Edgar Grana and his new opera ‘Tashi Tibet’ [Exclusive Interview]

Edgar Grana

It may be true that everyone is unique and creative in their own way, but musicians are different than anyone else—and that is a great thing.

Legendary composer and educator Edgar Grana walked away from his vocation for twelve years and was reminded by his wife, Janet that he was, in fact, a musician.  It was a part of his DNA and soul that could not be denied. Over time he realized music had a worthy competitor for his passion: teaching.

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native moved to New York and eventually enrolled in the composition program at Julliard.  He studied with some of the greats and created music for some literary giants including Budd Schulberg’s “On the Waterfront,” a Requiem Mass with Kurt Vonnegut and The Incidental Music for Robert Frost that was commissioned by Scientific American.

Grana is a career composer, as well as a composition teacher.  He branched out into rock music and went Double Platinum with Kip Winger on the Winger Album. He is now collaborating on a new passion project with Pamela Rummel who has written the book to his music for the lyric drama, Tashi Tibet.  He is also finishing up on a new ballet from the Beginning and mentoring various artists.

He loves his role as an adjunct assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and adjunct instructor in the graduate computer arts Department at the School of Visual Arts.

Edgar David Grana spoke with Michelle Tompkins about his musical journey, how he found his way back to music after a twelve-year absence, his body of work, his thoughts on Kip Winger, his latest project Tashi Tibet, what he does for fun, what he would like his legacy to be and more.

edgar grana

Michelle Tompkins:  Where are you from?

Edgar Grana:  I hail from Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh… And then  I migrated to New York City… Then I moved to Brooklyn after my first child was born… And then eventually I got into Juilliard in the master’s program in composition.

MT:  Now were you always interested in music?

EG:  Yes. I spent my childhood behind a classic grand piano. And I studied with Beveridge Webster who was a student of piano at the Sorbonne.

Beveridge Webster studied in Europe in 1921, at age 14, he began five years of study in Europe, first at the American Academy at Fontainebleau, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger and Robert Casadesus,  then at the Paris Conservatory with Isidor Philipp and Nadia Boulanger. He also studied in Berlin with Artur Schnabel. It was at the American Academy that he came in contact with Ravel’s friend Robert Casadesus. Beveridge was the brother to my piano teacher Ferguson Webster. That traces my French influence so pervasive in my own music.

And Beveridge Webster went on to record the Stravinsky ballets for solo piano. And he ended up at Juilliard. And then I went to Carnegie Tech in music for about six months. Then they asked me to leave. They told me I didn’t have any talent. So I stopped music for 12 years, didn’t play a thing. Nothing.

The road back to music

MT:  What did you do instead of music during that time?

EG:  I was a television producer. I’ve done over 150 commercials. Then I became a speechwriter for the president of Sunoco Oil Company. And then I became a videographer. And then one day, my wife said, “You know, you’re still a musician.” And she was correct because I really wasn’t very grounded in any of those things. I thought maybe it was over for me. Anyway, I became friends with a monster pianist. He was Balanchine’s rehearsal pianist. John Coleman was the individual it started me off in composition after my return to music. Coleman was a great rehearsal pianist who could sight-read scores and performance. And he took me under his wing and after about 13 months, I knew that I was back into music. And then I went over to Juilliard’s extension division, where I worked with Stanley Wolfe for two years to audition for the master’s program. And I think when I got accepted, I was the oldest person ever accepted since the Second World War.

MT:  How old were you when you were accepted?

EG:  35. So I was a little bit…  [laughter] I stuck out. Yeah, that was funny. But that’s when it started to happen. It’s a magical story in a way. I was standing in the hall in my locker with all these incredibly beautiful dancers surrounding around me, all of us in our particular lockers, and this woman came walking down the hall, whom I didn’t even know who she was, an elderly woman, older woman. Very regal, extraordinarily— a real presence.  And she said, “Who are you?” I guess she thought, how did you get here [laughter]? And she immediately asked me to come into her office. And this was Martha Hill. She started dance education in this country. And she put together probably one of the most incredible dance faculty ever. And at the time, José Limón had just died. So that was my first commission, I wrote the Epitaph for José Limón. It played for two years at Lincoln Center. That was my first ballet.

MT:  Oh, nice.

