Here we are again, looking back on a year of battles won and lost. Looking back on a year always includes a bit of deception for me, at least as far as my memory of time goes. The one thing I took from looking back on this year was how my perception was so skewed. I had a couple of rough patches and I let myself remember those as the definitive times of the year, and further let it define my attitude towards all of 2015. The reality is that I have gone through a lot of ups and downs and experiences this year. To judge them at all is not only incorrect but also not very healthy.
I hosted far more events with live music then every before. I wrote more music consistently, and with a higher level of musicianship. I took a lot of chances and let a lot of opportunities slip past me. I conducted more frequently than ever before, and I realized some things about myself and my values that give me solace and a sense of empowerment. So, here it is: my life in 2015 with all it’s ups and downs without judgement.
I hosted my first of 3 improv gigs at Aster Cafe and started a house band of my own original tunes, “Velma” with Nelson Devereaux (Flute/Ten. Sax), Ben Kelly (Bass), & Andy Fleeser (Rhodes) for a Zombie-themed bar called “Donny Dirks Zombie Den”.
This was really liberating for me as a composer and organizer because I was able to get great musicians to play a bunch of weird experimental music I was writing. The genres I was given by the owner of the bar were: 70s porn/50s Vegas Lounge/80s Horror film. The residency didn’t last long for one reason or another but we had a great time.
This was also the month a lot of friends went up to Kevin Dorsey’s cabin to celebrate Todd Smith’s bachelor party. We played a lot of ping pong and had a lot of great eye opening conversations that eventually led me to breaking up with my girlfriend of a year and a half.
After only two seasons in the Minnesota Flag Football league, I took my team to the Championship and won! We finished the season 8-4 and took home a memorial shirt along with our new Jerseys. “Cool Ranch” made a name for itself.
I spent a lot of time writing a couple arrangements for LA Buckner’s recital and Potted Meet Mondays as he was the featured musical guest in February. Martin Dosh showed up to that one, and we had quite a large turnout for only our third event. These are quiet months in Minneapolis.
This month I sold my first house as a Real Estate agent of Keller Williams to my friend Madelynn. She and I were both happy and everything went smoothly. I think we both have a special place in each other’s lives because of this and the last two years of friendship. I value our relationship greatly.
I also wrote and conducted all the music for the very first episode of Ben Kelly’s live variety show called, “Bear & the Barrel”. In March I couldn’t have realized the extent of what I was going to learn from doing 4 of these shows this year but it marks my life so far as being the largest professional gig in my career. Over the course of four shows I wrote 38 arrangements for every genre of music, some live underscore and 4 live film scores (2 of which were improvised using both written “gestures” and hand signals I created). From the research I’ve done, I have yet to come across any evidence that a partially or completely improvised film score has been created for a live audience, using a conductor. What a monumental shift in what I thought I was capable of achieving.
A picture of the main theme I wrote for the show is shown on the right. It’s in the style of Count Basie and orchestrated how Sammy Nestico might have done.
In April I was independently hired for another Chris Jopp film called, “Motion Poem”. The film is about some of the different Psychological thoughts on humans and their patterns. It has a little bit of an existentialist twist to it which was fun to bring out in the music. This marks a special film score for me for two reasons: First, it’s one of the only times I’ve mixed live instruments with electronic instruments and techniques and secondly, it was the first time I’ve recorded a film score that had guided improvisation for the players. I wrote out some chord changes and gestures for part of the score and let them come up with what they heard based on some background tracks I created previously. The effect was marvelous. Later this year, the music would be used for a live play in Los Angeles created by a middle school friend of mine by the name of Jessica Richmond. I’ve attached a YouTube link to the film and a Soundcloud link to the score:
I also asked long standing friend and bassoonist, Trent Jacobs to be a featured artist for Potted Meet Mondays. The result was I sketched out the first and second movement to an electric bassoon concerto that involves both improvised conducting and more improvising that normal for the bassoonist.
I was asked by an old professor, Sean McMahon to host a master’s class on film scoring and the result was my realization for my love for teaching as well as being featured on Charlie McCarron’s podcast, “Composer Quest”. I have copied the link below.
If that wasn’t enough, I also cowrote an original score to my second live theater show for Theater In The Round. All in all, it was a busy month.
