The Inside Story: Joel Mandelbaum

Today’s ‘Inside Story’ feature is debut PARMA artist, Joel Mandelbaum, composer, and educator, best known for his use of microtonal tuning. Enjoy!


Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?

The Greenwich Village Gilbert and Sullivan Players and Danny Kaye.  Later, Toscanini and Bruno Walter.  Around 1950, ten years before his vogue began, I became passionately attached to the music of Mahler.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?

My decision to become a musician was made in stages.  I wrote little one-line melodies at age 5 and learned to improvise with a splendid teacher at age 10.  A magnificent high school choral music teacher, Helen Grant Baker, had me set another student’s Christmas poem to music and had a chorus sing it a week later…a thrilling experience.    After thorough training at Diller-Quaile, I majored in music in college but did not make my eventual decision between music and law until nearly 24, finally declining a secured place at Harvard Law School when the urge to complete an opera in progress became irresistible.

What was your most unusual performance or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?

August 1951,   Conducting my Overture with a formally dressed orchestra before an audience of over 2000 in wrinkled, dirty khaki trousers.

Explanation:    The composition teacher at Interlochen arranged with his friend, conductor of the Lafayette, IN, Symphony Orchestra to have me deliver my own and other students’ specially composed scores for incidental music to an evening of theater before 2,000 delegates to a Convocation of Methodist Youth.  I also composed an overture for the occasion, but due to a shortage of rehearsal time, the still ragged overture was relegated to the status of entre’acte.  The Lafayette conductor, lacking the time to learn the score, asked me to conduct my overture.    Interlochen students wear uniforms and bring no extra clothing.  When I reported in Lafayette for the week of rehearsals, I was wearing the only clothes I had and continued to wear them through a late August heat wave.   I arranged to borrow a white shirt and tux jacket from my hosts, but since I was only to conduct after the pit had been lowered for the theater performances, it was decided that my lower half would not be seen and I would not have to borrow trousers.   At the start of the evening, when the pit was up,  I hid behind the piano.  Then I sat in a chair during the first plays.   When it was my turn to conduct, I took the podium, then noticed that the pit was rising.  In a panic, I offered the baton to the regular conductor but he declined it.   So, now risen to the full view of the audience, I conducted the piece.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what are the three things you absolutely can’t live without?

The three things would be an adequate supply of music manuscript paper;  pencils; and dark chocolate.

Joel Mandelbaum’s HARMONIZE YOUR SPIRIT WITH MY CALM is now available to purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and ArkivMusic. Listen to a promo here: 


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