The SMILE CD opens with Gypsy Dance, an original composition inspired by Vittorio Monti’s Czardas. I figured that its mix of moods ending with the exhilaration of a fast Hora rhythm was a great way to begin the album and I hope you agree!
Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro, from his 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi, is next and changes the mood completely. This tune has been a favourite of mine since I was 16 years old and its melody always brought tears to my eyes. Today, with my friend Istvan Lakatos playing the violin, it has the same emotional effect on me.
I channel a little Rachmaninoff on the opening chords of Secrets, the second original on the album. When writing this, I was thinking about the damage hidden things can do, and so this new work speaks of how we must know ourselves in order to realize the spiritual base underpinning all our actions. ‘Nuff said!
2 Birthdays in July is dedicated to my beautiful mother, Antoinette (MeeMee) Brownell, and her lovely sister, my Aunt Emilia Vagner. They both have their birthdays in the same week each July and this piece was written as part of my present to them. They are always light-hearted when they are together, and in my writing I have tried to capture the happiness and joy they share.
I wrote Sisters for my wife’s two daughters, Michal & Shiri Rosenbaum. They are wonderful, smart, kind and beautiful, just like their mother, and I am very proud to be able to honour them with this composition. The Princess Waltz is my tribute to my beautiful wife, Nechama. She is the best of everything and inspires me each day to be all I can be. ANI OHEV OTACH METUKA SHELI!!!
The next song, the second cover tune on SMILE, also features Istvan, and is a piano piece which we voiced for violin: Schumann’s Traumerei. Our takes of this classic which were posted on youtube have been very popular, and I am so proud of our version that I included a studio cut here.
The next two pieces, Etude #1: The Scientist, and Song for my Father, are my newest creations, and are both about my late dad, Dr. Harold Brownell. The first, an improvisational study in right hand - white key virtuosity, attempts to describe my father’s accomplishments in the laboratory as the top wood chemist (PhD) in Eastern Canada. The second piece is my loving tribute to my “Pop” and speaks of the countless hours he spent with me, playing badminton and Frisbee, and teaching me English, history, math and science.
Flight of the Hawk, was inspired by the Falcon that lived next door, and the opening diminished chords capture a little of that predator’s eerie song. The Ladyslipper Waltz, dedicated to Mrs. MacArthur, a friend I have the honour of playing for every Sunday, speaks of the daily joy I experience performing my own music at seniors’ residences and retirement homes. The next song; Smile Baby Smile is from the encore of the Place des Arts concert. The lyrics are by Nechama, my beautiful wife, and are about our attitude towards life: Just taking the time to share a real smile will make the world a better place. The album title comes from this song, so remember to pass it on!
We return to the studio for the last two cuts. Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair is the third and final cover on this recording, and I dedicate this number to Mr. Andrews, whose requests for it are a highlight of my Sunday afternoon concerts at the Griffith McConnell residence.
The last track of the SMILE CD is The Hummingbird Waltz. This dance is my earliest classical composition and is rather like a miniature Johann Strauss Jr. piece. In it I try to capture the beauty of my mother’s garden, as well as the movements of the small animals and birds that inhabit it and (alas for us) eat it! It has been redone on this album to feature my colleague and friend Istvan Lakatos on violin, and I am proud to have his brilliant playing on my original work.
Oh wait! The bonus track (if you have found it yet) is also from the concert encores. The Espresso Grind is about my favourite drink, and I’ld like to sell it to Starbucks, so if anyone wants to be middleman and get this accomplished, let’s make some money!
The SMILE DVD is in three parts, beginning with a documentary of my career as a neoclassical composer. Highlights from various concert and studio performances are interspersed with interviews, giving the viewer an idea of my evolution as an artist and interpreter.
The second movie featured in the DVD was recorded on May 25, 2008 at my Place des Arts show in Montreal, and is simply a straightforward look at the last live concert on my Journey of the Spirit tour, which began in Ein Gedi, Israel in 2007.
Finally, the last section of the DVD contains full-length versions of the songs featured (in part) in the first movie, as well as never- before-seen concert footage and interview out-takes. ENJOY THEM ALL and SMILE!