Embedded Music

Back when I was a small child, my parents played quite a bit Mannheim Steamroller in the house. In particular, I remember listening to the Fresh Aire series (not this Fresh Air series, though I listen to that quite a bit these days) first on record albums then on cassettes as I played quietly in my room with my Legos (I was about 6 years old at the time). This was long before the series of Christmas albums  out that Mannheim Steamroller is perhaps best known for now. The first four Fresh Aire albums had a seasonal theme. That is, the first was spring, Fresh Aire II’s theme was summer, and so on.

I put Fresh Aire IV in the CD player back in December when I needed a break from all of the holiday music, but still wanted to listen to something wintery. As the third track, “Interlude 7” came on, I nearly stopped dead in my tracks.

Sound vaguely familiar? I posted a song last December that I composed, or rather improvised, called “#37: Improvisational Nocturne” with very similar features: the (nearly) solo piano, the quiet start, the uneven tempo, the swelling and diminishing dynamics, the undulating bass line and dissonant chords that bring to mind a midnight caravan in a distant land… even the major chord at the very end. Heck, even the names are similar in that they both contain a number and the name of a type of song.

Sure, I’ve listened to the album a number of times since my childhood, but none of that was intentional. Granted, in some ways the similarity was inevitable. The songs were created specifically with a wintery theme in mind. I’ve never taken piano lessons so most of the bass lines I make up sound like that – playing the octaves to create a fuller sound – to compensate for my inability to come up with adequate chords on the fly (which also explains the dissonant chords, too, now that I think about it…). I’ve historically had few friends with musical tendencies interested in playing together in a band, so most of my playing is solo anyway. And the song title? It was the 37th recording I’ve made on my Roland Virtual Studio and a nod to the Dave Matthews Band’s tendency to leave some of their songs untitled (e.g. #34, #41).

I’ve never considered Mannheim Steamroller as one of my musical influences. I always think of the various artists that I’ve listened to for ages… Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel growing up courtesy of my parents, progressive and art rock (Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis) or alt rock (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Jeff Buckley, Cake) in high school and college, or the electronica and downtempo stuff from my 20’s (Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation).

Though I still really enjoy all of those artists, I’m starting to realize that they apparently haven’t had as much of an impact on me as a musician as the music I heard 30 years ago at a very early age.

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