I’m trying…

Wow. This blog has been dormant for the better part of 5 years, as has most of my creative writing -so it’s fitting I suppose.

Five years. That’s a long time to be away from something I love so much. So what’s been going on?

First – before you get sucked into this and commit to this post you need to know two things:

  1. I write like I talk but with a bit more dramatism. And if you know me, I talk a LOT. I never really enjoyed writing posts until I got a bit older and started using it as an outlet for my outrageous sarcasm and cynical attitude. I’ve been told by AEP (my wife) that I’m a very colorful writer with my words, while others have told me I should write a book. – Well no thanks. I can barely write music these days. And then there are others that will always pick it apart, telling me I use too many commas or breaks in sentences. And that’s fine – I was a double major in Music Performance and Composition – not an English.
  2. Just like I talk a lot, I can WRITE a lot. On Facebook I typically end up having to really dial back how much I put into my posts because I know the internet has made attention spans limited these days, myself included. So these posts may be a bit longer but it’s really because I have a lot to talk about in certain subjects.

See? Just those two bullets and we’re a quarter page in. If you are really that interested and want to bookmark this to come back later I completely understand. This blog, if you’re going to choose to read it, should probably be read while you’re doing something not so important, like slacking off at work, working out, or maybe even during your morning routine, whatever that is. So this particular blog is really going to be mostly dedicated to my music, which means I need to mostly stick to updates about my music. I have contemplated starting another blog at some point for other subjects. We’ll see how far I get.

Let’s catch you up on my current situation, and then we’ll Quintin Tarintino it and move backwards a bit. It’s 5am, I’ve been up since 3am. And we’re about a week into 2022. I’ve just spent the last 15 minutes updating my blog’s plugins and logging into Soundcloud for the first time in about 9 months. I’m currently listening to Iridescent Winds – one of my pieces that I wrote sometime back in my Junior year of college. It never really gained traction probably due to the fact that I didn’t market it well, and in the band community it’s a tough piece because it combines a full wind ensemble with a full SATBB Choir. In MIDI it sounds great because it’s nice and balanced, but in practicality it’s a very challenging piece to balance acoustically – so I suspect it’s too big a risk for most ensembles to take on. It’s a shame, because I really love that piece and would love to hear it done live. It’s also one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written. But I digress.. So why am I up at 5am listening to my own music and writing in my blog for the first time in 5 years? Because my brain told me so, and it wasn’t going to let me go back to sleep until I did what it told me to do, because that’s just how it has always worked. Sleep is just one of those things I’m not privlieged enough to be good at, despite all my practice. I get that from both of my parents.

Let’s roll back to a few weeks before Christmas. My mother-in-law who is a community flautist had asked me to do some transposition of few Christmas pieces so that their church congregation could sing them more easily, and like most of us modern musicians, transposing on the go is doable, but hardly preferable. I was excited to jump at the chance because about 6 months ago I broke down and bought myself a new laptop. Something that could replace the 3 different devices that I use for all of my hobbies and combine them into one solid powerhouse and could also travel with me. I reluctantly finally parted ways with my Surface Pro 3 and picked up a Lenovo Yoga i9. I absolutely love it. It’s powerful enough to run my photo editing software for all of the underwater photos I like to shoot, can do some light gaming so I can finally pour through some of my steam library, and of course: it can run Sibelius 7 easily with all of my plugins and has a full num pad for easy note entry. This was oddly a requirement even though I haven’t written a note of music in probably 4+ years, but I thought it would motivate me to get back into it. So – I get everything in, it comes back to me like riding a bike, builds my confidence notating music again. Which I think is a large part of why my brain decided to wake me up today and say, “let’s go”.

We’ll roll back just a bit more, because I suspect by this point you need another cup of coffee or break. That’s fine. We’re about a quarter of the way done. You can go. I’ll wait….

Back? Good? Settled? Ok – buckle in. Let’s keep going.

