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Instead of Heaven
piano meditations
Instewad of Heaven, an album for original interpretive New Age jazz piano music
available on HearNow, Youtube Music, Amazon, Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube Video

Jump to: MP3s and Liner Notes

One piano, one player. And the result is gorgeous. Blending classical Romanticism and contemporary jazz vibes, ambience and adventure, understatement and ornateness, he bares his musical soul across ten masterful and moving pieces. If there were such a thing as magic in the world, indeed, this is it."

Dave Franklin, U.K. Album Reviews
Apollo Lyre

Instead of Heaven is a collection of original solo piano meditations. The pieces are arranged as an instrumental song cycle, creating a musical journey using Greek myths as inspiration.

The music is fluid and modal, melding Romanticism, Impressionism, post-bop Jazz and New Age. Mueller freely takes from many genres, folding them into his own unique style. Instead of Heaven is, on one level, a statement of quiet joy - a pianist's existential replacement for heaven. It is also a testimony to how ancient stories continue to guide and inform contemporary creativity.

"My music is 'narrative' in nature," Mueller writes. "Instead of Heaven uses a combination of myth and experience to flow between exploration and discovery. I hope the listener finds their own story reflected in the music, as well as the intrigue and insight embedded in each tale.

"Many of these stories are tragedies," Mueller relates. "But optimism grows out of tragedy. Not just by counting our own blessings, but through lessons learned and heroism earned. This is what my music tries to uncover: hope and wisdom resulting from each choice honestly confronted. The Hero's Journey is fundamentally about redemption."

There is at least one special moment in each composition that is uniquely breathtaking. Sometimes several. Inventive chord progressions add to the musical language of both modal post-bop jazz and contemporary classical piano. His music is often virtuosic yet avoids showiness. Everything feels organic and true. He requires the listener to pay attention yet also frees them to go on internal imaginative tangents. Storytelling on a deeply poignant level infuses every piece, expressing a singular personal honesty while revealing universal emotions. A rarity."

George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly

Some of the Greek myths Mueller illustrates with his music are well known, some are more obscure. His titles pair mythic characters with a significant moment in their story. The titles conjure a kind of riddle. What part of the myth is Mueller illustrating? This is Mueller's process: framing belief as a puzzle. Each title helps focus the listener on a specific moment in the primeval narrative, shedding light onto what Mueller believes is the most compelling aspect of each time-honored fable. His music provides the momentum of exploration; it's up to the listener to define the meaning.

Instead of Heaven is inventive, sensual, flowing with grace and contemplative ease. The video series incorporates gorgeous classical artwork, contemporary takes on the myths themselves, and insightful narratives."

Stereobangers blog

Mueller's music combines both emotional and intellectual aspects of artistry. He challenges as he entertains. This song cycle can be appreciated without knowing anything about Greek mythology. Going back to reacquaint yourself with these ancient stories, however, may well bring you closer to the artist's creative process.

I have reviewed all of Tobin Mueller’s albums since his 2005 debut, Morning Whispers, and have found his to be one of the most innovative minds creating music today. Instead of Heaven is no exception. Mueller has taken Greek myths and tells their stories in a language that blends a wide variety of music genres to create his unique and expressive musical voice. Challenging yet accessible, Mueller’s music is never predictable and always takes us someplace new and surprising."

Kathy Parson, MainlyPiano

Musical influences include: Keith Jarrett, Michel Camilo, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Tigran Hamasyan, Liz Story, as well as Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, and traditional Celtic folk. "One of the most creative musical minds out there. I love that Mueller ignores all boundaries for musical genres in his music, juxtaposing jazz, blues, Broadway, prog, New Age, classical... giving free reign to his vast experience and training along with an imagination that knows no limitations." - Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.

This collection adds yet another layer of virtuosity to Mueller's catalog of recordings. Cover photo by John Shyloski. Peripheral illustrations by Julio Garcia. Special thanks to Pam Pia, Bill Bletzinger and Suzanne Deltufo.

more art by Julio Garcia

Mueller writes, "The stories we have told one another through time immemorial orient ourselves toward the highest values of our culture. Divisive identity tribalism and cancel culture are truncating that heritage, severing these wide and deep roots. This project is one small attempt to reclaim those stories.

"What is it we most value and how do we best pursue it? Hero stories are about discovering or reclaiming one's power. How do we live with difficulty, confusion, curiosity, betrayal, triumph, blindness, improved sight? How do we handle failure, success, the unknown?