May was far less eventful musically but emotionally it was charged. My cousin and best friend Brandon came to visit me in Minnesota and we drove down to Iowa to visit his twin sister Brooke. I don’t know how healthy or open minded I would be if it weren’t for Brandon and Brooke. We have been through a lot of things together both bad and good and although all three of us are supremely different in our every day decisions, I can’t imagine two people who know me better. After the ups and downs in the first part of 2015 and his trip out to Minnesota, it was obvious that Brandon has been the Yang to my Yin. This was a special trip indeed.
This month I also got close to a new friend and roommate, Eli Elstad. We stayed up many nights talking about personality traits and chess tactics. I will always look back on these memories with great fondness. I don’t know when circumstances will align again and this will be possible so I will never forget it.
Brandon’s trip ended early in June with a bike pub crawl. Maybe 12 of us rented NiceRide bikes and took them to six different bars where there were docking stations outside. After a drink, we would hop on the bikes again and head to the next bar. Nothing could be cooler than my best friend becoming family with all my friends in Minnesota.
Ben and I also undertook our second year of Gossip Orchestra in the Northern Spark Festival. Gossip Orchestra was our way of getting non musicians involved in the creation and spontaneity of Improvised music: 12 musicians set up in a circle (with a gap at one side as an entrance). Each musician has a button and a light set up in front of them and an iPad is set up in the center of the circle. Viewers are allowed to enter the circle 1 or 2 at a time and push the buttons in front of the musicians which turns on the light and tells them to start improvising. The iPad at the center has 9 squares on it with different colors. All colors are linked to a word that guides the “flavor” of the improvisation but only the musicians know what the words are. When a color is tapped, all lights in front of musicians that are on turn to that color, and the result is a change in the improvised style. We played all night from midnight to 6am. My fingers were sore from hitting the keys.
July marked the second Bear & the Barrel show and my mom came to visit me. I don’t know if it was the pressure of the second show, or having my mom there with so much going on, or maybe the reality of not having Chelsea in my everyday life hitting me, but July was a really hard month for me. Maybe the hardest month I’ve had. I hit some low points and at one point thought about some dark solutions. Todd and I had many talks as well as with my mom and others. I wrote some of my most idiomatic work and invented a notation style for doing partially improvised live film scores. It was extremely successful.
The end of the month capped off with Ben and I donating a week to East Side City Arts Council- Art Mobile. We went around to different parks and taught kids about music, how to build a kazoo and generally marched around banging things together.
After this month I decided I needed to make a change in my lifestyle and I gave up smoking pot. This had been pretty habitual for me since I was 21 and although the effects weren’t immediate, the result has been life changing. Having depressants in my life on a regular basis doesn’t do me well as I am easily susceptible to negative thoughts. The rest of the year got progressively easier after this huge decision. I’m grateful to my friends for supporting me on this.
August, I didn’t write very much music but I got to conduct Brian Lenz’s musical for the Fringe Festival, “Pandora’s Box”. This is the most conducting of one show I’ve ever done and I was very pleased with the outcome both of the music and harnessing my skills as a leader and communicator.
Much to my mother’s dismay, I also got another tattoo. In fact, my first color tattoo. Of my original concept David O’Donnell of Broken Hearts Tattoo Club gave me a very beautiful and illustrative image of a living “tree-boy” on the outside of my left calf. It was a six hour sit and the last two hours were not pleasant but the outcome was magnificent.
As if to say, the world isn’t as hard as you think it is, I got a job teaching middle schoolers private composition lessons. They came in one at a time in two hour sessions with the lyrics and basic idea of a song that I was to transform and expand upon to their liking. This was amazing musically and developmentally for both me and the kids but one little girl changed me. In asking her the song she wrote about her sister with Cerebral Palsy, this little girl felt comfortable enough with me to divulge some very personal information on how she came to appreciate her sister so much. Five years ago (almost to the day) she was 8 years old, when she witnessed her mother and father’s death by her father’s own hand. This brave 8 year old climbed on top of her sister and covered her eyes while reaching for the phone and dialing 9-1-1.
She told me that experience made her grateful to have her sister and appreciative of life. I took to not complaining as a lifestyle.
In September I got hired by my college piano teacher Leah Siltberg to be the conductor of handbells and choir at First Christian Church in Uptown. This is a blessing since it is so hard to get these jobs with no prior experience. For the first time in my life I am getting paid monthly to be a musician who leads other musicians. There couldn’t be a better job for me at this point in my life.
