Hey Charlie, thanks so much for doing this interview! Can you tell us what your art form is?
My art form is songwriting.
Do you remember when you first became interested in music? How did it happen? Did you have any big musical influences?
I taught myself how to play in high school from reading a couple of books on the subject. I was too short for basketball, too small for football, but all those jocks needed some music at their parties. After that, my first paying gig was for the US Coast Guard at a children's Christmas party.
Does teaching effect the creation of your personal work?
It has made me a better editor. Kids write songs that are brief but to the point. I have learned that, and a lot more from them.
What do you hope participants of your programs learn or come away with?
A realization that making music is just as much, or more fun, than watching someone else do it. Further, it does not have to be polished as long as it's yours!
What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?
Being a COMPAS artist means being part of THE BEST arts outreach organization in the country! Not only has COMPAS been a big part of my life, it has sustained me spiritually and financially as well. By "spiritually" I mean the energy and intensity of being around so many different artists of all creeds, colors, and disciplines. That goes for the staff at COMPAS as well. COMPAS is world class in what they do, and innovation is our hallmark. We are the CREATORS!
Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?
Let's face it, live venues are scarce, and many school-age children would be too young to go out even if they were in plenty. Further, not every child has family willing to take them to concerts, art galleries, or museums. Within the school setting, with the help of COMPAS artists, children, and adults in Artful Aging, can literally go anywhere.
You grew up in New York, can you tell us how you ended up in Minnesota?
My college years at my alma mater, Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin brought me to the Midwest from Buffalo, New York. I am forever grateful that my college took a chance on a 17 year old "C" student destined for trade school! When I got to Northland I found that I was one of the most prepared freshman on campus! How come my high school missed that? Thank goodness my guidance counselor told me about Northland College!
Does living in Minnesota have any influence on your work?
In this state, if you create something, you have a place to perform or show it. Oftentimes for money! Not every state has this advantage to working artists!
What effect, if any, did meeting songwriters and musicians Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Don McLean have on you?
They were my teachers. Especially Lee Hays who was in semi-retirement. He took the time to spend hours of every day, weeks of every month, months of every year with me. We wrote daily for over three years, and I have his letters as well as mine. Lee always thought they would make a good book.
How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?
Become diverse in your creativity, and in your interests! If I don't write a song in a given day I am writing for magazines (Minnesota Monthly is my current favorite and a new piece of mine will be out in the April issue). Photographing with cameras from WWII up to modern day digital, reading constantly, and experimenting with what I read.
For example, thanks to the AMC TV series "TURN" I have an insatiable appetite for colonial history and the Revolution, so I am learning how to shoot and maintain a 1770-era flint lock Pennsylvania Longrifle. It gets me out in the woods, and the outdoors much like fat-tire biking and golf, other mainstays of "creative loafing" as Lee Hays used to call it.
As a working artist, just surviving can be its own reward, but one should never neglect those activities that allow you to put some heavy thinking on the back burner of your subconscious while you exercise, travel, or pursue other interests seemingly not connected to your trade or profession. In fact, they probably are connected to some degree.
What projects or programs have you been working on recently?
Elder work with Artful Aging has kept me quite busy at COMPAS in the past year.
My own work has been equally exciting. I am helping Minnesota State Parks celebrate their 125th Anniversary on July 29th, 30th, and 31st, at Itasca State Park, with a lecture, a CD release concert, and a chance for campers at Itasca to write their own anniversary song on the spot with me.
I am also helping to head up "The Big Read" at Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, on April 1st at 7pm, as the entire Saint Croix Valley joins the Joad Family rambling through the pages of "The Grapes of Wrath.” The book has so much in common with the political and social issues of today. The concert will touch upon the Centennial for the National Park Service, with the first-ever out-of-state performances of my new song cycle, "The Mather Mountain Party" chronicling the horseback trip Parks founder, Stephen T. Mather organized in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1915, that led to the formal introduction of the National Park Service a year later on August 25, 1916.
Also, my musical "Orphan Train" that I wrote with Patty Lynch, at the History Theatre in Saint Paul, is coming back for another run next fall. Patty and I will be workshopping the musical from July 18th to the 22nd. It is a big show with over 30 actors and always a big hit with audiences!