Steven Mark Kohn
Steven Mark Kohn's career as a composer and lyricist is an example of what can happen when one works hard, makes friends and is in the right place at the right time.
Steven Mark Kohn (born 1957) grew up in a suburb east of Cleveland, Ohio. There was always music in the house thanks to his mom and older sister, who loved music theater and the folk-rock of the 1960’s. As a child, Steve would come home and sound out on the piano the songs they sang in school that day. Into middle school, Steve began playing more elaborate arrangements of songs by the Beatles, James Taylor, Elton John, Billy Joel and other pop artists of the day. As high school approached, he would teach himself more ambitious progressive rock by artists like Yes, Genesis and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In his senior year of high school, he decided to begin piano lessons and at the age of 18 discovered where middle C was on the staff. With his ears and fingers already in decent shape, things progressed quickly. His teacher, Joseph Howard, suggested Steve should major in music at a university. Having no other plans at the time, this seemed like a pretty good idea. From that moment on, the aimless haze of high school was quickly forgotten and a whole new life began.
Steve entered Kent State University as a music major. In his first semester, he was put into a composition class where his teacher, Walter Watson encouraged him to compose some small piano pieces. Although he had been improvising for years, Steve had never considered writing music until this time. But he dug in, studied hard and absorbed everything around him. Within two years he had composed a work for piano and orchestra (an ambitious but early and naïve effort!) which premiered with his piano teacher Jerry Davidson as soloist. Steve shifted his major to composition and received a Bachelor’s degree in 1979 (magna cum laude). He went on to complete his Master’s degree in Composition with Donald Erb and Eugene O’Brien at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1982 (Pi Kappa Lambda) and attended the Aspen Music festival as a composition student of Charles Jones, where his Sonata for Bass Clarinet and Piano received a composition award. As a student he scored several independent films and composed music for two theatrical productions, Amlin Gray's "The Fantod" and the world premier of Jean Claude van Itallie's adaptation of Medea. While a resident composer with the Banff Music Theatre Ensemble in Alberta, he composed the one-act opera Rite of Passage (libretto by Kerry White), which was produced in Banff and later in Toronto under the direction of Billie Bridgeman. Along the way, Steve had the opportunity to meet and work with composers Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, Lucas Foss, Michael Tippet, Elliott Carter and Carlisle Floyd. As a student, his classmates included many of today's prominent composers; Craig Bohmler, Michael Ching, Julian Grant, James Mobberley, Kathryn Alexander, Paul Sanderson, David Lang, Jeffrey Mumford, Christopher Kaufman and Andy Kubiszewski.
Graduate school was where things started to happen. While still enrolled at CIM, Steve was offered a job as recording engineer for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s concert series as well as a position in the preparatory division of CIM teaching popular piano and
improvisation. He then had the tremendous good fortune to meet fellow student Jim Brickman (yes, that Jim Brickman!), which lead to the writing and arranging of commercials for TV and radio. These two kids in their mid twenties had the time of their life, collaborating on national spots for Wheaties, Hickory Farms, Stanley Steemer, TRW, BP, Sentry Hardware and Rax Restaurants and local and regional jingles for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio Lottery, Indianapolis News, Northfield Park, Schwebels Bread and a host of others. This work also afforded Steve the opportunity to learn arranging and studio recording techniques. After Brickman headed west to become a solo piano artist, Steve was offered the position of staff composer at Audio Recording Studios in Cleveland. There he teamed with Bruce Gigax, recording engineer for the Cleveland Orchestra, and continued writing and arranging commercial music adding spots for Arby’s, Volvo, GTE, Kelly Tire, American Greetings and Matrix as well as music for KFI Radio of Los Angeles, SeaWorld, Harper Collins Audio Books, Second Story Productions and the theme music for the Sylvia Rimm Show, heard nationally on NPR. Steve also arranged and played keyboards on albums by artists Alex Bevan, Pat Dailey and others.
