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 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Goals

Every year, I review the previous year's goals and set new ones. I usually come up with quite a list, but I'm narrowing it down this year. Here are my goals for 2013.

  1. Land higher quality gigs. For the first time since picking up the guitar, I've been satisfied with the frequency of my gigs. In 2013, I'd like to have about the same (or slightly more) gigs, but with a higher percentage of good paying jobs. Nearly all of my gigs are for pay now. Many of them are restaurant gigs that pay okay, but not great. I'm certainly not complaining about the restaurant gigs. It's nice to have steady work. I would just like to find more corporate gigs in the next year.
  2. Recruit a roster full of students. I have a handful of students now. I've been teaching from home, but now I'm signed on to teach at Tessitura. I'm the first and only guitar teacher at Tessitura, so I'm in a good position to pick up new students with no in-house competition. Twenty students sounds about right. I enjoy teaching, and twenty students would help provide steady income while still leaving enough time for practicing, gigs, and my church job.
  3. Increase my hours at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 10 to 15. Currently, my duties are to run the choir, to provide music once a month myself, to coordinate music for Sunday services in general. Based on conversations I've had with congregants, there seems to be increasing interest in forming a children's choir. Having the extra hours would allow me time to do so. I'll need to convince the board and the congregation that this is a good idea.
  4. Find a guitar teacher. I'm happy with the progress I made as a guitarist in 2012, especially in the area of improvisation and general technique. As usual, there are a lot of things I want to improve, but trying to get better at everything at once can make you feel scattered and overwhelmed. Working with a teacher again will help me refocus. This year, I'd like to find a guitar teacher to 1) help me develop more comping ideas, 2) help me develop more improvisation ideas, and 3) kick my butt in the area of repertoire, especially memorization.
Things went pretty well in the second half of 2012. I just want to keep doing more of the same in 2013, but with my sights set a little higher.

Hope


Yesterday's service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation was about hope. The minister was away, and instead of a regular sermon, three of us gave our own personal reflections about hope. This is what I said:

I am poor. I’m better off than some. I have a roof over my head, and as you watch my weight go up and down, I obviously have enough to eat. But still, I’m poor. You’ve probably heard or read about people who are one accident or illness away from disaster. I’m one of those people. Some months I’ve had only a couple dollars left after paying rent and bills. I recently put off treating an abscess tooth because I couldn’t afford the dentist. It was a matter of getting treatment or paying my rent. I often feel embarrassed by not being able to afford certain things, and my money situation has not helped my dating life.

My finances weren’t always a mess. In the ’90s, I was at the start of a promising career as a professional trombone player. I was often hired to play in pick-up groups for touring acts like George Burns, Rosemary Clooney, and The Manhattan Transfer. I played with the Ohio Light Opera for three seasons before I won an audition to play in an Air Force band, where I quickly rose to the top of the trombone section and performed as a soloist. I was all set. I was going to put in my 20 years of service, draw a military pension, and then settle down with a college teaching job. That was the plan, anyway. This all came to a crash when I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip due to overuse. What was once effortless was now painful, both physically and emotionally. Every time I tried to play, it felt like someone was poking me with a needle on the inside of my lip. I endured the final two years of my enlistment and then received an honorable discharge.

After leaving the Air Force, I allowed myself a year to heal. I tried playing trombone again, but I still couldn’t play. Four times, I tried to get my trombone chops back, but I failed each time before I came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to play the trombone again.

To say I was depressed is an understatement. I found solace in food, gained 140 pounds over the course of a few years, and lived a solitary life. Somewhere in the middle of that, I was married, but then was unexpectedly divorced after three years. To this day, I have never received a solid answer for why Katherine left. Maybe she had a good reason, but she never told me. So…not a happy camper.

In spite of all this, I feel hopeful. What has given me hope is music. The guitar brought it all back.

Back in 2003, when we were still married, Katherine gave me a guitar for Christmas. Within a week, even though I could barely play the thing, I was already planning my second musical career. As a trombone player, I went from stone cold beginner at age 11 to passing a college entry audition at age 17. I figured that I could do something similar with the guitar, so I set myself a goal of being able to play professional guitar gigs after six years of practice. With my professional background and training, that process was accelerated quite a bit, and I began playing gigs after 3 years…not exactly setting the world on fire, but doing a decent job.

As I began performing more often, other opportunities began to appear. I realized that I was at least as good a singer as the people I was backing up, so I started singing. Now, I find myself teamed up with an amazing singer who shares similar musical goals. I’ve started teaching guitar lessons. More gigs are coming my way, and I have a quarter time job at this crazy church that allows a secular humanist to run their music program! So, while I’m still poor, things are looking up, and I’m very hopeful about the future.