This month Bill and I restructured Potted Meet Mondays to make it more sustainable with a bigger crew of workers and said goodbye to Chelsea as a member of our staff. These are big changes for PMM but we have a lot of confidence in what the next couple of years will bring to our organization. September was memorialized by having an all string Improvestra. What a sound that was!
I wrote a lot of music this month and bought myself a bike getting ready to turn 30.
I turned 30 years old and organized a 30 mile bike ride with friends. At certain points along the way, I told stories of that age in my life that corresponded to the mile we were biking. Also, I asked friends to write me letters of advice for my fourth decade. Those who weren’t able to bike with me would be posted at different points on the route and hand off the letter and wish us well. After the ride, a lot of people met at my place and helped make pizzas and a bonfire. We drank and told stories all night. It was the perfect way to kick off the decade and say goodbye to the last.
George Krikes and King Washington came into town while they were on tour every weekend in October and November. They were the featured musical artist for Potted Meet Mondays and my relationship with George became a bond that won’t break under any circumstances.
Our 3rd episode of Bear & the Barrel was a halloween show and it featured some of my favorite music from Ben Kelly and for sure my favorite film of the four episodes. I wrote Danny Elfman like music to a horror comedy called “Melonheads”. The music was slap-stick, horrifying, driving and extremely colorful. I wrote a lot of Bi-tonal music with weird modulations and movements. It has been my favorite music to date. The main theme, I stole from Mahler 3 and in the opening I put it against a modulated version of another section in Mahler 3 creating a Mahler on Mahler collage of sound with a hint of me in the orchestration. I like to think of myself in this period of my life as a smahler Mahler :-).
I got a little better at chess openings and was Finn (from the cartoon Adventure Time) for Halloween. Life had definitely improved since the second episode of Bear & the Barrel.
I took in a cat from outside Madelynn’s house and named her Ding. I think she is a long haired siamese around 4 or 5. She is sweet as can be and loves to be held over my shoulder and sit on my Rhodes while I write music. My dog is enamored and they both sleep on my bed whether I’m on it or not.
Improvestra started gigging out more and opened for King Washington at the Turf Club and closed out an art gallery for Gamut. I got a new music student from New York who is a prolific song writer named Elizabeth Ziman.
I started the “Gin & Stout Chess Club” with some buddies and for the first two months ever, financially leaned on music alone. Starting to feel very confident in myself and my abilities. I am comfortable being who I am. I started dating again after a couple of failed attempts.
Snow fell for the first time since last winter and I am really looking forward to the final episode of Bear & the Barrel in December.
Bear & the Barrel’s last episode was a hit! We sold out every show and the incredible Coffee Pot Orchestra was the only force in supporting Brian Just. The film score was a little bit of Randy Newman and a lot of cliche but went off without a hitch. I wrote 8 arrangements and a 7 min film score in 7 days. I feel confident that I can do anything I want musically.
Potted Meet Mondays celebrated it’s 1 year anniversary! What a journey that has been. I’ve written at least one arrangement every month for that (13 in all). I couldn’t be happier with how I am making my stance in the twin cities and in the music community.
I started a hashtag called #mugaday for the month of January where I auction off a unique mug everyday on Facebook to the first person to show me a receipt that they donated ANY amount of money to ANY charity.
I got my first Chess student online and started playing in some online tournaments. My uncle Dan came out and visited me for about 4 days. We had a blast talking about Grandpa and music and telling each other jokes. I am finally able to have deep meaningful conversations about the abstract and practical implications of music with Dan. I got a notification regarding the foreclosure of the house I live in and have made movements towards buying it.
In Conclusion & Goals:
I am excited to start the new year and have a feeling it might hold the start to a couple of new relationships.
Non-specific goals I have include: Donating more time to those in need and promoting charitable work; building stronger, longer lasting relationships with people who deserve my love and time; working on becoming a more complete version of myself mentally, physically and emotionally as well as accepting my natural traits and tendencies instead of trying to be something I can’t be for the sake of someone else. I would also like to spend more time being organized, consistent & cherishing important memories.
More specific goals I have include: Recording my first album of my own tunes; recording at least 15 other works (hopefully for Brian Just and Scott Bergman); doing 4 film scores; continuing to expand Potted Meet Mondays; take on more music and chess students; visit 2 new places (Austin for sure), be open to new possibilities; and finally, to let myself be okay with NOT taking on projects or other people’s problems.
This is an exciting time in my life and I’m ready to take on the more difficult challenges that adulthood holds. Thank you for reading.