"We grow and mature by journeying into darkness, then emerging renewed. As Aeschylus said, 'We suffer into truth.' Who, then, are we, surrounded by this new light? What have we become? These are questions that provide ongoing inspiration. And one more: What do these heroes do after the story has been told? Perhaps this is why I titled the project Instead of Heaven. Instead of a destination, I present to you music of an ongoing journey.

"The gods represent the independent forces within us which wordlessly chastise us, trick us, inspire us, and ultimately drive us to become better. To discover. To achieve. To be worthy. They are the dark id and the light compass of beauty deep within. We think we control our conscience, but we don’t. It acts somehow apart from us. In our modern age, we attribute these whisperings to our subconscious, but they used to be attributed to the gods. In this way, the colorful and diverse deities of ancient Greece live on in us. They continue to inform, both as mirrors and windows. They continue to define the contours of our shadows, the ecstatic nature of our bliss. They continue to nourish us through daily challenges, with love and wisdom, into an unpredictable future."

Tobin at the Keyboard
Liner Notes


1. Apollo's Lyre
2. Daedalus' Gift of Wings
3. Selene, Eye of the Night
4. Morpheus: Prelude to Emancipation
5. Instead of Heaven
6. Reflections of Narcissus
7. Odysseus' Homecoming
8. The Symmetry of Eros and Psyche
9. Sisyphus Cheating Death
10. Orpheus' Backward Glance

MP3s and Composer's Notes:
Apollo's Lyre
An ode to Apollo is the most appropriate beginning for a song cycle such as this. Apollo was the god who invented music, after all. (He was also god of sun and light, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, poetry and more.) The musical figure that introduces this piece is reminiscent of what might be played on a limited string instrument like a lyre, an instrument Apollo not only invented but preferred. (It is written in 5/4, an homage to the lyre's five strings.) The theme expands as Apollo's imagination transforms the instrument across space and time. Part of my inspiration comes from the tale of when Apollo held a contest with Marsyas, a satyr who believed himself to be the greater musician. Marsyas performance on the aulos put everyone into a dancing frenzy. When it was Apollo's turn, he played so beautifully, everyone became perfectly still, their eyes filled with tears. The first round of the match ended in a draw. Apollo then played his lyre upside down, something Marsays could not match. In addition, he sang, and his voice dispelled all darkness from the world. Marsays complained that the use of vocals was not allowed, but the Muses and Nymphs that were judging the contest ruled in Apollo's favor. Fearing he had lost, Marsays played out of tune, and this mortified him further. In his shame, Marsays assigned to himself the penalty of being skinned for a winesack. My music does not convey this grim ending, only the joy of the lyre and Apollo's gift of music.

Footnote 1: Marsyas' Greek legacy is one of hubris, thinking he was better than the gods. However, his Roman legacy is more impressive: the first proponent of free speech and "speaking truth to power". Better than being the patron saint of winesacks, perhaps.

Footnote 2: Apollo felt remorse after nailing Marsyas' hide to a tree. Following the contest, he gave up playing the lyre and eventually gifted the instrument to Orpheus. See below for the outcome of that story.

Daedalus' Gift of Wings
Daedalus, designer of the Labyrinth, is considered the greatest engineer and craftsman of antiquity. He fashioned statues so life-like they were known to wander off by themselves. (His statues were often chained in place.) However, he is perhaps best known in the modern era as the father of Icarus. Daedalus fabricated wings for himself and his son to escape the Labyrinth, where King Minos had imprisoned them. (Daedalus had helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur, the King's prize possession, and then helped the King's daughter to escape with Thesus so they could to start a new life beyond the King's grasp. Thus, Minos imprisoned both Daedalus and his son. It is added irony that the prison used was the maze Daedalus himself had designed yet could not navigate.) Together, father and son gathered bird wings that had fallen into the open-air Labyrinth, fashioned them into wings, and flew over the walls to freedom. The youthful Icarus, in his enthusiasm, soared too close to the sun, melting the wax that held his feathers in place, causing him to fall to his death. Athena would later gift Daedalus actual wings that enabled him to "fly like the gods", as both compensation and in admiration for his past accomplishments. This helped him fly from the shores of the deserted island he had been stranded on, but the consequences of the shared flight with his son would haunt him forever. Even though he was now the only human being capabale of flight, he would never use the wings again.

Selene, Eye of the Night
Selene, goddess of the moon, eye of the night: she sees our dreams and nurtures them. I begin with a lush progression of night-drenched chords, searching for a key. Then a steady rhythm of exploration sets in, slowly evolving into a starry anthem. A daughter of Titans, Selene falls in love with the mortal shepherd Endymion and bears him fifty daughters. She had several other lovers as well, including Zeus and Pan, but my tribute is to her love for the shepherd. I also incorporate a sense of running through the darkness, as I often did after sneaking out of the house as a teen, alone, under the watchful moon. The piece ends with a sense of freedom and ease.

