It wasn't until I had a finished CD in my hand that the idea for Open G Records came. It came from my engineer, Adam Abeshouse. We had just finished listening to the master, and Adam was burning the master CD. I said, "so what now? Who should I give this to?". Adam said, "honestly, Chris, in 2012 (which it was) I don't know why you need to give it to anybody." By the time I had arrived back in the city, perhaps a half hour on the Metro North from Pelham, I had basically decided on the idea that would become Open G Records. You can read more about that process in one of my very first blogs right here.
When I was about 8 or 9, I had my first true taste of freedom. I was allowed to cross a major thoroughfare (really just a 2-lane road) on my bike. This previously impassable obstacle rendered moot, I knew exactly where I would go. Across that road, past my elementary school, to the strip mall about a quarter mile past I would heed the clarion call and find my childhood Shangri-La, the brand-new local video arcade nestled right next to the Giant supermarket.
My dear colleague Mr. Chaffee asked me to respond to his piece, "Fresh Eggs". I think he's hoping that he might engage me in some sort of back-and-forth. OK, I'll play.
I don't know any farmers. I don't think about farmers, except that I might stumble upon an outdoor market in Manhattan every now and again and think, "I wonder where their farm is". That's pretty much the extent of it, though my wife insists on shopping organic and I suppose that stuff has to come from somewhere. Mostly, fresh produce appears as if by magic, and even my corner bodega has 3 kinds of organic eggs. So, I guess you could say I don't think about it much.
Your central premise does hit close, though, to my overall, unifying, why-people-are-crazy-as-fuck-these-days theory. And for me, the timeline goes back way further than 10,000 years. I think our genes have some sort of imprint of memory and fear - perhaps that's what instinct is - we innately know to fear and recoil from things we have never encountered. In that instinct is the memory of our long wind through evolution. For literally millions of years, through all of our development, we have had extremely basic and vital needs: eating today, finding somewhere safe to sleep tonight, and getting our fuck on. Let's assume for the sake of argument that we've always managed to have that last third bit on lockdown. So, about the first two...
Sometimes I feel like a time machine in that my grandfather was born in 1900, and through family stories and institutional memory my own vague experience stretches back before human flight. My grandfather's lifestyle in rural Virginia was not that different from that of many societies for the 10,000 years Chaffee mentioned, and his daily needs were not that different from the ones listed above: eating, a roof over his family's head, and the third thing, which seems fine because I exist. So even up to roughly 100 years ago, again for millions of years, we've been encoded with very serious and pressing external worries. Like, "worry about this shit or you will die" external worries.
Now I go to the supermarket and there are literally 50 kinds of bread, maybe more. Aisles of milk, meat, and cheese. And if they run out, a nice young person will go in the back and get more! All but the most poor and unfortunate at least have a place to stay and a roof over their heads. And the third thing again seems to be fine.
So what the fuck are we supposed to worry about? If we're even the most basic of good boys and girls, we're likely to eat and sleep well for the foreseeable future. All of that external worry has nowhere to go but inward, and so we become balls of stress that treat each other poorly and worry about the iPad charging fast enough. Millenia of necessary stress turned into unnecessary stress has made us nuts. What's the most basic solution? Turn the energy outward again and be nice to other people. LOL! Like that will ever happen!
So there's your response, Mr. Chaffee. Your turn.
Earlier today, I stopped by a local farm to pick up some eggs. For reasons that are perhaps genetic, I fail at small talk in every arena except when I’m chatting it up about weather with a farmer. There’s something natural about the conversation- the staring off into the middle distance, the long pauses between phrases, the quiet yet satisfying rhythm of give and take. (No, I will not prattle on about becoming just like my father here, but it is a subtext, I suppose.)
We have had a lot of rain lately in this corner of Ohio. We are under our third flood warning this week. For me, it is a minor annoyance. The wildflowers I planted to attract butterflies rotted away in a flash flood. My basement is damp. The tomato and lettuce plants are rotting at the root from standing in water. I can’t take my kids to the pool because of all the rain. That sort of thing.
For my farmer friend, it is far worse. Most of their corn crop has been destroyed in the last week. They had a shot at producing the best and most bountiful- hence profitable in farmstand and high-end restaurant sales- crop of organic corn to date. If you know about corn and pests, you know that they were onto something. That’s not easy- usually it’s all about chemicals. Several other crops are in jeopardy. Last year the freakishly extreme poles of hot and cold in spring followed by unusual cold and dry summer created near disaster. Rather than stand still and mutter quietly about the day, my farmer friend paced nervously and almost yelled about the pouring rain- another 4+ inches expected this weekend. I was alarmed and saddened by the concern. There are only so many bad seasons a farmer can endure.
