Some artists’ paths toward recording music are direct and straightforward, some are curvy yet still basically follow one path, and then there are those whose trips include waysides, detours, road blocks, and diversions. Their voyages take determination and perseverance. Ken Townshend is one such musician. It’s fortunate for fans of romantic piano and keyboard music that he has ended up where he is now.
Born and raised in Tachikawa, Japan, Ken considers it among the best times of his life. His mother was Japanese while his father was American and in the US military. “I have to say that I do…miss my childhood and growing up in Japan. I was the happiest there.” Ken’s mother immersed him in Japanese culture. “My mom did a lot in traditional Japanese art. She loved to flower arrange, she did beautiful calligraphy of Japanese words and names; she played the koto and loved to dance traditional Japanese dances.” However, Ken was exposed to more music than just Japanese, as both parents listened to music constantly. His father’s taste ran the gamut from classical piano to Herb Alpert to Ray Coniff, while his mother also loved Engelbert Humperdinck.
As a youngster, Ken wanted to take flute lessons, but settled for piano. He developed an affinity for the instrument when he heard a record about Peter the Piano and how the boy in the story hated the piano but came to love it. After the family moved to the US, Ken (a teenager at the time) attended the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, studying composition and orchestration. A turning point occurred when, while attending Drexel University in pursuit of an engineering degree, he met Professor Alfred Blatter, head of the music department. “I took all the classes he taught…we felt like kindred spirits…he was an inspiration…he rekindled my passion for…music from an academic standpoint.”
Ken gravitated toward progressive rock music and co-founded a band, playing keyboards and piano, playing originals that sounded like Rush, Genesis, and others. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells made a huge impact on him (as it did on many others). The band never developed a following, so Ken turned toward his interest to computers, electronics and engineering, beginning a career at Ritz Camera where he eventually became a technical service manager. His success at Ritz led him to seek a career in designing computer chips, putting his music career on hold. “Music was still there though, I was just listening and being inspired. ” His inner feelings would not be denied, though. “…one day I looked up and saw the advent of CD-R and that’s when it started to hit me again – the music dream, [the] passion…When I was working for Lockheed Martin, I went into a Sam Ash one day and I found myself buying a Kurzweil K2000, which in its time was the best sampling keyboard.” Finally, the die was cast. Music was going to be part of Ken Townshend’s future. He was merely “taking the long way home,” as he puts it.
Ken embraces the duality of his life, allowing his love of music to find an outlet via recording his own compositions/improvising “…the type of music you hear (Gentle Beauty or Love’s Embrace), comes from my feelings in the moment…I want to start moving toward more planned compositions… trying to play as close to the composition and vision as possible. Improvisation can be a lot of fun but it can also be a…label to hide behind…I want people to know I’m serious about my music.” Ken dreams of taking on large-scale projects, e.g. piano and symphonic compositions.
Ken confides that his parents actively discouraged his music career for nearly his whole life. “When I [released] Gentle Beauty, my dad said to me “I should have pushed you toward your music and not into the practical world.” I guess Gentle Beauty spoke to him, because he was really proud of me. I…love music so much that I want [it] to be my whole life including my career.”
Despite the roadblocks, the detours, the exits to explore waysides, Ken Townshend continues his voyage of self-discovery. His music serves as a soundtrack of his evolving self-awareness and his devotion to his life-long calling.
Questions and Answers
When I had my Radio Biography written, I was asked a lot questions and so I thought it might be nice to share some of those questions and my responses to them. BB is my reviewer Bill Binkelman, music critic and reviewer and KT is me Ken Townshend.
BB: When (at what age) did you commit yourself to music as something very important in your life? Not necessarily as a full time musician, but as someone who knew he HAD to make music to fulfill himself?
KT: I really feel I had known, since I was about 6 or 7. I keep ignoring my inner feelings sometimes, but when you come right down to it, I still have the passion for it (Music). I still fight for it. I love music so much I can’t imagine my life without it.
Music is in my blood and I can’t help that. I mean I go a year, maybe two and then it hits me again, because I’m remembering everything I promised myself and maybe I’m still sticking to it BUT taking the long way home. I know there are others out there who are probably hungrier than me for a “life with music” but I have to tell ya I would be in the top 2 percent for someone who at least FEELS for it.
BB: How did you come to be interested in the type of music you now play?
KT: Well like I said before, I grew up on Beethoven Piano Sonata’s, and many other classical piano works. I have always created a fake style of classical music, even in high school; I did that to exercise my creativity. It sounded classical but of course it wasn’t, but I had fun with it and I did a lot of improvisation. I have to admit I really enjoy improvisation, because it just is what I feel in that moment. The biggest problem with that type of music, is the perfection or getting it tighter. I can’t do that with the type of music I do, because I don’t remember what I did and I can’t associate all the notes I play to a feeling and necessarily get that feeling back. So the type of music you hear (Gentle Beauty or Love’s Embrace), comes from my feelings in the moment.
BB: Where do you draw inspiration from? Nature? Life experiences? People? Places? Something intangible?
KT: My inspiration Is God, and the environment where I’m creating my music. For instance I love to play in churches. I feel at peace in a church, the peace and quietness inspire me to be more gentle and quiet. I think the environment I grew up in Japan taught me a lot about simplicity and I love simplicity, flow and quietness. Deep down and ultimately, I’m quiet, and gentle. I’m hoping that I convey that through my latest release, if nothing else. The beauty of being gentle and simple. Love’s Embrace has the tag line “Gentle Music for Gentle Hearts” and I feel that is what it’s about.
BB: What is your composing process? Do you start with an idea? A 111musical phrase? Do you write down the music or improvise melodies first?
KT: My composing process is to take a word that resonates with me and in this case it is words like “gentle”, “soft”, “quiet”, “peace”, “feelings”, “love” I will seat down at a keyboard and feel the spirit of the word, and I will start to play from that place of creativity. When I feel a word like “soft” it just feels fluffy and it feels floaty, kind of like the teddy bear from the commercial snuggles. That’s what I feel when I create the improvisation. I feel snuggles, I don’t play from a place of emotions necessarily, which is probably why, it’s not easy to connect with people. I used to use the word ambience but I don’t even like to call my creativity ambience because the label, just sounds like I don’t care and I do care about people and what they feel. I feel when we feel softness and gentleness it brings us deeper into our inner beauty or inner heart or inner soul, whatever it is called I know all humans are soft, gentle and beautiful and that is what I express and where my personal creativity comes from. Being a human being can be beautiful and that is what I’m all about.