Morpheus: Prelude to Emancipation
Morpheus (which means 'Fashioner' in Ancient Greek, based upon the words for 'form' and 'shape'), is a god associated with sleep and dreams. In Ovid's Metamorphoses he is the son of Somnus (Sleep), appearing in dreams in human form (usually winged). Since the medieval period, Morpheus began to stand more generally for the god of dreams, overtaking Somnus in importance. My music has often been considered "amorphic", since it evades easy labeling when it comes to form. Yet, I spend a great deal of time crafting form, although I do try to combine styles in order to create unique contours. This piece morphs from straight-ahead blues to a dreamier impressionistic trance. I am illustrating the moment just before sleep, when the world falls away and illusions find their own wings. It is also an homage to one of the best live performing jazz pianists I have ever witnessed: Michel Camilo. I still daydream of the time I saw him at the Blue Note and he took my breath away with an improvised tune that ranks among the most exceptional bits of ephemeral composing ever.

Instead of Heaven (according to Hesiod)
This piece explores transition: in this case, from the heavenly into the existential. Beginning with a metaphorical starfield, it finds its footing in a simple melody underscored by shifting chords. After many variations, the straightforward final section leaves one with a sense of deserved satisfaction; the earned result of a meditative journey, one hopes. I reference the flesh and blood poet Hesiod (750 B.C.) in the title, befitting the "Instead of Heaven" theme. Hesiod is the first poet to write in the Western tradition that regards the author as an individual persona capable of playing an active role in the telling of the story. Musical influences can be traced to John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, with Celtic-Impressionist overtones.

Once again proving his unpredictability as a composer, pianist and musical storyteller. Mueller's creativity and musical ideas know no bounds. He has also assembled a series of music videos that illustrate and tell the stories in a very interesting and relatable format."

Kathy Parson, MainlyPiano

Reflections of Narcissus
Narcissus, known for his beauty, was walking in the woods when Echo, a mountain nymph, saw him and fell deeply in love. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?" Echo, as was her custom, repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. (Narcissus disdained those who fell in love with him, perhaps out of his own lack of self-worth.) She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo remained of her. The gods decided to punish Narcissus on her behalf, even though she herself would never have approved of revenge in any form. Thus, when he was thirsty after hunting, the goddess Nemesis (or Aphrodite, in some versions) lures him to a pool where he leans over the water. Not realizing it was his own reflection, Narcissus falls deeply in love with the image he sees before him. Unable to leave the allure of his own reflection, he eventually melts away, turning into a gold and white flower.

I love combining Impressionism and modal jazz. This track also throws in a Celtic feel, which I've woven into many pieces in this collection. I subconsciously associate ancient Celtic music with Greek myth, perhaps because so many of the old folklore paintings remind me of Celtic and Arthurian culture.

Odysseus' Homecoming
Years after the end of the Trojan War, the Greek hero Odysseus still hasn't come home to Ithaca. Most people imagine he's dead. The wealthy families arrange to force his wife, Penelope, to remarry. All the eligible suitors swarm her with unwanted affections. When Odysseus returns, the goddess Athena disguises him as a homeless beggar. Only his faithful dog, Argos, recognizes him. After revealing himself to his son, they plot to expose the parasitical corruption of the wealthy families and set up an ordeal of skill none of the suitors can master: She will only marry the man who can string her husband’s legendary bow and duplicate his feat of shooting an arrow cleanly through the holes of twelve lined up axe-heads. After all the suitors fail, the old beggar steps forward and succeeds, then reveals himself. (He first act: he executes all the suitors as penalty for their treason.) Penelope, however, is still not convinced this is her husband. It isn't until he comments, upon entering their bedroom, that the bed he himself had carved from an enormous living olive tree is not there, that she realizes it is truly Odysseus. (During his extended absence, she had ordered the bed moved to another room, not wanting to ever sleep in it without him.) Her last doubts melt away...

And so the bed becomes the symbol of their love — not just ephemeral or fleeting, but unique, organic and ever-green. The joy of their nighttime reunion is so profound, Athene is inspired to delay the dawn, giving them more time together before the day begins.

Never again did Odysseus leave his wife or his island kingdom. Nor did he sail again upon the wine-dark sea.