EG: Yeah, I’ve written about five ballets. Ballet dance has always been one of my favorite genres. I just love dance. In fact, all my music, no matter what it is, has an element of motion and dance to it. It’s really a deep part because my studies with John Coleman who acknowledges the importance of motion. He ingrained in me the sense of movement. So it’s been with me ever since.

MT:  What else happened during that transitional time?

EG:  My second year at Juilliard started I was at a standstill. I could not write warmed over Bach I had skills an inner ear but no vision no path to call my own.

I heard of Steve Reich while at Juilliard I sort of stood aloof from it looking at it with a jaundiced eye something to be avoided. But the second year began I was overtaken with the thought that I have worked this hard taken so many risks with my age to become back from the rejection while at Juilliard where am I what to do next there was no teacher to aid me I just spent a year with David Diamond starting a second. I was stuck.

A small indie record store opened on 3rd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Street in New York. A beautiful redheaded lady ran it. She was a refugee from Wall Street, leaving it to find herself.  I would go in now and then to browse and to look, never anything more. I found a copy of Reich’s music for 18 musicians and music for large ensemble.  I noticed it and put it down. Left, but of course smiled at the store manager, who was so beautiful I thought. Went home sometime later, don’t ask me how long, but  I suddenly raced out of my Gramercy Park apartment on 21st and 3rd and ran around the corner to the record shop ran to the back picked up the ECM recording of Reich’s music bought it and went home. I remember the red-headed manager said approvingly, “There is a man who knows what he wants.”

I listened over and over to “Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians” and “Large Ensemble.” It put me on the path I could carve out for my self. A mix of small music loops held together with traditional harmony and form. In fact, my mass with Vonnegut opens with the first ten bars doing an aggressive minimalist arpeggiation that I abruptly leave to begin my journey of blocks of repetitive sound that I pare down to sparse sonic elements almost music without hearing the music. A kind of silence in sound. I remember Richard Aulden Clark remarked to I think the choral director Ray Evans Harrell after the recording of my mass Stones Time & Elements a humanistic requiem that the second part of the mass he disliked conducting it.  I think because it was sparse and with no perceptible downbeat.

I am lukewarm to Reich now I remember at a concert of his at Columbia University I went back to thank him connect a bit he sort of dismissed me a gesture that has followed me around with some musicians. Oh well, many appreciate my music and for them, I keep going.

Winning over the literary elite

MT:  Now, what are the titles of your ballets?

EG:   The ballet was Moments an Epitaph for José Limón. Danny Lewis was rehearsal director. José is an extraordinary choreographer born in Mexico probably one of America’s greatest. He moved to New York City in 1928 to study at the New York School of Design. In 1929, he was inspired to dance and enrolled in the Humphrey-Weidman school In 1930. In 1946, Limón formed the Limón Dance Company. Limón developed his repertory and established the principles of the style that he was to become the Limón technique. In 1951, Limón joined the faculty of The Juilliard School, where a new dance division had been developed under Martha Hill. At the age of 64, Jose died of cancer.

When I went to Juilliard I met Martha Hill the head of Juilliard’s dance department. She started dance education in America. I knew Jose was extraordinary. It was a great honor to accept a commission to write a ballet that would be an epitaph in his honor. So this was an incredible moment for me. That was my first commission. It ran at Juilliard for 2 years. Moments featured excerpts that Danny Lewis,  José Limón’s rehearsal director felt would capture the greatness of Limon. I wrote it in 16 days 20 minutes of music. I did it.  After I graduated I was 38 and Jacob, my first son, was born and of course, you have to start earning a living, so to speak. And I got called to jury duty right after graduation and I surmised that I should probably go and do that.

Now, at that moment rather than wait because I was just getting started at my teaching practice. So I went. And low and behold there was Kurt Vonnegut. Called for jury duty as well.  And in those days in New York City you didn’t sit down you stood in a huge assembly hall and formed kind of two groups. Groups that are looking at each other. And then there was this aisle—when your name was called—you walked up the center of the aisle in between these groups. And it was so serendipitous. What happened was as Kurt was walking up to the bailiff a lady behind me said, “Oh, look there’s Kurt Vonnegut.” I also had a sidebar during my years of not being a musician. I was out at the writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa. And Eddie Vonnegut was out there and Kurt taught out there. So I kind of knew something about him although I wasn’t really directly friends with him we were just friends through other people. Anyway, he was sitting on a windowsill smoking a cigarette and I approached him. And I sort of finagled my way into talking to him. And I said, “You know, I went to school with Eddie.” Which was true [laughter]. He liked me. He sort of took to me.  I was more threatened by him than he was of me. I mean he was really a very gentle man. Anyway, he had just recently had seen Webber’s Requiem Mass for the Dead.

