Robin Spielberg is an award-winning pianist and composer, with a career spanning over three decades and two dozen records. Her work focuses on original compositions, but includes her arrangements of standards, classical music, and holiday pieces. Known for her stirring performances, when stifled by the pandemic, Spielberg developed a new way to interact with her audience. She was awarded a Gold Medal for her orchestral album By the Way of the Wind, a wonderful and uplifting record with a deep conceptual backing.
Spielberg was kind to provide us with an interview:
Each of the tracks on your album By Way of the Wind includes the inspirational story in the liner notes. What is your process for translating these stories into music?
I have been creating “musical stories” since I was a little girl. A musical soundtrack to my life is always whirling or swirling in the background as I go about my day, and musical storytelling has always come naturally to me. On “By Way of the Wind,” I invite the listener to embark on this musical journey with me, and hear the story, not only through music, but through words and visuals.
Please tell us about the conclusive three tracks on your album, New Freedom Suite. What is the concept and story behind these compositions?
This suite is very meaningful to me. The “New Freedom Suite” is in three parts, and these parts germinated from ideas that span decades.
In 1987 I was working on a play in Vermont with The Atlantic Theater Company. In addition to being a founding ensemble member of the company, I was often asked to compose interlude music that was used for underscoring the drama on stage as well as scene changes. The opening notes of the first movement, “Memories of Utopia,” were used during the protagonist’s monologue, in which she speaks of creating a utopian society after the Civil War. The snare drum rhythm represents the consistency and determination of warriors who are also dreamers—-the ones who do not give up on their ideals no matter what the cost. The movement builds to a very optimistic idea of what victory would look and feel like, which is not how war usually ends. The second movement, “Soldier’s Journey,” began as a bugle call back in the early 1990’s. I had been scoring the music for David Mamet’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The night we opened, the Persian Gulf War broke out. When I returned to my rented room that evening, I worked the bugle call into “Soldier’s Journey,” with the knowledge that military personnel were packing their bags that very evening to embark into the unknown. The flutes and woodwinds express the innocence of these soldiers, as they knew not what would lie ahead. They literally “waltz” into war. The war in Ukraine motivated me to compose the third movement, which I entitled “One Step Closer.” It is a tribute to freedom fighters. The movement’s steady percussion beats represent putting one foot in front of the other and making progress one step at a time. The piano leads the way and is later joined in by the entire orchestra, one section at a time. The motif grows stronger as the numbers of allies increase. It is a movement for dreamers, but this time, unlike the first movement, there is no idealism, only reality. My idea here was to express my wish for everyone, every day, to be one step closer to their dreams. Utopia may not be possible, but getting one step closer is.
I decided to entitle the entire suite “New Freedom Suite,” as not only do I live in a town called New Freedom (with roots to the underground railroad) but on any given day, we can decide to free ourselves of whatever has been holding us back. That could include negative ways of thinking, bad habits, things that are no longer serving us. The suite is an anthem for anyone looking for this kind of freedom in life. I personally found “new freedom” when I moved with my husband to New Freedom, PA. When I listen back to the suite, it is a reminder of how far we have come, one step at a time.
What is the motive behind releasing the project primarily to CD?
While streaming is easy and convenient, I personally miss the connection that artists had with their listeners when physical product was released. I remember being a teen and listening to music on vinyl and looking through album notes while listening, reading lyrics and hanging the occasional poster that came with the album in my room. I love having something tactile to share with listeners. I believe creating this beautiful deluxe box with art, words, music, and a collector’s pin creates a bridge between the music and the listener. The box comes with cards that can be shared, a pin that can be worn or gifted, and stories that stand on their own with or without the music.
How were you able to remain active as musician and connect with your audience during the pandemic?
The pandemic was brewing when I had just released an album of covers entitled, “Love Story.” It had charted on Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart. A big 20-city tour was planned for the album. I played one concert in Louisiana in March 2020 and then the pandemic forced the rest of the tour to cancel. It was quite a disappointment. I found myself returning to “the comfort food of music”—music I had learned and cherished in my youth, and I ended up recording an album I entitled “Re-Inventions: Classical Masterpieces Re-imagined.” On it, I arrange and “re-invent” these classical masterpieces. I also published a sheet music collection for the album. During this time I also pivoted to live-streaming concerts from my home Steinway to anyone who would care to listen. To my surprise and delight, these streams became quite popular. We call them “Robin’s Piano Bar.” My husband and I would come up with a theme for each week, and then I’d learn and arrange songs based on the theme and perform them live on Friday nights. What started out as a “going live” on Facebook from an iPhone developed into a high-def five-camera shoot across five platforms. As of this interview, I have done 235 livestreams. Concerts have started to come back now, but when I am not on tour, we still livestream so that I can connect with listeners who cannot attend the live concerts. I really enjoying doing them, as they have become conversation platforms between me and my listeners and for the listeners with one another. All of the streams are archived on my YouTube channel.
With these different methods of engaging your audience, what advice do you have for emerging composers and musicians?
I am now in the fourth decade of my career and have seen a lot of changes in the music industry. One of the biggest ones is the expectation that listeners have to personally connect with artists. There used to be more of a barrier between artist and listener. That barrier has come down. Emerging musicians and composers need to embrace social media platforms and find ways to converse with their fan base to keep them engaged.
What do you hope listeners take away from By the Way of the Wind and your work as a whole?
“By Way of the Wind” is music that reflects the human experience of being pushed and pulled through the world by unseen forces. The wind is sometimes at our backs and pushing us along in a direction that pleases us, and other times it is against us and we struggle. I hope that when people hear this music, they are reminded of the triumphant nature of the human spirit and see their own resiliency. We all experience challenges and pain as we move through the world, but there is also beauty in that struggle.
What are your upcoming projects and events?
I premiered the entire set of works on “By Way of the Wind” this past November in Texas with the Brazosport Symphony Orchestra. It was amazing. Several orchestras have expressed interest in programming the work so I am hopeful it will reach more live audiences in the coming seasons. I also released an EP of solo piano works entitled “All the Best Returns Part I,” and I will release Part II in 2024. I am back on tour in Winter/Spring 2024 with solo concerts in California, Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, New York, and Ohio. I am working on becoming a “Master Gardener” through the Penn State extension program. This is something I have wanted to do for a long while, and I am thoroughly enjoying the course work. I compose a good deal of music in the garden; I have found there is a synergy between nurturing musical ideas and growing a garden. I also teach a weekly class at Millersville University in the music business department.
Learn more about Robin Spielberg: LINK