Peter Himmelman has made his home in southern California for many years, but his hometown gigs, an annual affair for many years, are eagerly anticipated. The St. Louis Park native played his first date at the Dakota Jazz Club last August; and the renowned Minneapolis jazz joint will welcome him back on May 24.
The popular singer-songwriter spoke with the AJW last week about his Dakota gig, a new record ready for release and his Big Muse songwriting workshops for business people.
Himmelman’s 2011 show at the Dakota had the feeling of a Bar Mitzva reception, with a big crowd comprised of many friends and relatives. “There’s a nervous aspect to that,” Himmelman allows, but adds, regarding the intimate music room: “I loved the place, absolutely loved it… It works really well for my style.”
He’s still working on the lineup for his May 24 show. Jeff Victor, his longtime musical collaborator, will play keyboards. The rhythm section is to be determined.
Himmelman’s next LP will hit the record bins this summer. The album will be “under a band moniker, the band’s name is Minnesota.” The follow-up to The Mystery and the Hum was recorded in Minneapolis, with the help of producer David Hollander. As I wrote last year, the sessions included Victor on Hammond organ; Noah Levy, drums; Jim Anton, bass; Jake Hanson, of the band Halloween, Alaska, on guitar; and Kristin Mooney and Claire Holley on vocals.
Peter Himmelman: The idea of selling music now has almost come to an end.
The music from the new album — which Himmelman will not be showcasing at the Dakota this month — is “really different for me,” he says. “Not radically different, but it’s in its own little place.”
No band has taken the name “Minnesota” prior to this?
“Not that we’re aware of,” he responds. “We did a little search. If you hear the record, it kind of makes sense.”
And, as mentioned in the last edition of the Jewish World, Himmelman also is writing songs with Dan Bern, another Midwestern Jew transplanted to L.A. He says that he usually doesn’t write with a partner; but they are “checking out” the process of writing some songs for kids. It’s been a productive collaboration.
Himmelman explains that they divide up the work, one person takes the verse, while the other works on the chorus — “kind of like Lennon and McCartney.” When they come back together with their song pieces, Himmelman finds that the “two parts fit pretty well.”
And the multifaceted composer and musician — who still does his weekly Furious World webcasts — also is leading workshops at universities and workplaces. The creativity seminars are under the brand Big Muse, with the themeline: “Using songwriting to deliver powerful innovation skills, leadership training, and team building.”
He has presented the Big Muse seminars, which include a songwriting exercise, at UCLA and a number of larger companies.
“It’s really powerful stuff,” Himmelman says of the workshops that encourage right-brain engagement, tapping innate creativity to spur innovative thinking. “I just did a thing last week for the American Society of Trainers and Developers (ASTD), who are people in this exact field.”
The Big Muse approach is an outgrowth of Himmelman’s years of stage experience, putting on shows that involve a great deal of extemporaneous interaction with the audience. “Ultimately, the metaphor is using the narrow structure of songwriting,” an “ephemeral” activity that marries left-brain and right-brain capacities, to help people access creative thinking, improve their problem-solving ability and generally become more innovative in their academic or business environment.
“The seminars are really emotional, they’re really funny,” he comments.
Himmelman mentions a Big Muse seminar he conducted “at an actuarial firm out East — which is the last place you’d ever think that they would need this.” However, he found that the employees “draw conclusions about human interactions from data,” so there is a creative and “very human component” in the work.
When asked how the right brain (creativity) and the left brain (categorization and analysis) can be better harmonized, Himmelman recommends a “brilliant” book, My Stroke of Insight, by Dr. Jill Bolte, a brain scientist who suffered a stroke and chronicled her experiences.
Taylor eventually recovered her speech and other abilities impaired by the stroke; but “she never lost sight of the unbelievable nature of this right brain.”
Himmelman also has read studies about “infants and toddlers who are completely in their right-brain universe, and as they get into grade school there’s a precipitous drop [in creative thinking], and as they get into adolescence it goes way down.” By middle age, only about five percent of the population is “comfortable with their right brain nature,” he says.
So, the Big Muse seminar is Himmelman’s attempt to reopen the pathways to spontaneous, creative activity.
It’s a living, making something from the “fruits of imagination.” And he says it’s also what the journalist on the other end of the phone line knows about: telling a story, communicating in an interview, etc. And he notes that the mundane details of music performance and journalism also involve left-brain activities: “If you wouldn’t call me on time, nothing would function. It’s really the marriage of the two [brain hemispheres],” he says. “It’s not trying to isolate one or the other.”
“There are a number of exercises that I have,” Himmelman explains about his Big Muse seminars, which have been taking place over recent months. “The central exercise is that everyone walks out of there having written a finished song.” The emphasis is on lyrics, he adds.
Himmelman has scored music for TV shows (Judging Amy, Bones, Men in Trees), recorded albums for both adults and children, and performed in concert around the country. Big Muse represents a natural progression from these varied creative pursuits.
“The idea of selling music now has almost come to an end,” comments the 51-year-old musician, who has been playing in bands since he was a teenager.
In the changed landscape of the music business — where music is either outright pirated or downloaded from iTunes and other online venues — the question arises, “How do you make a go of it?”
Himmelman says the tenor of his conversations with other musicians, about the state of the music biz, “ranges from hysteria to melancholy to nostalgia.”
It’s probably best just to forget your troubles and dance.
In other news from sunny California, the Himmelmans are proud to announce that their son, Isaac, will give a commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts Amherst graduation ceremony this month.
“He’s the commencement speaker, along with Ted Koppel; he’s the student commencement speaker,” Himmelman says.
Any final words on the May 24 show at the Dakota?
“Just come down, it’ll be a really good time,” Himmelman suggests. “The shows are always very fun, uplifting. You will not be depressed when you leave; you will be happier than when you came in. And I will be, too.”
Peter Himmelman performs 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24 at the Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Ave., downtown Minneapolis. Special guest Dan Israel will open the show. For tickets, go to: dakotacooks.com or call the box office at 612-332-1010.