January 2017


Welcome to the fifth installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making. 

Scott’s story demonstrates how varied the ways can be in which a person interacts with music and music-making.

At age six I decided I had had enough. Grabbing my grandfather by the face, one hand on each cheek, I declared, “No, Poppy, I want to learn piano now.“ I was spending the night at my grandparents’ house, and earlier in the evening he had been playing on his out-of-tune upright piano in the living room, most likely a jazz ballad from his Real Book. He was a music teacher, high school band. My father is a saxophone player, my aunt is a violinist with her own student orchestra. At the time, my older brother had recently started taking clarinet lessons with my grandfather and playing in school. I wasn’t one to be left out and I certainly wasn’t one to be patient. So when I told my grandpa that night that I wanted to learn how to play piano like him and he told me I should wait until the 3rd grade, I was unsatisfied. To a 6-year-old, that was an eternity. So I grabbed him by the face and made myself very clear. Needless to say, he began giving me lessons. He is not a particularly great piano player, and I was not a particularly good student, but that is the beginning of my musician origin story.

The passion and understanding were always there, and there was very little doubt in my mind from that young age that I wanted to be involved in music for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t seem to find the right outlet. In middle school I tried to explore more. I took up guitar, and then the electric bass. I played in rock bands. I joined the orchestra at school playing cello. I was competent but lacked the discipline to really practice any of it, even with better teachers than my grandpa. This is why I turned to composition. I understood the music theory and how things should work, so if I wasn’t going to be great at playing, I could find my calling as a creator.

Throughout high school I wrote arrangements of songs and pieces for our orchestra to play. I composed music for my brother’s films, who had given up his clarinet for the camera in college. I would substitute-conduct orchestra class when our teacher was out sick. And then I went to pursue a degree in Classical Composition at SUNY Purchase College.

But I soon found myself running into similar issues with this new passion. Firstly, I was falling out of love with Western Classical Music and finding deeper passion for popular music. But also, I began to realize that my mind is more analytic than it is creative. So as my four years were coming to an end, I decided it was time to shift focus once again, this time towards musicology. Using essays on “Call Me Maybe” and The Beach Boys written in my spare time, I applied to graduate programs.

I went to CUNY Hunter College to pursue this new field, finding it exciting and feeling more comfortable musically than I had in my entire life. I wrote my master’s thesis on One Direction, focusing on the intersection of gender and genre. During this time I also started a podcast called Pop Unmuted, with the goal of being a small piece of public musicology featuring intelligent discussions of contemporary pop music.

As one might expect, though, this phase of my life is coming to a close as well. I love academia and musicology, but I’m less sure about going back for a PhD than I was previously. I’ve become anxious about putting my voice out into the world on the podcast and have ceased its production. I’m now working for a music licensing company and occasionally playing bass on tour for a solo artist, and feeling content with being mostly directionless.

The fervor with which I grabbed my grandfather by the face to demand an education in music that very second is gone. My love for music is not, but I’m once again unsure of my place in it. I’m starting 2017 with no music plans. Maybe I’ll compose a musical. Maybe I’ll stop playing all together. In my cynical days I think that the truth is I’m just not good enough at any of it. In my hopeful days I think that this is exactly what makes music so exciting. It provides the opportunity for us to change, or for it to change with us, or for it to change us. I hope I never have to find out the real answer, and I can continue reinventing myself through music.

Scott Interrante – is a musician, sort of. He holds a B.M. in Composition and an M.A. in Musicology. He is the former host of the Pop Unmuted Podcast, former leader of the band The Tiny Elephants, and sometimes plays bass for Skylar Spence. He’s figuring it out. (@ScottInterrante)

Many thanks to Scott for sharing his story!

 

 

 

Welcome to the fourth installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making. 

Kris is a friend of mine from the ’90s(!!). His journey starts at the home piano and leads to much bigger arenas.

