David Gooding, Composer


Music, for David Gooding, has always been closely bound up with the lively art of entertainment, especially the theater, and the human voice. It is the challenge of expressing a dramatic situation, he has said, that has him scurrying to put pen to music paper.“You go to a concert to hear music performed by musicians,” he once told Plain Dealer theater critic Peter Bellamy; what drew him to the theater , Gooding said, was the experience of hearing music in the mouths of people in dramatic situations. In fact, he preferred working with actors who could sing, he confessed, to working with trained singers, whom he found often “far more worried about their tone—to the point where it can bore the pants off you.”

Bore the pants off us was one thing David Gooding never did.

From the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, the years in which an explosion of musical theater lit up Playhouse Square and reignited Cleveland’s nightlife and a sense of exciting new possibilities after the mortification of municipal bankruptcy, it was Gooding who was to be found, again and again, at the heart of the fun. As musical director/pianist of the beloved revue, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well, he accompanied virtually every one of the 700 sold-out performances of that record-shattering show. In 1982, after winning the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Excellence in Musical Direction, he was engaged by Berea Summer Theater to compose an original score for its production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage.

But it was the dozen or so years he spent during this period (roughly 1978–1991) as musical, director/composer/arranger for the Cleveland Play House that may have been the most satisfying—and creatively stimulating—of his career. There Gooding, who had studied composition with Aaron Copland and Carlos Chavez and orchestral and choral conducting with George Szell and Robert Shaw, was called upon to do everything from re-orchestrating and transposing numbers into more comfortable keys—to serving as rehearsal pianist and, when necessary, teaching actors to sing. Among his successes were Tintypes, an enchanting evening built around songs from the turn of the (20th) century; Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum; and The Prague Spring. A tense, ironic drama about the Czech uprising of 1968, Spring’s lively musical numbers ran the gamut from a Sousa march (“Truth Prevails”) to a medieval chant (“We Want Light”) to a sprightly madrigal (“The Cocktail Gavotte”), which Gooding scored for harpsichord and voices.

In 1986, the Play House production of Lillian, a one-woman show about playwright Lillian Hellman with a script by William Luce (The Belle of Amherst), actress Zoe Caldwell as Hellman and incidental music by Gooding, ran for 45 performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway. The following year Gooding won an EMMY for Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics for the NBC children’s series, Hickory Hideout. (ASCAP has honored him seven times with composer awards.) He composed two successful operas for children for Cleveland Opera on Tour, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and A Tale of Peter Rabbit (both with lyrics by Paul Lee). An Aesop Odyssey, based on a play by Wayne Turney, had its world premiere in 1997 at Pensacola Opera and was revived in 2008 for a tour of several southern cities. Together, Gooding’s three children’s operas have enjoyed nearly 2,000 performances, playing to more than 400,000 children and life-long children.

David Gooding was only seven when he began his own professional career as a paid boy soprano in a church choir. Born in 1935 in Lockhart, New York, near Buffalo, he moved to Cleveland in 1958, after earning his B.F.A. at the University of Buffalo, where he studied with Copland and Chavez, to pursue a master’s at Western Reserve University. There Gooding, a virtuoso pianist and organist, was spotted by George Szell. By the time he completed his M.F.A. in 1963, the 28-year-old had already been serving for two years as the Cleveland Orchestra’s regular organist at Severance Hall, where he would continue in that capacity through 1974, appearing on several of the recordings the legendary maestro made with the orchestra.

During these same years Gooding was also employed as organist/choirmaster at the Temple (1961–1973, 1975–1982), as the great Rabbi Hillel Silver’s Congregation Tifereth Israel was known. Gooding would later serve in a similar capacity at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (1987–2000) and, for the past decade, as director of music ministries at Messiah Lutheran Church in Fairview Park and organist/choirmaster at Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. He has composed a number of liturgical scores for church choir, available from Cantorello Press.

On the secular side, in addition to his long residency at the Play House and his notable work on Playhouse Square, the busy musician was choirmaster for numerous performances at Cleveland Opera. Gooding had the bittersweet honor of serving as last president of the Fortnightly Musical Club before the regrettable dissolution of that distinguished, long-running organzation in 2008. He has devoted much of his energy in recent years to his vocation as a voice teacher specializing in the rehabilitation and retraining of voices injured by accident, illness or abuse, dividing his time between New York and the Cleveland Clinic’s Voice Center.

—Dennis Dooley

For more about the composer, or to contact him about voice problems, visit www.davidgoodingvoice.com

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org