The hero story is vital to our humanness: the courage, curiosity, comraderee; overcoming trials, living through tragedy, dying in a noble cause; ability to imagine success, the dedication to complete the quest, the sense of gratitude that surrounds achievement; passing on a sense of heroism as a trait and goal.

Stories of returning heroes are not discussed enough, however. The Hero Quest dominates, but the Hero Returns story is just as important. What did he or she learn? How have they changed, matured? In this case, the hero's return also set things right again, not just to restore the old balance, but to make things better with new insight. The music at 3:05 is my favorite moment in the piece, reflecting this mixture of reaffirmation and transcendence.

The Symmetry of Eros and Psyche
How best to express one of the greatest love stories in all literature? Through waltz, of course. This Impressionist modal waltz often places the melody in a different key than the shifting chord progression, yet its dissonance is essential to its beauty. Eros is the son of Aphrodite and Ares. In Roman literature Eros is known as Cupid (whose name means "Love" or "Desire"); Psyche's Greek name is rarely translated into the Latin Animus (meaning "Soul" or "Breath of Life"). It is a story with a happy ending. After considerable trials and tribulations, Psyche becomes immortal, they marry and have a child named Voluptas (meaning "Pleasure" or "Delight"). Psyche is an image of the soul and Eros is an image of the creative force (who Pan calls "the greatest of gods"). The myth shows how important the psychic relation is between the creative force and the soul. I love how her encounter with Pan (the god of spontaneity, the wilds, impromptu music, and a wise yet mischievous companion of nymphs) turns Psyche from her despair, keeps her from destroying herself, and enables her to lay aside her sadness at the outset of her trials. A story originally from Metamorphoses.

There are many wonderful tales within the legend of Eros and Psyche. Please see the following links to learn more details: The Myth of Psyche and Eros; Discover the myth of Eros and Psyche.

Sisyphus Cheating Death
I've long been fascinated with Camus' spin on Sisyphus as an icon of the modern age. The mortal who cheated death and was condemned to push a rock forever up a hill, only to see it fall back before reaching the top. Sisyphus is a poignant symbol of folly for those who seek to trifle with the natural order. Camus considers him more a hero, however. There is inspiration in tireless transcendence, in meditative repetition from which personal meaning can evolve...

Sisyphus was the founder and first king of Corinth. But to Homer, he was also "the most cunning of men". He cheated death not once but twice. First, after dying and descending into Hades, he audaciously managed to capture Death and chain him up so that no humans died thereafter. Only the intervention of Ares resolved the crisis, and Death was freed to pursue his lethal work once again. After dying a second time, Sisyphus persuaded Hades' wife, Persephone, to let him back into the realm of the living using a clever scheme: The king had arranged for his own wife to fail to provide the usual offerings and sacrifices due on her husband's death. Sisyphus pleaded that if he were released he would be able to instruct his wife to carry out the proper rituals and all would be well. On his release, Sisyphus, naturally, made no attempt to return to Hades but lived to a ripe old age, largely thanks to Death now not wanting to go anywhere near him following his previous experience of being put in chains.

This piece utilizes a relentless Tango with a strong counter-melody and a climax that cannot sustain but instead pushes forward into new repeating progressions. Of course, each repetition is different. Creating variations on repetitive tasks is how we both cope and express ourselves.

Orpheus' Backward Glance
Orpheus was the greatest musician of the ancient world. His music could make trees dance, cause rivers to reverse their current so that the waters could listen longer to his song, and induce boulders to float in a state of euphoria. He was the first human to enter Hades alive, in search of his newly deceased wife Eurydice. The song he sang so moved the God of the Underworld that he and his beloved were given free passage back to the land of the living... if neither of them turn to look back before reaching freedom. My halting tune underscores Orpheus' trepidation while leading his beloved out of Hades, step by step. At the halfway point in the music, when he believes he has gotten past the boundary of the afterlife, Orpheus is overcome with relief and joy. He turns to embrace his love. But it is a moment too soon... Eurydice had not yet reached the threshold. She was pulled back into darkness, forever. Orpheus never sang the same again and was eventually ripped to shreds by drunken female followers of Dionysus for refusing to join them in their 'joyous' orgy. The Muses, however, rescued his head, found floating in the river, so that at least Orpheus' voice could remain among them, singing into eternity.

Note: This piece was originally written for inclusion on my 2017 Afterwords, but I had too much material and it didn't fit with any of the spoken quotations I recited. The working title was "Private Memory"; it has many similarities to musical themes I was exploring in that project, especially in Volume 2. I like how this title works as a subtitle to "Orpheus' Backward Glance", becoming a reverie for the lost poet.