Meant for Each Other: a Conversation with Iris Litchfield and Tom Salvatori
Q: Iris, I’d like to open our conversation in media res to learn what brought you and Tom together.
IL: We met through Broadjam.com—a website where composers and performers meet to discuss and play their work for one another. Actually, I think Tom would be the best one to answer this question, but I will say that I’m so very happy that Broadjam existed and that Tom heard my music there and asked if I would do a CD with him. I’ve never looked back musically since that moment. It is wonderful working with Tom!!
Q: Before turning to Tom, I just want to add that his meeting you might have almost been preordained, in the sense that both of you write in such a similar style that an uninformed listener would probably assume that only one composer was responsible for all the music. This aesthetic unity must make you ideal collaborators. So, Tom…
TS: My friendship and our record company relationship with Iris started in 2004. We were both members of the independent artist community Broadjam.com where composers and musicians across many genres post their work and participate in a community-styled dialogue, which includes peer reviews to encourage growth and development for each other. When I reviewed an original version of Iris’s composition
(that subsequently became the opening track of our 2007
When Evening Falls
CD release published by Salvatori Productions, Inc.), I was spellbound by its clarity, purity, and emotion. My review of her piece provided the highest critic marks possible, which caught her attention. She wrote to me with many thanks for the flattering review, and our wonderful friendship and ongoing dialogue led to her signing to our label and to bringing her CD releases to a worldwide audience. I felt both as a composer and record producer that her style meshed beautifully with my own, and our first collaborative release in 2007 reflects an ebb and flow between her compositions and mine, as if it were a gentle conversation. It was and is simpatico indeed: The piano pieces and guitar pieces alternate, woven together with the brilliantly mellifluous cello lines of John Catchings.
Q: Have you two ever met in person?
IL: I have met Tom once—he came to visit me on his way back from visiting his parents in Italy. We immediately “hit it off.” It felt like we had been friends for years!
Q: Iris, you had already released a number of CDs before your fortuitous meeting with Tom.
IL: During the last 12 years I have composed nearly 120 piano pieces. I started out creating a CD called
(piano and synth strings, available on CDBaby.com), followed by
(again for piano and synth strings). Since then, several important musical events have happened in my life. First of all, I became good friends with Robin Alciatore, who is an award-winning classical pianist from California. She loved my music and produced a CD of some of my pieces, which is called
(solo piano, performed by Robin). I am honored that she should wish to do this. I also signed a publishing contract with a large U.K. company called North Star Music. They have signed 20 of my tracks and hope to get my music into films, radio, and TV. They, too, have produced a CD of my music called
Pause to Music.
Q: Tom, of course, is an established “pro,” with his own studio, record label, and innovative projects. He’s also a busy composer, both on his own and together with his brother Mike, who’s written many scores for video games. By the way, even though I won’t be reviewing the CDs, I was favorably impressed by the audio quality as well as by every aspect of the finished product.
TS: Thanks. My brother Mike and I have done our work in a studio in Chicago called Resolution Productions, where Mike, a studio engineering pro for over 25 years, has managed the recording, mixing, and mastering of our CD releases. I’m pleased to say that when he’s involved, the projects will always be high quality releases. He takes on the role of editor as well and has a relentless pursuit of relevance within his quality focus. If a piece Iris or I present to him doesn’t move him emotionally, it won’t make it on to the record. And I trust his judgment when it comes to being edited.
Beyond our CD releases, our body of recorded works has become the basis for a technology development alliance that I’m involved with—it’s a project-based initiative that develops art and music content for flat screen TVs—especially useful for public and commercial spaces when running active programming on flat screens is problematic. Fluid Stills® technology is unique and patented. The art and digital music content we produce delivers the look and feel of “still art,” while constant change at the pixel level goes unnoticed by the naked eye. Our music is placed in sync with the digital art panel transitions. Readers can learn more about this art and music technology by visiting us at LongGlanceMedia.com.
Q: I understand that not only does your brother write music in his own right but that the two of you frequently collaborate as composers. How do two people write music together? I imagine a sort of back and forth with one proposing a tune, the other maybe adding harmony or suggesting instrumentation, figuration, etc.
TS: All of my compositions, including the pieces that have found their way to being accompanied by a chamber string ensemble arrangement, were composed first and foremost as guitar solos. In fact, they all have initially been conceived as solo guitar. With that in mind, I’m happy to turn my more melodic pieces over to my brother or to string arranger John Catchings for ensemble arrangement considerations.
Q: You’ve cited John Catchings several times for his fine arrangements and beautiful playing. Could you tell me a bit more about him?
TS: John is the consummate professional when it comes to adding just the right touches to string ensemble arrangements to support the little nylon string guitar and grand piano compositions we send him. He has well over 600 project credits to his legacy and musical arrangement resume, and has such wonderful and tasteful instincts for adding a palette of accompaniment to our pieces. We work with him time and time again, and it is our distinct pleasure and honor to do so. He’s based in Nashville but nothing about our work together is associated with the country music activities there. Nashville has grown to be much more cross-genre in its reputation, so we have found it to be an excellent place to record such things as a chamber string ensemble. John has wonderful connections with vast resources to support our very specific and particular needs.
