Cabaret HotTrax Featured Artist Vendor, Dana Robinson
After graduating from Haverford College Dana Robinson volunteered for several years with Catholic Relief Services in Sub-Sahara Africa. On his return he obtained a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. This launched his forty-five year career in banking from which he has recently retired. He resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania where he and his wife are happily surrounded by children and grandchildren. In addition to songwriting Dana continues to serve on the boards of several local and national organizations.
Dana was gracious to answer some questions about his life and art. We are sure you’ll enjoy getting to know this man AND his music on Cabaret HotTrax – https://hottrax.cabarethotspot.com/store/danapaulrobinson/
Dana, Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your life and work process. Let’s start at the beginning, OK? What drew you to become a songwriter?
Music was ever present in the house where I grew up. Ours was a large family and large house. There was a central sound system from which classical and popular music was played during waking hours. In retrospect I realize that our enjoyment of music was either a cause of or a consequence of the vibrant and happy atmosphere in which we were raised.
There must be a musical gene in our DNA for some of my siblings and I seem to have inherited the musical talent our mother displayed on the piano. In any case, for my young sensibilities learning to play the piano was like learning to tie your shoe – everybody did it.
For me, songwriting came naturally. It was a fun, free and parentally endorsed way of entertainment. What started as incidental play became a regular hobby. For several of my adolescent years I wrote ‘homegrown’ musicals for my siblings and me to produce. This became a perennial Christmas time endeavor, and clearly I was influenced by the sing-alongs all of us and our friends had around the family piano. It was during those timeless hours I became acquainted with the magic of the great songwriters of the first half of the last century.
Not until years later after I had started my own family and launched my own banking career did it occur to me that I might take a shot at professional songwriting. What persuaded me to do so were the promptings of others who insisted I had something to offer.
Why now, after fifty years, do I keep at it? As is often stated, songs can be powerfully emotive. They can soothe in times of sorrow, excite in times of joy, and entertain in times of ennui. I am always reminded of this power when I play ‘the old tunes’ for the elderly residents of the nearby home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. I can see how a certain melody triggers a certain memory and transports the listener back to another time and place. In spite of my poor piano playing I feel as though I’m making a contribution. So, I write songs to help others enter more deeply into their emotions.
What was the first song you ever wrote, and how old were you when you wrote it?
Though I am sure I had written them before, the first song I remember writing is “For You” when I was sixteen. It was the theme song of one of the family musicals and has since been arranged and recorded by other artists several times. The musical for which the song had been created was “A Modest Proposal.” This was the story of the protracted – and, for us kids, legendary – courtship our father pursued with our mother. Each of us had a role in this romantic comedy. Producing it was fun, but also quite moving. There were no dry eyes when the pursuer sang this song to the pursued.
Who were your musical influencers, both writing and performing?
As a kid I had access to various ‘fake books’ and at an early age was enthralled with the works of writers like Berlin, Kern, Carmichael, Arlen, Gershwin, Porter, etc. I was also very much influenced by the Broadway musical productions of the 1940s and 1950s. This rich exposure leading up to and through my adolescence was, I believe, formative for me. Listeners to the songs I write now comment on the similarity of style.
Do you have a favorite song or a project?
Having written, recorded and produced over a hundred I cannot identify any one song as my favorite. I can say – as I’m sure all songwriters do – that at any given time my favorite song is the one I have just written. There is a great sense of satisfaction when I’ve made the final correction, the last edit on a score on which I have been laboring over for hours if not days.
As for a favorite project, it should come as no surprise that it would be my most recent musical: “The Bottom Line” (www.thebottomlinemusical.org) which couples my lifelong avocation (songwriting) with my lifelong professional career (banking). This musical is of particular importance to me because it underscores how the banking industry over the past forty has lost its genuine commitment to personal service (with exceptions, of course).
A second favorite project would be a musical I wrote and produced twenty years ago called “ADEODATA”. Because it was so well received I hope to have it re-staged again. It is a very uplifting story of how a young orphaned girl changes the life of two elderly men.
Tell us about your process, even your daily schedule when working. Do you write every day? Are you inspired by current events or things around you?
Now that I am retired from a life-long career in banking I attempt to write every day. Melodies come rather easily. Lyrics, on the other hand, require much more time. As for the process, first I settle on a mood. Will the piece be lighthearted, satirical, romantic, inspirational, etc.? Then the hook of a melody suggests itself. This usually leads to a key line in the lyric. It’s at this point that the magic of combining a new lyric and a fresh melody occurs. So, as the title of one of my albums suggests, the process is ‘Mood, Melody, Magic’.
I am a song-writer, a ‘tunesmith’, and not a performer. I write with the hope that interested singers will discover these songs and with their own personal interpretation perform and bring them to light. Having produced six albums I understand that the song on paper is just the beginning of a marvelous collaboration among the writer, the arranger, the musicians, and the vocalist – all of whom bring their special ‘take’ on the song. Needless to say, the other party to this collaborative experience is the audience.
What has been the hardest song or project to finish, and why? And, how did you finally get out of this song-writers block?
For me writing songs is not ‘hard’ because it is so enjoyable. However, it can be time consuming and the more complicated the project the more time consuming the challenge. Stand-alone songs are relatively simple to write; songs for musicals are usually more complex and require more attention.
The most demanding creations so far have been my most recent two musicals: “ADEODATA” and “The Bottom Line Musical” each of which has a multi-character cast and at least twenty songs. My collaborators and I are in the process of having this latter work staged.
Of the seven albums I’ve released the most elaborate would be “Empty Blue” which was arranged in 1986 by Broadway’s Fred Barovick and performed in New York by Bernie Knee and the Philharmonic Strings. This was the only experience I have had with recording on vinyl.
What are you currently featuring on Cabaret HotTrax, and what else can we expect in the future?
Since becoming aware of HotTrax two months ago I have posted thirty-eight songs to my ‘store’. Most of these include comments by professional third-party reviewers.
Including the songs on the six albums I have released, the songs in the musical I have produced, and the recorded unpublished tracks I have well over one hundred songs. If HotTrax proves to be an effective venue for the promotion of this material – as I expect it will – my intention is to add many more songs to the ‘store.’
What’s next? Are you currently working on a new project?
In addition to the recorded songs referenced above I have dozens of unrecorded songs waiting to be “brought to life”. I plan to have these recorded. Of course, I will continue writing new material. I plan on staying on Spotify and Radio Airplay and am encouraged by the fact that in a short period of time I’ve gained fans in thirteen countries. As mentioned above I write songs with the hope singers will discover and perform them. In that regard I have developed the following website
Here is a YouTube playlist of some of my songs.