Interview with Peter F. Nostrand
©2012 By Bronson Herrmuth
You can listen to this entire interview: Part 1 of 2 (4.8 MB) Part 2 of 2 (3.6 MB)
Bronson: So your father played the violin?
Peter Nostrand: Yes, he did.
Bronson: Did he play professionally or was it all just for his own pleasure?
Peter Nostrand: He grew up in a very musical family. His mother, my maternal grandmother played the piano, played so well that she even played at Carnagie Hall in the early 1900's and she had 2 sons and a daughter. Each of the sons played an instrument. Dad played the violin and the piano and his brother played the cello.
Bronson: And how old were you when he first started teaching you music?
Peter Nostrand: I can't remember the exact age but I do remember sitting on the piano bench and my feet didn't touch the floor. So I'm guessing I was probably between 5 and 7 years old.
Bronson: So he actually gave you lessons in a strict hour lesson format or he just whenever he had the mood he would sit you down at the piano?
Peter Nostrand: Well you know he was a clergyman so sometimes he would sit down and play some of the hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal or he would, I remember he used to play Bachs' Mass in B minor and some other kinds of things and I used to sort of hear him playing in the living room and wander him and he'd invite me to sit on his lap or sit next to him so it was really I that sort of intruded on his quiet time to watch him play and try to fiddle at it myself.
Bronson: Did you take music in school? Did you have lessons in school?
Peter Nostrand: No I really didn't. I didn't feel as if I had to, the house was so musical and dad was so good that I sort of taught myself. I did have a couple of lessons from the organist, the church organist down the street, but dad taught me early on not to just to be able to read elementary music but actually to write it and it was the writing part that I'm particularly grateful to him for.
Bronson: Now when you were in college, roll the clock up, when you were in college you played in a rock band called Flowers and Vegetable Show?
Peter Nostrand: Yeah, Flower singular, Flower and Vegetable Show. It was quite a band and I played the keyboard. The guitarist was a fella named Steve Collins who's a Los Angeles actor. He starred in 7th Heaven, the principal role and he was in a Star Trek movie and all kind of things. The drummer was a guy named Blakey and he ran for Governor in Arizona, lost by the widest margin of anybody that ever ran for office and we had another guitar player, I forget what he did, but everybody went of in different directions and kind of became notable for one thing or another (laughing). It was a great band, we actually had a great time.
Bronson: And then out of college you went into business?
Peter Nostrand: Yeah, I got married right out of college and like so many people I had to put my passion in the back seat because my passion didn't pay the rent, so my father-in-law said I'm nervous if you keep up any sort of interest professionally in music I might have to pay for you, so why don't you come on down to Main Street (laughing), I'll let you to talk to a friend of mine that's a president of a bank and maybe he'll hire you. I did and he hired me.
Bronson: So then you had your whole career and just got away from the music completely?
Peter Nostrand: Yeah I really did. Well I kept playing the piano but I didn't write much. I really thought I was more of a piano player then a composer but I did fiddle a little bit on the piano from time to time but pretty much for the next 40 plus years I had to work. Get up early and come home late. I mean there's no substitute for hard work so I really didn't have much time for piano.
Bronson: Now did you study the music of great composers?
Peter Nostrand: I studied it to the extent that I would go down in the basement of our house when I was a fairly young kid in grade school. I remember I had the score to Mozarts' Jupiter Symphony. It was the full orchestra score, and dad had a 78 Victrola player down there in the basement and I would put that big old plastic record on there and turn it up as loud as I could and put the score on some kind of box and stand behind it and try to keep up with it musically and wave my arms around. It must have been quite a sight (laughing). Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I just loved music from I guess the day I was born.
Bronson: Who's your favorite composer to listen to?
Peter Nostrand: Well I gotta say it's Beethoven. He really gets to the core of my soul in many places of many things that he has written and I aspire to be able to get into peoples hearts and souls and take them on adventures mentally as they listen to the music so I guess Beethoven would be my #1.
Bronson: So what year did you retire from the banking business?
Peter Nostrand: I retired in 2006.
