David Dubal, Renaissance Man, wants to save the art world with a piano-teaching game. He'll need a computer first.
'No art? No life!' proclaimed the multifaceted piano aficionado during a wide-ranging conversation in his spacious and sunny Upper West Side apartment.Credit...Clark Hodgin for The New York Times
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May 28, 2023
David Dubal, in his velvet jacket and colorful scarf, looks like he could have emerged from an old daguerreotype album from the 19th century, recalling a romantic poet of lesser fame, a Renaissance Man from a long-gone era.
His many achievements are modern. Professor emeritus at Juilliard, Peabody-winning radio and TV producer, pianist, artist, and foremost, an authority on the piano, Mr. Dubal has been a fixture in New York's classical scene for decades. He is the author of numerous published works, including 'Evenings with Horowitz,' and the host of radio programs ('The Piano Matters,' on WWFM, and 'Reflections from the Keyboard,' on WQXR). In 1993, his documentary 'The Golden Age of the Piano' won him an Emmy. He is most at home on Tuesday evenings in the Upper West Side Manhattan, Grace & St. Paul's Church.
There, he holds his Piano Evenings with David Dubal weekly course. It's filled with piano enthusiasts, some of whom have studied with Mr. Dubal over the years. The top pianists are on stage, while Mr. Dubal gives his critique of the composer's works. His knowledge of encyclopedias is astounding.
Piano Galore, an interactive videogame, has been his latest inspiration. In his humble opinion, it is intended to address the "dearth of arts" in America which he compares with social and psychic destruction.
He declared during a broad-ranging discussion in his spacious Upper West Side apartment, which is filled with his own non-figurative paintings, and his eclectic, massive book collection.
He said, 'You can't be a humanist without reading.' I read about five to six books a day. I highlight passages that I find interesting. I add comments to the margins. I have them quoted on my radio show. The smell of a book page is wonderful. I smell it like others do cocaine.
The video game can be seen as an antidote for what Mr. Dubal sees as a crisis, namely the shrinking audience of classical music and the massive reduction in concert venues. The video game is also an opportunity for financial gain, as there are few opportunities available to writers of serious music books.
He said, "My publisher loves my new piano book but says that it won't sell." Nothing has value in our culture unless you monetize it. I don't have an agent or publisher but I need one.
When asked which of his various roles best defines him, Dubal replied with a dramatic response: "I don't want to define myself." Nietzsche said this. He slapped the palm of his hand on his coffee table like a judge striking a gavel. I am always reinventing myself. 'Every day.
Mr. Dubal, who was born in Cleveland around 1944 and raised there (he prefers not to specify the exact date), was born. He grew up, like most boys his age, loving baseball. He recalled that, 'every child of the era wanted a baseball superstar'. When he was 9, his parents bought him a piano. It didn't take him long to exchange his baseball cards for music. He was among the few to make it to Juilliard.
He had hoped to make a living as a pianist, but he realized that this was not possible. After graduating, he began teaching music at various institutions including the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. While seated in his dentist's chair one day, he heard about an open position for the music director of WNCN, a station that broadcasts classical music.
Dubal, his face still numb after taking Novocain, called the radio station. He was hired within a few days and served as its guide for over 20 years, changing its direction and programing every hour of every single day. He said that he was grateful to no longer be responsible for a radio station's programming, and only have his regular radio show.
Mr. Dubal is a man of humor and quirky optimism, despite his dire predictions for the future. Piano Galore was originally conceived as a piano teaching program featuring superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and the Green Hornet. Catwoman could swat a keyboard with her tail when a student made a mistake. He did not pursue this idea due to copyright concerns, but he regrets losing Catwoman.
Now he is experimenting with the idea of creating a cast of animated heroes -- pianists and conductors. They will also interact with players. The goal is to promote music appreciation and piano.
Dante Montovano is a web designer that Mr. Dubal hired to assist him with the details. Seven Circle Media, the company of Mr. Montovano, worked with Mr. Dubal to develop a new project called 'The Unconquerable Piano - A Literary Journal of Piano Culture', an online quarterly that will be launched in October.
He will do whatever it takes to satisfy Mr. Dubal’s comical and fanciful desire, even if that means buying a computer for him, as he does not have one. He has an iPhone and uses it to text and send emails. He still prefers cursive writing and pen, paper, and paper.
His love for classical music is his top priority. Mr. Dubal stated that 'great classical music is the most pure and ecstatic form of art'. It touches Godhead. Nobody wants that. But nobody wants that.
Dubal is a natural improvisor who gains enthusiasm by speaking. He was fierce and unnerving but he appeared to enjoy the slightly demented impression that he was giving.
He continued, "We have been conditioned since birth." The 21st century Barnum, the lying publicity machine. The first ugly American. Glory, glory and hallelujah! A monument to nothing. Social media. It's antisocial.'
He is still aware that social media can help his interactive game reach millions of people. He said that he plans to use Instagram, TikTok, and other "antisocial" media to expand his market. He isn't sure what an influencer does or is, but he wants to be one in order to promote his brand, his game and himself.
In a note that was both cryptic and self-deprecating, he summarized the situation: "In a world where incompetence is at the top of society, mediocrity may be an ideal we will never achieve again." He added with a touch of mischief. "I'm an average mediocrity even though I strive for perfection."
This article appeared in print with the title: The Amazing Adventures Of A Piano Man, on Section WE, page 6 of the New York Edition. Order Reprints, Today's Paper or Subscribe
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