As I drove home, I returned to a long-standing pet theory of mine. The background- One hundred years ago, we were still a predominantly agrarian society. Then we flipped to the opposite. In my little town, I can still see solid evidence of this- in less than a block from my house in different directions stand three barns, throwbacks to a time when even those that chose to live in a village, and likely worked at the nearby college (Antioch) or local industries (small factories producing all manner of things) still had a hand in subsistence farming. There were cows, pigs, and chickens in the yards and streets. The vast majority of Americans still lived according to an agrarian, seasonal cycle. By extension, what is now a trend for yuppie assholes like me- the local foods movement- was a way of life. Think of this- we had fresh pineapple for lunch today. Think of what that meant a century ago- it would have been a rare occasion at best for most. Imagine what progress we have made in global commerce and transportation to make this possible. It’s staggering, really. But I digress.
Back to my theory. The industrial revolution pulled us out of an agrarian lifestyle that was in place for, oh, let’s just say about 10,000 years. With that lifestyle is a daily ball of anxiety. That’s in the short term- will it rain today? Will it be too hot today? What about pests?
What about the long term- what if we have 1, maybe 2, or heaven forefend 3 bad YEARS in a row. That is ruin for my entire tribe. Really. Any way you look at it, worry is a predominant way of life in agrarian cultures. It is inevitable when dealing with something as chaotic and uncontrollable as the Earth. So here’s the theory- we are hardwired now to worry about things. In just one short century or so, we have made astounding progress in ways that removed some, and in some cases, all of that worry. We should be grateful, we should be relaxing, we should be finger-painting, maybe even writing a poem or two for fun, but we aren’t. We are still worrying. And what’s worse- the heart of my theory- when we have no reasons to worry, we manufacture them. We are so hard-wired to think – somewhere in our basic being- that one big storm could take away our food, maybe even our shelter, and make our life miserable, or maybe even take it away. So, when the photocopier jams at work, we lose our shit. That becomes the worry. We treat these modern inconveniences with the same gravity we would have treated a lost corn crop in the near past.
The world changed faster than we did. I need to remind myself of these things when, say, my iPad wont charge fast enough, or I run out of printer ink, I can’t get new tube socks from Amazon in 2 days or the like. I’m still wired to worry. You are, too. Let’s all try to get over it, shall we? I wonder what wonders we could create if we really did.
David Glaser is a composer and life-long New Yorker. In this podcast, he and Chris talk about growing up in Flushing, music, life, food, and much more.
After a marathon day one, we made a rather later entrance on day two. None of us particularly wanted to sit in 95 degree sunshine, especially since we were all different degrees of hazy hangovers. We showed up at about 4:00 after some vigorous pre-gaming. This time we actually showed up at the proper entrance and made the long hike into the site. It takes about 25 minutes to walk the paths and get through security, which is cursory at best.
I was feeling pretty good. As we entered, we passed at tent that was booming the loudest techno music of all time. I wanted absolutely no part of it. The last tent in or out? The end of the line. No thanks.
There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people walking through. All colors, shapes, sizes, outfits, costumes. That kind of scene is bewildering to me under the best of circumstances. In this case, I just decided to hang with the flow and not be concerned. Not so easy. Eventually the crush of people coming through the entrance began to lighten up and then we were here:
Milky Chance was finishing their set as we arrived. The lead singer was quite ill and apologized for not being able to sing, so we didn't feel too bad about getting there late. Then it was another amazing crush to get into the beer garden - hundreds of sweaty people fighting through a chokepoint for alcohol, the smell of pot literally everywhere. I went on autopilot and tried to make sure not to trample any tiny women, who were surely getting the worst of it in the exchange. As the logjam hit its peak, we realized they were turning people back who had "over 21" wristbands from the day before, making the salmon ladder much, much worse. We started to boo the people who were being turned back, until I suddenly realized they were my guys, and so then I shut up.
We lost everyone in the crush, so bit by bit we found each other (and beer) and sat down to wait for Hozier.
By the way, I know a lot of these pictures are from similar angles, but once you get inside the beer garden, you pretty much don't want to go back out into the fray. Anyway, I liked it OK. The crowd, much more sedate today, really enjoyed it, lots of singing along, girls on shoulders, stuff like that. For me it fell short of being really good - there was the pretense of sophisticated music-making, but every time they went for something I could feel the seams come apart a bit.
Back to the crowd. Friday's crowd seemed somewhat overcharged. Lots of jostling and bumping, spilled beers, kids passing out and falling over (amateurs). Today's crowd was older, more well-heeled, and there was more convivial vibe, and even though it seemed like there were more people there overall it felt more relaxed and somehow felt like there was more personal space overall.
While my friends got food and wandered around, I decided to go check out something called the Corporate Headquarters, where there are guys in suits and hippo masks doing random shit all day. Looks like this:
The lines of balloons in the background are pretty cool. They have human anchors, and the anchors move around in different configurations all day. I thought it was my imagination. The balloons plus the enormous caterpillar that prowls the grounds add up to a somewhat otherworldly experience, whatever was happening in my bloodstream notwithstanding.
We got back together as a group to hit alt-J.