Q: Now for the flashbacks: Iris, how did you get started in music?
IL: I started piano lessons at the age of five with Miss Piper, who was quite a colorful person. She was a very large lady with a large black cat, who would sit on her lap as she taught me. She lived with her elderly mother who had some form of dementia as the mother would sometimes come into my lessons wearing a large corset over her dress saying “Elsie, are these your corsets or are they mine”!!!
Before I went to university, I reached Grade 7 with distinction (eight grades altogether) and because of that award I would have been offered a place to study music at the Royal Academy or Royal College of Music in London. So Miss Piper must have been a good teacher, even though she used to rap me on the knuckles! I was with her until I went to university, aged 18. However, I felt that mathematics was a safer direction to go in as far as work was concerned. (I did not come from a rich family and so I was eager to go out to work and earn some money!) So I read mathematics at London University where I obtained a first-class honors degree. I then took up teaching as a career and climbed my way up the teaching ladder, eventually becoming deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive school. I did continue with piano lessons at university but playing sport (mainly tennis) interfered with my piano practice! About 30 years ago I eventually took—and passed—grade 8. This was when I took up the clarinet. I have to have an aim to make me practice so I took and passed all eight exams with the clarinet. I now play the alto sax as it is easier to blow and the fingering is easier. At present I’ve joined an orchestra with the sax. However, I have never composed for the sax or the clarinet.
Q: One of the four CDs reviewed in
, a series of classical duets on which you perform with pianist Patrick Meehan.
IL: Patrick is my present piano teacher and he is the best I’ve ever had. He plays so beautifully, which is why I produced the duet CD with some of my favorite duets. It was a pleasure playing with him. Between Miss Piper and Patrick Meehan there have been a few others whose names I forget!
Q: Let’s bring Tom in again: What about your early musical life? Did you grow up in a musical family?
TS: No, although my father of Italian heritage loved listening to Pavarotti and my mother would sing beautiful traditional melodies to herself every night while preparing our family dinners. My father was not very encouraging to my brother and me about considering careers in music, thinking that it wasn’t a sustainable way to make a living. My mother encouraged and loved every single note I’ve ever played on my guitar.
I started playing the nylon string guitar at 13 years of age and have not set the guitar down yet…even after 40 years of playing and composing! My brother Michael initially taught me some basic chords and fingerings as we both embarked on our own personal journeys through music “by ear,” i.e., we learned our favorite pieces of music note for note by repeatedly listening to little sections of our record albums over and over.
I am singularly focused on playing and composing for the nylon string guitar. I simply fell in love with the warmth of tone and the expressive and intimate dialogue that exists between the instrument and the player. Once introduced to the guitar through the beauty of nylon strings, even though I have made attempts to diversify, I always rush back to the nylon strings. I never embraced the other options—the more popular acoustic (steel string) guitar always felt like I was pressing my fingers on barbed wire, and I feel that the strummed steel string guitar serves music more as a percussive instrument.
Q: In a previous conversation, Iris told me that you’re also a classical guitarist and no longer someone who exclusively “plays by ear.”
TS: In my early teens, my high school music teacher, Duane Tutaj, introduced me to classical guitar studies, and started me down the road with the Villa-Lobos Preludes series. I entered and won the Illinois Music Association’s Senior Open for guitar in 1973. In college, I took additional classical guitar lessons from Ray Mueller of the Milwaukee Classical Guitar Society, but spent much more of my time discovering, finding, and then carving out my own unique path to a more minimal and quiet side of the guitar through playing and composing.
Q: Having acquired the technical foundation, are you ever moved to write in a “classical” vein?
This is a bit hard to pin down, because if tonal melodic contours and simplistic chord structures can be incorporated into the definition of classical, then I suppose yes. But my feeling is that I don’t stretch nor do I ever intend to stretch any boundaries at all with regard to speed, complexity, dissonance, or the acerbic, so I would define my works more as contemporary instrumental rather than classical. I like to say that I would love to be remembered as someone who composed the pieces that the virtuoso players out there can quietly play for their loved ones late at night when they relax after they come home from their classical guitar stage performances! I also like to say that my pieces are stripped down to the basic cornerstone of composing; unencumbered by elaboration, unadorned by ornamentation. For any readers who would like to explore my work, Les Productions [Les Productions d’Oz, Quebec Canada, 2004] has published
, a sheet music anthology featuring 11 of my original guitar solos.
