The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music, Passion, and Personality

But first, a trip down memory lane...

I remember a time when right before I went to college, my parents wanted me to have a job because I had chosen to go to a private university and they were making a large investment on my behalf and wanted to know that I was willing to do the same.

The Job

My father got me a job as a "selector" in the warehouse of his job. It's a giant metal box in the middle of Midwest city, it was summer, consistently 90 degrees or above outside, which translated to about 105 degrees inside. I would take a miniature forklift designed to move palates up and down aisles filled with packed foods meant to be sent to restaurants. I'd stack the food on top of itself about 8 feet tall, wrap it in Saran Wrap and put it in a line to be shipped on a truck.

I hated this job. I would work upwards of 10 hour days, sometimes 11 or 12, and although it wasn't immensely physically demanding, it was a horrible combination of monotonous and exhausting. You had to stack the food like a fucked up game of Tetris, but if you misinterpreted the structural integrity of one of the boxes, the whole thing would come down like Jenga. Meaning you'd have to replace the wrecked item and re-stack the whole damn thing. The warehouse was a warehouse...meaning it wasn't clean, it was dirty, it was hot, and I'd come home with "dirt mittens" every night. I was sweaty, dirty, and at a time when all of my friends were having "summer fun" I was workin my ass off. 

But honestly, that didn't bother me as much as being away from my instrument...

At the time I had committed myself to the viola. Before I knew I had one, the viola was my voice. I was so driven that after some of these lengthy shifts, I'd come home, go into the laundry room, put on my mute so I wouldn't wake my parents and practice until I couldn't keep my eyes open.

I hated having hours of my day taken away from my pursuits and passion. I even thought about taking it with me a couple of times so I could practice during my breaks, but I didn't exactly trust my coworkers and leaving it in the car would have destroyed it. So, instead, I loaded up on great recordings.


I never really admired too many professional concert violists. I was stuck on the great violinists...which makes me often wonder why I didn't just nut up and play the damn violin. Familiarity? I dunno. Regardless, I had dozens of CDs in my car. One of my favorites was this:

Let me tell you why I love this so damn much. Perlman came at the tail end of an immense line of Russian, Jewish, violin virtuosos. People like Jascha Heifitz, Nathan Milstein, and Isaac Stern were all truly great violinists, but they had something that Perlman couldn't learn: Use of his legs. 

And I don't mean that in a funny way or in a way of trying to gain sympathy for him and his condition. I mean it like this: Perlman couldn't hide behind the pretense we create in classical music. Walking out stiffly in a tuxedo, very quietly making his place and standing with his head down as the orchestra finishes the introduction of the concerto. Perlman has to walk with crutches, someone else carries his million dollar Stradivarius, he cannot stand, but he sits, sometimes on a platform like a cellist. 

His technique is flawless in the sense that he has laser beam intonation, immense proficiency in the most demanding of finger patterns, and full command of all the bow strokes. But, his vibrato has a flutter, like √ądith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose, his spicatto is done so high on the bow that it has so much more bounce, less definition in the pitch and more wood and percussion in the sound. Yet, it's beautiful, and I never am mistaken when I listen to Perlman. I could triple blind that shit. His playing was abundant in personality.

It was this idea of personality in the music that stuck to me. That beautiful music wasn't just beautiful because of how it was composed, but how it was brought to life. I could hear it in my recordings, and I wanted it in my playing. So, since I couldn't play 6 hours a day anymore, I listened.

Nobody could take away all of those themes from my head as I went up and down those aisles, picking up stacks of food, counting down the minutes before I could get to my car and listen to more. Even for just 10 minutes. Then to home, where I could be complete again. They'd blare shitty afternoon radio in the corner of the warehouse, but I couldn't hear it over the sound of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto soaring in my brain.

I didn't know what my obsession with music was. It wasn't just classical music, either. But, I was very particular about what I listened to. I didn't want to just listen to an interesting beat, or a tag, or a hook that was catchy. I wanted to hear a person when I listened to music. I wanted the individuality. I didn't find that in pop music, but it was in abundance in Classical music, Jazz, Blues, Opera, Broadway.

The Legend of 1900

It was also during this time that I saw what still is my absolute favorite movie: The Legend of 1900.

The Legend of 1900 is about a man that was born on a boat and lived his entire life there. A virtuoso pianist. It's musical and theatrical perfection with a soundtrack by the immortal Ennio Morricone. One of the first scenes is a man selling his trumpet, saying good bye to an old friend, playing it one last time - blaring out the love theme that permeates the movie.

Maybe I was just a dumb teenager who had too many hormones and not enough sense to fully understand what I was seeing, but it resonated with me. Not just this scene, but the whole damn movie. This idea of how amazing music truly was, the impact it has inside all of us. How big the world is, and how small we all are, but musicians could escape it, or at least find a place in it all.

Music has been a part of my life for a long time, since I picked up the viola in the 4th grade. Since that time I took it for granted, rediscovered it, fell in love with it, created an obsession, an education, and a career. Music has evolved to me in my mind, in some ways wonderfully, in some ways it has diminished. I don't think I'll ever have as much heart and drive as I did when I was a kid. Life has gotten too big, too grand, too complicated to let myself be absorbed by one obsession. There are bills to pay, goals to accomplish, obligations to complete that leave little time for an obsession that requires 3 hours of solid practice a day. And the complications that come with making music as a career have become all too real, because it's hardly ever just about the music, and it's almost never about that moment. 1900 could create infinite amounts of music on his simple boat, untroubled by the toils of the everyday. He could escape into his mind. For the real folk that live on land, we have to make the tough decision whether or not to sell the piece of musical artwork that filled our lives with such joy in order for us to make it to that next step in our lives.

That being said, I'm not selling my instruments. Not yet, anyway.


The Take Away

8 years later from the warehouse times and a great deal has changed. But I feel like only a slightly bigger part of the picture than I did then. However, I have a feeling if Ol' Yeargain then could hear the music Ol' Yeargain makes now, I'd like to think that he'd be excited and look forward to getting there, but would know that it meant that he had to continue pulling that palate up and down those aisles, that he'd have to love and lose that love, that he'd have to gain a bunch of weight, strip it off pound by pound, struggle, cry, wish, hope, rinse and repeat. I never once thought that I could be the most perfect player, singer, person. I never wanted to be. But, I knew even then that I heard things and felt things differently than my friends. Not better, just differently. I knew even then that I wasn't going to ever be the best, but at the very least I could have the most passion and personality in everything I do. I'll be damned if I don't.

And I'd work harder for it, too. I'd scrape, crawl, beg and steal for the vision in my head, that note on the page, that goal, That Mutha fuckin dream. I wasn't born good at many things, especially the things that I have dedicated my life to now. Music, singing, fitness. I was fat most of my life and I'm just now getting to the point where I can make the noises I want on command. Everything I have now I earned. I'm not the best, but I'm damn proud of what I put into making what I have.

Until next time, take a few steps back to look at why you do what you do. Look at the work you've done to have what you have right now. Look for the personality in your work, never lose it. And, as always...

Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing it.

The Opera Bro

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