CD: Another Time, Another Place
Artist: Robin Spielberg
Although I haven’t had the pleasure until now to write about the music of composer/pianist Robin Spielberg, I’m quite familiar with her name from my being involved in the new age music genre for many years. She is considered among the premier neo-classical/new age solo piano artists and has quite an impressive history that extends into a number of different areas. Robin is a prolific composer with seventeen recordings under her name, as well as appearing on over 40 compilations. Her record sales exceed one million, and this official “Steinway Artist” has had three sold out performances at the legendary Carnegie Hall. In 2014, Robin was invited to give a TEDx TALK on music and wellness. Her presentation, which I found quite moving, can be seen at her website link above.
A main focus of this talk was on the healing power of music and music therapy, something about which Robin is quite familiar with on a personal level. Her interest in music and healing grew when she witnessed first-hand, the positive effect music had on her own baby daughter (born prematurely) during her four-month stay in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Since that time, she has become intimately involved in this growing field. In her words: “Fifteen years ago, when I first was asked to be a national artist spokesperson for AMTA (The American Music Therapy Association) people didn’t know what music therapy was. Ever since mothers began singing lullabies to their crying babies we knew that that music soothed, but what is really great is how all the scientific evidence is pouring in after years of studies that proves that music does something more than just make a person feel good.”
In addition to all the above accolades, she has recently added the title of “author” to her resume. Robin is currently on tour with her new memoir, Naked on the Bench: My Adventures in Pianoland (Spobs Music Publications) and performing “book release concerts” which incorporate hilarious excerpts from her book within the concert setting. The memoir, which was featured on numerous NPR stations and in book clubs nationwide demystifies the process of building a concert career and tells what is unexpected in the life of a touring musician. To read or listen to a sample of the book, please visit her website.
As the title of her latest CD release, Another Time, Another Place implies, the focus is on the nature of time. According to Robin: “I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. We are taught from an early age that time is a constant, and yet we live our entire lives and it never feels that way. Time moves slowly sometimes—it bends, it speeds up. One minute I am telling someone that “time flies” and the next minute I am thinking “hurry up”. We are all obsessed with time in some way I think because it is tied in with our own mortality. No one knows how much time we have on this planet, but we do know it is a finite amount. Each moment passes and will never come again. I suppose I am a bit obsessed with the nature of time.” Along these lines, she also mentions being interested in the idea of time travel, a concept that I also find fascinating. I couldn’t help noticing that many of the beautiful and elegant gowns and outfits Robin wears for performing and photo shoots, make it easy to imagine that she has stepped out of another era, which fits perfectly with the theme of this album.
The flow of time is often marked by the memory of special moments in one’s life. The opening track on the album, entitled “First Dance” is one of them. The song’s time signature is, appropriately, ¾, which is associated with the waltz, and like all the tracks on the recording was played by Robin on a vintage 1898 Steinway piano. The piece is elegant yet understated and has a close focus, like the gaze of two new lovers staring into each other’s eyes on the dance floor for the first time, oblivious to the world around them. The mood shifts dramatically on track 2, “Ship to Shore,” which has the feel of a jig or sea shanty. In describing this song, Robin shares: “For centuries, work songs helped people get through the labor of the day. I imagine longshoremen working the docks to this melody.” The feel is light and lively, and I could see that singing along to this could definitely put a bit of a spring in your step. The contrast between this and the first song is an early indicator of Robin’s diversity and range.
These songs are followed by the album’s title track, which reveals yet another dimension to Robin’s solo piano artistry with its more intricate composition and elaborate detail. What stood out for me was her sense of dynamics throughout the piece, which ranges from quiet and delicate to bold and more ornate. My favorite parts were Robin’s rapidly repeating right hand arpeggios that gave a feeling of spinning through time and space like Alice tumbling head over heels down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. While Robin’s classical influences are evident here, a sweet and airy piece with a slightly Oriental air entitled “Cherry Blossom” leans more towards an impressionistic new age vibe and paints a diaphanous springtime portrait of light pink petals floating in the breeze. A somewhat more wistful tone characterizes “In My Dreams” which was inspired by the courage and grace of a friend of Robin’s who is a cancer survivor.
Speaking of inspiration, in an interview for this feature article I asked Robin what in life inspires her creativity. To which she replied: “Inspiration is everywhere. In the past few years, I have composed a lot of music away from the piano, while I am gardening. Gardening is a passion of mine. I grow flowers and have a small organic vegetable garden. I can get lost out there for hours looking at the plants and tending to them. When I am in that space creativity seems to flow easily.” Along these lines, Robin shares the inspiration for a song called “A Whisper in the Wind.” In her words: “Several times while working in the garden, I thought I heard someone calling my name. I turned around only to discover no one was there. Feeling a little foolish I continued my weeding and pruning, only to hear another voice in the breeze. My imagination? A ghost? The voice is what I call a ‘whisper in the wind.’” It’s a lovely enchanting track, and I appreciated Robin’s sensitivity and use of space to add atmosphere to the melody.
One of my favorite tracks was “The Time Traveler.” Like Robin, I am fascinated by this topic and I enjoyed drifting on the song’s dreamy far-away feel. The album draws to a serene conclusion with Robin’s instrumental interpretation of “O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh My Beloved Father).” In her words: “this beautiful aria is from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. The music and lyrics are of love and longing.” Robin’s rendition of it is absolutely gorgeous and at just over 4 minutes in length it ended too soon. I could have easily listened to it for twice that long.
While the theme of this album is “time,” the music of Robin Spielberg is timeless. Over the course of seventeen albums she has become known as one of the most beloved of solo pianists, with a fan base that reaches around the globe including over 53 million listeners on Pandora, the world’s largest internet radio station. Another Time, Another Place is a perfect example of the reason Robin’s music has evoked such response in so many people. If I had to choose just one word to name a quality that shines in the artistry of Robin Spielberg, it would be “heart.” In addition to her highly accomplished technique on the piano is a soulfulness that resonates on an emotional level with the listener. Although she enjoys expressing her dreams and inspirations in the studio, it is through live performance she feels most fulfilled. In her words: “I love recording, but my all-time favorite thing is playing live. I will be supporting the new album with a tour.” Tour dates are posted at her website link above.
As we all journey through time and space there are those things that are unique to us and define who we are and the way we perceive reality. On this point, I’ll leave the last words here to Robin, who shares: “Composing music is my way of seeing the world. It always has been. It is through these melodies that I remember and understand my experiences and my place in the world.”