There’s a funny story connected with my classical guitar studies that explains in part the direction I’ve taken as a composer: My parents took me to see Andrés Segovia at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in the mid 1970s, which backfired somewhat; I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the event and the patriarchal command inherent in Segovia’s stage presence and performance, which produced the sinking feeling that I would never be able to attain the level of skill, command, or perfection he possessed. This particular revelation had a profound effect on informing the more understated, “less formal study” approach I would take in my playing and composing later in life. After seeing Segovia in concert, I actually gave up the guitar for a short period of time until I realized that I could re-approach it on my own terms and with my own vision of what the guitar meant to me. And with that, I’ve been composing my grade-simple little miniatures ever since.
Q: Iris, have you ever “stretched” your boundaries in a classical direction?
IL: When I studied the piano I only played classical pieces. I have now joined a solo piano group meeting each month to play a prepared piece to each other. At our next meeting I shall be playing a French piece. I love French composers such as Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel—they have such sensitivity and feeling, which is what I mainly go for. As a composer I did once write a piece
Scott Joplin, admittedly not quite the sort of classical composer you might have been thinking of, but I’ve written two other pieces that would qualify: a
in a very classical style and
, which sounds as its name suggests!
Q: I’d like to hear them someday. When did you begin to compose?
IL: I only started composing when I took early retirement from teaching due to ill health. Like my mother (who died in 1990 at the age of 85, outliving all her contemporaries) I had breast cancer and six years ago I had a double mastectomy. About four years ago the breast cancer spread to my bones and now I am on oral chemotherapy: Every three weeks I have an infusion to strengthen my bones. I feel perfectly fit and healthy and have just taken up golf! The only side effect from the tablets is very dry hands and feet! I feel very positive and enjoy living each day as it comes. Sadly, my mother died before I began to compose, so she never got to hear any of my pieces. I began composing using my keyboard [electronic] but soon switched to the piano. I have had NO lessons in composition but I was born with a good ear for music and this is why I am able to compose. I inherited my love of music from my mother. She came from a VERY poor family in London. Her parents were both alcoholics! When she first went out to work—at the age of 14— she saved every penny to buy a piano! Her parents used it as a drinks cabinet to store their bottles in! My grandfather was in the First World War where he lost an eye and damaged an arm. Every year he had to go and prove he was disabled in order to get his benefit. As usual when he went, his mind was confused with the drink. When they asked him how far he could lift his arm, he put it up in a kind of Hitler salute. Then they asked how far he could raise it before the bullet hit it and he lifted it vertically and promptly lost the benefit!! Quite an amusing but true story!
Q: How did you move from composing for yourself to “putting yourself out there?”
IL: A friend of mine, Sally Morris, is an excellent poet and she read one of her poems at our local church. I spoke to her at the end of the service and told her how much I loved the poem. She said she would like someone to set it to music, so this is how it all started. She gave me her poems and I set them to music. When I ran out of poems I wrote music for her to put words to! Altogether we produced about 40 songs for the church so this is how it all started!
Q: That’s interesting, as your music immediately impressed me with its song-like qualities: All that’s missing are the words.
IL: I TOTALLY agree that most of my pieces could have words. Some already DO have words.
Q: One last question: How would you like people to be affected by your music?
IL: I think that as far as people responding to my music, Tom summed it up perfectly when he wrote about “a ripple effect helping to spread peaceful vibrations throughout the world....”
Autumn Colours. Breath of Spring. Nature’s Serenade. Song of hope. Gentle Breeze. Carousel. Come Stay a While.
Sleepy Eyes Lullaby. Guitar Lament. Reflecting Absence.
Majestic Interlude. Church Song. Labyrinth Two. Quiet Reflections
Iris Litchfield (pn); Tom Salvatori (gtr); John Catchings (vc);
Craig Nelson (db);
Pamela Sixfin (vn);
Monisa Angell (va)
SALVATORI PRODUCTIONS 2007 (52:32)
You’re With Me Still. Cascade.
Fly With the Wind.
To You With Love.
Windmills of Time.
The Ghosts of Levigliani.
Escher’s Lullaby. Whirlpool Song.
Dark Round. As the Nightshade Grows.
Iris Litchfield (pn); Tom Salvatori (gtr); John Catchings (vc);
David Angell (vn);
Monisa Angell (va);
Craig Nelson (db);
Roger Weiesmeyer (ob);
Jennifer Kummer (hn)
SALVATORI PRODUCTIONS 2010 (2CDs: 92:16)
. Rustic Dance. In the Garden. Polonaise.
Prelude Rhosymedre. Fantasia on Greensleeves.
Sicilienne de Pelléas et Mélisande.
Six Etudes in Canon Form
Iris Litchfield, Patrick Meehan (pn)
SALVATORI PRODUCTIONS 2012 (54: 40)
A New Beginning. Passing Memories. Dream Clouds. Celtic Lament. Whispers of Yesterday. Homecoming. Joy of Summer. Dancing Dreams. Riding High. Promise of a New Day. Whispering Trees. Falling Leaves. End of the Day. Morning Mist
Iris Litchfield (pn)
SALVATORI PRODUCTIONS 2012 (44.53)