Hello and welcome to my Composer Website!
I’m Paul Hirsh (I’ve got a bit older since that pic was taken). So here we go with….
… my story
Both my parents were accomplished pianists. My Dad played jazz and had that Art Tatum stride thing nailed. My Mom was a classical pianist with L.R.A.M and F.R.C.O after her name. She used to play me Chopin ballads while I was still in her womb. Between them they could play Rachmaninoff’s 2nd concerto with four hands.
I would love to be able to report that I took up the family tradition and became a successful concert pianist in my own right.
But that didn’t quite work out.
Somewhere along the line I realised that learning the piano was not going to be a piece of cake. I dreamed of playing effortlessly, of living in a musical cloud where I would be 100% happy. But in order to get there, I would have to do a ton of stuff that I hated. Scales! Arpeggios! Boring tunes!
And later when I had done a couple of years of violin lessons and was playing in a Youth Orchestra, I stared at the 2nd violin part of a Beethoven symphony, with all those boring repeated notes and thought, This is not what I wanted either.
Say what you will, but I hate doing stuff that I hate.
I become morose, rebellious. I may decide to change course to see if there isn’t something else I like doing better. Like painting. Learning Chinese. Art dealing. Sculpting porcelain dolls. You know, the usual stuff.
So I wangled a guitar out of my Dad, just before I got kicked out of the family home, and started a long lacklustre career as a guitarist that never, ever, managed to pay the rent of my succession of tiny London rooms. I started writing songs, playing folksy stuff, then graduated to doing Brazilian and jazz gigs, ending up playing in Italian restaurants to drown the clatter of the cutlery. I did a lot of bass guitar work with Dixieland Bands, touring Brazilian samba shows, Russian dance troupes (on bass balalaika!) and with jazz pianists backing croaking Sinatra singalikes. But in the end I neglected promising offers as a bass guitarist because I still fancied myself as a lead player.
I started composing jazz tunes for the simple reason that though I loved playing jazz, I was fed up with the same old standards and the II-V-I chord sequences that made them so predictable and encouraged clichés in my playing.
Dave DeFries helped me put together an amazing sextet with drummer Brian Abrahams, bassist Erika Howard, trombonist Paul Nieman, saxist Tim Whitehead and himself on trumpet, to play my tunes, and we eventually performed on Charles Fox’s Radio Jazz in Britain on Radio 3.
I took up the panpipes on January 1st 1980 after a New Year’s Eve dream in which I saw myself playing all 12 major scales on them. The traditional Romanian panpipe is tuned to a major scale, usually G major, and you get the semitones by changing the blowing angle. When you play a panpipe, you can’t see the instrument. So you form a mental picture of the other 11 scales that is not unlike the shapes of the scales on a piano, except that you don’t play a piano in the dark with your chin.
Yes, at age 32, I was bowing to the inevitable. Learning scales! I gritted my teeth and dug in to the task.
This was the start of my “almost-famous” period. I made a TV-advertised panpipes LP under the pseudonym Paul Leoni that reached 17 in the UK album chart, before abruptly disappearing. This led to sell-out tours with Ireland’s then biggest-selling band, the Phil Coulter Orchestra. I tooted my flutes on various film soundtracks, working with the likes of Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer and Trevor Jones, and later in France with Bernardo Sandoval on Western, a film that won the César for best soundtrack..
I also dabbled in Japanese traditional music on the shakuhachi with visiting Japanese artists both in London and France, before deciding the music was all too sad for me.
But in London, the rent is a relentless dragonfish that turns your life into a bad dream with nowhere to run. So when I hit 40 I said goodbye to fair Albion and went to live in a ruin in Spain. I lived by selling my paintings, and played classical lollipops for the odd wedding in mountain chapels.
It was there, on my sun terrace, overlooking a lake surrounded by mountains, that I had my revelation:
Tired of still hitting bum notes after 13 years of practising the instrument, I retuned all my panpipes to wholetone tuning. I call that intervallic tuning, because the same move always produced the same musical interval. Within 2 weeks I had got used to the new tuning, and have never looked back since.
Writing for Orchestra.
About the same time I started writing music for orchestra. To find out more about orchestration I took up the viola again after a 35-year break and took part in the Semaine Musicale de Clairac where I had the privilege of playing under the batons of Jean-Pierre Ballon and Olivier Kaspar for six summers, performing pieces by the greatest orchestrators in the repertoire.
Never mind that my pieces have been systematically rejected year after year by the Comité de Lecture of the Ensemble Intercontemporain. Some folks are just too picky! We plough on regardless.
Check out my blog for budding improvisers: Intervallicawareness.com
My first website “Intuitive instruments for Improvisers” with click’n’play alternative instruments
And tuutflutes.com explains the wholetone tuning concept for the 21st century panpipe
Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute