Thursday, March 29, 2012

Music From a Time and Place

It's Novemember 2007 and I'm sitting in a piano practice room at the University of Rochester. This room was remotely located in the basement of the old gym, not one of the fancy rooms reserved for senior music majors. None of the pianos down there quite had the right action to the keys, but that was half the fun. You never knew what you might get. It had been a stressful day, and the harsh Rochester winter was on the horizon. As I got into the room I had this flood of energy, like some sort of angsty calling. "There's an emotion I'm feeling right now that I just need to record musically before I lose it."

This mad dash to the practice room with manuscript paper in hand resulted in a piano piece called "All the Right and Wrong Reasons," the title track for my album of similarly moody piano music from that time period. What I was so upset about is anyone's guess, and of course, when you're 20 years old, all emotions seem more melodramatic than anything a supposedly mature person might come up with. But this is precisely why "Reasons" intrigues me. Some fires you can only light once, and I'm just glad I got it on paper and on tape. Here it the original recording:

But now four and a half years later, I realize the same stuff is still there. Life is still confusing. There's confusion about life direction, confusion about politics, confusion about spirituality, confusion about romance, but somehow I've never really wanted to totally figure things out, because that would take away the impetus for the art. Now as I plan out a new album "Hydrogen" I have come to realize pretty quickly that "Reasons" needs to appear, albeit in a re-arranged and re-produced form, not because it is a particularly good piece of music, but because it means something to me. There is something intriguing about a remnant from the past that speaks with new clarity. Just because a piece is associated with a particular time, that does not mean the emotions it brings are out of date.

There's a certain intrigue about filtering your recent experiences through the lens of nostalgia. And the coming re-recording has a great appeal, as if I'm hoping the new me can provide, both as a producer and as a person, a more mature spin. Good luck.

I remember once I went to a talk by Prof. John Covach at the University of Rochester, and he said something that I found really interesting. "The music you listen to when you're young, say 18, 19, or 20, that music sticks with you forever." Now I wonder if that's also true of the music we write, not just the music we listen to. Maybe even more so.

Think about important events in your life, and the music associated with them. You might be intrigued by the connections you find for yourself. And I just want you to realize, it's not a sign of weakness, it's human.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Remembrance of Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs, one of the greatest banjo players ever, has passed away at the age of 88. Scruggs was a key figure in the history of bluegrass, and he helped develop the three-finger style. If you are not familiar with Scruggs, check out this video of his instrumental hit "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

When I hear Scruggs play, I am reminded that complex music can provide for just as much fun as simple music. Scruggs was a player of unparalleled ability, but he played music that appealed to all listeners. The joy contained in this music just overflows.