Interview with Composer Greg Granoff – Part 2

August 19, 2009 at 1:03 am 2 comments

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Music Chose Him:
An Interview with
Inspirational Composer Greg Granoff

Part 2

My interview with composer Greg Granoff kicks off a new part of Inspiratus.
It will be featuring interview/conversations with artists of all kinds.
The idea is to explore just how inspiration, creativity, and spirituality all play a role in the development, creation and reception of an artist’s work.

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Read Part One of my interview with Greg Granoff

SM_granoff_thbTo continue with our conversation, Watchfire Music Composer Greg Granoff has spoken in depth about his approach to composition and his thoughts on creativity. Greg also mentioned his work in the Music Department at Humbolt State University.

JW: Greg, tell us a little about your work at Humboldt State.

Greg at work in the HSU Instrument Shop

Greg in the Instrument Shop

GG: Officially my position at Humboldt State University is staff piano technician. This means that the fleet of some 60 instruments or so (including harpsichords) is in my hands in terms of upkeep. I’m responsible for the most frequent maintenance such as tuning and other common tasks, but also for every other aspect of piano upkeep including rebuilding and major repairs as necessary.

I also ready our performance pianos for use by visiting artists that come through an on- campus agency that is not affiliated with the department. Also for both faculty and student recitals. This aspect of my job has allowed me to personally meet and directly support the needs and desires of some very interesting celebrity musicians, as they get ready for performances.

JW: I can see how you have had the unique opportunity to cultivate a variety of perspectives and as you said earlier, ‘multiple views’ on music and musicians through your work in piano technology. You have to relate to performers on many levels: artistic, technical and personal – from students to consummate

GG: Yes, one of the best things about my work is being in the middle of a busy music department. The hubbub of student life is literally at my front door, and the shop is often a place where students and faculty drop in to talk about musical issues, department life, tell me about a problem with a piano that needs attention, or just have a thoughtful conversation. It’s never boring.

JW: How does this affect your creative process?

Greg and student working on a grand piano

Greg & student asst. Emily Loeffler working on a grand piano

GG: Well, hanging out with students is always eye-opening and entertaining, but if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that the process has to be discovered anew by each person–no formulas or clever definitions can really express the experience of it.

JW: I guess it’s that 90% / 10% perspiration/inspiration process that each one has to discover. It’s a life-commitment, isn’t it? It never stops.

GG: Yup.  And one of the most amazing things about it is how it continually unfolds to new meanings and new kinds of inspiration.

JW: So, what inspires you?

GG: This is a hard one — not because I don’t experience inspiration, but because often it rises to the surface of my awareness from something very subtle and inward. If I say what inspires me most obviously and immediately, it has to be primarily when something I’m listening to opens a door for me into a kind of secret place.

There I experience an overwhelming state that seems to be filled with impressions of every kind that have a quality of sort of varnished, idealized memory about them–none of them clearly formed; they swirl around, blending with one another, but the overall experience is so full of a kind of cosmic, visceral longing that I’m stopped in my tracks. Then I have to go to the piano and improvise until the feeling of nostalgia and yearning fades a bit.

This can occur with many types of music, but interestingly, it is most often evoked by music that features a drone. I absolutely love the musical traditions that use this technique–East Indian especially, but also Celtic and some Balkan and eastern European traditions. Compositions can easily begin forming at that time, as you can imagine.

A close look at my compositions will reveal right away a tendency to make liberal use of harmonic and melodic changes against a stationary bass line–the “drone” technique adapted to my particular style.

Outside of music, or rather, on a more general sense, I’ve always been very inspired by wisdom when it is in the form of a clear, graceful, penetrating statement of the nature of things–usually the life experiences we all share. This inspiration tends to feed back to a less specific artistic impulse in me, though ultimately music is the channel that gives it all expression.

JW: How does spirituality fit in with the music that you compose and play?

GG: Well, from the standpoint of the mundane reality, I’ve been an organist some 30 years for a particular Christian denomination, it has a particular liturgy that features sacred solos of biblical and other core texts set for voice and keyboard. After performing many of the same settings of particular texts with great frequency, I began to wish for some new settings, and began writing them in the hopes of being accepted as a worthwhile voice added to the larger spiritual endeavor.