Aside from the upward career momentum, music itself gives me hope on many different levels. I am absolutely driven by music. I can’t imagine what I would do without it. I’m involved in some aspect of music all day, every day…practicing alone, rehearsing with others, arranging music, typesetting music, and performing. I love the art of it, and I love the challenge of it. I love the fact that I will never have a perfect performance, no matter how good I become. There’s always going to be something to improve, and I plan to continue working on my craft the rest of my days. I’d like to leave this world with a guitar in my hands, trying to learn just one more lick.

Music also gives me hope by helping me connect with others. To put it mildly, I am socially awkward. There’s just something in my makeup that makes it difficult for me to connect with people. I feel uncomfortable making light conversation, and even though I’m a staff member, after a service, I’m usually out the door and gone before most of the congregation. I don’t have any problem standing in front of a crowd, but I’m extremely uncomfortable being in it. If you look up the word “introvert” on Wikipedia…that’s my picture. But music has helped me some wonderful people. I’m not exactly a social butterfly yet, but at least it gets me out of the house.

Now, I started off by telling you that I’m poor. But I don’t usually feel poor, because my days are filled with something that I love. I have discovered my purpose in life, and I’m following the dream. And because things are beginning to come into place, I feel hopeful about my future as a professional musician and life in general.

So…Are you hopeful…Or is something missing? If there is a hole in your life, I won’t presume to tell you how to fill it, but it couldn’t hurt to search – to find out what it is that fulfills you. I’m not saying you need to follow my path and go as far as making a career of it, but whatever it is, just do it. There is never going to be a perfect time to start. If you wait for just the right time to begin, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life, so you might as well start now.

I hope that you’ll think about what fulfills you, and that you’ll follow your path. I hope that someday you’ll feel as rich as I do.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Multi-Trick Pony

How do you become a professional musician? When I was in my 20s, the only path I knew was to practice hard and hope that I eventually won an audition for a full time gig. I played the trombone extremely well, and eventually I did win an audition for a full time playing job in the Air Force, which was working out great up until the point my chops gave out due to an overuse injury. (I've already written about this experience in an earlier post.)

When I won that Air Force audition, I was a one trick pony with a really good trick. Once I began learning to play the guitar a few years ago, I decided to take a second stab at a musical career. I already knew that it would be years (if ever) before I would catch up to other guitar players with more experience. I couldn't afford to be a one trick pony anymore, because my trick was never going to be better than theirs.

It's doubtful that I will make a career out of performing alone, so I've had to assess my strengths and learn a few new tricks. I'm cobbling together a career through music engraving, gigging, teaching, and working as a church music director. Things seem to be heading in the right direction as of late. I'm performing more often, my roster of students is slowly growing, and there is a possibility that my church hours will increase in the future.

So, to address the original question of how to become a professional musician, if you have one really great trick, then congratulations and good for you. You are part of the small minority. For the rest of you, figure out what useful skills you possess. Discover what you are best at, start with that, and use and develop your other skills to diversify and create your own niche.

You may not be the best at any one thing that you do, but very few people will have your particular combination of skills.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Upward Trend

I just realized that I've reached another milestone in my quest to reestablish a career as a working musician. (For those of you who may have stumbled upon my blog for the first time, you can click here to find out why I had to start my music career over again.)

Currently, I make a living by music engraving, working part time as a church music director, playing gigs, and teaching guitar. While I enjoy all of this, I am happiest when I'm playing guitar or singing. My ultimate goal is to be able to earn most of my living by performing and teaching.

This month, for the first time since I started playing guitar, I will have earned more money from gigs and teaching than from music engraving or my church job. Admittedly, the results are skewed, because this is December, which is typically a heavy gig month. Still, this is the first time I've made more money from playing guitar and singing than from anything else. Unless a few gigs fall into my lap, church and music engraving will once again be my main money makers starting in January.

But overall, things are looking hopeful. I see a gradual upward trend from year to year. In January of 2010, I had exactly one gig, and it was a freebie. In January of 2011, I had a handful of gigs, and most of them were freebies. In January of 2012, about half the month was booked with paid gigs. I'm currently booked every weekend in January of 2013, and nearly all of them are for compensation. In 2013, I won't be surprised if there are a couple months where my gig/teaching income surpasses my church/engraving income, and one day I may tally up my totals and discover that gigging and teaching has become my main source of income. That will be a time for celebration!

Onward and upward!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creating My Own Gigs

This December has been a great month for gigs, and surprisingly, January is nearly booked as well. In general, I'm finding that I'm booked for a gig on any given weekend each month. There is a downside to this…well, not exactly a downside. I play with a few different people, and I've had to learn a different set of music for nearly every show this month. Even though I'm playing mostly Christmas music, I'm playing the same songs in different keys, different tempos, and different styles. This is a great way to learn to be flexible and expand my horizons, but it's also a lot of work to keep up with. With limited preparation time, I feel like I've had barely enough time to do an adequate job for any given show.

