Stepping Out

The 'Doctor' is in

Courtesy of Cory Cullinan
Cory Cullinan, aka Doctor Noize, is a Los Altos native and former teacher at Pinewood School.

Although Los Altos native Cory Cullinan has toured the country, there’s still no place like home.

Professionally known as Doctor Noize, the children’s musician is scheduled to return to the Bay Area this month to perform two free shows in support of his new album, “Phineas McBoof Crashes the Symphony.”

Described by Cullinan as a “21st-century ‘Peter and the Wolf,’” the album follows Phineas McBoof, a monkey who wishes to master classical music and orchestral conducting. The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra performs on “McBoof,” conducted by Cullinan’s longtime friend and former Stanford University classmate Kyle Wiley Pickett of Los Gatos.

Cullinan turned to Kickstarter for the ambitious project – his fourth album – and raised $120,000. Five of his financial backers are from Los Altos, and most of the money came from the Bay Area.

“I think that’s because in the Bay Area, there are a lot of people who not only have the means but the education to cultivate the fine arts,” he said. “It’s a unique place.”

It’s a place Cullinan lived until the early 2000s, when he moved to Colorado. Upon graduating from Stanford, Cullinan taught music at Pinewood School.

Cullinan nostalgically recounted that the foundation for Phineas McBoof – the featured character on all his albums – was laid by the music history elective he taught. People told him that kids wouldn’t want to take the class, but the Pinewood administration was “nice enough and smart enough to list it,” he said. The course became so popular that it was soon a required freshman course. The experience inspired Cullinan to immerse children in sophisticated musical material in an engaging fashion.

“I’ve been talking about introducing classical music to kids for the last 10 years,” Cullinan said with a laugh.

Cullinan taught at Pinewood for five years before moving outside of Denver, where he now resides with his wife and two daughters.

Hometown crowd

His ties to the Bay Area remain strong, however.

“My favorite place to tour is the Bay Area – it’s my hometown crowd,” he said. “The people here have a real appreciation for the things I’m trying to do: I try to challenge kids musically and incorporate technology in my shows. The Bay Area gets that.”

Cullinan’s return includes a pair of concerts scheduled next month: noon July 14 at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose and 3 p.m. July 16 at the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre.

Cullinan’s performances will center on his latest album, which debuts July 15. The songs imagine Phineas McBoof as a famous rock star who gives up rock to try orchestral music.

“He chose music over adulation,” Cullinan said, “and I think that sends a very important message.”

Doctor Noize’s recent albums center on Phineas McBoof, in Cullinan’s words, the “enigmatic but brilliant” musician. Each album stands on its own but follows an overarching storyline.

Cullinan noted the parallels between him and Phineas but explained that Paul McCartney inspired him to create the character. Phineas’ initial personality and storyline were also modeled after the Beatles – Cullinan’s favorite band growing up. As he discussed the Beatles, Cullinan’s teaching persona emerged.

“I mean, they were the biggest band in the world, but they always explored new things,” he said. “They hated their live shows because so many people were screaming at them to the point where they couldn’t even hear themselves sing.”

In similar fashion, Cullinan took the unconventional path, choosing to forsake his teaching role to create his own music.

“My life philosophy is to follow your passions and the things that you believe in instead of doing things that are convenient,” he said.

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