Honestly, at this point I have to admit that I don't remember much of this show. I think I thought it was cool, and they used the video screens on the sides of the stage to great effect. My focus hit the wall for a bit, and I spent the set looking around at this:
Pictures can't really do justice to the vivid scene. it's absolutely otherworldly, like some strange desert planet where everyone has gathered to not give a fuck about anything for three days. There were lots of colored lights, including neon-lit palm trees that would change colors throughout the evening. Just beautiful, and something I'll never forget.
When alt-J was done, we wandered over the food tents for some much-needed sustainance (pizza and beer, obv), then chilled out on the lawn. I had wanted to see Tyler the Creator, who started at the same time as Jack White. When he came out on stage, shouting incoherently into the mic with a day-glo Romper Room set and like 1,000 guys with him, my crew immediately turned on the idea. One of my guys called it "angry Nickelodeon". At that moment, a huge explosion of sound came over us from the other side. It was Jack White, and we made our way over with a quickness.
It was like a bomb of absolute awesomeness exploded in the crowd. Everyone around me was flipping out, totally into the set. From time to time, it seemed like people holding onto their heads to keep them from flying off from the onslaught of badassery.
It was, honestly, one of the best shows of any genre I've ever seen. He and his (fucking killer) band hauled ass through the whole output of his career, from heavy rock through four-on-the-floor country to childrens songs. It was extraordinary. When I was a college professor I saw the White Stripes in Raleigh at a small club called the Disco Rodeo, and that was also a great show, but always obviously limited by Meg's rudimentary but essential drumming. Now, surrounded by really badass players at every position, I really felt the full flowering of an idea, a through-line that became almost impossibly great. The band communicates (verbally and non-) constantly. I loved it on every level.
We walked out slightly early to beat the huge traffic rush, and looking back I took this shot:
Pretty much looks like my memory. Making more tomorrow. My last from this evening is walking outside, pulling the screen door behind me, then turning directly back around and walking right into the screen. Winning.
Ok, so let's get something out of the way. I'm at a 3-day music festival with eight guys, most of whom went to college together. Just assume we're doing Coachella things at Coachella.
We left for Coachella in a big white van. We hired a driver for obvious reasons. It takes about an hour to get to the site from our rental house. It was a perfectly beautiful day, and riding to the festival in the bright sunshine while everything took effect was lovely and surreal. As we got close to the festival, I decided that we'd actually passed the festival site, and were now being taken to be sold into white slavery. My row-mate (in the last row of the van) and I discussed it, and we decided that if push came to shove, we'd make a break for it out of the back, and all the other guys could fend for themselves.
Then we were there. We got ourselves together before we got too freaked out by the massive security presence. Getting into the festival is confusing and not at all intuitive. Our driver pulled into what seemed like the right place, but we were told to turn around and find another entrance. Our driver said "OK", and then proceeded to not turn around and just kept driving until we hit some sort of security entrance, whereby we all hustled out and walked in like we belonged to the place. It was baller as fuck.
So, mind you, we're all lightly buzzing, and suddenly we're in a huge open space in the absolutely blazing sun with 50,000 other people and this is the first thing we see:
TRIPPY! The "Corporate Headquarters" has guys in suits and Hippo masks playing with money all day. All day. The big caterpillar moves back and forth slowly across the lawn, which is also trippy when you see the caterpillar about a half-mile from where you last saw it. Also, this:
There are six stages at Coachella, two of which are "main" stages and are big outdoor spaces. The other four are large tents, which is nice when it gets hot hot hot in the middle of the day. We settled into the main stage at around 2:15 and got ready for our first cant-miss of the day, Action Bronson.
It was the perfect way to start the day. He clearly loves that people are into his shit, and he gave a very fun and active 45 minute set. He can really get around for a huge guy. When he left, with "Easy Rider" he left the stage, got on a motorcycle, slapped about 5 fans in the head, and left. Great start.
After that, we wandered around, getting the lay of the land, checking out the scene, and enjoying being high in the middle of the desert. There are lot of shirtless muscle-heads and waifish girls wearing next to nothing, mixed with lifers, hardcore music fans, and old guys. Most people are pretty cool about the crowding and jostling, but the smaller the girl, the more likely I get a shoulder or elbow on the way by, which gets tiresome, but I ain't exactly going to retaliate. We made our way to the EDM tent.
This was not my favorite part of the day:
I had to put my earplugs in. It was like an assault. It was not music I was willing to damage my hearing over. I have to say, I don't get EDM that much. I can't really hate on it, because people (mostly under 25) were having a blast. It's just not for me. I prefer music that I can't predict what's going to happen for the next 30 seconds. Oh, drop the bass! Whatever. Time for beers.
Properly lubricated, we stumbled (literally) upon a tent stage where we were drawn to the music inside. It turned out to be Kimbra, who was new to me, and I really dug it. She is a super dynamic front woman with a big voice and presence onstage. The band was great, tight, well-rehearsed, killer drummer. A really nice surprise. I'm a new fan.
After that it was on to the second stage for the end of Angus & Julia Stone. Fine. Didn't make a huge impression on me. Up next on the same stage was Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, which was awesome in a distinctly old-school way. Nothing new, but fun and a welcome break from melodic pop/rock.
