Album: Beyond Words
Artist: Dan Chadburn
Pianist and composer Dan Chadburn tells an interesting story about a pivotal point in his life that occurred while he was performing a Bach suite in a recital. Although he forgot almost all of the final movement, Dan shares: “Rather than take an early exit from the stage, I improvised the passage in a ‘Bach a la Chadburn’ style. I hold that recital experience as a defining moment, in that it helped to unlock my own creative voice.” Dan’s creative voice has certainly been shaped by a wide variety of experiences from classical training, to earning a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, studying film scoring at U.C.L.A, and earning a Master of Music in Electroacoustic Composition from London’s City University. Since then, Dan has released 6 albums in the new age/contemporary instrumental genre, which have accrued chart success and critical acclaim. Some of that acclaim came from myself in feature articles I’ve written about 3 of his previous albums: Keys of Light, Nocturnes, and Whispers the Falling Snow – this last one of which I also produced a music video for that can be seen at this link.
More than just an outlet of creative expression, music for Dan Chadburn has been a form of communication. According to Dan: “As a shy kid growing up, words often failed me. Music has always been, quite simply, the easiest language for me to communicate my innermost thoughts. I relate to the words of Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, who once wrote, ‘Where words fail, music speaks.’” And Dan’s music certainly speaks with elegance and grace, communicating a depth of emotion that resonates in the hearts and minds of his listeners.
This new album, appropriately titled, Beyond Words, finds Dan coming full circle back to where it all began, with solo piano. As he explains: “This past winter, I sat down with my husband and longtime musical partner, Tom Nichols, and we talked about the idea of recording an acoustic solo piano album; unplugged, if you will. Aside from Whispers the Falling Snow (my 2013 holiday release), it had been nearly twenty years since we recorded and released Solo Piano, my only other all-piano album. Each of my other albums has included orchestration such as strings, horns, flutes, and woodwinds. We both liked the idea of me ‘returning to my roots’ as a solo pianist.”
Nine of the tracks on the album are based on improvisations that Dan had recorded over the past 20 years, which he recently transcribed, rehearsed, and re-recorded as original compositions. He describes the process as: “…not unlike an artist freely painting a picture, and then some time later, painting the same picture again, stroke for stroke.” Beyond Words also includes four new improvisations plus a song he originally wrote and released way back in 1987.
The album opens with a track called “Awakening.” According to Dan, the song represents “that exact moment in time when you suddenly remember someone or something from earlier in life, perhaps childhood…and the strong emotions once felt are still very much here.” I love how the piece begins with short phrases surrounded by enough space to create pregnant pauses that draw the listener in, waiting for what comes next. And what follows is a gorgeous heartfelt melody, which I found quite moving. Dan definitely has a flair for “interesting” time signatures, this one alternating between 9/8 and 6/8. The title of the next track, “Joyful Morning,” certainly conveys the mood of the piece, which Dan describes as suggesting scenes of childhood: “Imagine children without a care in the world, having the time of their young lives, while jumping and playing in rain puddles.”
With 14 tracks on the album, I won’t go into detail on all of them, but will share, what are for me, some of the highlights. I very much enjoyed the relaxed feeling of “Healing Waters” which starts in 2/4 meter and then changes to 6/8 as if to portray the rise and fall of the tides under a moonlit sky. As Dan shared: “I’ve always been drawn to the ocean. Its energy is both powerful and calming. Its sounds bring me peace.” The earliest piece on the album is “Shelton Rain,” which was recorded in 1987 on a very rainy day in Shelton, Washington. Dan asked the engineer to set up a mic outside on the protected patio, and feed the sound of the rain into his headphones as he improvised on the piano. While the rain sound is not actually on the recording, its ambiance is captured in the feel of Dan’s lovely melody.
Much of Dan’s music is quite personal, and perhaps none as much as his track “Tears of Angels.” In his words: “When I awoke on Sunday morning, June 12th, I turned on the television and was shocked and saddened to learn about the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. As a gay man myself, I couldn’t help but believe that it was a targeted attack specifically against the LGBTQ community, and even broader, an attack against humanity. ‘Tears of Angels’ is in memory of those killed and in solidarity with all whose lives have been changed forever by this horrific event. All proceeds from the sale of this track are being donated to The OneOrlando Fund (www.OneOrlando.org), a fund which is committed to providing 100% of all money being raised directly to victims’ families and survivors.” As can be imagined, the song is quite emotionally evocative in its wistful melody.
Perhaps the album’s most classical influences are heard on “Falling Forward,” which Dan describes as “representing those times when the best (and sometimes, only) option of overcoming an obstacle or unknown is to step forward – and be willing to fall in the process. Life’s clock is always ticking. Standing still, even if it’s a choice, is not always the next best move.” Dan digs deep emotionally on a powerfully moving and melancholy tune called “Kal-boy,” which is a tribute to a stray cat that Dan and Tom adopted and lived with them for many years before he passed on a year ago. Be sure to have some tissues on hand when listening to this one. Also quite personal is the album’s closing tune, “Lullaby for Peace,” which Dan wrote for his parents, and about which he shares: “In the months since Dad’s brain surgeries, my parents have frequently taken afternoon naps together while listening to music that Tom and I have recorded. Knowing that, Tom suggested the title for this closing piece. It’s my hope that the music brings peace, not only to my parents, but to all who hear it who need some peace and love too…”
While Dan is highly educated in terms of music theory and technique, and is by any measure, an exquisitely skilled player, what comes through in his music is an emotional acuity with the power to move one to tears, or uplift the spirit in joy. Sometimes understated, and sometimes not, Dan does not seem to focus on being flashy or ornate in order to show off his skill, but creates stunningly beautiful melodies that resonate with the heart and soul of the listener. Beyond Words reflects a rainbow of feelings that reveal the emotional empathy and deep sensitivity of this most talented artist and musical communicator.
Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: