By Scott MacClelland
Stephen Tosh and his fellow musicians want to make sure Monterey County music lovers haven’t forgotten him. So they’re putting on a concert of his recent compositions and arrangements this Saturday at the Golden Bough Playhouse (PacRep Theatre) in Carmel. This was decided following his return to the Monterey Peninsula after the many years he called Paso Robles home. And though Tosh has forgotten more of his own music than most composers have themselves written, he has never actually been forgotten here. That’s because he performs more or less constantly for local clients and in area casual gigs. Over the last 40 years, much of that music-making has been heard in local theater productions. PacRep and The Western Stage have benefited hugely from Tosh’s remarkable talents.
Steve Tosh is one of those ‘drop the needle’ composers with a distinctive sound-world that comes out of his “suitcases full of music,” much of which has never been performed. As a composer, he’s equally magician and tailor, able to ‘reduce’ orchestral scores into keyboard and synthesizer arrangements, or trios as the Saturday concert will demonstrate.
Yet he’s always on the go, performing everywhere, which, for a guy ravaged by diabetes, isn’t easy. Though well known to the community of Monterey Bay musicians, the general public has little knowledge of his ubiquity as a keyboard performer. (I heard him play the complex score of Bernstein’s Candide on a synthesizer at Hartnell College.) While living in Paso Robles, he and his wife (and “manager”) Barbara spent long hours on the road between Monterey/Salinas and San Luis Obispo.
In recent years, Tosh has turned his attention toward jazz, and this Saturday’s concert will see the first public performance of his Tin Pan Alley Rhapsody, among other premieres. A trio and narrator will recount the story of Tubby the Tuba, featuring colorful projected images by prominent graphic artist/designer, and longtime friend, Carey Crockett. The program will also include music by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim, Gershwin, and others, featuring the vocal styling of Lydia Lyons and Stephen McAndrew. Daniel Simpson will add gospel flavorings to the evening. Among the dozen participating musicians, bassist Bill Wingfield’s new En Caida Libre will also get its first public hearing. Proceeds will benefit PacRep’s efforts to expedite the reopening of Carmel’s outdoor Forest Theater.
Tosh was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He began composing at age 3, or tried to. Much of his formal education came from private studies with individual musicians and composers. He claims Harry Partch—a true American maverick who invented his own microtonal scales that divided the octave into 43 pitches and instruments tuned to play them—as mentor. (Tosh is content to use the familiar 12 chromatic tones in mostly tonal practice.)
The list of Tosh’s compositions is staggering. It includes symphonies, concertos, chamber works, operas, ballets and cantatas. Among numerous solo sonatas will be found an organ “symphony,” which Tosh premiered at Pacific Grove Methodist when he was organist there. Among performers who have premiered his music locally are the Monterey String Quartet, Ensemble Monterey, Youth Music Monterey, the MPC String Ensemble and Concert Band. He recalls pieces for various local actors and singers. “There are quite a few Robinson Jeffers settings that Louis Lebhertz sang for me,” he says. “Also, poems from the Glass Bead Game by Hesse, performed at Hartnell College with baritone Larry Venza.” Tosh’s opera A Christmas Carol was performed on the Hartnell Mainstage, but without budget to hire an orchestra he was forced to recreate a version for synthesizer—which he played while wrapped up in Christmas lights—and percussion. “That performance had elements I didn’t want. So as far as I’m concerned the work never got performed.”
Among his earliest works composed in Monterey County is Earth Song for chorus and orchestra for Hidden Valley Music Seminars when their programs moved to permanent quarters at Carmel Valley’s White Oaks Theatre, in 1972. He also remembers a Guitar Concerto composed for Terrence Farrell and performed at Hartnell. In an afterthought he adds, “Many plays–Glass Menagerie, etc–had original music during and between scenes by yours truly. I didn’t mention my more commercial work, and the countless children’s musicals, and the ‘ghost’ work written for the movies, other composers and editors.”
One can only imagine what treasures remain unrecalled and therefore undiscovered in Tosh’s full suitcases.