Joie de Vivre
by No Explanations
Dan Leonard: acoustic and electric guitars
Shani DuFrain, TCRG: vocals, Irish Step Dancing, hand clapping
Mark Christopher Brandt: acoustic piano, hand clapping
Special Guest Violinist: Emily Wellington
The following interview appeared in the April, 2015 issue of Irish Dance and Culture Magazine
IDM catches up with Mark Christopher Brandt, pianist and composer, from the popular band No Explanations on the heels of the release of their new CD, Joie de Vivre. The CD has received fantastic reviews from dance teachers who hope to incorporate many of their creative tunes into show productions.
Tell us about the members of your group?
We are blessed to have the incredible violinist Emily Wellington on this project. She is a 2006 graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, where she studied music education with a concentration in violin. She completed her Masters of Music degree in violin performance from George Mason University in fairfax, VA. While she can play just about anything on the violin, she has a particular love for Irish music. I can’t imagine any other violinist playing this music.
My partner in the duo is guitarist Dan Leonard. Dan began playing the guitar at the age of 11 and gravitated quickly to the styles of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. He majored in classical guitar and composition at George Mason University while studying jazz privately and working as a freelance guitarist. Dan has performed in the Washington D.C. area for over 30 years, and he has traveled internationally for several of those years with the Deanna Bogart Band. He has been nominated for numerous Washington area music awards, and his studio credits include TV’s America’s Most Wanted and The Learning Channel, as well as many releases by regional artists. He is not only a virtuoso on guitar but an excellent composer as well.
And as for you?
I grew up knowing that I would be a musician and, in particular, a composer. That just always seemed like it was a given. I honestly cannot remember a day, especially since I began my performance career in 1977, when I did not wake up in that frame of mind. I studied classical piano performance and traditional composition at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. for three years. I finished my education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA where I studied jazz composition. My real education, however, came from my years of traveling and performing in country, pop, rock, and jazz groups and as both a private instructor and a clinician.
How about the CD’s that No Explanations released?
The first No Explanations CD was entitled Round Trip which was released just one year ago on March 25, 2014. Our second project was a Christmas CD, also released in 2014, which garnered a favorable review in Downbeat Magazine, and the third outing is called Joie de Vivre, which we just released on Saint Patrick’s Day 2015, and of course that’s the one we are promoting now.
Tell us about Joie de Vivre.
Joie de Vivre came about as I was flying back and forth to Ireland with my daughter Shani, a competitive Irish dancer and the featured singer on the title track, as well as the Irish dancer on the American Suite for Irish Dancers. The beauty of Ireland, coupled with the years I spent supporting Shani in the goal of making her the best dancer possible, gave birth to the compositions on Joie de Vivre. I could actually hear in my ‘inner ear’ what this music would sound like with a violin and a guitar, and the thought of recording Irish dance steps as percussion was particularly exciting.
What sparked your interest in Irish music and are all of the compositions on Joie de Vivre your originals?
The exposure to my daughter’s love for Irish music and Irish dance is really what got me thinking about composing this music. In addition to participating in feiseanna often, Shani was also dancing in shows for her school. On one occasion, as Shani was dancing a slip jig, I overheard someone in the crowd say, “Wow, that girl really has that Joie de vivre (joy of life) when she dances.” At that moment, I began to plot a CD which would have that title. Going to Ireland was not just a dream come true for Shani, but for me as well. I actually began composing the music for Joie de Vivre on the return flight from our first trip. I compose all of the music for No Explanations, and I also wrote the lyrics for the title track. The American Suite for Irish Dancers could be performed in a show anywhere, and any of the three individual parts, as well as the collective whole, would make for an enjoyable and exciting Irish dance performance. Even the piece I wrote called A Celebration of Life has jig and hornpipe elements which would make it equally interesting for the adventurous Irish dancer looking for a unique performance challenge.
What inspires you to get up every day and play music?
My first response to that question is God. We are all Catholic in my house, so we begin our days with the rosary, daily Mass, and after that, we start making music. Most of my musician friends are Christians, and some of them are Catholic as well, so we have a great deal in common in that we recognize music as a gift from God, and one to be shared with as many people as possible. There is never a day I do not look forward to waking up and practicing, writing, or teaching music.
Did you have a love for Irish music before your daughter began dancing?
My first jazz gig was in an Irish pub with a guitarist, so my connection with Irish music and the guitar/piano combination is not coincidental. I was first introduced to jazz and improvisation in high school by a friend who was the guitarist in the school jazz band. My high school drama teacher’s husband recognized that, together, we had something to offer. He got us a piano/guitar duo gig for a while, and we would play jazz in the corner of this Irish pub before we were even old enough to legally drink. My love for jazz, my love for guitar duos, and my love for Irish culture goes at least that far back. Without doubt, the Irish music and rhythms which I have composed for Joie de Vivre and immersed myself in for so long will be with me spiritually, personally, and as a performer for the rest of my life. I personally think that every artist and every person should make it a point to visit Ireland; one of the most beautiful places on the planet.