It doesn’t take long upon meeting Riverside Director Peter Searby to see that of all the creative gifts he has been given, he treasures the musical ones the most. He comes armed with stringed instruments to Riverside and social gatherings, ready for a song. He has written countless songs and nine original musicals. In this second part of a two-part interview, find out how the music began, in addition to what books inspired Peter as a boy, and what his hopes for his new book, Casting Fire.
When did you start playing music and why did you choose guitar as your primary instrument?
I started when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I was in sixth grade at a public school, and I chose the saxophone. I enjoyed it, but we played music that didn’t interest me. I wanted to play swing, but most of the time we were learning Hot Crossed Buns.
My parents filled our home with all kinds of music: the Clancy Brothers, Oldies, Motown, Swing, Wynton Marsalis on classical trumpet, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Disney and Broadway Songs. But, I remember my father playing Sing, Sing, Sing by Benny Goodman for the first time on a cassette tape in his car, and I was blown away. I was drawn to early rock and roll sounds, and loved jazz, especially Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. But, then again, another musical memory I have is going to a symphony at Lincoln Center in Washington D.C. I sat in the balcony, and laid my head on the rail, loving the glorious and loud sound of such beautiful music.
We moved to Illinois when I was fifteen. I met a dude at school who loved the blues. He wore a fedora, and his sister worked for Alligator Records, a top blues label. He played all sorts of records for me, and though the lyrics of the songs were pretty earthy, I had no clue what they meant, and I just loved the sound of the music. I asked for a guitar when I was sixteen, and the rest is history.
Where do you get the ideas for your musicals? What have you learned over the years about writing?
This is an incredibly complicated question for me. I guess one way to answer is that I get ideas through story lines and settings that just come to me. But I definitely have found throughout the years that there are not many musicals out there that have the kind of music that is dear to my heart. I wanted to write musicals that have blues and roots music, swing, Irish, sea shanties, cowboy music, and surf guitar spy music. I had a desire to use my songwriting abilities and my love for all sorts of music genres to make musicals. I wanted to share my love for music and story with others. I also wanted to show the students I teach the creative process, and help them see how wonderful it is to be part of a new creative endeavor that came from the culture they are part of–a culture of learning that is rooted in imagination, faith, story, song, and fellowship. I think this question could definitely be an article in its own right since it’s a big question–one which I would enjoy describing more.
Did you read a lot growing up? As a boy, what were your favorite books?
I did not read a lot, but when I did read a book I liked, I would read it over and over again. I was always a slow reader because I tend to get lots of creative ideas while reading and I love staying in a scene or a setting for a long time and taking it in. Also, novels tend to overwhelm me, as though you have to lend your whole being to them, and sometimes I fear getting into books that will do this to me. My parents read to me as a boy, especially Tolkien and Lewis. My father would read from the invisible book, which were stories he made up, especially one I remember fondly about a giant named Stumbles, who was clumsy but noble and helped a boy through misadventures.
The books I remember loving were:
The Lord of the Rings
The Chronicles of Narnia
Roald Dahl books in general
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Lord of the Flies
The Call of the Wild
Those are just some of the books I remember affecting me in some way. I am sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind right away.
What do you enjoy the most about running Riverside? What is the hardest part and why?
I enjoy most of all creating inspiring experiences for the young rooted in creative storytelling, adventures in the outdoors, fostering a prayer life that is rooted in a personal relationship with God, and building creative fellowships that become stronger through imaginative and meaningful work. The hardest part is trying to manage administrative tasks while being creative and focusing on inspiring the young.
What is your number one goal for your new book, Casting Fire? What do you hope to achieve and why?
I hope that my book casts a fire in the hearts of many to see that education is about inspiring the young to see beyond the mundane things of this world to the grand epic story that we all are living, or are called to live. I hope that it helps educators to develop a more creative and personal approach to teaching. I hope that it guides many along the way to help boys come of age, find their gifts in this life, and eventually their calling as they travel the pilgrim path towards heaven. And lastly, I hope it elucidates the core vision of Riverside to the community that has encouraged me and supported me along the way.