Kurt was incensed that composers did not care about the Latin meanings of the words. “Only to write without caring what was being said underneath the Latin so to speak which was a piece of vengeful propaganda.”

He was sort of annoyed with it because he didn’t think Webber had done the proper amount of research. We met a few times at jury duty, then he took me to lunch. And of course typical Vonnegut we just sort of went to a diner. He had in his pocket eight pages 8of ecclesiastical Latin. Vonnegut had rewritten the Requiem Mass for the Catholic church and he wanted me to write the music for it. So I said, “Yes. Why not?” [laughter]. Say yes to everything, right? And I did. And I wrote 183 pages of music and it’s been anyways now kind of a legend in the independent world. It’s been oh, I don’t know how many years it’s been in the top 100 on Amazon of Indie vocal and opera.

MT:  Where can people find it?

EG:  It’s still there. I just saw it the other day. It’s number 15. (Stones, Time and Elements – A Humanist Requiem)

MT:  Oh, wow.

EG: And sometimes I’m number one on Amazon. Amazing. I never knew this. My book writer Pamela Rummel found it. She just did a little research on me and she was amazed and  said, “Do you know that you’re in the top 100?” I had no idea. It was great. Nothing like being well known and you don’t even know it, which is okay with me [laughter]. I’m all right with it. I don’t mind.

Anyway, I started teaching composition privately and my brother introduced me to Michael Brecker the great jazz saxophonist in The Brecker Brothers and through him, I ended up teaching probably, without exaggeration, 27 of the greatest jazz artists in this country. I taught Lucie Simon, Carly’s sister. Russ Kunkel part of the melodic backup band for Carly and a lot of other people.  On and on and on. Brecker, Sanborn, Stern, Joey Calderazzo. Oh, God. Jim Beard a whole plethora of jazz greats became either on or off jazz— and then, of course, there was lots and lots of others. I just got a text message from a student that I worked with 30 years ago, wanted me to look at his music. I don’t know how many people I’ve taught. But then from there, I got hired by the School of Visual Arts to teach music aesthetics in the graduate computer arts department. Where I’ve been for 20 years. That’s been my main career.At the School of Visual Arts, I was taken under the wing of the Chair Bruce Wands who’s now retired and the current chair Terrence Masson. And I have a new body of animation and motion graphic artists that are students of mine, so, all over the world from Hong Kong to Russia to Argentina. I’ve just been going on and on.

From there Terry Blum recruited me to teach in her animation and interactive department at Fashion Institute of Technology.  That’s been the last 15 years.

 MT:  What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

EG:  My favorite thing about teaching is quite simple — watching a young animator or motion graphic artist light up when they have the right music for their work. I get so much pleasure out of that because I’ve played some pieces that didn’t go by themselves. That is just a wonderful, wonderful feeling for me and I’m really devoted to it. Just Wednesday, yesterday, a young man from Germany, I turned him on to some avant-garde German music by Anton Webern and had it played with a particular animation video that was close to his vision and he just— oh, God. You should have seen the look on his face. He was so pleased and the same with SVA. In fact, I just found out last semester that one of my students has won a student Academy Award.

MT:  Oh, that’s exciting news.

EG:  The SVA, a computer arts department, is renowned for some of our students winning student academy awards. Their graduates are everywhere from Blue Sky to Pixar to Dreamworks– just on and on. They are everywhere in all aspects of the industry. They’re really talented and always blossoming. They’re becoming better and better and it’s wonderful. I think it’s good to teach that way because it keeps me going and it supplements my income and social security. It keeps me fresh and in people’s lives. I’m not just sitting in my garden tending to my tomatoes, which I do. But now I have that too. So I do both.

I think it’s important for an artist to give back, as it was given back to me. I mean, after 12 years of being away from music after being let go at Carnegie Tech’s music department, I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t even hear or play the piano. And a very patient man in my life like John Colman Balanchine’s rehearsal pianist who gave me my first composition lessons, and women, Martha Hill the head of the Dance Department at Juilliard, when I was there, especially, who took a chance on me. I wouldn’t be where I am today.  She was an amazing woman. She never even heard my music when she gave me the commission to compose the epitaph for Jose Limon which played 2 years at Lincoln Center.