Had some dinner, more beers, ate the edibles and mushrooms I had on my person, and then it was time for a band my friend was raving about all day, Alabama Shakes.
I was blown away. The lead singer and guitarist, a large black woman, was special. That's the only way I can put it. Sometimes you see someone and you know they're an artist immediately. Amazing pitch, range, and more soul than I could handle. A great band behind her. So good. I'm a new fan, for sure.
Then it was time for Steely Dan.
Steely Dan is obviously a great band, with killer players at each position, and they gave a show. I don't know, it's just not really for me. I enjoy the high level of musicianship for sure, but it doesn't really move me. It's too clever by half. It was night now:
We walked to the other side of the beer garden to catch Tame Impala. Sort of trippy, post Pink Floyd psychadelia. I definitely dug it, but I was also in the right kind of head-space, so to speak. We were all starting to run on fumes at that point.
Then. at last, it was time for the headliners, AC/DC. I wasn't really expecting to like it much, but it's also amazing to get punched in the face by a wall of sound. The had like 40 Marshall amps on stage, and it sounded like it.
We stayed for about a half-hour and then tried to beat the crowd outta there. Having entered improperly, we had no fucking idea how to get out, and guess what? Neither did the people who worked there! It look us 45 minutes in the dark to find the exit and then another half hour on foot to find our van and then another hour home through terrible festival traffic. Coachella definitely doesn't want you to leave. As it was, we beat the standstill heading into the fest and got home in relatively good shape.
Today, Alt-J, Hozier, Belle and Sebastian, Tyler the Creator, and Jack White. Hopefully more surprises. Stay tuned!
So, I find myself at the Coachella music festival, as part of my brother-in-law's bachelor party. Over the next three days, I'll see (hopefully) any number of killer acts and ingest (definitely) any number of illicit substances, and reporting in this space about both of those things. In my mind, these blogs will hopefully have an almost anthropological bent - I've never been to a major music festival before (though I've been to plenty of shows), and I quite literally have no idea what to expect. I'll be live tweeting @ChrisGrymes and recapping each day here. Fear and loathing in Palm Springs.
I hate this time of year. This year I hate it the most.
Mom died February 25, 2010 after a brutal and punishing three-month ordeal. She'd been diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in December 2009, and I had watched her terrible end knowing it was coming - she was not going to survive; it was just a matter of how long. Still, we tried our best, my brother, father, and me, to make decisions that were good for her. It was never going to be enough, and she died, her head half-shaven and full of scars from staples and sutures, a wasted shell and ghost of a woman who had been the smile-iest person you would ever meet - now a terrified husk that was mercifully delivered from her suffering (and ours) before she truly lingered.
I often think about a conversation I once had with my father. It was after one of many concerts of mine he's attended over the past 15 years or so. He said, "when I see you up there, and you're playing without music, it seems like magic, because I can't imagine how you do that." And to my not-a-musician as there ever was not-a-musician as my dad is, it must seem that way, much the same way it does to me when I see a great dancer or a Cirque du Soleil acrobat - my body does not do any of these things. In fact, most of the time I feel like I'm pretty much strapped to the earth.
But it's not magic. Those performers, like myself, have spent countless hours - really long, hard, repetitive hours refining their craft until they appear almost superhuman. Just last month at the Big Apple Circus here at Lincoln Center I watched two women fold themselves into a glass box about 3 feet cubed. My brain told me that wasn't possible, but I watched it happen and I immediately wondered how long it took to learn how to do that. The same carries for any number of endeavors: professional sports, Olympic-level ice skating or gymnastics, almost anything where talented people are doing things for other people. At the heart of it is the work, and we almost never see it. The outcome often almost appears as if out of thin air.
But it didn't. Whether it's Lebron James, Tiger Woods (in his prime), Joshua Bell, or anyone who excels under public pressure, every person who is consistently on top of their game is working hard to make that happen. I'm fascinated by how people achieve high-level performance and try to emulate that at every opportunity. I just wish more people would show their work. I get that in situations where big money is on the line i.e professional sports (I'm a fan, can you tell?) you don't want to give away your secrets. In other lines of work, I hope the trend continues toward more exposure of the "process". I can see it happening in fields like cooking and fashion (obviously reality television helps - I for sure would not have known about what "sous-vide" or "empire waist" was if not for Top Chef and Project Runway, respectively). I'd like to see more of it in my business as well.
To that end, I've been showing my work for a while and will continue to do so. You can find me at this link right here. Every time I practice I turn on the livestream. It's completely un-glamorous - in the morning I'm often clearly unshowered (don't judge - I have a two-year-old. You have to take it where you can get it) and I'm usually working on scales or doing reps on whatever literature I have coming up. When the stream is not live, you'll be able to watch the most recent podcast from Open G Records, or you might catch me gaming as I stream my play from my Playstation 4. It might not be much, but it's my small effort to say: this is the life of a working artist. Come check it out sometime. It's totally boring, but it's totally interesting.
“It is the whole of your experience that will give your art its dimension.”
