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Music Animation Machine : FAQ (who are you)

Q: Who is playing this music? Who are you? How long have you been playing? Where did you study?

A: If you've come to this page from a FAQ on a video from the smalin channel on YouTube, then the person performing is most likely me, Stephen Malinowski (if it's not, it will say in the YouTube FAQ for that video who is performing).

I started taking piano lessons on July 11, 1961, about a month before my eighth birthday. My teacher was Jules Moulet, who shared a two-room teaching studio in Santa Barbara with Wesley James. Mr. Moulet had studied at Juilliard; he taught me both piano technique and music theory. I studied with him until sometime in my mid- (or late-?) teens; he was my only piano teacher.

When I was twelve, I signed up for orchestra in junior high school. There was somebody a year ahead of me who played the piano, so I had to chose a different instrument. Since I played the piano, they figured I had a better-than-average sence of pitch, and suggested that I take up either a string instrument or the trombone. There were plenty of violin players, and the violoncello was too big for me to carry home easily (I walked a mile and a half to school), so it was between the trombone and the viola. A viola, it was explained to me, was between a violin and a violoncello. Imagining a sort of small 'cello (and not an oversized violin), I chose the viola, and played it in the orchestra for two years.

After my second year of junior high school, the year-ahead pianist left for high school, and I got to be the "school pianist" for a year. Having not had as much opportunity to work on my piano playing for two years, my skills compared unfavorably to his, but I was the best they had, so they made do with me. I played Chopin's C-sharp minor waltz (opus 64 #2) at the graduation ceremony.

Sometime in my mid-teens, I took up the guitar, first strumming chords to Beatles songs, and then learning some classical technique. It was around that time that I met guitarist James Edwards; he was coming to classical guitar after several years playing folk guitar, so he knew his way around the instrument and was very musical, but didn't read music very well. We each therefore had something to offer the other, and we got together frequently to play duets.

After I'd learned the guitar a bit, I took up the recorder. My mother played it a lot in amateur groups around town, and there were adult education classes in which you could learn it, so I had lots of opportunities to play. The first pieces I composed were for recorder and guitar. After I got good enough on the instrument, I took on some students in it; I also directed a couple of amateur ensembles. I composed and arranged a fair amount of music for these groups; that's why most of my compositions from that period involve the recorder in one way or another.

For my eighteenth birthday, my mother bought me a violin, and I played it a lot for a while. I also took up flute around that time.

In my late teens and early twenties, I worked as a rehearsal pianist for the Spanish dancer Juan Talavera. I performed with him and his local troupe a few times.

After leaving high school, I attended Santa Barbara City College for a year. Intending to follow in my father's footsteps professionally, I studied Physics and Calculus. I had been good in these subjects in high school, but that was because I was smart, and in spite of the fact that I had a defective memory and poor study skills (which had manifested themselves in History and Biology). Having no "Plan B," I spent the next year screwing around (in both senses of the word), playing music with friends, taking drugs, having my first sexual experiences, teaching some private music students, and dreading becoming an adult.

My girlfriend's brother was a pianist and composer, and he'd attended the College of Creative Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. That sounded interesting, so I looked into it, and applied. My girlfriend's father was friends with one of the three people on the acceptance committee; his letter of recommendation was enough to get me accepted in spite of the misgivings of the two other members.

Because I'd studied music theory with my piano teacher, I was far enough ahead of the rest of the UCSB undergraduates that I didn't take the theory courses there and instead began with somewhat more advanced topics. My first year there, Stanley Krebs, the regular teacher for Canon and Fugue, was on sabbatical, so I took the course from his stand-in. When Stanley returned, he was my advisor and composition teacher and, realizing what I'd missed, I sat a second time around when he taught it. He died shortly after that, and I later wrote a fugue dedicated to him.

Disappointed by the college experience, I left UCSB before completing my undergraduate degree and followed a girlfriend to San Francisco (after spending a summer as a musician in the Utah Shakespeare Festival). There I had a chance to learn that my fantasy of making a living as some kind of funky street musician was just that, a fantasy. It was the lowest point of my life; my girlfriend kicked me out, I had a low-paying job at Levi Strauss & Co. (part-time, which meant no benefits), I was chronically ill (with something I never got diagnosed), I had no prospects for the future. When my aunt invited me to leave San Francisco and come to Santa Fe to help her and her extended family build a house in the hills there, I jumped at the chance.

After a curative and rejuvenating summer in Santa Fe, I returned to UCSB and completed my degree. During that time, I studied composition privately with Peter Fricker. I also studied the organ briefly with James Welch.

After graduating, the founder and provost of the College of Creative Studies asked me whether I'd like to travel around the United States to promote the college to talented high school music students. I declined, explaining that I didn't feel that composers were getting an adequate education at his college, and wouldn't feel right about promoting it. He asked me what I thought was wrong, and when I told him what was missing, he offered me a guest lecturer position; I was allowed to teach whatever I wanted, however I wanted, to whatever music students I wanted. This was the most valuable part of my education there, because it gave me the opportunity to discover that I wouldn't want to teach music in a university.

Around that time, I'd gotten the misguided notion that what I should do next is study organ improvisation. Since I'd heard that England was the place where with the highest concentration of people who might be a good teacher of that, I went there. It was a total bust (except that it showed me why I wouldn't want to move to England).

After returning from England, I moved to Berkeley, where spent a couple of years working as a rehearsal pianist for some vocal groups at the university. I also taught some recorder classes in the local adult education system, and worked as a music copyist for composer Ernst Bacon.

In 1982, I started working on the Music Animation Machine project, and in 1984 I got a job as a computer programmer; my professional work in that field has continued to the present.

Except when I've been traveling or living somewhere where it wasn't possible, I've been playing the piano (mostly by myself, but occasionally in chamber ensembles) more or less daily since I began.