MT:  That’s great.

EG:  She’s a genius that way. Somebody once made a joke, “Martha Hill likes blue people. You’re blue, I like you [laughter].”

MT:  What does “blue people” mean in this context?

EG:  She had this knack for discovering talent. She’s unbelievable. If you do any search on her, she’s renowned. She’s dead. She died.

MT:  Oh, I’m sorry.

EG:  Yeah. that was a long while ago, but mostly a lot of my study with David Diamond, one of the greats in my life. That was a tremendous unparalleled. With him, I began to write and become a composer and a teacher. And along the way, I hooked up with Joe Gallant a student of mine who got me a commission with Scientific American. And I wrote the incidental music to the life of Robert Frost for their electronic books. And then a little later on, I was given a commission by Charles Rucker another friend of mine to compose the incidental music for “On the Waterfront”  for Budd Schulberg. He wanted to return “On the Waterfront” to the theater. Actually, I met Budd. And that was a huge success. Elia Kazan came. I wrote that score in eight days.  I’m very fast. I wrote 300 bars of music in eight days.

MT:  How many compositions have you done in total?

EG:  Let’s see. I just finished my fourth symphony, which is my requiem choral symphony, a two-string quartet, five ballets, a chamber cantata, which I wrote a chamber cantata with  Pamela Brunsvold Rummel called Lay By – it’s a story of her mother and growing up in Georgia, wonderful story – and a Broadway opera, Tashi Tibet, which is now – the first three scenes are being put up next week. She wrote the book and Jordan Rutter is the music director and co-writer with me. Let’s see, a jazz concerto. Two or three major piano solo pieces one Six Pieces for Piano premiered at the Symphony Space here in NYC, incidental music for plays, two song cycles, jazz songs, many jazz songs.  I would say about four or five that, really, I’ve put out there.  I’ve written a whole bunch of pop songs with Zandy Berry, Larry Stevens, Ben Piper a whole bunch of pop tunes, believe it or not just for the heck of it, with various people. Yeah. I don’t know whether they would go anywhere but they’re there. I did it because I wanted to just get out from where I was for a while, so I did!

A new opera emerges:  Tashi Tibet

MT:  What is Tashi Tibet?

Tashi Tibet
Tashi Tibet Performance on September 14 [Image by Gema Alva]
EG:  Tashi Tibet is about the invasion, bit by bit from China in 1950, but it’s really the backdrop to a love story. That, I owe completely to Pamela Rummel who invented and developed the story and came to me with it. That’s an interesting history. In ’98, ’99, my son came home. This is a little bit of a long story, but I’ll tell you quickly. He came home with The Pearl as part of his reading material. I grabbed it, and I just fell in love with it. I hooked up with Pat Trese, who’s a wonderful news writer, one of the original people who started Channel 4 newsroom. Pat wrote an adaptation of it, and I wrote 200 pages of music for that. By the time we wanted to get the rights, the agent, Evva Pryor at  Mclintosh and Otis for many of Steinbeck’s books had died, and we figured out it was in probate court, which takes forever. Pat pulled out because of health reasons, and The Pearl project just got shut down. So I started searching for a writer for about two years, and a mutual friend introduced me to Pamela, a very talented woman from Jacksonville. Very talented. She has gone ahead and introduced me to this whole, incredible art scene in Jacksonville. I don’t know if you know that. That’s how I came to know Stephen Dare, as matter of fact. She and I started to talk about working together.

We began on another script about the escapees from Mao during his war with the Nationalists. Then one day she called me up and she said, “Let’s put this idea to bed.”  She came up with a new idea about a love story told in Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. She does her homework researched papers from India and England and read books about monks living through that time, and I took all the music that I’ve had for Pearl and rewrote it for Tashi Tibet. We’re working on the fifth reincarnation of the script, with Jordan Rutter, who is also a Jacksonville guy. Superb music director. He is a young man. He graduated Manhattan School of Music, really brilliant. Now we’re putting it at the National Opera Center with three scenes for the industry. That’s been two years of editing work. I have this long distance wand in my life. I am hardly an overnight success. Overnight took about twenty years.