When I was in kindergarten, my family moved from a small town outside of Rochester, NY to another small town in the northern most region of the Poconos, a tiny Pennsylvania borough of about 5000 people. There are, to this day, more deer than people in that county. Exposure to anything other than small town life required mobility- NYC was 2.5 hours away, so yes, I knew what an elevator was, heard live orchestras in performance, saw Broadway shows, etc. But on a smaller scale, seeing a movie meant a 50 minute drive to Scranton. I was lucky to have mobility and a family devoted to exposing me to the world outside a 10 mile radius. I will never forget overhearing an elderly couple in the waiting room of the doctor’s office- they had just learned that they had to go to Scranton for some tests. The prospect of that journey clearly frightened them and their speculation about what a difficult day it would be amused me, until my mother patiently explained that there were people all around who had never travelled more than 30 miles from home in an entire lifetime, and remembered a time, decades earlier, when leaving home required a great deal of planning and could be quite challenging.
This little town had two stoplights- one at each end of town. I did not realize it at the time, but these became highly symbolic in my young life. They were gateways to a wider world- getting past them, even a short distance, meant an escape from the goldfish bowl life of a preacher’s kid in a small town, and new experiences. Leaving town was exhilarating, coming back and seeing the symbolic gateways was always a mixed set of emotions at best- sure, the world of family and home was of great comfort, but as I grew into a teenager, a deep rooted case of wanderlust and rebellion emerged and the sooner I could blow those lights and get out of town, the better.
Flash forward to adult me. When I finally decided to settle and buy a home, start a family, and all of that, I landed in a small town of about 5000 people, with, you guessed it, stoplights at each end of town. I’ve lived here for over eight years now, and only recently did I start to think about what the stoplights mean. After long days of work, they are a comfort to see when I return. Moreover, after long trips and all they entail- airports, lack of sleep, missing creature comforts, missing family, the light at the edge of my town has become a beacon of hope for a weary traveller running low on wanderlust. Sometimes, as I am about to depart for a day or more, I am tempted to turn around at the light and head home. The big bad real world can go on without me, I’m going to go take a nap with my cats. What was once a feeling of being penned in is now a feeling of idyllic comfort.
What does this have to do with making a record? Well, recently I ventured out of my little world to guest masterclasses and recitals at Alma and Albion Colleges. As a “teaching artist” (still not sure what to think of that over-hyped term, but that’s another essay) I care deeply about performing as much as possible. It’s one thing to sit in a windowless room all day long telling people how to do this, it’s quite another to get out and do it on a high level as much as possible. No, I don’t keep the unbelievable pace of some of my friends in the business – the ones who live on airplanes, play concertos and recitals here, there and beyond- but I do what I can to keep my chops in working order so that the “artist” part of that title does not atrophy. I get better as a teacher every time I set foot on a stage, no matter how big or small.
Live performances are also the best way to prepare for recording. Think of it as a play workshop, off- and sometimes way, way, off Broadway. It’s a chance to learn from your mistakes, find all the holes in your preparation, and above all, learn what it feels like to perform pieces when all elements of control are taken away. In this case, it was a chance to try out some musical ideas and test my limits to see just how prepared I will be to record a couple more pieces in early January.
So on the recent venture, the mundane challenges of travel- blinding whiteout snow, anxiety about finding the hotel in the pitch dark of a small town, finding something to eat (another essay right there), remembering to stop enough times so my legs do not cramp in painful and awful ways, oh, and did I pack my allergy medication? I checked my bag for my music at least 10 times, but maybe I still missed something- should I stop and check? In the midst of all that and more, I also had to keep my intense level of musical thoughts running and organized- did I practice enough? Am I really, truly ready to nail those technical measures in the Rorem? (I was not) Have I really given myself enough time to make that color change in the Gaubert sink in so it will simply fall out of the flute without effort? Doubt, of course, creeps in- no, I did not stick to my technical routines according to plan, my practice was sporadic on some days, and so on. Did I mention that we discovered that hall #1 of the trip was barely 60 degrees, a wind player’s nightmare? Show must go on. Get out there, dude, and do your best.
So I learned a lot, all very useful for the next phase of preparation. Boring stuff, in truth. But I also had a soul-crushing epiphany that I’m still wrestling with, trying to decide if it’s ultimately useful to the finished product or not.
The first day out, in our first rehearsal, my wonderful piano collaborator and I were chatting between pieces, and as musicians do, we were talking about people we knew in common. The name of a younger high school classmate popped up, and with it, the image of a yellow post it note that suddenly loomed large in my memory- it read “Thank you for being ______’s friend” and was attached to a small bag of home made cookies that appeared in my dorm mailbox, a touching gift from his parents. Yes, this was an extremely brilliant but socially challenged young man, and yes, I suppose I tried to be kind to him- on some level we were kindred spirits- but what made the bottom drop out was the next memory- me, showing that note to my other friends, mocking the poor soul- and what’s worse, I know that I stuck it up over my dorm room desk not out of pride, but out of some sort of twisted teen irony.