Naturally, as a composer, I have a great desire for listeners to receive an inspiring, uplifted, spiritually enlivened experience from my music, but I can’t tell you the precise connections activated in mine or the listeners experience as the music is performed. I try to serve a spiritual purpose by doing what I seem to be fitted to do with as much intelligence, passion and gratitude for that fitting as I can manage, and I believe the spirituality takes care of itself.

I’ve been fortunate in that others seem to frequently respond positively to my efforts–often receiving an awareness of something I’d not set out consciously to create.

JW: I think this is part of the selfless nature of a work of art once it has been given to the world.  When music is being performed, there is your intention as the composer at play; and then there is the lyricist, as well as the performers. They are all working to convey what they each intuit from the song. Finally, the listeners bring their own inspiration and receptivity to play as well.  So the awareness beyond your original intention is natural and infinite with possibilities!  I love that.

Greg, I am wondering if you have a favorite composition listed on watchfiremusic.com?

GG: I’m very partial to “The Kingdom of God“.

JW: Oh, I love this piece of yours! I remember the first time I listened to this song. I literally fell off my chair – the piece was so surprising in its originality and structure.  What was your process in composing this song?

GG: The song formed itself to a great extent during improvisations — much greater than my other songs did before anything was actually written down, and so seems more to have “arrived” than been constructed.  Also, I consider the text of “The Kingdom of God” to be one that is most directly connected to other traditions — especially Eastern ones.

This text appears in the Bible and its universality is very appealing to me. It’s also a text I’ve never seen set to music anywhere before — not that I can say with any actual knowledge that it hasn’t been — but I’ve just never encountered it.  So I feel this song is a bit radical for me – and that makes it a guilty pleasure, I guess you could say.

JW: Well, yes, I think creativity leads us — when we are willing and open — to explore, experiment, and discover, and the result is often new, different or… radical!

I love the final questions that James Lipton always asks his guests on his show, “Inside The Actor’s Studio.”  The resulting answers are often surprising, so I am going to borrow a couple of them here:

What profession would you choose to do if you weren’t in music?

GG: I would most likely be a writer of some kind.

JW: What profession would you NEVER do?

GG: I would never do anything that worked with numbers as the core discipline, such as accounting, or tax preparation. I would be absolutely terrible at it –my eyes glaze over just trying to read a simple word problem like we used to get in mathematics textbooks, and I end up reading the same sentence over and over without comprehending.

JW: Hah! Musicians are theoretically supposed to be good at numbers!

GG: Oh brother — I’ve always been the odd man out on that one. I console myself by thinking maybe it’s just a famous Internet “urban myth”...

JW: Yes! Maybe so!  Greg, before we close, do you have any summary comments?

GG: I really believe that we are moving — and absolutely must continue to move — toward a grand transcendence of the language-based expressions of spirituality, with their built in centuries of different cultural overlays and related images that often tend to trap more than liberate.

The_Kingdom_Of_-God_GranoffMusic is a key player in this as it takes us past those differences of language and imagery directly to feelings of devotion, love, uplift, unity, and gratitude. This is why, for me, writing and performing music is so inextricably connected to my own spiritual journey as well. I understand this more clearly with every passing year.

JW: Thank you so much, Greg, for sharing your thoughts and inspiration.

The Kingdom of God by Greg Granoff:
See the Lyrics and download a free sample of the sheet music.
Listen to the Music:

Find out more about Greg Granoff.
Explore his sheet music and mp3s.


Eureka Coast by Patrick Smith

Eureka Coast by Patrick Smith

Greg began piano study at an early age in an atmosphere of frequent exposure to a wide variety of musical genres and styles. Already a proficient accompanist as a teen, he was employed as musical director and solo keyboard “orchestra” for a series of Broadway musical productions at a popular local dinner theater in Carmel, California.

After studies in organ and piano at the University of the Pacific, he entered piano technology, ultimately making it his profession. Employed since 1989 as a full-time university staff piano technician, Greg’s refined skills as a pianist, organist and harpsichordist are often in demand.

Greg makes his home in Redwood country on the north coast of California with his wife and two cats.

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Entry filed under: Church Music, Inspiration, Inspirational Music, Inspirational Sheet Music, Inspiratus, Inspiratus Interviews, Spiritual Thinkers. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Wisdom is more precious than rubies… No Emotion

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