Where's Your Microphone?

I played a recent art gallery ambiance gig and there was no shortage of people giving me supportive comments, and some even watching in awe of what I do with my guitar, but there were a few who were completely unimpressed.  Not that you have to like what I’m doing, but surely you can find some aspect of it that brings you stimulation on one level or another.  At least, that’s what I’d always thought. 

The gallery, devoid of people for nearly half an hour, though the artist and gallery manager assured me that people would start to file in after about an hour, was cavernous, perfect for gallery exhibitions, and for live acoustic music.  Gallery shows are always fun for me, even more fun when gallery attendees can shed some dollars in my tip jar—wink, wink.   In addition, they’re great for somewhat introverted performers like me, who can get up and talk between songs and at least make attempts at getting giggles and laughs, but have to work really diligently at making it successful.  At galleries, I get to just hang out and play my music, almost like I would at home.  The exception being that I actually have to play each song the whole way through without mistake, and focus on all of the parts of a successful song’s performance as they revolve through my head.  Playing solo may just look like one task, but it requires attention to detail at such an extreme level that by the end of playing songs for two hours straight, I’m burnt out and need to step out for some fresh air, find a restroom, and enjoy a quick beverage if they‘re available.

            As far as I could tell, the only visitors so far had been friends of the artist and a few of their dogs.  The first to approach my corner of the gallery was a middle-aged woman and a small girl.  Sometimes I find it difficult to pay attention to the song and judge whether or not the listener is enjoying what I’m doing.  But this pair set all guesswork aside.

            “Where’s your microphone?” the woman asked.  The young girl, about three or four, let go of the woman’s hand and began to move around, putting all her energy into a little toddler dance of sorts. 

            I’d like to note that, if you see a solo performer playing music, it’s probably incautious to strike up conversation with them during the performance of a song, even in an art gallery.  Unless you’re able to talk and play at the same time, and I don’t mean sing (that’s an entirely different act, which I can do but don’t incorporate into my song compositions), carrying on a conversation with someone is very difficult.  I can’t do it very well, and if I must answer a question, as was the case in this instance, the song I’m playing at the time suffers, severely.  But the question poser is likely not listening to the music anyhow, right?

            “It’s in the guitar,” I say, trying to keep the beat straight and the melody working, assuming she has asked how I could get the guitar to play through my amp without a microphone in front of me.

            “No, your microphone.”

            The little girl whirled and danced.  I’d never had an audience member so young, so obviously enjoying my music.  It put a huge smile on my face.

            I said, “There’s a microphone inside my guitar picking up the sound.”

            “No, I mean, don’t you sing?” she replied.

            “No, I only do instrumental music, no singing.”

            “Oh,” she said. She took the hand of the adorable young listener and dancer and turned away and walked, the girl obviously wishing to stay and listen.

            I finished my song and gave myself a second to consider what had just happened.  The woman, mother or grandmother, didn’t care what my music expressed unless it also used my voice.  As an instrumentalist, that’s quite an affront to my passion for the art form.  I know there are critics and not everyone likes what I do, but I hadn’t considered the existence of a music criticism such as that. 

            I’m highly selective of the music I listen to, especially when there are vocals involved, and usually, I only listen to the melody carried by the vocals.  The lyrics fall much lower in the list of things that catch my attention.

            I wanted the little girl to come back.  She had a clear appreciation of anything that sounded musical, with or without singing.

 

            I find that it can be hard for an instrumental musician to find a place in a world where so much value is placed on singing as an integral key to the success of a song.  Maybe it has something to do with the wide range of musical styles I was exposed to when growing up, but never once have I thought to myself that a song absolutely had to have words and singing to be considered good or interesting.  It’s always good to have a reminder that tastes in music vary from that of Taylor Swift to mostly unheard of instrumental guitarists.

            I would urge you, those of you who are not musicians, to consider how much hard work, how many compromises, how many sacrifices, how much time, and how many resources a musician puts into what they’re doing.  Maybe you don’t care for certain types of music, and that’s absolutely fine, but if you consider yourself a lover of any type of music, please, consider the individual who is performing for you.  What they are doing makes a difference in the lives of some, and with that, their musical service is comparable to that of any occupation providing any service, be it plumbing, counseling, you name it.  It is work, it is fun work, it is really hard, sometimes—especially in the case of a solo instrumentalist—very lonely work, and even if you don’t like what they’re doing, you can perhaps appreciate the dedication they have, just as you’d hope that musician would appreciate the dedication you have towards whatever passions and responsibilities you have in your life. 

