Looking back on the extraordinary journey leading to the highly anticipated upcoming release of his debut instrumental album Into the Blue, Michael Joseph can pinpoint the exact day and time inspiration first struck.
Midmorning on February 11, 2011, during a break from arranging dance music for a specific project, the composer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist turned to his wife Beth and said, “I wish I could compose music. I know I can arrange, but to compose would be such a gift.” Knowing her husband and friend for 40 years, she asked him, “Have you ever tried for more than ten minutes?” When he admitted he had not, she encouraged him to sit at the piano for two hours and challenge himself. After an hour, a welcome flood of ideas broke through and he quickly penned “Awakened,” a perfectly titled first song that blends the elegance of acoustic piano with powerful synth generated symphonic elements. Released as a single in 2015, the track appeared on the popular New Age compilation album Sounds from the Circle VII. A re-recorded version of “Awakened” will be included on Into the Blue.
The entire concept of the transcendent 13 track collection is based on Michael taking an introspective look at his life and inside his soul. “That’s why I called it ‘Into the Blue’ and put a picture of myself on the cover,” he says. “I have blue eyes, and they say the gateway to the soul is through the eyes…so in my case, into the blue. In a way each song says a lot about me, as if they are powerful snapshots touching upon different experiences, thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it’s a simple reflection of how I happen to feel at the moment I sit down at the piano.”
Michael’s inspirations can range from something as simple as the joyful feeling of a sunny morning (the exuberant, soul elevating “Daybreak”) to much deeper emotions tied to a life event, as on the passionate solo piano piece “Another Chance.” It came to him as a healing moment after a traumatic recent health scare he went through with Beth. She had a bad reaction to a new prescription she was taking for stomach issues and fell unconscious. Eventually all was well, but during that short time of uncertainty, he thought he had lost her. “A couple of days later,” he says, “I was sitting at my piano and the emotions of that night and the thought of losing her resurfaced and I was very upset, yet still sitting at the piano. I just started playing different things, I can’t really explain it, but that’s when I came up with the melody for that song. I named it ‘Another Chance’ because I feel we were given another chance at life together, another chance to appreciate our days together, another chance to live…”
The lilting, sweeping and symphonic “Carpathian Echoes” is based on some of the chord progressions used in the folk music of the Capatho Rusyn people, whose homeland is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland meet. It is one of the tracks on Into the Blue that taps into Michael’s fascinating lifelong connection to Eastern European folk music. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he still lives, he started playing piano at age six and received classical training for 12 years while also learning clarinet, bass and becoming heavily involved in the junior groups of The Tamburitzans, the longest running multi-cultural song and dance company in the United States. During his time with the group, he learned to play several stringed folk instruments indigenous to the countries of that region.
While Michael set aside the pursuit of his own musical passions for a number of years, his love for music led him to a deep fondness for classic New Age and legendary genre artists like Enya, Yanni, George Winston, David Arkenstone and Loreena McKennitt. His desire to pass on traditions and get his six year old son involved in the Tamburitzans led Michael back to music. He reconnected with Beth, the first girl he ever danced with at the age of nine in the Junior Tamburitzans and his high school sweetheart. Her father Jack, the choreographer of the dance group, asked Michael to play and arrange much of their dance music. In 2005, Michael, after some initial protests, learned to play the accordion in three months to participate in a tour of the Slovakian countries.
Currently Michael also plays 5 string bass in The Barons, a group that specializes in Oktoberfest music and American music from the 60’s-80’s. He also performs with the children’s dance group called the Slavjane Folk Ensemble, playing accordion, bass and a myriad of folk instruments from Eastern Europe. (alongside Beth, who plays flute and folk instruments as well), With the 2019 release of Into the Blue, he is excited about embracing his longtime passion for New Age and expressing himself as a piano based artist/composer for the first time.
“There is something about new age music that can not only reach your soul but calm it as well,” he says. “There have been new age artists that can reach me on that level and I always thought of that music as a gift. There is a lot of beauty in this world and unfortunately, I don’t think we allow ourselves to step back to see it often enough. For me, music is a big part of that beauty. Music can shape our day and shape our mood. New Age music seems to be the genre for me that relaxes the soul. Over the years, I have become what I consider a man of peace, and I thought, if I could write music that can spread that peace and make people feel good about themselves, this would be the right musical road to take.”
By Jonathan Widran