Wow, I’m a shitty person. All thoughts of playing E-flat 4 perfectly in tune with a soaring sound and other mundane musical ideas suddenly fell away, and I was left with the raw meat on the floor, as it were. And this singular thought stayed in my head and twisted and compounded as I thought about raising two sons to be good people, and how do I teach them to navigate the cruelty that I believe exists in each one of us and survive to be strong adults. The lump in my chest grew bigger and heavier by the minute.
Flash forward to later in the day- sitting quietly in my hotel room, it dawned on me that now I know why I picked Ned Rorem’s Four Prayers for performance and recording. I need a way to channel that overwhelming feeling that often sits deep in my heart, an outlet that may give me a tiny little bit of peace or else I will drive myself to unhealthy levels of despair- and yes, give up so much on the world that I never leave my little bubble of comfort between two traffic lights.
Will and Chris welcome Open G artist and flutist Chris Chaffee to the podcast. Tangents abound as Will attempts to keep both Chris's on point on topics such as choosing music when making a record, performance practice, and more.
In this excerpt from our full podcast, St. Louis Symphony first clarinetist and Open G Records artist Scott Andrews calls in to the podcast to talk about what it was like being onstage during the recent Requiem for Mike Brown protest. His thoughtful first-person account is an illuminating example of how protest can (and did in this case) use art for peaceful social comment. An interesting listen.
In this episode, first clarinetist of the St. Louis Symphony (and Open G artist) Scott Andrews calls in to talk about what it was like being onstage during the recent Michael Brown protest. Chris and Will also talk about the artist as activist, making classical music concerts more enjoyable, and break down the NPR Classical top 50.
Here's a new podcast idea from Open G Records! In these "Open Season" episodes, Open G founding team Chris Grymes and William Carrigan sit down to talk about the label, music, sports, and pop culture. In this first episode, Chris and Will talk about dealing with depression and doubt, practicing, excessive celebration penalties in football, and much more. If you have a topic you'd like discussed on a future Open Season, leave a comment below or tweet at us @opengrecords.
Explicit language advisory! (Sorry - Chris)
If Joshua Bell and Hillary Hahn play the Bach Double in a forest, do they really make a sound? You’d be right to point out that this parallel requires either the tragic hearing loss of two of the world’s most renowned living violinists or two extraordinary pairs of noise-cancelling headphones to match the image of the falling tree. Regardless, until the day that squirrels develop a love of Baroque music, no one would care if two musical titans joined forces one day in the middle of the woods. Likewise, spending all of one’s time in a practice room (or bedroom) perfecting a craft that never gets exposed to the public is unlikely to result in the sudden appearance of an audience somewhere down the line. If you’re the type of artist whose aspirations end at your own door, then by all means don’t let me kill your vibe (though you should definitely start looking for a day job). However, if your goals are of the more professional variety, there aren’t many valid excuses for you to not begin cultivating an audience while you are still in school. I strongly recommend the following three platforms during those fragile years when your self-conscious psyche is still whispering that you’re an amateur and you should wait until you're more mature. These platforms are free. They are simple to setup; and that voice in your head is a bastard who wants nothing more than to see you in a nursing home one day reminiscing about what might have been.
*Note from the Author: Just this week, it was announced that Soundcloud is in quite a bit of financial trouble. Without getting into a complete tangent on the music tech industry, I will temper what you are about to read with the following statement: I still recommend Soundcloud because it is currently a very popular platform that may very well fix its current problems (it is still a young company). However, I'd also recommend taking all the advice listed below and duplicating it on another streaming site, such as Reverbnation. It's always good to have a contingency plan. Now, carry on.
You should have a Soundcloud because, at some point, you’re going to want to put on a concert somewhere; and there is a good chance that a booking agent will ask you if you have any recordings that they can listen to online. Better yet, let’s say you’re playing a concert somewhere in Middle America, and a very enthusiastic audience member comes up to you afterwards and asks if you have any music online so that they can share your music with their friends. I won’t say that it is the pinnacle of amateurism to not be able to quickly point these hypothetical people towards recordings, but it is certainly close to it.
There was a time when you might have to drop hundreds of dollars building a personal website in order to have a suitable answer to these questions. Luckily, today there is Soundcloud; where it couldn’t be simpler to create an account, upload a picture of yourself, and populate the page with recital recordings, prescreening recordings, etc. Because that annoying voice in your head will likely act up during this process, I even recommend having a close friend there to help you choose what goes online. It’s true that we’re all our own worst critics, though things are rarely as terrible as they seem to our own ears. Having an accountabilibuddy to help you out is kosher. A time will come when you will likely need a personal site in order to present yourself as a professional; but for someone who is at the very beginning of a career in music, Soundcloud is an excellent starting point. It is free. You can choose to hide recordings later on as you progress artistically, and it is a platform that is used by roughly 200 million people.
At Open G we use our Soundcloud to debut new recordings (check out the Schubert from our upcoming release), podcasts (in addition to iTunes), and other recordings that we like but that haven’t made it onto a record yet.
