Part Two: William Goldstein - World Renowned Composer, Electronic Technology Pioneer

Thursday, 21 Feb 2013, 7:56:00 AM

Beverly Cohn

William Goldstein in his studio.
Photo by Beverly Cohn
William Goldstein in his studio.

William Goldstein, a true Renaissance man, was born with the rare gift of genius that was manifesting by the time he was three years old when he could sit down at the piano and play by ear. By the time he was eight, he would go to the movies and was able to play songs and themes after seeing the film just once.  

His musical accomplishments, which span all musical genres, are legion, scoring 50 film and TV projects.

He also achieved prominence as an innovator of new technology and pioneered the first completely computer sequenced direct digital score for a Peter Guber project called “oceanQuest” which CBS Masterworks released as “Oceanscape,” and created the first full musical score for an interactive computer game called “King’s Quest Four” which revolutionized that industry.

Goldstein recently sat down with your reporter in his studio for a two-part an exclusive interview and the following has been edited for content and continuity.

Can you explain your process for creating an instant composition?

Goldstein: So what is the essence of what I’m doing at the piano – how am I doing that?  I’m doing it the same way you get up in the morning and have a conversation with somebody. How do you speak? How is it possible for you to have an idea and express it to another human being? Well, it takes a vocabulary. So, I have a musical vocabulary – a very broad musical vocabulary. Then it takes a method of delivery. How do you get your sentences out? You speak them, right? And, the most important part of the anatomy involved in speech is your tongue and the miracle of the tongue is that you don’t have to tell it where to go, do you? Nobody thinks about the tongue in his or her mouth. When I’m doing my master classes and ask people what part of your anatomy is most involved in speech, students mention the brain, the vocal chords or what – nobody thinks of the tongue. Nobody thinks about the tongue because it’s so automatic. So, if you want to do what I do, just build a musical vocabulary and then build a technique that’s so natural that you don’t have to think about it. So my fingers on the keyboard are like the tongue in my mouth, and that’s the gift I was born with.   

How do you teach this to budding young composers?

Goldstein: For a while, I was reluctant to do this because you can’t teach anybody the gift, but finally, after years, I began to understand what the gift is and in explaining what the gift is to artists, I believe that having that knowledge, and increasing their vocabulary, and the level of competence with their instrument so that it becomes more natural, this knowledge will easily move anybody from one place to a much more open place and help them get in touch with their own creativity. That said, technique has always been a means to an end – not the end in itself.

What is your teaching schedule like?

Goldstein: I’m really focusing on sharing the gift of instant composition. Last year was a banner year. In September and October I went on a five-week cross-country tour of performing arts high schools organized by the Executive Director of the California State Summer School for the Arts, Peggy Burt. This was an eye-opening tour in so many ways.  When I got to the Denver School of the Arts, one of the finest in the country, half way through my day there, at a faculty lunch, the principal of the school said that he wanted to commission me to write a couple of pieces and wanted me to be the principal speaker at a conference in Colorado Springs which I just attended in January. I talked to all the music honor students in the state. Also, I was in Kiev last month and am going back to Poland in March and have invitations from Toronto and China. So, it’s all about the instant compositions. The kids love it and the music students love it; people of all ages respond in very emotional ways.

Let’s switch to films. The Academy Awards are coming up. Any favorites?

Goldstein: I haven’t decided what I’m going to vote for yet. I loved “Lincoln.” I loved “Les Mis,” (“Les Miserables”) I really liked “Argo.”  I don’t think “Zero Dark Thirty,” is going to win the Oscar. It was a really good film, but “Argo” is a better film. “Argo,” from the beginning of it, just never lets up. What I am curious about in regard to “Zero Dark Thirty” is what her (Kathryn Bigelow) political agenda is. She says she’s not endorsing the use of force in interrogations, but of course it’s war, and in this film, the outcome depends upon those techniques.

Piggybacking on that, what do you think the overarching responsibility of the artist should be?

