When composer/pianist Robin Spielberg is asked to give a list of her greatest musical influences, it might be a surprise to learn an American playwright tops her list. “I had teachers who taught me the importance of the three p’s,” Spielberg says, “practice, patience, and persistence, but it was David Mamet who taught me resiliency.”
And resiliency is what was required of Spielberg to have not only weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, but to have thrived during it.
Spielberg, a successful classical crossover artist, has released 24 recordings, several of which have charted on Billboard and have over half a billion streams on digital streaming platforms. A Steinway Artist, she has toured throughout the U.S. and Asia. When the pandemic hit and her 20-city tour was cancelled, she began live-streaming concerts from her home Steinway, an 1896 Victorian rebuild. “The response was incredible,” she recalls. “My husband and I started by using our phones to stream video, and then, thanks to a local county grant, we purchased professional gear and learned how to use it.”
To date, the couple has streamed 232 free live stream concerts on Friday nights. Spielberg has never repeated a set. “The live streams gave me an opportunity to personally connect with listeners in a way I never had before. There was no ‘fourth wall.’” Listeners began their own community—writing to one another on social platforms during lives treams. “I began sharing my personal thoughts and feelings and dreams,” says Spielberg. “When I came forward and aired my frustration over how difficult it was to produce a symphony recording without the backing of a major label, people began to send tips via the ‘virtual piano tip jar.’ My fans wanted to help.”
It is this type of can-do attitude that has brought Spielberg along so far in a career that can be quite hard on female composers.
A founding member of David Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company, Spielberg learned early on from her playwright mentor to realize her own projects. She says, “Mentors like David Mamet instilled in me the idea that I needed to ‘green light’ myself first, and that others would follow.” The Atlantic Theater Company has grown to be a vital theater organization using this philosophy, and Spielberg herself not only produced her debut album of original piano solos before it was picked up by a label, but bootstrapped a musical before it ran off-Broadway.
During the pandemic, Spielberg teamed up with orchestrator/arranger Louis Anthony deLise (Patti LaBelle, Peter Nero) and they began collaborating. The weekly livestream tips seeded Spielberg’s orchestral project. Recorded in Budapest, Hungary with Spielberg as soloist, By Way of the Wind is music that reflects how human beings are pushed and pulled through their life’s journey, often by unseen forces. The composer adds, “Life can be difficult. The important and beautiful thing is that humans are resilient beings.” Spielberg finishes her thought, “It is my hope that audiences not only feel uplifted by this music, but validated in their experience of how they move through the world.”