My personal Soundcloud is possibly a better illustration of what I just described. Those recordings are pretty much all from my undergraduate recitals. No, I don’t expect to get any Grammys for them. However, I’ve been able to point to this page on more than one occasion when I’ve met another musician that I want to connect with and add to my network and they ask if I’m online.
Let’s be honest. You probably already have a Youtube account. The question is are you actually using it as a place to post your own content, or do you content yourself (homographs, baby) to simply browse the work of others? If your goal as a creative person is to one day have a group of people that like you and will help support your lifestyle, your answer should be the former.
What should you upload to your YouTube account? Well, since YouTube is the world’s largest single source for music streaming, you should start with those same tracks that you uploaded to your Soundcloud page. Do you have any videos of yourself performing? Upload those, too. In the same way that some music schools ask that you send in a video as part of your prescreening, some booking agents will want to see you perform before deciding if you are a good fit for their venue/festival/etc.
Do yourself a favor, and don’t stop there. I’ve met few people in my life that don’t have a unique personality to some extent. Maybe those personalities are not all likable, but the fact remains that they exist. You can scoff at this fact all you want, but certain individuals have found ways to make livings through their Youtube channels because they regularly upload engaging content that displays their unique personalities and generally some skill or knowledge base that others find helpful. I highly recommend (I’m currently in this process, myself) asking yourself if there is some coherent angle that you might pursue to regularly post new content to your channel that doesn’t require months of score study and preparation. Do you consider yourself a good teacher who might upload vitamin-sized lessons to your channel every week or two? Do you like ranting about things in a way that is amusing to others? Your channel has built in analytics that can help you to gauge if your videos are getting people’s attention, so by all means experiment. The key is to develop a singular voice for yourself and to post consistently so that people have a reason to come back to your channel and see what you’re up to. If you’re faithful to this tactic and are able to build an audience of subscribers, you might be surprised at how your audience can help you throughout your musical career. As an added bonus, a portion of ad revenue from your channel might even help you pay the rent each month.
We’ve got some work to do here, but the primary goal for our YouTube channel is to give behind the scenes looks at the creative process of our artists. It will also be used to debut new recordings and as a hub for super classy music videos for our favorite tracks on record. The latter will be more fully realized by the new year.
Currently, my channel is setup as a promotional tool to show to other musicians with whom I’m interested in collaborating. I’ve been reading a lot this past week about Youtube strategy and am currently hashing out a plan for regularly uploading original content (because of my own career goals, many of these uploads will be covers of other songs in different styles). Stay tuned.
I also recommend reading this article because it speaks at length about making personal connections with your fans and the ways in which that can help you in your career. It's about having a blog, but the same techniques can be applied to a YouTube channel. Read it when you're finished with this post.
I’ll admit that I’m pretty late to the game on this one, myself (both in terms of my work for Open G and in my own personal career). Call it the naive ignorance of a millenial, but until recently I had written off email as antiquated in a world dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Do I need to mention the overwhelming amount of spam that each of us gets on a daily basis from scholarship websites or schools that don’t realize we’ve been enrolled somewhere else for the better part of two years?
Here’s the thing, though: for people not living under a high-tech rock, email is still one of the most effective ways of getting in touch with another human being. Better yet, you don’t really have to trick any back-end system in order to get your message in front of the eyes of someone who cares about what you’re doing with your life and your music. If you rely solely on sites like Facebook and Google to drive awareness, you sacrifice nearly all of your control to their ever-changing algorithms. Those sites have tremendous value, but do yourself a favor and take back some control of your online presence by starting a mailing list and a newsletter.
Personally, and at Open G, I use a service called MailChimp, which has thus far been extremely intuitive throughout the setup process. At Open G, our plan is to send out a newsletter each month (starting next month) recapping a few of the cool things that we did during the previous month, as well as outlining the things on next month’s agenda that have us excited. Another nice attribute of MailChimp is that it has some pretty sweet data analytics tools so that you can see statistically how effective your email campaigns are in driving Internet traffic, and you can adjust your behavior accordingly. There’s an information box on the homepage of this very website if you are interested in joining Open G’s mailing list (again, we’re talking one email a month and you can opt out any time).
The best musician newsletter that I’m currently subscribed to is that of Scott Sawyer, a wicked guitarist and an even cooler guy who I’m always proud to say was one of my teachers at East Carolina. Scott offers a wealth of interesting content (and occasional free downloads) to his subscribers each month in addition to his performance calendar and information about projects that he is currently working on in the studio or with his students. I highly recommend subscribing to that here and using it as an example for your own trip down the email rabbit hole.