Perhaps most importantly, try to enjoy the music!!  Try to feel what that musician is expressing.  Don’t shirk on gaining new perspective by ignoring it because it’s not what you typically put on in the car.  Open your mind and live a little.  Heck, dance, whether you’re only three years old or fifty-three years old.  

Bourgeoisie

"And now let's play the 'Bourgeois Bluess' while Aaron gives us some solo lines on his new Bourgeois guitar," said Rob.  Thanksgiving was always a time for our alternative family to meet, eat, be merry, and make music.  Rob, my brother, and I sat in the living oom sharing songs and taking solos.  How long had this song, "Bourgeois Blues" been a part of my life?  It was  a fire-side circle staple that Rob had been singing since my parents met him at college.

 While I'm not sure that the term "Bourgeois" applies to me, the word has been a constant in my life.  I took the solo and I look forward to the next time I can play my new guitar alongside Rob.  


Lord, in a bourgeois town
It's a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

A good friend, Rob--bearded, clad in a jean jacket and red bandana--sang his rendition of a Lead Belly classic around the fire on a dew-heavy summer's eve where my mother sat pregnant with me.  The guitar he played, an old Guild from the 60s, was the first instrument I'd have had contact with from within my mother's womb, and in my introduction to the world as an infant.  The song, "Bourgeois Blues," would remain a constant beacon of folk music in my life as I grew older and eventually, after watching and listening to Rob, I would find my own way to the guitar.

The first guitar I played was of an unknown make, with doves painted on its top, a nostalgic beacon of decades ago, with that funny dusty wooden scent that old guitars develop after an age of sitting in corners and dry spaces.  It was a guitar that my aunt loaned me.  I didn't even know if I wanted to play the guitar at this age.  All I knew of the instrument was that Rob made it look so easy, yet challenging at the same time, and as I began my first lessons I quickly learned that playing the guitar was going to be work and not so much fun. The lessons would only last a couple weeks.  As an eight-year old I wanted video games, and the instant ability to know how to play music without having to work at it and study for a long period of time.  I let the guitar go for years with no renewing interests.

I didn't hold a guitar again until I was in high school.  A friend asked me to learn how to play bass so we could start a band, so I got one and started plucking.  I'd been playing music for years at this point: I'd started on saxophone in concert and marching bands, I'd taken more lessons, again without much success, in piano and violin.  I decided that learning another instrument with four strings like the violin, but with frets and no bow, would be so much easier.  

I managed to teach myself how to play the bass guitar by getting a white Squier P-Bass to help in the learning process.  Within a year I had not only begun playing bass for two or three different rock groups, but I was playing bass in the high school jazz ensemble as well as playing for the front ensemble of the competition-winning marching band.  Four strings had suddenly become my daily passion.

I auditioned for the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and while I aced the music composition and theory portion of the audition, I quickly realized that my self-tuaght bass methods and experimentalism (going so far as to write a solo bass piece and bring along the music notation to show) wasn't what a conservatory music school valued in its entrants.  

I fell back on my second option, being an undeclared exploratory student at a nearby state school.  Eventually playing bass lost its edge without bands to join, and I made a friend who let me borrow his guitar for the weekends he went home.  The first song I learned was "Classical Gas" and suddenly I was attached at the hip to six strings and not four.  

I soon went out and bought myself an entry-level Taylor guitar. I began listening to guitarists such as Pat Metheny and Michael Hedges in addition to the many incredible guitarists and singer-songwriters I'd grown up listening to in a household where my parents listened to folk, rock, blues, jazz, and R&B.  Beofre I knew it Iw as tapping harmonics and performing techniques that make most guitar hobbyists dizzy.

It remained my hobby for eight years.

Then I was asked to open a show at the local guitar boutique shop in Pittsburgh.  I suddenly found myself performing live music openly at festival fire circles and no longer keeping it to myself.  

About a year later, a guitar came along that I hadn't expected.  A Bourgeois guitar (from Dana Bourgeois' Bourgeois Guitars guitar luthiery company) was on display at the guitar shop where I made guitar demo videos and it was the first time I'd found a guitar that instantly bonded with me.  I'd had a place in my heart for the word "Bourgeois," mostly because of my musical upbringing, and fate would have it that I'd find a guitar with the same word on its headstock.

While the meaning behind "Bourgeois Blues" doesn't apply to my situation, I've been hearing that word, bourgeois, in song and conversation for a long time and having been asked to play my Bourgeois guitar during Rob's rendition of "Bourgeois Blues" just feels like the completion of some musical quest I didn't realize I had undertaken.

