Michael Wall is a composer and multi-instrumentalist from the New York Metro area who has spent two decades performing, composing, arranging, conducting, and teaching music. He talks to Tunebubble about his changing creative process, coping with not being able to perform and his hopes for the future.
Who inspired you to make music?
I grew up in a musical house--my Dad was a jazz trumpet player and singer. He played trumpet with the Rick Anthony Big Band, a 40s-style swing band and he sang in various Barbershop choruses and quartets. I started taking piano lessons at 7 with my Godfather and then started studying trumpet in 4th grade. So it was a team effort! As far as I was concerned, there was no other way to be.
Has your creative process changed during the past year due to Covid?
Absolutely. My first album, Coming Home, was a very ‘composed’ album; I wrote the piano parts and then each string part, wrote them out, checked for traditional voice leading problems, etc. It was traditionally done. Since Covid, I’ve been exploring my improvisational side. I’ll sit in my studio, hit record, and start playing. Once I’m happy with the piano part, I’ll improvise and record the string parts--I try to do them in one take so it’s stream-of-conciousness. Of course I’ll edit if something really goes sideways, but many of the happy accidents that occur during improvisation actually stay in.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
So many people! My favorite contemporary composer is Roberto Cacciapaglia. I’d love to write string parts for him. I’d also like to collaborate with Olafur Arnalds--our aesthetics are similar but not too close that they couldn’t be complementary. A dream would be to collaborate with John Williams and pick his brain regarding composing for film, which is a dream of mine.
Which venue would you most like to play in?
In the U.S., Carnegie Hall, hands down. No disrespect to any other amazing large or small venue, and there are so many hip places I’d love to play, but sitting at the piano on stage at Carnegie Hall with my favorite string quartet would be everything. Outside the U.S., there are just too many amazing places to choose from.
What's been the biggest challenge, musically, of the past 12 months for you?
Accepting the cancellation of all my gigs right when I was about to blow up and staying motivated to continue writing, editing, mixing, mastering, and promoting myself. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing because things will never go back to normal, but I have to believe that they will and I will make the most of it.
What is your favourite piece of music to perform?
Song for Dad. It’s a simple piece but it means so much to me and I love the feeling in the room after the last notes ring. I’ve had performances where the audience was crying with me. It was really powerful.
Which musicians do you most admire?
I respect any musician that worked hard to get to where they are. I think most people don’t understand how many hours of practicing it takes just to become proficient on an instrument. Some of my favorites, in random order...Bud Herseth and Doc Severinsen on trumpet, Flea on bass, Dougie Maclean on guitar, composers Philip Glass, John Cage, and John Williams, Roberto Cacciapaglia for his piano playing and composing...there are too many to list.
Give us your top 10 favourite tracks!
This would change depending on the circumstances. I also really like 90s rock, but if we’re keeping it to just 10, here we go in random order…
-Roberto Cacciapaglia ‘Wild Side’
-Cacciapaglia ‘Wind Song’
-Olafur Arnalds ‘Beth’s Theme’
-Murray Gold ‘I Am The Doctor’
-Murray Gold’ (orchestral version)
-Erik Satie Gymnopédie No. 1’ (orchestral or piano version)
-Mussorgsky ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’
-Cole Porter ‘Begin the Beguine’ (Artie Shaw version)
What have you got lined up next?
I’m composing pieces for a 2nd album to be released soon. I’m working on the 9th and 10th tracks so I think it’s complete. Then I need to mix and master them, secure copyright, etc. I’d love to perform live but I don’t know when venues near me (NYC) will open up. Maybe I need to move and gig!
What’s the biggest dream you have for your music?
I want to leave my day gig and compose, perform, and tour full-time. I have a family so a day gig is necessary for things like paying bills, health insurance, etc.! :D If I could make enough from performing that I could leave, I’d leave. I’d also like to write for TV and film, like how Olafur Arnalds scored ‘Broadchurch.’ I write traditional music (band, orchestra, chorus) as well, so I’d like to write music in many different genres.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you or your music?
Music has been my everything my entire life. I started composing in middle/high school, and then got away from it after college because I went into education. I studied music education and ended up getting a doctorate in it (Ed.D. Music and Music Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, class of 2013). Going through graduate programs in music and music education and diving into the research side of music made me really miss the creative side of it.
Regardless, I'm continuing to write and trying to better myself. The only thing you can control is your reaction to your circumstances, so continue making yourself a better person--more skilled and talented yes, but I'm working on being more patient, more generous, more healthy. 2020 was one hell of a year for us all. I'm using it as a preparation to launch myself into greatness. See you there!