Bronson: You retired and you were sitting around one day and decided that it was time to get back into music?
Peter Nostrand: (laughing) Yeah, I'm not much of a sitter a rounder. My wife says I have no ability to relax and it's true. I've always got to be doing something. When I first retired I thought I was going to start playing the piano again but my reading skills had fallen in such disrepair that I really couldn't play anything challenging but as the music sorta came back in my head and replaced things like credit committees and loan requests and personnel matters, I began to wake up in the middle of the night hearing these little melodies and I would tip toe down at 2 or 3 in the morning and sit at the piano and play out the melody and scribble it down and then the next morning I'd come down and start working on it. Composition really sort of took me. It befriended me as opposed to the opposite. I didn't start writing again on purpose, it really sort of came involuntarily.
Bronson: You prefer to write at night?
Peter Nostrand: I prefer to write when the inspiration hits me which unfortunately for me is almost anywhere. I mean I've been standing in the grocery store at Safeway and I get a melody in my head, I really like it. I'll either pull out a little tape recorder I sometimes carry with me and hum it into the tape recorder, or if I've got my cell phone I'll call my home number and leave a message to myself which is humming a tune. It's kind of embarrassing sometimes. I get sort of these melodies really day and night.
Bronson: That's all that happens? You get an idea for a melody or do you hear all the parts in your head?
Peter Nostrand: Once I get a melody I hear all the parts. It all comes but there's sort of a core message, a core theme, that comes first and then it evolves and I do hear all the parts.
Bronson: So as you started composing and you start getting these pieces, at what point did you think you had a full enough repertoire to record them as a record?
Peter Nostrand: Well, I just kept writing and writing and writing and I found a good friend of mine that was an orchestrator and he helped me figure out the ranges of the instruments, and once I got to a certain point, he had been encouraging me, go find an orchestra, go do a recording. Then I thought, well by God maybe I should. It would be the most fun thing I've ever done so I did.
Bronson: So when you say go find an orchestra, how did you do that?
Peter Nostrand: I found an agent in New York. I quickly learned that there was an orchestra in Prague that had recorded big screen Hollywood type music since after WWII. They were popular because they were relatively inexpensive and because they're so professional. In 2 or 3 takes they can play almost any piece like they've known it their entire lives, so through an agent I got in touch with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague, listened to some of their music and their music was very much like what I was writing. Big screen, romance, I wouldn't call it classical music but I would call it romantic music. Music again that tries to touch the soul. So we got in touch with them and negotiated a price and a bunch of us went over. My wife went and my son went with his wife and my sister and her husband went, and it was just the most glorious experience I think I've ever had in my life.
Bronson: So what year was that?
Peter Nostrand: That was in 2008.
Bronson: And that's when you went to Czechoslovakia and recorded The Duchess?
Peter Nostrand: That's correct.
Bronson: Since then you've entered many competitions and you've actually done quite well. In 2010 you were in the IBLA International Music Competition and out of 197 entries you won the Grand Prize Distinguished Composer Award.
Peter Nostrand: Boy you flatter me. Thank you for looking.
Bronson: What an honor.
Peter Nostrand: Well it's nice. You say I've done quite well. I guess it's all relative, I've entered over, oh golly, maybe 50 different competitions and I think I've won 3 or 4 so you know the reject rate is pretty high. I don't know what the averages are for people but I'd like to win more of course but at least I've won a couple.
Bronson: So of all this music, because you've composed so much more than that. You actually have 3 albums out. You have your recording from Czechoslovakia, The Duchess, then you recorded The Duke, and then also Victory.
Peter Nostrand: I've branched out a little bit from the big screen romance. I've done some pieces that I think would be suitable for television or again movies. It's a little more modern, it's more contemporary, some of it is even more of a rock style. I used to write rock 'n roll music when I was in college, but it's been so long it's sort of left me but a little bit of it's coming back. It sure is fun to do. I like to write any kind of music that I think can get people thinking, get them moving and particularly get into their hearts and their heads.
Bronson: Of all this music that you've composed, do you have a favorite composition?