The upside to this is that I feel that I've become a better overall guitar player over the past few weeks. The downside is that I feel scattered and unfocused.

Next year, rather than play a bunch of different gigs over the holidays, I'd like to create a show that I can either take to different venues or play in one place for a holiday run. I would like to make a transition from playing restaurant and corporate gigs to putting shows together…creating my own gigs. Most musicians are doing what I'm doing now, chasing after the same types of gigs. By creating my own shows, I could collaborate with other types of artists and expand my possibilities. I'm sure this would take more effort on my part, but I think it would be worth it.

The reason I'm thinking about a holiday show for next year is that it gives me plenty of time to kick around some ideas, and it would be probably be easier to create and promote a Christmas show for starters. After that, I could start developing other types of shows. I imagine that I would begin with only one or two shows a year. After gaining experience and developing a network of collaborators and contacts, maybe I could do more.

For now, I just want to get through December. Starting in January, I'll start kicking around ideas. We'll see what happens!

Concert for a Cause



Last night was a first. My friend, Lori Guy, and I performed an online streaming show with Tom Olsen (piano) and Lauran Hunt (bass) through StageIt. Originally, Lori and I were going to experiment with this format by putting on a low key Christmas show for friends and family – sort of a holiday greeting. Then, a few weeks ago, a young woman at our church lost her battle with cancer. Summer Dale was only 16 years old. Before Summer died, she created Team Summer, a foundation that helps other kids with cancer deal with their illness and their treatments.

Lori suggested that we donate our online show money to Team Summer. I thought it was a great idea. What was a low key Christmas show turned into a major affair! We created a Facebook event on our Godfrey and Guy Facebook page, and I hyped it mercilessly. It would have been nice if I could have just advertised the show one time and then had the world beating down our virtual door for a ticket, but unfortunately it doesn't work like that. Each new Facebook post or email about the the show generated 1-2 ticket sales. Even if I made just one ticket sale through a new post, it was worth annoying my friends!

In the meantime, we needed to find a place to hold our concert. We had recruited Tom Olsen and Lauran Hunt to make it a quartet, so we needed space. My little apartment certainly wouldn't do, and Lori was in the middle of moving. I told Terry Davis, the minister at my church, that we were looking for someone at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation to host our show. It turned out that Terry and her partner Gail were holding a minister's open house on December 9, so why not have the show be part of the open house? Perfect! Now we had both an online and a live audience!

StageIt allowed us to create a special "soundcheck show." We could invite five people to watch and give us feedback through StageIt's chat feature. Four friends helped us out, and their input was invaluable. We worked on some technical problems through that soundcheck, and we enjoyed the interaction. Out of sheer paranoia, Lori and I ran another quick soundcheck the night before. It wasn't much of a show. We just wanted to make sure we still had audio and video up and running.

Our technical difficulties didn't end with the soundcheck shows. Using StageIt was a brand new experience for us. Through the first couple numbers, the viewers in the chat room were letting us know that the sound levels were too high. The levels in the room for the live audience were perfect, and it took us a while to realize that we could set the input levels directly on the StageIt site. Once we figured that out, the volume for our online viewers was fine. Halfway through the show, the computer crashed. We had no idea why at the time, but later Lori figured out that the computer was overheating. After a few tense minutes, we were up and running again. After that, we were fine. Fortunately, StageIt allows for a 10-15 minute "encore." Our online viewers stuck it out during the blackout, and we thanked them by using all of our encore time to play three extra numbers. The computer crashed again, but at least it waited until after the show was over!

Aside from the technical problems, the show was a musical success. We had a blast! Tom Olsen and Lauran Hunt were a welcome addition to our usual Godfrey and Guy duo format. Lori sounded wonderful, and I was happy with my own playing. We received good feedback from our online viewers, and the music was a big hit at the open house.

Most importantly, the fundraiser was a huge success. Between our online and in person viewers, we raised $960 for Team Summer! This went way beyond my expectations! I thought maybe we would be able to raise $200. I would have been ecstatic with $500. I had no idea that we would end up raising nearly $1,000! Even better, Summer's mom was there, so we were able to turn over the cash and checks from our open house donors right away. Some people wrote checks to the church, so those will go first to NWUUC to be processed and donated to Team Summer. It takes a couple days to process the online funds. Viewers get 48 hours to ask for a refund, so I need to wait a few days for those funds to go through. Once that happens, I'll write a check to Team Summer for the balance of the online ticket sales.

Overall, this was a tremendous experience for us. The fundraiser went even better than expected. The musical experience was a blast, and we enjoyed using StageIt.com. We liked the interactive, informal aspect of StageIt, the service was easy to use, and tech support was quick and helpful. We definitely want to do this again!

(If you would like to learn more about Team Summer or make a donation, please visit www.teamsummer.org.)