MW: When was the first time that you can remember feeling the impulse to become a musician?

kp1Kris Pierce: From a very young age, my parents introduced me to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, which my three-year-old self nicknamed, “The Boom-Boom Song.” I remember listening to it on repeat and was very surprised when our next door neighbor’s son, who was my age, had never heard of it before. When I was six years old, I don’t remember the moment exactly, but at some point I must have walked up to a piano and began hammering out my own melodies. My parents recognized a burgeoning talent because they signed me up for piano lessons very soon afterwards.

MW: What moment/person/piece/etc. served as the catalyst for your starting down the path of a practicing musician?

kp2KP: Throughout my ten years of lessons, I always included one or two pieces I had composed at my piano recitals. In 7th Grade, after having taken violin lessons for a few years, I joined the Tampa Bay Junior Orchestra and the Burns Junior High Orchestra, sitting in the first violin sections, and the seminal event of my life happened: I was playing one of my new melodies right before class on a piano and everyone immediately gravitated around me. I had found a hit; with them at least. So I convinced my teacher to let me borrow some books on scoring and I composed my first orchestral piece, Melodys Theme. We performed it at the final school recital of the year to a standing ovation. It was at that moment I decided I had to write music for the rest of my life.

MW: How did you proceed to become a musician?

kp3KP: In 1997 my best friend, Wendi Hughes, and I started a darkwave band called Mind Static (my stage name, Halo, began here). In my four-year residency with this project we landed a couple record deals, a movie placement, and performances on TV. In 2000 I began writing mostly electronic music under the moniker, Haunted Echo, which I still write as with thirteen commercial releases under my own record label, Halo Askew Entertainment (also created in 2000 but became a legitimate digital publishing company in 2016), Cleopatra Records, and Interscope Records. In 2004 I attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Phoenix, AZ, and from there have lent my music writing and technical audio skills to many celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony, in addition to an ever increasing roster of friends and talent like Kim Cameron, Zef Noise (Peter Murphy), NativeLab, Rob DeLuca (Sebastian Bach), and DJ Freddy Bastone.

kp4Kris “Halo” Pierce is a graduate of the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, prolific music producer, and professional audio engineer based in NYC. Some notable projects have included heading up productions with Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Julie Taymor’s smash off-broadway hit, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Steve Martin’s Bright Star at NYSAF. He owns and operates the digital publishing company, Halo Askew Entertainment.  

Many thanks to Kris for sharing his story. Here’s where you can connect with him:

www.HaloAskewEnt.com

Spotify: http://spoti.fi/2jSQph0

YouTube: HaloAskewEnt

Twitter: @HaloAskew

Facebook: @HaloAskewEnt

Soundcloud: HaloAskewEnt

Beatport: http://dj.beatport.com/haloaskew

Welcome to the third installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making.

Dean is a composer who I first met at an avant-garde concert series I used to help run in Brooklyn Heights. Here’s his story.

MW: When was the first time that you can remember feeling the impulse to become a musician?

Dean Rosenthal: Well, when I was probably two or three, there are pictures of me banging around on my Fisher-Price drum and toy instrument and clearly that made some kind of an impression. But it wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 that I first remember wanting to play an instrument and make music. So it was a self-motivating situation, I was never given music lessons or forced to take them (although we always had a console piano available for me to experiment on – and I’m sure I did that often).

The reason for my interest in making music came from a good place, although some classical people might consider it somewhat embarrassing. I was enamored of Eddie Van Halen’s (of the 70s and 80s rock band Van Halen) guitar playing on the album 1984 and it inspired me to learn how to play guitar. I asked my mother if we could pick one up and if I could take lessons and she said “yes”. That inspiration, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar chops, is what got me going. I have to add that I still consider him a great melodist in his guitar solos and a monster instrumentalist – up there with the best guitarists of any style of playing.

MW: How did you proceed to become a musician?

DR: As I took my weekly guitar lessons, we found I had a natural talent for it and moreover that I was intensely passionate about playing and improving and so on. After several years of playing other people’s songs and improving my technique, I began writing my own material. Almost all of it was instrumental, much in the vein of the rock/metal/guitar-god 80s and early 90s style. But I was also listening to The Beatles, My Bloody Valentine, grunge and a touch of New Wave.

