Few songs are more loved than the carols of Christmas. Most of us have memorized dozens, yet, for the most part, we have no idea who wrote them. Many were small town church organists or anonymous composers whose tunes predate the addition of lyrics that made them into Christmastime carols. Almost none of these composers and poets lived to know how popular their work would become. I dedicate this album to them. And to my mother, who passed along her love of this music (and taught me all the alto harmonies), and never lost her willingness to toil in anonymity as a singer and arranger.
1. The First Noël
I wanted to begin this collection simply. I kept the melody without ornament. The right hand ostinato has a slight progressive rock feel (similar to the final track) and evokes the crystalline cold and shining beauty of midwinter evenings, or a midnight rain of stardust. The ending verse is intended to express how the first birthday has found a home deep within, never to be lost.
2. Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle (Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella)
Ever since I played this carol on my flutophone in 5th grade, it has been one of my favorite corals. I love the sense of freedom, the lighter-than-air balletic joy. I change keys several times to keep the swirling chordal play moving upward.
3. I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)
The fugue I use to begin this arrangement symbolizes the three ships weaving their way toward their destination, enjoying the wind and waves and adventures of the long journey. The majestic chordal section was a surprise to me, as I hadn't written it down beforehand. It just came to me as I played, as things sometimes do.
4. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
With a nod to Charles Wesley, I have set this version in a more solemn New Age jazz-blues universe. In keeping with this style, the music shrugs off the sadness of the world and finds strength in the grace and elegance of each melodic variation.
5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (take five)
This is not only the fifth track on the album, but the arrangement is in 5/4 time. The style is reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's recording, "Take Five" (written by Paul Desmond). I present this song as an homage to one of my most beloved piano influences. The final variation is for three hands, as I envision his ghost sitting beside me at the piano.
6. Carol of the Bells
I hope I capture both the ringing of bells and the flight of swallows in my arrangement.
7. Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night)
I have always loved the breathtaking melodic build into the climactic line, "O night divine!" I begin there, as a portend, then set out on a moody modal soft shoe reverie. The image for me is someone waiting in the final hours of the night, happy and self-contented, unaware of the greater fulfillment that will soon arrive. The final chords try to understate the climax of the music, making it instead an encompassing embrace.
8. Veni, veni Immanuel (Come, Come Messiah)
Departing from the traditional chant, I have set this melody to a driving romp. The repeating nature of the single bass note makes me think of the many searching steps taken by those hoping to find their Messiah, with a nod to the energy required and fun one can have along the way.
9. Good King Wenceslas Comes A-wassailing - part 1
"Here We Come A-wassailing" (or "Here We Come A-caroling") is an English traditional Christmas carol and New Years song composed c. 1850. "Wassailing" refers to singing carols door to door wishing good health. The Christmas spirit often made the rich a little more generous than usual, and bands of beggars and orphans used to dance their way through the snowy streets of England, offering to sing good cheer and to tell good fortune if the householder would give them a drink from his wassail bowl or a penny or a pork pie or let them stand for a few minutes beside the warmth of his hearth. The wassail bowl itself was a hearty combination of hot ale, apples, spices and mead, just alcoholic enough to warm tingling toes and fingers of the singers.
Part 1 is the first part of Wenceslas' journey, capturing his buoyant spirit. The second variation incorporates the nimble dexterity needed for hopping from footprint to footprint. The third variation shows more confident footfalls coming, perhaps, from new-found faith.
10. Good King Wenceslas Comes A-wassailing - part 2
11. O Little Town of Bethlehem
I used Ralph Vaughan Williams' lush orchestrational style, as well as Bill Evans' jazz piano voicings, as inspiration for my initial version of this American carol. But I end with something more akin to my own image of St. Louis, as a wry nod to Brooks' organist.
12. Joy to the World (Mary's perspective)
I wanted to play against type and go for something that bordered more on the tragic than the triumphant with my arrangement. I was imagining a mother's prescience: Mary might have had a feeling of what was in store for her. We look into the eyes of newborns to see absolute innocence, not wisdom. I've always imagined Jesus' eyes would know more than should be possible.
13. O Tannenbaum (with wind in the branches)
After stating the theme, I let the ebb and flow of wind cascade through the branches, moving the melody from bough to bough, sometimes breaking it up a bit, sometimes letting it settle for a moment.
14. Ding Dong Merrily on High (le branle de i'Official)
My left hand figure reminds me of the light yet steady steps of a folk dance. I begin the song in the French countryside, but as the song progresses, I try to bring the chiming of bells into play. It evoke handbells rather than steeple church bells. I imagine them played in a circle as young dancers recall their practiced steps and gestures.
