Charles Szczepanek sat down at the piano in his Queen Creek home one winter day for the musical equivalent of day dreaming. He plunked one key and then another, playing a familiar tune. Another melody interrupted. He let the two intertwine.
Mr. Szczepanek smiled and went about his day. But a few days later, the improvisation was still ringing in his mind. There was only one way to get it out: write a Christmas album. The song gained a title, “Do You Hear the Drummer Boy?”
“I grew up playing lots of Christmas and holiday parties,” said Mr. Szczepanek, a composer, arranger and music producer. “But more than a decade after playing the last party, I never expected to sit down alone at home and play Christmas music, let alone improvise totally new renditions.”
Mr. Szczepanek, a featured artist for Mason & Hamlin Piano Co., had no interest in ordinary holiday songs. So “Winter Day Dreaming” shakes up the familiar with unexpected rhythms and variations.
There are mashups like that first improvisation. “The First Noel” weaves in the Quaker hymn “Simple Gifts”; an Eastern-infused “Away in a Manger” rises in the middle of “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Mr. Szczepanek added two compositions of his own.
The album stands up to repeated listenings. That’s one reason Indie Music Digest made the album a pick of the week.
“You start to think to yourself, ‘What’s he going to do next? Where’s he going to take the melody or rhythm now?’ This is especially useful for holiday music,” music journalist Dan MacIntosh noted.
Mr. Szczepanek appreciates the praise.
“As the first few songs for ‘Winter Day Dreaming’ seemingly appeared out of thin air at my piano, I realized this album was going to be different. Melodies were naturally coming together in ways that I hadn’t heard before,” he says. “I tried to retain a lot of the freshness from my improvisations and add a bit of Hollywood flair, without letting myself get in the way of the original melodies people know and love so much.”
“Winter Day Dreaming” is one of the Valley resident’s many projects. He owns a mobile recording studio.
He’s director of music and liturgy at Church of the Ascension in Fountain Hills, where he also brings in nationally recognized classical artists for the Arts at Ascension concert series he created.
He plays classical piano in solo and collaborative concerts across the country, including performances featuring his Christmas music. He has since produced two videos featuring music from the album, which are posted on YouTube.
Sheet music also is available at his website, http://www.charlesszczepanek.com, so other pianists can enjoy his arrangements.
Editor’s note: Robert Leger is a public relations specialist.