Peter Nostrand: I would say it's The Duchess. I guess that's because that's the signature song from the trip to Prague and it's my wife's favorite. You know I think if, and I would say when, I go back and do another recording with another world class orchestra, I'll probably have another favorite or two. I hope that days not to far away.
Bronson: You've been written about in the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and all the way to the Prague Daily Monitor. They've all written about you.
Peter Nostrand: Yeah, I guess they didn't have anything else of interest going on those days (laughing).
Bronson: And aside of all this, you have very strong beliefs about music education in Americas public school system. Talk about that a little bit.
Peter Nostrand: Oh boy, you know music in school today in most cases equates to the high school band and the accent there generally is on supporting athletes. There's very little in the school system today about being able to understand music, and not only to understand it but to write it. I equate music and literature, I put them kind of in the same boat in the terms of necessity to any kind of a culture. I mean to me the difference between a country and a culture is that a culture has art. Our public schools today unfortunately don't spend much time on the culture side of the United States so in other words, on the art side. You know they teach students how to read but not so much how to write well, and they don't even teach students how to listen to music let alone write it. If I had one passion in life it would be to be successful enough to be able to lobby the Congress and get them to put music, i.e. listening and writing, back into the school system.
Bronson: You've actually helped raise a lot of money in that regard already haven't you?
Peter Nostrand: Well yeah, but the proof is in the pudding. The school system still does not today make music a priority. Unfortunately the priorities of the school system are those skills that will lead to higher paying jobs and I'm afraid that's really, you know in fact that's what music to a large extent has become. It's been influenced so much by the music and so much by performers, rather than creators, that it's really very different then it was a hundred years ago.
Bronson: What was it like to be interviewed by NBC?
Peter Nostrand: Oh I loved it, it was fun. Don't ever put me in front of a camera, I never want them to turn it off (laughing).
Bronson: (laughing) That's funny. You studied music at Oxford?
Peter Nostrand: Yes, I've taken some classes at Oxford fairly recently. I'm 64 now, almost 65, and when I was 63, I went and took a whole term of studies. To me, more importantly I had a tutor who was really, really good. That helped me so I think I'm going to go back to Oxford for another term in the not too distant future and take some more classes and get even more emphasis on the tutors because they really, really were critical of my music. Critical in the sense of helping me understand it better, develop it better, just be a better composer, so I really benefited from it.
Bronson: You've also had music that was performed by the Cleveland Pops?
Peter Nostrand: Yeah it was and it was quite an honor and it was an honor to go to Severance Hall. Ironically, my mom and dad, when they were first married, lived in Cleveland. In fact I was born in Cleveland and mom and dads' first date was at Severance Hall. So when I was invited there and the Cleveland Pops played some of my music, the conductor, Carl Topilow, was nice enough to acknowledge me in the audience and even nicer to say that Severance Hall, where my music was being played, was the first place that mom and dad ever had a date.
Bronson: And he referenced that on stage?
Peter Nostrand: He did. It was cool, it was fun, it was nice.
Bronson: That had to be a big thrill.
Peter Nostrand: It was, it was.
Bronson: So how can somebody find your music online?
Peter Nostrand: They can go to peternostrand.com where they can hear it or they can go to Itunes store, and at Itunes store they can hear individual pieces, buy the 3 albums. So that's how they can do it.
Bronson: Are you continuing to write?
Peter Nostrand: Well to be honest with you, when you were going to interview me today I had to hustle in the room because I was in the middle of something and lost track of time (laughing). When I start sitting at that piano, sometimes I'll get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and start working on it and sometimes my wife goes to see her mother, a hundred miles away, doesn't come back till 6 at night, and I'll still be sitting there on the piano bench where I have been for the past 12 hours. I just absolutely lose track of time when I get in the zone. I'm sure you do too. So art and music is a blessing, but it can also in some ways, be a little bit of a curse (laughing).
Bronson: I really appreciate you doing this interview with me Peter.
Peter Nostrand: My pleasure. I appreciate you having the interest.
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