Friday, February 18, 2011

Homegrown Radio 2/18/11 – Eberle Umbach

A happy Homegrown Radio Friday to you!  We’re here with a piano composition written & performed by Eberle Umbach—a song sometimes called “Rootabaga Dreams” & other times called “Rootabaga Dream Train” that I’ve always liked a lot.  Let’s read what Eberle has to say about her song:

When John and I were writing music for a stage production of The Rootabaga Stories, John liked this piece much more than I did – he suggested that I listen to it again today and after a few years I do find that I like it much better. It gave me a new insight into our mutual musical development as well, now that what John and I play together is old blues. Our first band, the Alice in Wonder Band performed jazz and my own compositions – we really didn’t have any blues at all in our playlists. I wrote the Rocking Horse Fly Blues, but it was more Alice than Blue – involving recited text from when Alice meets the Looking Glass insects – the Bread-and-Butter Fly too! I have no idea how we persuaded the oboist to act the part of the Gnat, speaking through a megaphone, but we did.

I think I was uncomfortable with Dream Train back then because so little seems to “happen” in it – especially when I was first writing songs, I loved complexity and would get farther and farther out in unusual rhythms and harmonies – every once in a while relearning, with an abrupt return to humility, that simplicity was actually the most difficult and the most effective approach (but complexity was so much more fun…) It struck me today that since John began taking the lead in the music we play together, we have pursued this direction of harmonic simplicity – having moved from songs where the chords often changed on each beat to songs that sometimes have only one or two chords – but a great deal of action.

I seem to have what amounts to a serious psychic allergy to the 4/4 rhythms of mass-marketed popular music from the 50s on, and the kinds of chord progressions that so relentlessly accompany the rhythms. Anaphaletic shock is always just around the corner for me in the blaring aisles of the grocery store. But the landscape of my musical heart meets John’s in old blues – modal, rhythmically complex, more often about humanity than about the inflating and posturing of ego, about authentic individuality and not propoganda for the death-cult of consumerism, celebretism, and economic privilege... (When my conversation starts turning rampant like this, John often says: But tell us how you REALLY feel about it, Eberle…)

Back to Dream Train – I also hadn’t remembered that in this song I combined a simple blues riff with the major seven chords I associate with Bossa Nova and Brazil – I think because the time I lived closest to the kind of subsistence rural farming that Sandburg’s characters know (and that some of the old blues singers lived) was in Brazil. Even in the sophisticated urban sound of the Bossa Nova, a lived connection with the land is audible. Like in The Waters of March, which celebrates the rains that come at the end of the dry season, ending that yearly time of hardship for farmers. I asked John to post that song too [note: I posted a video of Jobim & Elis Regina performing the song yesterday at this link], although it will make Dream Train sound like the tiny mite that it is, clinging with tiny teeth to the running, powerful, mythical body that is great music – but what a ride – the mite is a happy little mite and feels herself a mighty mite just to be there.
Hope you enjoy this beautiful piece!


  1. A nice, dreamy feeling. It sounds more like an improvisation that a composed piece. I like it!

  2. Wish I had something more insightful to say than "I like this a lot" but I like it a lot.

  3. Hi John and Eberle,
    It is divine to read John's blog and listen to Eberle's music played by the two of you, while sitting in my apartment in Madrid. I love the internet! Eberle's music is ideal daydream music, to float into a dreamy state.

    xo, Margot

  4. Hi Roy, Peter & Margot

    Roy: Thanks! Improvisation is a big part of Eberle's creative process, so there's an improvisational component even in her most composed, "song-like" pieces!

    Peter: Hey, you said a moutful there! Thanks.

    Margot: Well, hello! Eberle is out for much of the day but I mentioned to her that you commented before she left. Glad to know you got back to Spain ok & that you enjoyed the music!

  5. If Satie had been an American and breathed blues and jazz, something like this would have come out! Really enjoyed listening to these.

  6. Hi Dominic: Thanks so much from both of us for that comment!

  7. Hi Eberle!

    I really liked this piece - especially the treble-runs (I don't know if that's a legitimate term, but that's what I'm calling them.) It's rather as if the Dream Train has gone off the main track for a spell for a journey by a stream. I found the music easy to listen to, but also transporting (in more ways that one), and that's a very good thing, isn't it?


  8. This piece washed over me, and I smiled.

  9. Hi Kat & HKatz

    Kat: Thanks so much for checking out Eberle's music--much appreciated by us both!

    HKatz: Thanks! So glad you liked it!


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