Time for the excuses portion of our program. The past year of my life has been completely flipped upside down. 10 months ago tomorrow, my first child was born. His name is Calder and he’s a complete handful (just like his Father. Surprise, surprise). I love him with every ounce of my being, even on his more “tantrum-y” days, which are becoming a lot more frequently lately. Thankfully he starts daycare next week which will give him the opportunity to be more challenged and learn from other kids, and hopefully make some friends. He was supposed to start this week, but then Covid hit the Lexow house, so that’s been fun. We’re fine and healthy. Vaxxed and all that jazz. Anyway – having a kid changes a lot of things. AEP and I have tried hard to “bring him into our lives” instead of wrapping our lives around him. And for the most part we’ve been pretty successful at that, but it still takes a toll, and it means that we don’t get to always do the things we like or used to. (I still haven’t seen the new Spiderman movie and I’m little mad about it.) But that’s ok. It’s been worth it in every way (ask me how I feel in 12 years). I’ve also been battling with some pretty rough health issues for the past year now. My body gets bored and decides to attack itself in a few different ways, so now I have 3 auto-immune diseases that I’m trying to balance. Most days it’s manageable now, but some days, they just all combine like Captain Planet and stop me in my tracks. This made the first few months of Calder’s existence in our lives really tough. So when we weren’t tending to him, I was either sleeping, or just trying to rest and let my body heal. – Excuse #1 for not writing music and being away this long.

Just over 2 years ago now we bought our first house. It’s been super exciting, especially because I’m SUCH a big DIY’er. Not just with my over-the-top Halloween parties, but with home projects too. Which, credit where credit is due – that all comes from my Dad. He’s taught me absolutely everything I know about framing, drywall, electrical, plumbing, tiling, designing projects, and executing. So when we got in the house, we threw our first big Halloween party, which was a Harry Potter themed one (3rd time we’ve done that now) to test the limits of hosting in our house. It was a huge hit. After that party we immediately jumped in and completely remodeled the entire basement. It now has a big bar, theater, home gym, pool table, and no where near enough storage for all of my Halloween crap. That entire project took roughly 16 months and more money than I care to admit or talk about. Excuse #2.

Last one, then we’ll move into modern day and goals and crap. I think it’s been just over 11 years now since my grandfather passed away. That one hit me hard. He is where all of my musical talent comes from. I still have his drumset, which I posted about on Facebook not too long ago, and he was a big jazz pianist. I actually captured some of his playing in Sibelius once and saved it so I could still hear him play that same song over and over. Anyway, sometime around….well geeze I guess it’s been probably 7 years ago now, I set out to write a piece in his honor. It was the first piece I’ve ever written my own text for, and it’s for an Acapella SATB choir. It’s called ‘Flight’, and for me, it’s takes place after Eric Whitacre’s, “Sleep” – which is one of my all time favorite choral pieces. The text alone took me a year to write, just out of the shear difficulty of what I was trying to capture along with the emotional element to it. Trying to imagine what it was like for him in those final moments and beyond was no easy task, yet alone writing about it. After I finalized the text and ran it through several of my writing friends, it was time to set it. I started writing – again struggling quite a bit, because I had written the text with no real theme in mind. The more I wrote, the more it sounded more and more like Eric’s piece, “Water Night“, which is a gorgeously written dark piece and I think that’s why I think it was so appealing to me. I wanted (want) to capture that same tranquility and angst in my own writing, without feeling like I’m just re-using someone’s idea. The push and pull of emotion through the music, the crunch chords that are stacked perfectly, capturing sadness and relief, and all of the other emotions that come with death has just been a struggle for me. I usually write about pretty crap like leaves falling or the beauty of our planet. The most angsty thing I’ve written is a passive aggressive piece called Dishes when I lived in a group house in college and no one cleaned up after themselves. Anyway, I’ve tried for years to continue writing Flight but keep erasing everything I come up with. So that’s created a bit of a writers block for me and has really shot my confidence in writing, which of course kills my motivation as well. Excuse #3.

You tired yet? I’m surprised you made it this far. If you have, here’s a fun tidbit. The first piece I ever wrote was October Love. I wrote it my senior year of highschool. I had already been in band for several years at that point and was playing Bassoon in the Lincoln Way Central Orchestra and Wind Symphony. The inspiration for it came from the movie Finding Nemo, specifically the scene where Nemo is going to school for the first time with Mr. Ray and they’re “flying” over all of the coral. The way Thomas Newman writes during that scene with all of the deep warm tones really sparked something in me and I wanted to recreate that feeling with something original. Thus, October Love was born. It’s still my best selling piece today and has received the best feedback by far of any other piece I’ve written. It was even used in a wedding that the bride walked down the isle to!

