About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Change Jar Principle

Like many of you, I have a change jar. I toss my loose change in it and don't think about it too much. It starts with an empty jar, then a handful of coins, slowly building up over time. After a year or two, I take it to one of those Coinstar machines. Depending on how long it's been since I last emptied out the change jar, I could have between $100-200.

Sometimes it seems like changes in our life come all at once, and sometimes I suppose they do. For the most part, though, I think these big events are a result of incremental changes or a series of choices we've made over time. Weight loss is a prime example. As of today, I have lost 70 pounds (with 53 still to lose). It didn't happen overnight. Over the last few months, every single day, I've made the choice to go for a long walk and eat healthy foods. Each day, I lose a few ounces – spare change. Every single time I make the choice to exercise and watch my diet, I add a little more change to that change jar. Over the course of a week, I'll lose 2-4 pounds. Weeks turn into months. Ounces turn into pounds. Pounds turn into tens of pounds. Assuming I continue making the same choices, I'll lose 123 pounds and hit my target weight sometime in December.

My fledgling career as a jazz musician is another example of incremental changes adding up over time. Six years ago, I was a beginning guitar player. Today, while I'm not earning enough to make a living at it yet, I'm performing quite a bit and sometimes (hold onto your seats) I'm getting paid for it. That's quite a jump for someone who didn't know a single guitar chord six years ago, but there have been a lot of choices and changes in between. The most important choice is to spend time practicing every day, usually 3-5 hours. You can't expect to land regular gigs until you've reached a certain level on your instrument. Other choices have included jumping at every opportunity to perform or rehearse with others. If I'm available, I always say yes if I'm asked to sub in a rehearsal with a big band. It doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining experience and networking with other musicians, some of whom may be in a position to hire or recommend me at a later date. I also play a whole bunch of non-paid gigs at restaurants and coffee shops. Again, it doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining performance experience, developing a repertoire, and occasionally meeting customers who may hire me to play at their party or wedding. Just a couple days ago, I booked a solo gig because someone heard me playing with On the Cool Side three months ago at a free gig. When I played that "nothing" gig, I put a little change in the change jar, and three months later I was hired to play for a VIP reception at the Decatur Book Festival, where I may very well meet other people who would like to hire me.

Someday, maybe in the next year, maybe in five or ten years, I may catch a break. Maybe I'll land a lucrative steady gig. Maybe I'll make a recording that sells well. Maybe I'll be hired to play in a name band. Or maybe I'll simply find that I'm extremely busy with a calendar full of well paid gigs. Whatever big thing suddenly happens, it'll only happen because I've been preparing for that moment, adding a little bit to my change jar every day through practicing and performing.

Maybe you want to lose weight, start a new career, go back to school, run a marathon, quit smoking, or climb a mountain. If there's a goal you want to accomplish, don't be discouraged if it's going to take you a long time to get there. Instead, use it as motivation. You already know it's not going to happen at once, so take small, easy actions. Every day, do something that will help you reach your goal, no matter how small it seems. Every coin adds a little bit to the pile.

Put a little change in the change jar, starting today.

A couple years ago, InTown Band (then Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey) cowrote a song called Change Jar. You can listen to it on our MySpace page.


  1. Everyone talks the game, while you walk it and then take notes of your Journey. I am certain that you'll reach the level of success you have planned simply through your determination. Hopefuly you'll remember me once you get to the top...

  2. Dude, you'll always have backstage VIP access!

  3. You are such an inspiration to us slugs out here, Tom! :-)