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Motown Recording Artist Revives Lost Art of ‘Instant Composition’

William Goldstein improvises in classical style for live dance performances, film scores

Pick any three notes on the piano and you could have your own custom-made, unrehearsed composition –at least if you attended a performance with William Goldstein.

Discovered by Berry Gordy and brought under contract to Motown Records as a recording artist, composer and producer in 1975, Goldstein recognized he had a talent for creating new musical compositions off the rift or instant composition by the age of four.

The practice, which has been called a “lost art form,” could be seen in the musical styles of 17th and 18th century composers Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.  Now, Goldstein is putting new life into it.

“The audiences gather from my performances that it is possible for some of us to create an actual composition with a beginning, development and end in real time,” says Goldstein. “There aren’t many composers out there that can do this anymore.”

Goldstein has infused instant composition into his work, throughout his 40-plus years in the industry, which has spawned over 40 albums and 50 films and TV projects. In June he release released his ninth instant composition studio album, “Musings,” in collaboration with Laurence Juber, former lead guitarist of Paul McCartney’s band, Wings.

But where Goldstein has stood out to audiences and performers most is in his live performances.

On July 14, almost 10 years after their first collaboration, Goldstein teamed with Qi Zhang, dancer and director of the Qi Zhang Dance Studio, at the Serenity West recording studio in Hollywood to create a number of improvised compositions and dances. It was part of his work to “teach students how to access their creative gifts in real time.”

“She speaks the language of dance and I speak the language of music,” says Goldstein of Qi. “We start together, we finish together and in between a work emerges that looks pre-choreographed and sounds pre-composed, but in fact it’s created in real time.”

Like Goldstein, Zhang finds improvisation as performance “honest, vulnerable and exciting.” For their first performance, the two artists met only 10 minutes before show time, but “in that instant second, we brought our own experience and understanding of life into our art form,” says Zhang.

“We both love the creative process,” says Zhang. “It is like a deep conversation between you and your close friend.”

Zhang said for her, improvisation “mimics life. “It represents a moment in time that can’t be duplicated. The previous second can’t be repeated and the next second cannot be predicted,” she says.

Goldstein’s improvisation work isn’t secluded to collaborations with professional artists. What developed as a method of proving that his compositions were not created beforehand turned into an interactive experience with the audience.

During his live performances, he invites individuals onstage to choose “three notes on the piano that resonate with them,” and from there, he creates them a musical portrait.

“The idea of the musical portrait is a result of at least 90% of the people who have had this experience tell me that I’m describing their life story, and their inner aspirations,” says Goldstein. “I’m not consciously trying to create a portrait; I’m just creating a piece of music.”

Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael is one of the many individuals who has experienced this art form. Van Dormael was drawn to the idea of having a musical portrait created after two of his actors from his 2015 film, “The Brand New Testament,” told him of their experience.

“Bill has a great sense of improvisation, and is confident in his intuitions,” says Van Dormael.

Van Dormael said after improvising, Goldstein made corrections on the computer that recorded the movements of the hammers on the strings, and “his Disklavier payed it again, with the corrections, but with the feeling and spontaneity of the first time.”

“It was great to see how Bill can keep the first spontaneous feeling, and also perfect it,” says Dormael.

Goldstein continues to line up performances, where he showcases his talent for improvisational composition, including his master classes and an upcoming international performance at the Black Nights Festival in Tallinn Estonia in November.

A documentary, currently in production, will explore Goldstein’s ability to create compositions in real time.

Pictured: William Goldstein with director Jaco Van Dormael

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