Welcome to the third installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making.

Dean is a composer who I first met at an avant-garde concert series I used to help run in Brooklyn Heights. Here’s his story.

MW: When was the first time that you can remember feeling the impulse to become a musician?

Dean Rosenthal: Well, when I was probably two or three, there are pictures of me banging around on my Fisher-Price drum and toy instrument and clearly that made some kind of an impression. But it wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 that I first remember wanting to play an instrument and make music. So it was a self-motivating situation, I was never given music lessons or forced to take them (although we always had a console piano available for me to experiment on – and I’m sure I did that often).

The reason for my interest in making music came from a good place, although some classical people might consider it somewhat embarrassing. I was enamored of Eddie Van Halen’s (of the 70s and 80s rock band Van Halen) guitar playing on the album 1984 and it inspired me to learn how to play guitar. I asked my mother if we could pick one up and if I could take lessons and she said “yes”. That inspiration, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar chops, is what got me going. I have to add that I still consider him a great melodist in his guitar solos and a monster instrumentalist – up there with the best guitarists of any style of playing.

MW: How did you proceed to become a musician?

DR: As I took my weekly guitar lessons, we found I had a natural talent for it and moreover that I was intensely passionate about playing and improving and so on. After several years of playing other people’s songs and improving my technique, I began writing my own material. Almost all of it was instrumental, much in the vein of the rock/metal/guitar-god 80s and early 90s style. But I was also listening to The Beatles, My Bloody Valentine, grunge and a touch of New Wave.

I also started to write more of an experimental sort of music, letting my technique be overtaken by my creative and intuitive impulses, rather than writing structured songs. I knew next to nothing in terms of music theory because I was learning almost everything by tablature, but I had learned how to put together songs by teaching myself how to play hundreds of them. But for the more experimental or instrumental kind I wrote, I let my ear guide me.

I do still think that work I put in, hundreds if not thousands of hours—six or seven or more hours a day I can remember, most every day—is how I best developed the ear that I count on today as both a composer and a performer to let me know if what I am doing is good music.

In answering your question, I am finding that much like my conservatory studies at McGill and CalArts much later on, it was still the self-motivation that put me there. But ultimately I have still learned the most from studying scores, going to concerts, and playing my own music and the music of other musicians I admire and get with as a listener and a performer and a composer. I never studied composition or orchestration as a subject at a school or college or university, so in many ways I’m an autodidact. I don’t think of that proudly in particular, it’s just how it happened.

Today, my music is performed, installed, choreographed, and broadcast internationally, I’m an editor of a web magazine, and a contributing editor and contributor to Open Space Publications, and have published several articles and reviews in noted journals and magazines. My music is sometimes taught and written about by others (I would like to see more of that happen) and now, in 2017, I feel that I have accomplished some of what I set out to do. I haven’t released a recording or published, so that is hopefully in the future, as well, of course, as continuing to maintain and foster relationships in our community and with the public for my music. I’m very positive about where new/contemporary/experimental music has come to today.

Many thanks to Dean for sharing his story. Find out more at www.deanrosenthal.org and www.stonespiece.com.

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