I really can’t stress enough the importance of getting your work online so that other people can discover you. I know the excuses because, at one point or another, I’ve used them all. I’m also interested in hearing what internet outlets you use that aren’t in my Big Three! See that comment box down below? Use it to let me (and whoever else reads this blog) know what you use, how you use it, and why you like or dislike it. Feel free to share links to your own pages or to articles that talk about the pros and cons of a site. As always, thanks for reading; and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
It seems so simple. Set some goals, make a plan, apply yourself, and then you are done. Of course there are setbacks, failures, some unexpected twists and turns, that week where you just “weren’t feeling it,” a “life event” that derails you for awhile, and so on, but you made it happen, right? You said that starting January 1st you would lose 20 pounds in one month, starting this summer, you would finally learn Mandarin, starting tomorrow you would tell your wife you love her once a day, by the end of the year you will finally send that novel to the publisher, etc. Yeah, bullshit. It is not that easy, and it does not happen that way a majority of the time. I know- I am a slowly recovering overachieving goal setting high-strung musician. In my student days, the start of every academic year was that big salient date that was supposed to be the start of all the grandiose plans. This goes all the way back to High School, and for full context, I was a four year student at the Interlochen Arts Academy, a wonderful pressure-cooker of high artistic and academic standards where we used to make fun of the “B” students for not keeping up, the exact opposite of peer pressure in the real world. Before my senior year, I remember telling myself the week before school was “the calm before the storm,” and making lists of all the goals- competitions, school auditions, personal achievements that I was sure were in my grasp with just the right amount of focus and discipline. The list was insane and impossible. And, every subsequent year well into doctoral study? Repeat. “This is going to be the year that I….”
Crash. I did not meet my own expectations. Yes, I turned out just fine- I have a stable career, I have been a productive member of the music performance and education community for quite a while, and even at my worst, I can still function as a member of normal, everyday society. Mostly. Thankfully, somewhere around the end of my time as a student, I started to realize that things would come to me one day at a time, one small step at a time, and once I stopped looking, I’d find what I was looking for. Before I had this epiphany, I had many unhappy years.
Why the hell do we do this to ourselves? Why do we think that we can simply flip a switch on a given day and everything will start moving in one direction? What’s worse, why do we fall for the “quick fix?” This holds true in music as well- I am always equal parts amused and annoyed when I see my professional colleagues offering clinics that promise a “complete flute makeover” or “30 days to your best tone” or “unleashing your inner artist in 3 steps” Again, Bullshit. Face it; just because today is some random day on the calendar, say, 1 January, or you gained some fresh new wisdom from an “expert” in a masterclass or whatnot, you are not a brand new person. You are still the same person tied in the same knots, with the same strengths and weaknesses you had the day before. You are still the person who sneaks down to the fridge at midnight to sneak a few pieces of cheese, still the person who cuts corners when you practice your scales. Change, for better or worse, is part of life. Make your choice – decide which way you want to go, and enjoy the daily ride. Recognize that change will occur with time and effort and learn to be content with small accomplishments. I often joke with my students that I am still learning to play three notes in a row in tune with a good tone. It’s really not a joke. To do it the way I want to, i.e. on a high level that very few others can achieve, with a sound and a way of phrasing that makes me stand out from all the other musicians vying for attention in my incredibly competitive yet tiny world- it’s much harder than it sounds.
What does this have to do with making a record? Simple. I have an opportunity ahead of me that is rare, wonderful, and challenging. For the 2014-15 academic year, I have earned a Professional Development Leave, also known as a sabbatical, from my university. I started planning for this more than a year ago, and I am proud that my competitive bid for this opportunity was successful. Better still- I have a grant to make a record while I am on leave, so I get to combine a period of professional improvement with an important musical milestone- my “debut” recording.
I have to remind myself on a daily basis not to set unreasonable and stupid goals for this project. I have more free time than usual, and I intend to use it. Along the way, I am exposing the entire process to the public- I live-stream my practice sessions online, we will live-stream portions of the recording process, and I will continue blogging as the process unfolds. I could go into hiding, go thru all the ups and downs behind closed doors, make a really nice (highly edited) record, and then emerge and hand it to you and say “look what I did!” Nope. I want everyone to see the process, start to finish, warts, swear words and all. Yes, I expect it to be on the highest possible level, but I have a much better idea of how to get there than I ever have before. I have denied myself all thinking that “today I will start my new practice regimen and in 6 months I will be better at this, better at that, etc.” I have a plan, I will stick to it, but I do not expect that I will be new and better than ever, I will just be a more polished, and content version of the artist I already am.
Recently, I told a student that she needed to “spend time everyday looking at clouds until you stop using words to describe them.” In my journey ahead, I want to be able to practice what I preach. I want to find the clarity of vision it takes to be the artist I believe I can be.
Paola Prestini is a composer, artist, activist, and entrepreneur. Co-founder of Vision into Art, a multi-disciplinary production company; founder of the River to River Festival; and Artistic Director of the Original Music Workshop, Paola is a vital part of the New York City music scene. In this interview, Paola talks with Chris Grymes about her life, music, process, and about the importance of making serious art while still in school.
Jeremy Gill is a composer, pianist, and conductor. Now living and working in Boston, Jeremy wrote a clarinet concerto that will be premiered in November by Open G founder Chris Grymes. In this episode, Jeremy talks with Chris about his life, his music, and his new concerto. Jeremy has a very hot career right now and is a smart, thoughtful musician, and this podcast definitely allows that to come through.