A native of Philadelphia who lived all over the Delaware Valley before recently settling in Cherry Hill, composer Louis DeLise offered his definitive opinion on how the creative process ultimately begins.
“I’ll parrot (songwriter) Sammy Cahn. I heard him say this five times. When someone asked him, ‘What comes first, the music or the lyrics?’ The real answer is, the phone call,” DeLise reported, speaking to the Sun from inside a local studio on March 21.
Three weeks prior to the release of his latest album, “A Gift of Moments” — expected to be available starting April 16 — DeLise delved into the theory and practice of inspiration for his music, as well as the process behind a finished product.
“More often, in my career, it’s been either someone calls and has a specific need, or, I make up something myself. It all starts with an idea,” he explained. “The second stage, the piece of sand you hope mushrooms into a pearl, I think about the end game: ‘How will it be performed?’ Can I make a recording people other than my family will be interested in hearing?”
Once the initial hurdles are cleared comes the task of putting the pieces together into a cohesive whole, and fitting the instrumentation to the mood.
“In writing a composition, I’m thinking that the idea could be setting a poem to music, and make up a melody. Or it could be that I’d like to write something in a 5/4 time signature,” DeLise continued.
“I establish those rules for myself and then it becomes a game, but not as trivialized. I’m much better when I have some kind of restrictions, parameters imposed from either an outside source or my own internal stuff.”
Those rules, which DeLise says are different for each project, chiefly involve providing focus for mapping out which instruments serve a piece best. Admittedly shy about calling himself a “classical composer,” the composer doesn’t like to limit himself to certain kinds of instrumentation when writing. That extends to artificial sounds, like those from samplers and synthesizers.
“I still write, depending on the project, with band instruments: guitar, bass, drums, piano,” DeLise offered. “And they might still appear in my concert music. I just happen to love the sound of traditional stuff like woodwinds, cello and violin.
“There ain’t nothing like the real thing, babe.”
Although DeLise can’t adequately explain why he’s called to be a composer, “I don’t know why I have a compunction to write. It would hurt if I didn’t do it,” he noted.
DeLise can list those by whom he’s inspired, creative souls who span the centuries. Traditional classical artists such as Ottorino Respighi, Claude Debussy, J.S. Bach and his contemporary, Georg Telemann, are first in DeLise’s mind. Henry Mancini, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk are his modern heavy hitters, while Ned Rorem, Vincent Persichetti and George Rochberg also received their props.
Of course, a close source of inspiration is his wife — the reason DeLise located to the township 11 years ago to join her — as well as the home they share, which features a wooded area with a stream.
Inspiration is not always quiet, kind, or positive. Which is how DeLise arrived at the impetus for “A Gift of Moments.’ Recalling a conversation with a female friend who had previously written a passage about her deceased husband, DeLise said one phrase that served as the title of the work and also its title track struck a deep chord.
“It’s her line. And it really took me out,” he admitted. “She thought of the times she spent with him. I was touched by that. I was in a place where I could imagine (just how her life was).”
All 10 recordings on his release revolve around love: for a mate, of family, our way of life and beliefs we hold most dear, DeLise explained. Each one is framed as its own story, and has its own origin story on how he approached the creative process.
“More than a couple came from piano improvisation, having a nub of an idea and the freedom to expand within my rules,” he related. “I knew I wanted all the music centered around the piano. And that begins to create a mood with 88 keys and different sounds.”
Those sounds, along with the space, time and location to create them, has been nothing short of salvation for DeLise since the pandemic caused a massive shift in daily life more than a year ago.
“I’m happy to be going to the studio, to be able to be in the studio and to be sequestered from the world, allowed to immerse myself into my own space,” he said.
For more information about the artist, his life and his work, visit: https://louisanthonydelise.com/.