I also started to write more of an experimental sort of music, letting my technique be overtaken by my creative and intuitive impulses, rather than writing structured songs. I knew next to nothing in terms of music theory because I was learning almost everything by tablature, but I had learned how to put together songs by teaching myself how to play hundreds of them. But for the more experimental or instrumental kind I wrote, I let my ear guide me.

I do still think that work I put in, hundreds if not thousands of hours—six or seven or more hours a day I can remember, most every day—is how I best developed the ear that I count on today as both a composer and a performer to let me know if what I am doing is good music.

In answering your question, I am finding that much like my conservatory studies at McGill and CalArts much later on, it was still the self-motivation that put me there. But ultimately I have still learned the most from studying scores, going to concerts, and playing my own music and the music of other musicians I admire and get with as a listener and a performer and a composer. I never studied composition or orchestration as a subject at a school or college or university, so in many ways I’m an autodidact. I don’t think of that proudly in particular, it’s just how it happened.

Today, my music is performed, installed, choreographed, and broadcast internationally, I’m an editor of a web magazine, and a contributing editor and contributor to Open Space Publications, and have published several articles and reviews in noted journals and magazines. My music is sometimes taught and written about by others (I would like to see more of that happen) and now, in 2017, I feel that I have accomplished some of what I set out to do. I haven’t released a recording or published, so that is hopefully in the future, as well, of course, as continuing to maintain and foster relationships in our community and with the public for my music. I’m very positive about where new/contemporary/experimental music has come to today.

Many thanks to Dean for sharing his story. Find out more at www.deanrosenthal.org and www.stonespiece.com.

Welcome to the second installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making.

Mrigendra’s story contains a great lightning-bolt (or, in this case, earthquake) revelatory moment. Read on:

Well let’s start by saying I hated playing and practicing…

My maternal grandfather was a violinist and used to perform for Indian movies as popular as Bollywood. At that time the Indian government allowed musicians to buy an instrument without paying any tax, so he found an old upright piano and brought it home. He taught himself then taught my maternal uncles and they taught me. But I hated to practice and play and it was big burden to learn as I loved sports and hanging out with my friends. There was an initial fascination was when I saw them perform, but once the real teaching started I hated it.

After a year everything changed. We were staying in my grandfather’s house because my mother and father were struggling with their marriage. I was 14 at the time. My father was a drunkard and his behavior was drastically changing. My grandfather mysteriously found an expat who had this old upright piano he wanted to sell. He bought it and installed it in a restaurant in Thamel (a very happening touristy neighborhood in Kathmandu with lots of restaurants) for me to perform on so I could earn some money for my dismantled family.

It was a bad experience for me; I knew literally 15 songs and to top it all the piano was bad. It sounded like a honky tonk. I played for 7 days those 15 songs then the guests slowly shifted from inside dining to outside dining. Since they couldn’t move any farther from me they complained I was playing the same songs for a month. So we moved the piano to another restaurant. Now it’s been three months and my repertoire has increased to 20 songs. Then another restaurant for 4 months. I used to start at 7pm and pray that no guests would show up so that they wouldn’t have to listen and I wouldn’t have to play. The evening would just go by. I would just play to pass the time and every minute passed painfully slowly.

The bad, old-sounding piano thrashed my confidence. I could hear people gasping at the bad sound. After I got fired from there my grandfather found an even bigger place, a five-star hotel for me to play in. He was tenacious. That three years with that piano was all I needed to completely lose my sense of musicality and my self confidence. I became robot-like, just playing to pass the time and earn something. I had no passion, no love for music and no excitement in playing it. It was just a lame and bland job I was doing because my parents said I had to. I had to play because I had to make a living.

