2017 in Review

On New Years Eve I’ve always been one to look ahead instead of back but this year I feel the need to look back as well. Despite the stress that national and international politics have caused our country over the past 12 months, this year has been a very exciting year for me musically and personally.

I’ve had more performances this year than ever before. Eighty-six to be exact, most of which within a few miles of my home. Some of the locations sound like a Dr. Seuss book:

I’ve played my guitar at shopping malls and concert halls, art museums and basketball arenas, in grocery stores and behind closed doors, on the college green and the restaurant scene…

You get the idea.

Some of this years most special moments include:

Accompanying the Athens High School Symphonic Choir and senior soloists on arrangements of “Dust in the Wind” and “Ring of Fire.”

Joining Ohio University faculty on a concert with guest artist Nadje Noordhuis, a New York-based jazz trumpet player and member of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society.

Letting loose on a totally tubular (and LOUD) version of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” in front of about 2,000 elementary school children at Hallowpalooza X with my student jazz combo.

Providing music for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Body Donation Memorial Service. This moving event honors those who have donated their remains to the school of medicine and allows a chance to family members and students to reflect and mingle.

Joining the Ohio University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Luke Frazier for “Broadway for the Holidays” featuring guest artists Hilary Morrow (Birdland Jazz Club), Mary Michael Patterson (Phantom of the Opera), Claybourne Elder (Sunday in the Park with George), and Luke Hawkins (America’s Got Talent.)

Of course, I also gave guitar lessons numbering into the thousands, taught classes, coached student ensembles, and organized student performances and recitals.

In between it all I manage to keep practicing as much as I can. While it didn’t happen only in this year, I have been making huge strides with my own concepts of musicality and execution. I didn’t expect this to happen so late in the game, but I honestly haven’t felt this excited about learning since about 1986.

I also did a little travelling with Melanie this year and while our travels weren’t primarily about music, we did get to tour the Paul Reed Smith guitar factory while in Maryland. Then on a trip to NYC we heard some amazing music including: Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with guests Hamilton de Holanda and Baqir Abbas, the musical “Waitress” featuring Sara Bareilles, and guitarist Dida Pelled at the legendary Bar Next Door in Greenwich Village. All wonderful experiences.

We also ate cheese.

I hope your year was a great one and that we can make 2018 a year to remember, too!

My Performance Manifesto

Last week I wrote about my music teaching manifesto. This week I’ve created my performance manifesto. This list feels like a work in progress, but it’s a peek into how I approach my gigs which is as much about being prepared to deal with people and unexpected situations as it is about playing music. Feel free to share any of your gigging guidelines in the comments.

1. Dress appropriately for the venue and style of music I’m presenting.

2. Have any written details (contracts, directions, emails, etc.) of the gig in hand.

3. Find my contact person and be friendly with the staff at the venue.

4. Soundcheck and tune at the beginning of the gig and constantly reevaluate.

5. Be the version of myself that I want the audience to experience. Leave any negative vibes at home.

6. Have as much material memorized as possible.

7. Present a variety of accessible music but challenge the audience with some more unusual pieces.

8. Engage with the audience (verbally and non-verbally as appropriate) from the stage.

9. Be open to unexpected requests but know when to say no.

10. Remain grateful for the opportunity to present my music to live audiences.

Photoby Marc Mennigmann HANDS Project

Christopher Nolan on Silencing Your Phone

Taken from Adam Grant’s interview with Christopher Nolan for Esquire magazine, this is the single best reasoning I’ve ever seen for turning off your phone in creative situations:

Nolan: “There’s a mass belief that if you’re texting, you’re somehow not interrupting the conversation – you’re not being rude.

The person doing it doesn’t realize they have taken the energy from the conversation. If you have people in a creative environment where they have to concentrate on what they’re doing, you can’t have them wandering off in their minds. You can’t be texting somebody else and paying attention to what’s going on. If you call people on it, they’ll repeat the last thing you said. They repeat the words with zero understanding of what they meant. And then over the next minute, you see them start to understand the words for the first time. You can absorb audio information just at the level that you can repeat it back, without understanding.

It’s an illusion of multitasking. I started film-making when people didn’t expect to have a phone on set, when it would’ve been seen as unprofessional to pull out a phone. Phones have become a huge distraction, and people work much better without them. At first it causes difficulty, but it really allows them to concentrate on what they’re doing. Everybody understands. I’ve had a lot of crews thank me. With a set, we’re trying to create a bubble of alternate reality.

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar from Lucas Reilly on Vimeo.

I was recently chosen as the subject of a photojournalism project by Ohio University student Lucas Reilly. Lucas is a former student and it was great to reconnect with him and have him shadow me for a few days. Not only did he impress me with his photos, but he was amazingly professional and discrete while capturing these images.