In the late 1980’s, opportunity again knocked, as Steve made the acquaintance of stop-motion animation legend John Clarke Matthews, who was creating animated versions of many popular children’s books. Steve was invited to score a number of them, including Frog and Toad Together and Uncle Elephant (PBS), Morris Goes to School (The Disney Channel), and three ABC Weekend specials: Commander Toad in Space, Ralph S. Mouse and the Emmy-nominated Runaway Ralph starring Fred Savage and Ray Walston. He also scored the BBC 2 (London) documentary Let Them Live, (produced by the Environmental Investigation Association), the Chiodo Bros. quirky Cousin Kevin (KABC Los Angeles), and a number of short independent films, including animator George Wong’s Butterfly Dreams.
In 1989, a tip from a poker buddy led to an introduction to noted psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek, a pioneer in the field of Guided Imagery, a meditative exercise that engages the mind in the healing process. Steve began underscoring Belleruth’s Health Journeys imagery narrations, and has to date, scored over 50 titles, with topics ranging from losing weight to preparing for surgery. Health Journeys CDs are now distributed to patients in hospitals and clinics across the country. So far over two million copies have been sold worldwide, including translations into Spanish and Hebrew. Three of Steve’s music-only CDs have been released as well: Music from Health Journeys, Inward Journey and most recently, Meditative Reflections.
In the late 1990’s opportunity knocked yet again, as he was invited to join the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music as director of the electronic music studio. Steve was given free rein to design and build the studio and write the course textbook, a task he enjoyed immensely. Many of his students have embraced electronic music production as an integral part of their creative lives and some have gone on to graduate programs in film scoring and careers as teachers and professional film and game composers.
Also in the late 1990s, Steve decided to focus on the writing of Art Songs, with the intent to fuse folk, classical and theatrical elements, and has, to date, created a small catalogue, published by E. C. Schirmer. The first of his three-volume collection of American folk-song arrangements was premiered in Carnegie Hall by David Daniels and Martin Katz. Since then, they have been performed all over the world by hundreds of artists, including Benjamin Appl, Dean Southern, Peter Halverson, Eugene Villanueva, Michael Sylvester, Richard Ollarsaba, Joshua Dennis, William Powers, Paul Rowe, Stephen Brennfleck, Brian Keith Johnson, Will Liverman and Andrew Garland, with the latter recording the whole set in 2008 on a disk entitled On the Other Shore (with the wonderful pianist Donna Loewy). Several of Steve’s folk song arrangements are included in the NPR radio series Song of America, hosted by Thomas Hampson. His Hymn for String Orchestra (publ. by Carl Fischer) has been recorded by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Barbara Day Turner, and he was selected to compose the fanfare for the dedication of the Cleveland Institute of Music’s beautiful Mixon Recital Hall, which opened in November of 2007.
Steve is also a writer and lyricist. Besides the many lyrics written for commercial jingles and pop and theater songs, he has created lyrics for the stage musicals The Quiltmaker’s Gift (Dramatic Publishing), Unstoppable Me, A Beautiful Place, Happy, Texas, the opera The Tale of the Nutcracker, and the comic stage show The Three Redneck Tenors, all to the music of his long-time friend Craig Bohmler. The Quiltmaker’s Gift has seen productions at Laguna Playhouse, Phoenix Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theater and many other regional theaters. Steve’s original screenplay, Little Mozart was produced in Dallas by OhLook! Productions and featured opera singers Donald Sherrill and Timothy Nolen. His one-woman opera Mary Chesnut, A Civil War Diary was written for mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore and his short story The Professor’s Diary appeared in National Lampoon magazine. Steve created the libretto for the grand opera Riders of the Purple Sage, based on the classic western novel by Zane Grey (music again by Mr. Bohmler). Arizona Opera mounted the world premier of Riders in February of 2017, with scenic décor by world-renowned western artist Ed Mell. The premier was so successful, that Arizona Opera presented Riders again in 2020. The opera was the subject of the Emmy-winning documentary, Riders Of The Purple Sage; The Making Of A Western Opera, directed by Kristin Atwell Ford. 2020 also saw the world premier of Steve's dramatic song cycle "The Trial of Susan B. Anthony" (American Prize) featuring mezzo soprano Adriana Zabala and pianist Myra Huang. The performance was directed by Shawn Jeffery and streamed online by ADA Artists and San Diego Opera, Opera Colorado, Austin Opera, Minnesota Opera and Berkshire Opera Festival.