After three years of this torture, my maternal uncle was leaving for the US; he had been playing in the Shangri-la hotel and wanted me to take his place. So another responsibility. To my utter amazement the piano in the hotel was in even worse shape than my previous piano, because the manager had been shifting the piano from the first floor to another floor with the help of ten people. So the sustain pedal was broken. The entire 5th octave had been dismantled.

One day I met a very generous young man who had a friend running a newly opened restaurant. It was very lush and high end. He asked me if I wanted to play there and I said yes. I thought maybe I would get the chance finally to play maybe a digital piano, which will have all the keys working. However, they didn’t have a piano and the owner didn’t want to buy one. So out of no choice I had to use the Yamaha keyboard I had bought with my earnings.

I could play a song now without thinking about a broken note. Slowly it started to unfold after all these years of playing that constantly playing on an un-tuned, broken piano had complete stripped me of my musicality. No one liked what I played.

The owner had a resort in another city. The moment I arrived at the resort I found that the seven-hour bus ride to the resort had resulted in a broken key on my keyboard and the display had completely gone. So once again I dealt with a broken note and display-free keyboard for two long years.

You might notice I am sounding a little like Bruce Almighty, because I blame all this on god only here he is half naked (you should check out some Hindu gods). I was asking for a break all these years from this misfortune. Because I was sick of playing all the time on broken pianos and keyboards.

Like old saying goes, you should be careful of what you ask because god works in mysterious ways. We had an earthquake. The restaurant building fell. The hotel guests fell to nil. Here I am, back at square one with no work and no money. Now I am Bruce Almighty without the power. I blamed everything on god for this mediocre life.

In the midst of these dark days I had a light of positivity when I was window-shopping in a mall. There was a cell phone shop and it had one big poster that said every problem comes with equal opportunity. I went back to the hotel. After a few minutes of playing in the empty lobby I thought since there is no one here I can practice new songs. I get extremely nervous to play a new song even after I practice. I feel I will make mistakes and out of fear I do.

After that day I played 5 new songs every day. I practiced everyday, all year. I get excited to play in the hotel. Even with the un-tuned notes I was learning new songs every day. Suddenly I have new songs to play, and in different genres. Pop, classical, and even jazz and Chinese songs. The restaurant that had been destroyed in the earthquake opened a new location and called me, to my surprise, asking me to play for the restaurant every week. The first time I played there, with all of my new repertoire, everyone complimented me and were happy with my playing even though it was the same no-display keyboard; and back in the hotel I got tips despite playing on a broken, bad piano. I was still playing the same piano and the same keyboard but the audience response had changed. (We have lot of Chinese visitors so I learned their songs and that’s where I get most of my tips, too.)

Even with the bad piano I get excited to play a new song now every day. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but now I have started to like playing. My passion and inspiration is coming through all the time now. I don’t know where I will go from here. Nothing has changed except the way that I look at the problem and see the opportunities.

God bless.

Bruce Almighty

Many thanks to Mrigendra for sharing his story; you can connect with him on Twitter.

Welcome to the first installment of Musician Origin Stories, a series in which musicians describe how they started down the path of music-making.

David’s story reminds us that sometimes the state of becoming can extend far past the initial impulse to play music. Here’s his story:

When I look back over the last forty years since I began learning songs by ear, I’m really struck by how many twists and turns there have been and the unpredictable nature of it all. This is about as far from having a plan as one can be. Yet, who I am and what I’m doing now feels so good and right that, it seems I must have had a plan.

I’ve grown up as a pianist in a very unconventional way. I quit my childhood piano lessons after age 6 and didn’t start again until age 18. At that time I refused to take any lessons and only learned songs from recordings. I spent six hours a day doing this, for five years. I finally realized how limited I was.

Then I decided it was time to study the piano and college seemed like the best place to do that. I was 23 and already had a Bachelor’s degree so I enrolled in a second degree program at one of the top performance oriented colleges in the country. Because of my by-ear playing, my ability to read music was so slow. It was faster to just memorize each piece measure by measure. My faculty piano teacher said, “You’re going to spend the rest of your life catching up.” She was absolutely right.

