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Michael Whalen

A prolific, Emmy Award-winning American composer and pianist, Michael Whalen's impressive career has spanned numerous genres and musical platforms from eclectic personal projects that range between jazz, classical, pop, and new age to film scores, television themes, audio books, and commercials. After devoting much of the 1990s to commercial jingles and his own classical compositions, he began to move toward writing more film and television scores including documentaries like 2002's The Shape of Life and 2005's Slavery and the Making of America. Meanwhile, he continued to record albums under his own name of instrumental piano pieces, electronic music, and piano jazz. In the 2010s, Whalen continued to release albums and manage other compositions jobs while also serving as an adjunct professor at New York University's Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music and at City College. Although born in New York, Whalen grew up in Washington, D.C., where he played in a variety of orchestras, bands, and experimental performance groups. He studied music at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, and University of Maryland. In 1987, he moved to New York City, where he composed for television soundtracks and commercials; Whalen provided music for well over 1,000 commercials, including award-winning campaigns for clients such as Coca-Cola, BMW, Nike, IBM, and GE. In 1995, Whalen traveled to the Czech Republic to record a collection of symphonic and chamber works entitled Afraid of Thunder. The recording was performed by the Janácek Philharmonic under the baton of Dennis Burkhr and Music Amici, a chamber orchestra. Whalen's other chamber compositions (many of which were published and available for performance) included works for string quartet, a mixed octet, several pieces for string orchestra and soloists, and a commission for choir. Also in 1995, he started Spout Multimedia to handle all aspects of his recording, film production, interactive, and web design projects. His work also included a number of themes for major television networks (among them Good Morning America and The Oprah Winfrey Show) and scores for television documentaries, some of which saw a soundtrack release, including Sea Power: A Global Journey (1993, Narada), Forever Wild (1996, Narada), The Shape of Life (2002, Alchemy Records), and Slavery and the Making of America (2005, Valley Entertainment). His film scores have included Perfect Moment (winner of the Audience Award at the 1997 Utah Slamdance Film Festival), Mulligan (2000), Hit to Right (2009), and Guilty Not Guilty (2017), among others. During his long tenure as a composer for the screen, Whalen continued to release instrumental music of his own. Nightscenes, issued in 1996 by Hearts of Space Records, showcased electronic music, while 1997's North from Riverside was with his jazz band, Open Door. The Softest Touch was an album of solo piano released by Max in 1999. A collection of atmospheric but jazz-informed electronic music, The Border of Dusk arrived via Koch in 2000. The label also released 2001's Mysterious Ways. Like Rain Through My Hands followed in 2004 on Alchemy Records, while Narada released 2005's My Secret Heart: Romantic Meditations for Ambient Piano. The EverSound label issued a compilation titled Dancing in Black & White: The Best of Michael Whalen in 2010. While also engaged with teaching and with speaking appearances on the subject of digital copyright and music monetization, Whalen returned in 2015 with the crowdfunded You Are My Home. Its follow-up, Dream Cycle, was released by Soothe Your World/Valley in 2017. Also that year, Whalen produced the Donald Trump protest song "Tiny Hands" by singer/songwriter Fiona Apple to coincide with the president's inauguration and the Women's March. Another album of tranquil piano meditations, Kiss the Quiet, appeared in 2018, though the pianist circled back to his jazz side a year later on the self-titled Michael Whalen & the Fire Brigade LP.
© Marcy Donelson & Carol Wright /TiVo
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