Goldstein: I think we should be as truthful as possible and that we should also try to be as inspiring as possible and if we’re going to bring about change, we should put out positive energy. Whatever we’re doing, no matter how vicious or terrible the story is we’re telling, it should have something uplifting attached to it. A much more interesting question is not with “Zero Dark Thirty,” but with “Amour,” which is an extraordinarily tough film. I’m on the Foreign Language Committee and that film is probably going win, but it’s not my favorite film and yet it is heart wrenching.  But, what’s the point of making a film like this that doesn’t help somebody do something about a horrific human condition. None of us can escape the end of our lives but the end of everybody’s lives is not like that. I like things that not only illuminate the human condition, but also somehow offer hope or a positive solution or resolution.

Not much has been written about your personal life. Have you ever been married?

Goldstein: The odd thing about my life is that I’ve had a perfectly normal career as an artist. I was able to put myself through my last five of seven years of college with my earnings as a composer but never had a real life.  In a spiritual sense, everything I have in life I’ve been given and anything I don’t have has been kept from me. I fell in love when I was thirteen years old. She lived on a farm, but I couldn’t go out with her until I was seventeen. When I finally went out with her, I told her I loved her and she said that she liked me very much but I’m not in love with you. So, she broke my heart. I don’t know if I ever kissed this girl. She was like on a pedestal. Honestly, I believe things happen when they are supposed to happen and the right person will be there at the right time. Over the years people were attracted to me because of what I do. I do have to say that I am an incurable romantic personally, and it comes out in my music in a neo-romantic style.* I’ll share one memorable relationship. I was on my way to a Club Med trip in Guadeloupe and met a girl on the plane. We started talking, met later in the day on the beach, and decided to room together for the week. We ended up in a relationship that lasted a couple of years. It was wonderful. She was an artist. She was someone I should have married but I wasn’t ready.   

With all your extraordinary accomplishments, is there anything in your life that feels unfinished and if so, what is your philosophical take on it?

Goldstein: Sure. My personal life. But, everything happens in time and half the fun is getting there. If there is a master of the universe, the master of the universe has created this world to guarantee and insure conflict on every level. There are animal species – doves, beavers, wolves, swans – they mate once and stay loyal to that mate. They don’t leave that mate and if the mate dies, they very rarely re-mate. Then there’s the rest of the animal species that jumps on anything that moves. If there is a master of the universe, we could have been created like that, but we were not and because we are in “earth school,” and in “earth school” we learn life’s lessons by resolving the challenges put in our path, and they are all in the form of conflict. Whether it’s one-on-one in the bedroom or one-on-one in the boardroom, or a war between two countries, dominance, trust, control, and territory is what it’s almost always about. Human beings need constant positive stimulation. To expect all that positive stimulation to come from one person is not reasonable and people could have better relationships if they would realize that the other person is never the person they want them to be, but only the person who they are and they should try to see them as they are and not as you want them to be. Remember, the only things that work between two people are those things that are mutually desirable and if there is true love for one human being for another, it is not challenged by love for one human being for another because there is a unique dynamic between every two individuals that is not replicable with any other two individuals. And, that’s what I’ve learned in life.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to find that special person?

Goldstein: The more unusual and unique a person you are, the harder it is to find someone. I get along with lots of people and have lots of relationships – this person on this level, that person on that level. I connect with lots of people, which is one of the reasons I didn’t marry early because I realized that because I connect with so many people, how do you just be with one person. Those five days being in Colorado Springs around all those talented young people was amazing. I seem to have a remarkable effect on young people, many followed me around during the festival asking questions, wanting to be photographed with me, and a few said they wished I could adopt them. What’s exciting is they’re at a point in their lives where everything is possible and it’s great to be around people with hope and energy. I make a point when I’m lecturing that in order to really have any success as an artist, you must never lose contact with your inner child because you have to be able to feel and respond without the adult filters and with most adults, the filters are on all the time. So that’s the thing about young people that I find attractive. But, of course, to find a younger person who’s got that wonderful energy and has enough life experience to share with you is a challenge. I mean if you’re going to have a mate, it’s got to be somebody who is in tune with you in so many areas. I’m not really smart enough to have an answer to that one….

“Genius is not the ability to take the commonalities of life and make them obtuse, but rather to take the complexities of life and give them meaning.”  

*Neo-romanticism is a movement that began in Britain around 1880, which crossed artistic boundaries emphasizing the importance of the representation of internal feelings.

To see the complete discography of Goldstein’s more than 50 works, visit

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