I hired a private ear training teacher. I also was taking private lessons off campus with a jazz teacher in addition to my faculty piano teacher. I was having so much fun that one day I practiced eleven and a half hours. After three years I left college to go on tour with a working band.

Upon returning to Los Angeles, I continued playing in a variety of working ensembles around Southern California. Most of this was playing by ear but I did play many of the pieces from my college repertoire on solo piano jobs. I took away a lot from my college experience. However, when I had the occasional brush with a reading situation it was clear: I needed to be a sightreader if I was going to have any kind of stable work life and be considered literate.

I found someone teaching sightreading and took private lessons with him for about three years. He was a well known LA studio musician and conductor, Joseph A. Valenti who had published a set of sightreading drill books. Looking back on these lessons, I understand now what Joe was trying to teach me, but I didn’t get it at the time. I dutifully did his drills and kept sightreading. Every day.

I spent the next thirty years “catching up.” I took private lessons for twenty years with top LA-based jazz pianist, Terry Trotter. At the same time I became a full time public high school teacher based on my first degree. I was also performing both classical music and jazz regularly at many venues. At different times, I also accompanied dinner theater and improvisational comedy groups. I was a solo pianist at many hotels, most notably at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. Most importantly, I kept practicing, every day, for all of those thirty years. Life continued on like this until I had a life-changing medical issue: a retinal tear with complications that almost blinded me. I realized I wasn’t doing work I really loved at the high school so I quit my position and started rounding up piano students.

During the first two years of my piano teaching, a colleague of mine introduced a new piano performance “technique” to me, devised by internationally renowned Professor N. Jane Tan. At first I thought it sounded outlandish. How could I have not heard of this before? Despite my thinking mind, I did know I was hearing something and based only on that, I started taking lessons from my colleague. By the end of a month, I had discovered an element of control over the piano I had never experienced before. After a couple of years, I went to the source and called Professor Tan, and she invited me to attend one of her piano teacher courses.

A course was a yearlong series of private one on one piano lessons with Professor Tan. These lessons would take place in front of other teachers that were also enrolled in the class. This was a powerful format because a teacher got all the benefits of a private lesson but then got to watch the other “students” go through their individual lessons. I was lucky enough to be invited into two of these courses over a period of almost three years.

Regarding sightreading, I found another book of reading drills about eight years ago and recognized immediately that it contained what I been looking for all these years. Several years after starting these drills, I was in Jane’s class and she put some music in front of me and asked me to sightread it. When I was done she said, “You’re sightreading is ok.” I just about fell over.

It’s been two years since I had my last lesson with Jane and I have been exploding with breakthroughs ever since. Aspects of playing the piano that I have struggled with for decades are just coming out of my fingers now like magic. I know it’s the result of lots of focused hard work but it still feels like magic.

Now, eleven years since I started teaching piano, almost every day I get to perform and work with students. Despite a full schedule and a waiting list, I now see a way to have an even larger impact on piano education. I realize there’s a deep reason why most piano students quit and I see a solution to this problem. I’m currently finishing an ebook on the subject, which I will offer for free as part of a longer term vision. I’m planning to fundraise to put together a high quality piano ensemble rehearsal studio that I will make available to the wider community of piano teachers and hobbyists in Los Angeles.

Mine is the quintessential story of being in the right place at the right time. Despite good and back luck, I’ve come to believe that because I’ve worked so hard, the “universe out there” knows what I’m doing, it cares and when the time is right miracles happen.

Many thanks to David for sharing his story; you can connect with him on Twitter.

Well, a few days past one year after I wrote my “Moment in Time” post officially retiring this blog, I’ve decided to revive Meg’s New Music Blog for a special collection of “Musician Origin Stories.” As I type, six musicians (so far) have offered to share their origin stories; i.e., the stories of when they first decided they wanted to become a musician and how they went about accomplishing that. If you’d like to share your musician origin story please email me at megwilhoite at gmail.