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!