MTI like that you are so adventurous and try new things.

EG:  Yes, I’m blessed that way. That’s something I learned from my father. He’s a doctor, a surgeon, very successful. Then one day he sold everything and bought a little church in the middle of Pennsylvania and became a country doctor. Completely changed everything. He had a huge practice in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, private, etc., and he said, “I’m out of here.” That was about ’52, ’53. He bought a farm. He really gave me the impetus to take chances.

Working with a rock star

MT:  You also worked as a producer for rock bands. How did that come to be? Winger?  Is that correct?

EG:  Let me put it this way, I wrote with Kip Winger. He came to me as a composition student. I still have them. He wants them back. I won’t give it to them. I will if he wants them back. I have 30 cassettes of songs that he’s written, that he wrote under my tutelage with me, or inspired by me. He also is an incredibly focused artist, and we did some major analysis of classical music. He wasn’t just fooling around. He is the real deal. With me, he wrote his first album and gave me a double platinum record for that. He went on to study with others and his career is where it is. They just wrote a book about him, and I heard I’m in it.

MT:  That’s flattering.

EG:  Yeah, Dennis Waller wrote a book about.

MT:  Do you know what he’s doing now? I hadn’t heard about him in a long time.

EG:  He tours, is solo. He’s classical music, but he’s also writing classical music as well. He’s written classical music. One on civil wars. His former wife is a ballet dancer. She died tragically. He’s become a classical composer.

MT:  That’s interesting.

EG:  One of the reasons the author of the book called me was, he couldn’t figure out where Kip was in the world. Was he a rock-and-roll heavy-metal guy or was he a classical composer? I said, “Don’t even bother asking yourself that.”

MT:  Why do you have to be one or the other?

EG:  That’s right. I said he’s the way Gershwin was. He’s doing the Gershwin thing. So do I. It’s now all over the place, but in those days, Gershwin did whatever he was asked to do. Opera, film scores, pop songs. That’s the way Kip did it too.

MT:  Now, what are some of your favorite pieces of your own music that you’ve created?

EG:  Hmm. That’s a good question [laughter].  Which is my favorite child?  No, that’s a good question. It’s a legitimate question. Wow. Some of my music for theater is beautiful. It kind of still grabs me. I love the opera, Tashi Tibet. That is some of the most melodic and heartfelt music I’ve ever written, and Jordan really edited it well so that it’s really accessible now. And with Pam’s text that is a wonderful thing. I love the Chamber Cantata, my more recent works that I wrote for her mother. My first string quartet that I wrote with David Diamond —my wife still feels, to this day, is some of the best music I’ve ever written. That was the first composition that I did that you could really hear my progress, my expertise. Oh, my Fourth Symphony that I wrote with Katie Agresta’s music. I incorporated it into it. She’s one of the great, great vocal teachers of all time. She’s saved Cyndi Lauper’s career and Steven Tyler’s. She did all the Jersey Boys. She’s a magnificent artist. We wrote together a couple of beautiful pieces from the Catholic Mass, and her work is inside my Fourth Symphony. That still knocks me out. “On the Waterfront” that I did with Budd Schulberg. It still reminds me of my mother’s people. It is so thoroughly dramatically driven.

But I don’t know. There’s not one. It sort of changes.

MT:  A few favorites are good [laughter].

EG:  Well, I remember someone asked Charles Dickens which was his best novel, favorite novel. And he said, “It’s the one I’m looking at.”

MT:  That works, too. Now, what are some of your favorite pieces of music from other people?

EG:  That’s easy to talk about, but it’s a little bit expansive. I’ve grown to love the later years of Shostakovich. In fact, my Second String Quartet premiered in Rome along with the Shostakovich Quartet, which I was greatly honored and humbled to perform at Piazza Navona. That was a magnificent experience. I still, to this day, go back to the Bach instrumental pieces and play them over and over again. I love Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, his Third Symphony. Vaughan Williams is magnificent. These are the things I play over and over again. I’ve grown to love music before 1750. They were introduced to me at Juilliard, and I was flabbergasted at how magnificent they were. And Brahms. I just finished listening to Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, the first movement. I love that. Really love that. And Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto, which is exquisite in its simplicity. That’s, I mean, not all. I do orchestral pieces. That’s a strange mix. And so now I think I’m gravitating to some of the more electronic composers like Brian Eno, Stockhausen, and recently the DJ generation Like Daniel Martin-McCormick his wife Aurora Halal because I learned from them. I have given up trying to say only this or not that. That’s not a good way to do business. Whatever’s good, I want to know about it. That’s more important.