Alright, that’s enough excuses to last and that pretty much fills the 5 year gap. Right before the new year hit I decided to actually set some goals. I used to be of the mindset that the only New Years resolution I would make would be to “not make a new years resolution”. And I was really successful in that until this year. This year I’m challenging myself, but I’m not calling them resolutions because I’m not actually trying to resolve anything. Instead I’ve set myself 4 very obtainable goals that will still challenge myself through some discipline, hard work, and accountability. Most importantly, I need to re-prioritize myself and the things in my life I care about outside of my family (which always comes first) and my career (which I am getting better at balancing). So as you may have guessed, two of those goals are music based. My first one is to finish Flight. I’m going to force myself to finish it. Even if I think it’s a complete hack-based piece of crap. I need to finish it, and when I’m done with it, I’ll share it with the world for you to all tear it apart or just plain ignore it. My second goal is to write a NEW piece, to get me out of my rut and get my creative juices flowing again. I have 3 other pieces sketched out that I really want to work on and a 4th idea I’ve been toying with as well. I just need to do one of those, but if I can do more even better. I checked the works in progress page on my website and they were all supposed to be completed in 2016…. swing and a miss. We’ll see if we can get back on that train.

And if you care about the two other goals, the 3rd is an obligatory weight loss goal. Trying to re-lose 20lbs I put back on because I’m an idiot with no self-control and a stress eating complex. To be fair, it was a rough year on my guts, but I also broke down and bought a Peloton to motivate me to get off my butt. I was really tired of my squeaky treadmill. So far I’ve done 3 rides and I’m in love. The last goal is to read 4 books this year. Not a big stretch if you’re an avid reader, but for me and all of my other hobbies it’s a true balancing act. I figure this allows me to read one book a quarter. I’m already in the middle of Dan Brown’s, “Origin” (Love Dan Brown/Robert Langdon books), and AEP just got me David Grohl’s new book, “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music”, which is also on my list. (I’m a huge Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters nerd too..)

I’ve spent my music writing career in a lot of weird phases. When I was young, I wrote entirely from my heart and ear. I wasn’t worried about skill or theory or rules. If I could play it, it was good enough. When I got into learning and writing in college, my professors challenged me to write bigger, better, different, and I applied tons of rules I had learned which made my pieces more defined and less unique. I found several inspiring composers that I still love and respect to this day. Eric Whitacre’s choral pieces are unrivaled and give me chills every single time, John Mackey showed me that being a self-published composer can be fun and successful, Jim Bonney is an excellent guitarist that I’ve gotten to work with and he’s outstanding composer in multiple formats including video games. And then you get into the film and video game industry with John Williams who is a definable classic that has created so many of my favorite themes. Jesper Kyd for the Assassins’ Creed game soundtracks. Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplate for their Harry Potter scores. So, so, so many more that I could write an entire post about. My point behind telling you all of these names, (and this is truly more as a reminder to me by now, since I’m pretty sure no one is reading this far anymore), is that it’s ok to be inspired by these people, but don’t let them define you. I’ve spent too much time trying to subconsciously or even consciously copy what other people have done that made them successful and I think that is a lot of what has slowed me down. There is good ways to nod to those inspirations, but my talent comes from my heart and what I hear around me and in my head – like I did with October Love and Iridescent Winds (which I’ve now listened to 6 times in a row). So as an unwritten 5th goal this year – it’s to get back into that mindset: to truly define my own writing style. A style that’s filled with pretty sounds, way to many ostinatos and cymbal rolls, and to not be arrogant with my writing but know where I want to stick to my guns too. Even if I don’t sell a single copy of anything I write, I’m fine with it. Because just sitting here and listening to my own 13 minute piece 6 times in a row and getting chills every time is proof that I should keep going on what I love. And maybe if I’m lucky enough, some day I’ll be able to pass this talent and what I’ve learned down to Calder.

Truly – if you made it this far, thank you. Leave a comment. Let me know you’re here. I know I said I’m doing this for myself and that’s 98% true, but it’s always nice to have a little outside motivation too. Enjoy the rest of your morning routine. I’ll be back soon with an update on Flight, I hope.