 I guess it's time I arranged my own version of the song.  



 

2014 in Review

2014 has been a huge year of transformation for me. At the end of 2013 I ended a long, 7-year relationship with the realization that I wasn't who I wanted to be.  And even so, at the start of 2014, I struggled some more with a writing career and finally, after some further realization, I came to understand that what I am meant to do in this life involves music above all else.  

Quickly, easily, things for my guitar career have been falling into place.  I've met an incredible community of people I didn't know existed.  So far, the people I've come in contact with who is involved with the world's guitar-playing community have been the most supportive and welcoming group of individuals I've met.  

Just to recap some of my musical achievements this year:

- I began demoing guitars at Acoustic Music Works

- I found the opportunity to purchase a guitar that felt as though it'd been built solely for me.

- I stopped being afraid of playing guitar for people, in fact, I love it.

- I was given the opportunity to record my first album (on the way!)

- I played a few shows and open mics and made some incredible new friends

- the company who built my guitar noticed me, and has asked me to come to the NAMM shows to demo their guitars!

It has been a long road to realizing that what I'm meant to pursue is music.  I've been learning instruments and playing music since I was ten, and I even tried to go to college for it.  That didn't work out, but somehow I've been brought back around to it and truly, there's no escaping it's pull on my life.  I'm looking forward to making 2015 a big year.  I don't know what's in store for me yet, but should things keep up the way they have, it'll be a great one.  I look forward to meeting new people and making some great new friends.  I'm so thankful for everything I have and I'm grateful to all those who have helped make a difference in my life this past year and who have pushed me to do things I'd only daydreamed about.  Thank you, and Happy New Year!

A Winter's Solstice

The holiday season is upon us yet again, and each time this time of year rolls around, I feel as though it never went away.  No, it's not because of all that hokey Christmas music we hear anytime we set foot inside a store.  That's not my kind of music, really.  If it's yours, that's great, you have the advantage of hearing it virtually anywhere you go this season, and I really hope I can have that pleasure some day.  

For some, there's much more to holiday music than the Christmas classics sung by Sinatra, there's Baroque and chamber music, there's Celtic music, and then there's my personal favorite compilation of seasonal tunes, A Winter's Solstice II.  Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records, brought, what is for me, a penultimate of feel-good, wintery, instrumental arrangements, some of which are acoustic guitar oriented.  

Seeing as how today marks the 17th anniversary of the loss of the late, and for modern acoustic guitar lovers, extremely important, Michael Hedges, I thought mentioning my first introduction to his guitar music would be more than fitting.   On this album, Hedges performs "Prelude to Cello Suite #1" on a harp guitar.  This song, with which many people will be familiar upon hearing, set the soundtrack for me as I read books in snowy Decembers.  The Neverending Story comes to mind when this song queues up.  Truly, I have those warm fuzzy memories we all should have, because of this performance by Michael Hedges.  Sometimes, I'll cheat and listen to the tune out of season, because it is one of my absolute favorite guitar arrangements.

As for other solo guitar on the album, Will Ackerman, a fantastic guitarist as well as music producer, plays "Abide the Winter," a slow, thoughtful song that, if it were long enough, might help one push on through the coldest of winters with fresh hopes for the coming spring.  

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My love of music started very early, probably long before my lungs held their first breaths. My parents and friends were folk music lovers, and though I don't know the year A Winter's Solstice II landed on our home stereo, I remember it as if it has been there each and every year of my life, (I'm 28 by the way).  The special thing about this album, is that it comes out only once a year for no more than three to four weeks, and this always coincides with the passing of Michael Hedges.  

As others look fondly forward to their Christmas music, I look to this album to set the mood for the winter ahead.  If you're a fan of instrumental music, which if you're here, I truly hope you are, I can't exceed my recommendation in finding this album somehwhere and giving it a listen.  Make sure it's snowing outside, and make sure you have some hot chocolate on hand. 

And, to Michael, sometimes your music crops up at unexpected times, and at times when it is needed most, for that, thank you.  

 

 

 

Intro

To all those first setting eyes upon this website, this blog will be an enhancement to the site, allowing fans and visitors to catch a glimpse of my journey through life as a guitarist.  I invite you to read on it you'd like to know what it is that has brought me to this instrument and the music I make with it, what has and still does inspire me to be musically obsessed, and what memories I have with music and how it has shaped who I am today.  I implore you to read on and keep an open mind while reading each entry because I want you to know just how important this is to me.