MT:  Yeah. Now, do you only play the piano or do you play other instruments now too?

EG:  No, I only play the piano. No. I hear just about all the others. I’m not big on the guitar. That is something I’ve never quite gravitated to. I’ve written some guitar pieces. But piano, yeah, I grew up on the piano, I know the piano. It’s really my instrument.

MT:  Beautiful.

EG:  Yeah, it really is. I spent many hours behind it sitting there.

MT:  Now, tell me about your theater work in New York City.

EG:  “On the Waterfront.” I did the instrumental music for the return of “On the Waterfront” when Budd Schulberg wanted to bring it to stage. So I wrote the music for that. I went out to Budd’s house and I always wanted to hold an Academy Award, so I held his. And I saw pictures of him with Liz Taylor walking through the steps of The Night of the Iguana. What a magnificent woman. You just can’t get a bad photograph of Liz Taylor. We met, we chatted and it was quite a success. I was very pleased, very, very pleased. And then I did some small theater pieces. And of course Tashi Tibet I wrote with Pamela is theatrical.  That’s a huge piece. That’s about two-and-a-half hours long and we did a reading of three scenes at the National Opera Center. So that’s probably uppermost in my mind. That’s a major effort on my part. It’s taken years of work. While I was doing other things, but I was always writing about that.  So now it’s ready to be born.  Very exciting.

MT:  So, is there anything you would like to add about your family?

EG:  Oh, of course. They’ve suffered through all of this [laughter]. There were times when we had 50 bucks and I don’t think you can be an artist and have it any other way. Yeah. I’m married, for about 50 years now, actually last week.  Her name is Janet Washburn Grana.

MT:  Happy Anniversary!

EG:  50th anniversary. Yeah. We don’t talk about it anymore. We look at each other and laugh. Oh, my God. And I have two sons, Jacob and Nathaniel. Jacob went to Bard. He’s a fiction writer. And Nathaniel is going into pre-med. He’s the CAT scan operator at Woodhull Hospital at night and he works for an orthopedic practice in Union Square. He does the X-rays. So they’re on their way. I have a little granddaughter that I really love to death. She’s adorable. And it’s surreal.

I’m sort of that kind of guy, I never was big on hanging out. I mean I’ve known a lot of great people in the arts and I’ve known the world people, I’ve known some of the original activists, but my own personal way of living has been very quiet, kind of conventional. You wouldn’t know who I am if you came up, drove up the neighborhoods. I’m just me. I put my garbage out like everybody else. That’s the way I like to do it. I mean, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. It’s just the way it’s sifted out to me. You know what I’m saying?

MT:  Why did you listen to one person who told you that you didn’t have any talent?

EG:  It was done away from me in a conversation with my Dad. I did not have the internal music skills to fight it, I only had a burning desire.  But looking back it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had to learn to find my way back to music 12 years later and respect that skill takes time a lot of time. 

MT:  It seems like everything happened for a reason, and you received some impressive experience, but in hindsight, do you regret the decision to quit music?

EG:  Not in the least. My life voice feeds me greatly – you can’t learn that in a practice room.

MT:  Now that you have lived some more, what would you tell someone who said they were told that they didn’t have any talent.

EG:  I deal with that all over my private teaching practice. In fact, I hear all the time in my studio. It is a very delicate situation. I find that people are less sensitive about their therapy session than about exposing and nurturing their musical desires. You have to take them up slowly or they get the bends. People often want deeply that which if gotten right away would overwhelm them.

I have no one way of dealing with that – one size does not fit all. Sometimes I start in left field to get to home base. Take Felipe Molina, his brother sent him to me. Felipe was playing sax on the subway platforms at the time he entered my teaching studio. He wanted composition lessons. I am intuitive about that request,  I sensed something more was needed.  So I told him to take Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun and write out the first 32 bars of the score on score paper. He said what. He did it anyway. He told me that he loved to draw. So when he came back with the score written out it hit a nerve with him. What was he avoiding?  His painting passion!