In the catch-all department, he has dabbled in independent short film production with his brother, animator Justin Kohn. Together, they have made three edgy and irreverent little films; Bugfeast, Lord J’s Wild West Daredevil Show and How’s My Driving?, which have made the film festival rounds and even garnered a few awards, including a silver medal at the Philadelphia International Film Festival and “Best of Ohio” at the Ohio Independent Film Festival, while entertaining and offending people in about equal numbers. He has created an educational presentation called Music in Movies, through The Cleveland Institute of Music’s distance learning program, which introduces elementary school children all over the country to film music in a fun and interactive way. He has kept his piano chops up by performing with tenor David Gilson through Cleveland’s Access To the Arts, and banging out classic rock and roll with a group of middle-aged friends who cheekily call themselves The Lords of Russell (Russell is a neighboring township).
He lives with his wife Ann and son Ryan in Bainbridge, Ohio, just east of Cleveland and enjoys long walks in the beautiful Chagrin River Valley.
Steven Mark Kohn has worn several different creative hats. As a composer, he has written music for a number of award-winning children’s films, including Frog and Toad Together, Uncle Elephant, Cousin Kevin, Morris Goes to School, Commander Toad in Space, Ralph S. Mouse and the Emmy-nominated Runaway Ralph starring Fred Savage and Ray Walston. He has composed and arranged commercial music for Wheaties, Arby’s, Volvo, Hickory Farms, TRW, BP, Stanley Steemer, Matrix and many others. His music can be heard nationally on NPR for the Sylvia Rimm Show and on the Time-Warner audio book series “Health Journeys”, which has sold over two million copies worldwide. His “Hymn for String Orchestra” (publ. by Carl Fischer) has been recorded by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and E. C. Schirmer publishes his art song catalog. His three volumes of American Folk Song arrangements were premiered in Carnegie Hall and have since been performed around the world by a hundreds of artists. Andrew Garland and Donna Loewy recorded the entire set in 2008. Steve has co-written and directed the short films Bugfeast, Lord J’s Wild West Daredevil Show and How’s My Driving?, which have been screened at festivals around the country and in Europe. For the theater, he created lyrics for the musicals The Quiltmaker’s Gift (Dramatic Publishing), Unstoppable Me, Little Mozart, A Beautiful Place, Happy, Texas, and the opera The Tale of the Nutcracker, all to the music of Craig Bohmler. His Mary Chesnut; a Civil War Diary was written for soprano Jennifer Larmore and his "The Trial of Susan B. Anthony" was written for mezzo soprano Adriana Zabala. His short story The Professor’s Diary appeared in National Lampoon magazine. He wrote the libretto for the grand opera Riders of the Purple Sage (music by Mr. Bohmler), which was premiered by Arizona Opera in February of 2017. For 21 years he served on the composition faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music as Director of the Electronic Music Studio.
Steven Mark Kohn has worn several different creative hats. As a composer, he has written music for films (ABC, PBS and The Disney Channel), commercials (Wheaties, BP, Arby’s and others), industrial shows (Volvo, Matrix and GTE), guided imagery CDs (The Health Journey’s catalogue) and many art songs, which have been performed by artists around the world. He has written lyrics (with composer Craig Bohmler) for four musicals and two operas. For 21 years he served on the composition faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music as director of the electronic music studio.
Steven Mark Kohn enjoys reading, swimming, afternoon naps, walks in the woods, solving kenken, sudoku and NY Times Sunday crossword puzzles and watching Cleveland Guardians (formerly the Indians) baseball. When not engaged in those activities, he is a musician.