Composer / pianist Ben Schwendener sustains a unique voice in contemporary creative music and is a leading authority on George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (LCC), which he assisted Russell in teaching at NEC from 1986 to 2004. After Russell’s retirement, he continues to teach the LCC and Applied Modal Analysis at NEC and Longy School of Music of Bard College to this day. Schwendener has helped to establish new directions in natural pedagogy and dialogue-based arts education using Organic Music Theory, Universal Musical Elements, and Applied Modal Analysis as primary creative sources.
Schwendener has been teaching the LCC since 1986; he began as an assistant teacher and editor to George Russell. In 1991 he became a ‘certified’ teacher in the LCC, and while Russell was alive certified other teachers in the LCC. He has gone on to expand on ideas initiated in the LCC throughout his career and presents lectures, workshops and seminars at Universities and institutions in the USA and internationally. Other former teachers and musical mentors include Ran Blake, Jimmy Guiffre, Miroslav Vitous, Joe Maneri and Andrew Hill.
Presently living in Boston, Schwendener is on the faculty at the New England Conservatory and the Longy School of Music of Bard College. He has also designed a class for non-musicians based on the inter-discipline correspondences of Organic Music Theory which he has taught since 2001 for the Creative and Critical Thinking Department in the Graduate College of Education at UMass Boston.
In 2017 he published Organic Music Theory, which presents an understanding of George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept. The book is distributed by Heights Music International. Organic Music Theory also expands on the theoretical and pedagogical perspective and offers new models of creative collaboration.
Schwendener’s current focus, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been on development and research into the subject of his next book, Applied Modal Analysis, which involves expanding the perspective of the LCC and Organic Music Theory in analysis of Bach Chorales, Fugues, Motets, classical works and jazz standards. Its aim is to identify universal musical elements of modality (harmony/chordmodes, rhythm and form). Applied Modal Analysis offers new vehicles for composition and improvisation that span all styles in equal temperament. Schwendener began teaching this course at NEC spring 22’ and fall 2020 at the Longy School.
As a composer, he has created music for small and large ensembles, dance companies, film, video and art installations, written three volumes of piano music for children, and performs with ensembles and on solo piano throughout the U.S., Europe, Central America, and Japan.
Specific projects and recordings include:
- Living Geometry, employing principles of the LC Concept in interactive navigational designs for layered improvisation by two or more musicians.
- LYRIC, an improvisational duo featuring opera singer Carley DeFranco realizing contemporary poetry along with Schwendener’s modal improvisation on interpretive geometric harmonic designs.
- Ambi Trio with Bhob Rainey (soprano) and Eric Rosenthal (drums) - an expansive improvised “no job to do” trio performing early simple children’s tunes composed by Schwendener. Currently mastering a 6 CD box set from 2005-2007 for release.
- The Mobile Trio, a group he established 2010, includes Kenwood Dennard (drums) and Marc Friedman (bass), and is based on the idea of a Calder mobile: this group performs original works (Schwendener on analog keys) where each musician retains formal autonomy while connected on an axis of time and space, expanding on the jam band tradition.
- Most recent performing focus is with his trio FUGUE, with Henry Godfrey, drums, and Domenico Botelho, bass. This group is developing Realizations of Bach Fugues, Chorales and Motets, designed by Schwendener.
- He is also director of Gravity Arts, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 providing customized educational services and products for individuals, groups and corporations. Schwendener collaborates often with the dance community, most recently with Swiss choreographer Angelo Dello Iacono (since 2012). The Mobile Trio and Iacono’s dance company ADN Dialect have created the international cultural exchange project No Plan B, and the experimental jazz scenic event Zeitzone. In June 2018 he was a featured contributing artist to the ADN production 160 which premiered at Stavinsky Hall, Montreux, Switzerland.
Schwendener has released ten recordings as leader / co-leader on Gravity Records (an independent label he co-founded in 1992), and is also heard on Label Bleu and Alabaster. Recent releases include ‘A Few Years Ago...’ (The Mobile Trio 2019), ‘Upward Mobility’ (The Mobile Trio, 2015), ‘Apfelschaun-New Episode‘ (2011) with Uwe Steinmetz and the two CD ‘Industrial Folk Music’ (2011), featuring long time collaborators Bridget Kearney and Michael Calabrese (currently of Lake Street Dive), Bhob Rainey, Eric Lane, and Gregg Ramsey.