15. Es ist ein Ros enttsprungen / In the Bleak Midwinter
The Italian grand piano I used for this recording almost quivers as I play, like the trembling stem of a rose swaying above an earth still covered with snow. I use very open voicings, to assist the spaciousness of the melodies. In the final verse, I evoke the bleakness of midwinter with the separation of the very low bass and very high treble notes.
16. Still, still, still / It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
I end the phrases of "Still, still, still" with a minor feel, to better bring out the sense of "hush." I like the way it sets up the delicate melody of "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." My favorite part of the arrangement comes after I've stated the melody from "Midnight Clear" and vault into an improvised section of spiraling chords, almost in the style of Chopin, lifting the song high into the night sky of my imagination. The highest notes touch one special star, just for a moment.
17. Stille Nachte, heilige nacht (Silent Night)
Being born in winter, as was I (Wisconsin), provides you with an instinctual desire for finding and cherishing warmth. It may also help nurture an appreciation of long nights, solitude, and hot chocolate. I hope my arrangement of Silent Night is a quiet echo of those nights and that longing.
18. BONUS TRACK: Toyland Fantasy
|Midwinter Born music videos...|
|Voice & Piano recordings...|
Hard Place To Find - voice/piano - Following on the success of Song of Myself (see below), Tobin has released a new volume of his favorite songs. For complete lyrics and song notes, see: Hard Place To Find project page.
"Still Crazy" by Paul Simon. Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" and "Bob Dylan's Dream." Richie Haven's "Paradise." "Dulcinea" from Man of la Mancha. "Alfie" by Bacharach. "Somewhere" from West Side Story. Many more, plus one original song by Tobin Mueller. All songs having to do with journeying, questing, searching. Released June 2nd, 2013.
Song of Myself - voice/piano - Tobin's favorite cover songs, reinterpretted. Intimate, heartfelt, devistatingly honest music. Complete lyrics and song notes are linked from Tobin's Song of Myself project page. Ballads, blues, showtunes, folk rock, jazz - the music of Tobin's roots. These are songs he's song for decades, songs that have evolved and matured with him. New additions to the Great American Songbook.
"American Tune" by Paul Simon. "Blackbird" by Paul McCartney. Bob Dylan's "Dignity." A Joni Mitchell and an Elton John medly. "Being Alive" from Company (Stephen Sondheim). "Impossible Dream" from Man of la Mancha. "Oh Danny Boy." "Frozen Man" by James Taylor. Many more, plus two original songs by Tobin Mueller.
A moving and meaningful compilation. Songs from a life well lived. Released July 13th, 2012.
|The Muller's Wheel / Jazz...|
The Muller's Wheel is a collaborative project combining the talents of pianist Tobin Mueller and saxophonist Woody Mankowski in Jazz Quartet and larger ensemble settings. These original tracks represent their personal journey through jazz influences -- from swing to bop to fusion to funk. The styles of Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Herbie Hancock, The Brecker Brothers, Weather Report and more influence this homage to the jazz greats. Even the blues are given Mueller/Mankowski's uniquely bop-funk treatment. In all, the duo's originality permeate each track, each jazz sub-genre.
This is joyous music. It reminds us of the happiness we relive when returning to our musical roots. Mueller/Mankowski remind us how the personalities of certain eras continue to assert their influence and power.
"The Muller’s Wheel" title is based on the biological concept that mutation and DNA recombination creates cycles of growth and loss. It serves as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of the synthesis and creativity Mueller and Mankowski apply to their musical influences. The tracks are arranged in historical sequence, and the listener appreciates the cross-pollination between each of these genres. Listening from beginning to end creates a cyclical pilgrimage. It's rhythms and inventive flights of fancy invite the listener along for many return trips.
|Tobin's first solo piano collection is Morning Whispers, a song cycle of tragic beauty. Although it's marketed as New Age, it is more Neo-Classical and melancholy than most New Age recordings. The use of key changes, unusual time signatures, and other variational devices makes this work involving, not merely background music. Its internal intensity, however, does not detract from its healing essence, its sense of inner joy.
The second is 13 Masks. This project came out of discussions about the role subconscious plays in creativity. Tobin used his illustration of 13 Masks to inspire songs combining ragtime, jazz and avant-garde classical. He let his subconscious lead the way, creating phrases and variations that pleased something deep inside. An eclectic mic of original of songs, for sure
For more details, see Tobin Mueller's Recordings...