top 10 playlist.
April 24, 1980
"Rockit Trip, by King Rockit, on the other hand, is a wonderful re-ordering of a variety of rock’s cliches and, as a result, it is perhaps the most interesting of the commercial efforts on the album."
Peter Goddard (1943-22 journalist, author)
I entered the contest under the pseudonym King Rockit. Not having a band, that was pretty much the end of the project.
A FILM SCORE COMPOSER 1980-93
For the next couple of years I put a lot of energy into trying to get work as a freelance film composer. Although largely successful, I became increasingly frustrated because the film business was sucking up all of my time and interfering with my own projects. Fortuitously, just when I was considering my options, a good friend of mine landed a great job in a corporate film department and soon started throwing work my way. In short, I stopped the hustle and was happy to spend an average of three months out of the year composing industrial film scores and having the rest of the year to myself.
1. In the years which followed, I created the music for numerous documentary and industrial films, some of which won awards at the New York International Film and Television Festival and the U.S. Industrial Film Festival of Chicago.
2. Major works composed during this period include:
• 1982-84 "Rock ‘n’ Moses" (aka Holy Magic), an opera-musical based on the biblical exodus story.
• 1983-89 "Chasing a Dream: A Backpacker’s Odyssey in Mexico" (aka A Winter in the Sun), an opera-musical on an original story.
• 1990-present "Grappling With God In The Shadow Of The Holocaust," a musical-novel (i.e. a novel with embedded songs) on an original story set during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
"THE MUSIC TEACHER'S HERE!" 1986-present
While attending university, I briefly taught; however, it wasn’t until 1986, when my then wife and I returned from a 3½ month long bohemian-esque travel adventure in Mexico, that I decided to put up some flyers and get serious about teaching. Before long, I was giving in-home instruction three evenings a week.
The following year, keeping my private students, I accepted an offer to set up and teach a weekly electronic music workshop for the radio and television arts audio program at Ryerson University, which I committed to for a few years.
During my “A quiet life” and "Humpty Dumpty" years (see below), I taught very little. When I relocated to New Jersey in 2002, and soon thereafter Manhattan, I actively resumed teaching.
In 1982, I got married. About a year after our awesome 1985-86 Mexico trip, much to my disappointment, my wife and I split up. Five years later, I remarried.
Part 3, 1993-99
A QUIET LIFE Pt.1 1993-97
In 1993, when the opportunity arose, my second wife and I decided to escape the harsh Toronto winters and relocate to sunny Florida.
After the move, I continued to work on two large-scale projects which I had been deep into back in Toronto: 1) the revision and expansion of my Moses opera-musical, and 2) a musical-novel (i.e. a novel with embedded songs) on an original story set during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
A QUIET LIFE Pt.2 1997-99
The fall of 1997 brought yet another major move; this time to The Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. As soon as my wife and I found a place to live, I continued to plug away at the compositions I had been working on in Florida.
Initially I spent most days hunched over the computer writing my Holocaust themed musical-novel; however, in the spring of 1998, I purchased a new midi synthesizer keyboard and turned my attention toward recording the revised and expanded Moses opera-musical. By the end of our stay in New Mexico, near the close of 1999, the instrumental tracks were ready for vocals.
Part 4, 1999-01
HUMPTY DUMPTY HAD A GREAT FALL
Not long after leaving New Mexico, my wife and I ricocheted back to Florida, amidst a crumbling marriage.
As the focus of this page is my music and writings, let it suffice to say that stressors related to my second failed marriage threw me for a loop during this period. It would be over four years before I was able to get back to my creative work.
Part 5, 2001-22
A PHOENIX RISES FROM THE ASHES
As the close of 2001 approached, once the smoke had cleared after getting divorced, I packed up my old Honda and headed north, drifting deeper into a nomadic way of life. Ultimately, with the help of friends, I ended up in a small town across the river from Manhattan, New York and started teaching again.
In the fall of 2003, I took a room in a rent controlled, two bedroom apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Finally having a space where I could record, albeit with headphones so as not to disturb the neighbors, the following spring I purchased a new Apple laptop, as well as other recording peripherals, and began tracking the vocals for my Moses project in a makeshift vocal booth. Having worked with amateur vocalists in the past and being mostly frustrated with the results, I opted to try and perform all the parts myself, regardless of gender. My thinking was that I would focus on performance and not get bogged down by what naysayers might say. In 2008, after four grueling years, the vocals were finalized. In 2010, two years later, I mixed the project.
During the close to twenty years I called the Upper East Side home, from 2008 onward, I pretty much had the apartment to myself and was able to focus on various projects with minimal distraction.
Part 6, 2022-present
SO LITTLE TIME, SO MUCH TO DO
Late fall 2021, after having had the aforementioned apartment totally to myself during the COVID-19 pandemic, change was upon me—my landlady informed me that she was going to give up her apartment. I considered moving back to the nearby town in New Jersey I had landed in twenty years earlier; however, after weighing the pros and cons, I opted to relocate back to Florida, the following March.
Since making the move, I’ve mostly been finishing up a few projects which I had been working on back in New York City—e.g. a recording of the piano accompaniment of my opera-musical set in Mexico with the primary goal of laying down the singers tracks in the future. Update: the instrumental recording is complete and runs 2 hrs 42 min.
Looking to the future, there’s lots I’d like to accomplish, provided the universe cooperates—e.g. the revision of three major early works, hundreds upon hundreds of song and instrumental fragments awaiting development, etc. But most importantly, to paraphrase what I said on the home page: Being a composer who has spent countless hours creating his art only to not follow through so well when promoting it has resulted in my body of work remaining largely unknown. But as I am confident that my compositions are up there with the best of them and deserve to be known, I've set a goal to overcome my personal issues and be consistent about getting the word out that I exist. Yup, Johnny Appleseed, that's me. Wish me luck and thanks for reading!
• songs (hundreds of art-songs in a melting pot of musical styles)
• piano (numerous pieces including four sonatas)
• String Quartet
• The Mini Cow (a lyrical orchestral work for dance on an original story)
• Between the Layers (an avant-garde orchestral work for dance)
• Rock ‘n’ Moses (aka Holy Magic, an opera-musical based on the biblical exodus story)
• Chasing a Dream: A Backpacker’s Odyssey in Mexico (aka A Winter in the Sun, an opera-musical on an original story)
• Grappling With God In The Shadow Of The Holocaust (a musical-novel, i.e. a novel with embedded songs, on an original story set during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust). This title is a work in progress.
“If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.” Yiddish proverb
BODY VS ART (medical) 1974-present
I've had my fair share of physical injuries and genetic stumbling blocks over the years which have impacted how I work:
• 1974 Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at the Elbow (surgery shortly after diagnosis)
• 1977 Keratoconus Eye Disease (resulting in legal blindness and subsequent cornea transplant surgery in 1987 & 1989)
• 1989 Tendinitis in the wrists and arms
• 1995 De Quervain tenosynovitis in the thumbs
• 1999 Lower back disk injury L4, L5
If you'd like to read more on this chapter of my story, please click the following link which will take you to another page on this website: Body vs Art