Now look at him he is on the internet a major artist with lots of success and has done the covers for the band Counting Crows.

So you see rejection can be a protection if used correctly. It was for me.

MT:  What happened on September 14?

EG:  A great performance by 10 singers with Jordan Rutter conducting and we started an industry buzz.

MT:  What did you think of it?

EG:  Please. It was overwhelming to all of us. Pam Rummel was thrilled to see her work, her words come to life with my music and Jordan’s editing skills.

MT:  What’s next for Tashi Tibet?

EG:  We must see that it gets to the stage. Period.

MT:  Is there anything that has happened this month, sans your 50th Anniversary that you wish to add?

EG:  Hmmmm…  peace has come over me. Less expectations about my career. It will never take me to the moon, it’s not supposed to do that.  Accepting the routine of my life, grateful I have what I have as an artist and teacher.  I am most importantly of good health.

MT:  What’s would you’d like people to know about you?

EG:  Oh, boy. I’d like them to like my music and know who wrote it. I’d like them to go and say, “Oh, that’s Edgar Grana’s music.” That’s what I would like. And that’s happened a few times. I like that. I like when my music precedes me. That’s an honest answer.

MT:  What do you like for fun?

Edgar Grana
Edgar Grana in his garden [Image by Janet Grana]
EG:  Wow. Well, if I open my little garage door you’ll see my garden. I’ve become an avid gardener [laughter]. I mean, really big time. I mean, I’ve got tomatoes and zucchini and all sorts of herbs. Although my cucumbers are not doing well this year. Eggplant. My fig tree is good. I love gardening. I sort of stumbled in it. My landlord is a gardener, a professional gardener, and he lives next door. He has very graciously let me — I rent from him, and he lets me use his garden. I share whatever I grow with him and his family. But it’s become a passion with me. And bike riding. Oh, I love to bike ride. I just ride my bike and keep active.

MT:  That’s important.

EG:  Yeah. I’ve very lucky. Very fortunate. Believe me. Believe me, it’s uppermost in my mind. You get to me my age and 80 percent of your conversations are about your health [laughter]. You really, you look around and suddenly you realize you’re the last man standing. And you know, I ache. I’m supposed to ache [laughter]. But I don’t have any, as my mother used to say, I’ve got nothing that’s going to kill me. Just makes my life miserable [laughter]. That’s my mother, who was a big, big, big, big influence on my musical life.

The Secret of Life according to Edgar Grana

MT:  What would you like your legacy to be?

EG:  If you asked me that a number of years ago, I would have said my music. Now that you’ve asked me that now, I would say that the respect and good feelings that my students have for me. On the whole, I really gave them as much as I could as an honest teacher. That would be my legacy. People. People. All the rest is decoration. That’s a big change for me. I call “Young Turks.” I thought that success was going to make me somebody. And then I had success. And then I didn’t have success. But then I had students, and it kept me honest on what is important Yeah. People. My two sons. Yeah.

MT:  Now, where can we find your music?

EG:  On EdgarGranaMusic, all one word. EdgarGranaMusic.bandcamp.com. That’s my official music site that I upload constantly, things that I’ve written. And I go through all my music, and I don’t put everything up there, but I put what’s important to me, and it’s pretty extensive. I’m not prolific like some of my colleagues were at Julliard. I mean, some have written 77 pieces, I can’t do that. What I write is chiseled and refined, I’m like a Swiss watchmaker, so I spend a great deal of time on things. And because I started so late, I don’t have the oeuvre that these guys have, they started a lot younger than I, but that’s okay. I don’t write to compete like that. That’s not my place to do that, but it is on edgargranamusic.bandcamp.com [laughter].

MT:  How do you like people to connect with you?

EG:  Well, you know, if Facebook gets to be the drug of choice, and I get a little tired of it, but it’s there, it’s not going to go away– in a good way. But I love an email, edgar.grana@gmail.com.

But that’s how to contact me, Facebook or email. And I always say hello back, I don’t let it go. I’m not one of those people who does that. So, that’s good.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

EG:  I’m really big on working with people. And that’s a major component to me, as being an artist. So that would be my last parting remarks to you [laughter], if I may.

 

Edgar David Grana [Image by Robert Herman]
Learn more about Edgar David Grana and listen to his music here.

Readers:  How did someone remind you who you really are and get you back on the right path?

 

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.