Archive for February, 2010

Tonight I’m sitting here thinking about living life as a creative person.  I’ve pretty much made a living being creative my whole life. Even in high school I missed the job at Jack in the Box, serving up hamburgers and things that vaguely resemble tacos using my photography to make money.  I learned early on that I could photograph all the people who tended to be self absorbed… i.e. the people in drama and the various music groups, and when I was really desperate… the jocks. Then I would make 8 x 10’s of them and sell the prints to them. It beat the heck out of the alternative, and gave me time to pursue my other interests instead.  I worked hard to become a better photographer and to become better at the darkroom work to support it. 

I also went out of my way to get better as a musician. Since my parents refused to spring for music lessons I worked at playing the bass so I could play with guitarists that were better than me so I could watch them and learn from them. I went to concerts and watched the guitarists, trying to glean anything I could from their playing. I spent hours alone practicing… and slowly but surely I got better.

So many people I know are wanting to pursue music or other creative endeavors, but they don’t want to put in the hours it takes to hone their craft. I see that all the time as a music teacher. A lot of my students want to be able to play well. Few of them are willing to put in the extra effort to go from being able to play through something, to making it great. It’s the difference between creating like you are cramming for a test, or creating like you want to be able to play it for life.

We’re a society of people who are rushing from thing to thing at a breakneck pace, with constant noise and stimulation. There’s always the T.V., or the iPod or the cell phone… something to distract us from just being quiet in the moment. The creative process needs time to happen. We need to have time to think… to imagine… to write, to try different ideas on our instruments.  I want to continue to improve as a musician, as a photographer and as a writer. To do that I have to step away from the distractions and make the time to actually do it.

You can open the entertainment section in any paper in any city and look at the ads for people playing locally. A lot of them will not be that good. But they are there playing because they had the creative work ethic to take the time to rehearse and show up. If we are serious we need to take the time pursue the creative part of our life and not allow it to get sidetracked by all the other things competing for our time.

Heather Youmans, one of my bass students, is a great example of being willing to work hard to pursue her creative dream. In the midst of a crazy academic load in high school, she’s faithfully plugged away at honing her craft creatively. She’s spent years developing her voice and her acting and dancing talents. She’s really applied herself to the nuts and bolts of bass playing as well. She’s taken the time to do the “hard boring part” of it all. She’s worked at the scales and the music theory. She’s spent the time working at developing her ear and learning to read music. Along the way she’s become a good bass player who can actually sing, front a band, and play bass all at the same time. She’s been doing soundtrack work for several years and her own album is releasing soon. It hasn’t been easy. She’s spent a lot of hours practicing. She’s spent a lot of hours in the studio and rehearsing. But she’s ready. I have other students who want to be musicians or singers that I’ve been teaching as long as I’ve been teaching Heather. They are no closer to their dream though because while she’s been hard at work they’ve been busy with other things and spending most of their down time partying.

Over the years I’ve known a huge number of incredibly naturally talented people who’ve gotten no where because they weren’t willing to put the extra work in to achieve greatness. I’ve also known a lot of people who’ve developed into really good players and have had success creatively because while they were less naturally gifted, they had a hunger… a passion to develop their art and they took the time to perfect their craft.

I want to keep creating. I never want to rest on what I’ve done in the past. God save me from the incessant noise and distractions that go on all around me. Help me to take the time to work at my craft as well. May I continue to find ways to encourage my other students to be more like Heather and put elbow grease to their dreams.

Here’s Heather’s current music video:


Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Life Is Not Twitteriffic

Originally Written on Wednesday, June 24, 2009 (1:13am)
My Life Is Not Twitteriffic…

Yes, I have a twitter account. I actually check it every few days to see what my friends are doing. Normally I sit there trying to think of something to write in 140 letters or less, or however many they give you to make a definitive statement about your life. Normally the best I can come up with is “gee, nope… I still got nothin'” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t have plenty of things going on that are meaningful to me. (Although about 90% of what some of my friends post I would file under T.M.I. I don’t really need to know about when they get their nails done… or in the case of some of the guys… the details of their bowel movements. It’s like we’ve all reverted to being back in summer camp.)
I do think it’s interesting though that there’s some kind of built in desire in most of us for connection, even if it’s just quickly touching base. Twitter is great for that. Sometimes these wonderful little gems slip by just when I get a chance to look. Tonight one of my friends was writing a mutual friend there she had this great quote for her: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”That quote from Khalil Gibran was just what I needed to read at that moment.

Normally the real stuff my life is made of just doesn’t work on Twitter. A lot of the stuff I look at as really eventful has to do with relationships. They are quiet moments that don’t condense well. Twitter is great for action stuff… “I’m going here… I’m doing this… I ate this… I just saw… etc.” All those things can be fun for me to read. The truth is that I spend about 12 -14 hours a day in my teaching studio with a steady stream of people coming in and out every half hour. All of them are these amazing, unique individuals that I get to interact with. Part of what happens here is that I teach them how to play an instrument. The greater thing that happens here is that we effect each other’s lives.

For some reason, many times people start lessons with me at major turning points. They are looking for something that will be fun and entertaining and will help take away some of their stress and help them focus on something else for awhile. Some of them show up when an important relationship has just ended. Others come because they are care givers to someone who is very ill and they need a break. The teenagers I teach normally just want to have fun playing music. Still they always have the daily stresses of trying to navigate a world that isn’t always friendly to them, while they are trying to figure out who they are. I love watching them grow. There are always so many stories.

Sometimes life gets over whelming to me. My work schedule is brutal and I just get exhausted. But I love my students. I love who they are. I love their stories. I love getting a ring side seat to watch their lives unfold. A couple of things happened recently right when I was doubting my sanity at choosing my current profession. Neither makes good twitter material but both were wonderful in their own way.

I got a phone call from one of my old students wanting to come back and do a few more lessons. She left a message on my answering machine. She said “I don’t’ really remember that much about the guitar part of our lessons, but I do remember that you helped get me through a really dark season in my life and I’m doing a lot better now.” It’s easy in the midst of the tiredness to forget that how we interact with each other can be life changing. (It also turns out she remembered a lot more guitar than she gave herself credit for too.)

The other incident involved another one of my old students. When we met, she had  ended a  relationship with someone she loved, but who wasn’t good for her ultimately. She was questioning if she would find someone else she would be really compatible with. As time went by she did meet someone and fall in love. They were married and after experiencing the heartbreak of miscarriage had a healthy baby boy. She’s had an amazing journey. We were having lunch together. She was holding her son, who’s just getting strong enough to hold himself up. His back was leaning against her. In the middle of our conversation he reached over incredibly tenderly and put his hand on her cheek and put his head next to hers. At that point we both got teary eyed. I could tell that for both of us that one gesture on his part summed up her life journey. I’m so thankful to have the chance to be there to witness it. Such is my life. But for twitter… “nope… still got nothin.”

So True …

Posted: February 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

New Life for a Rock Star…

Brian “Head” Welsh was the guitarist from the rock band Korn. This is his story in his own words…

Saturday, February 21, 2009

15 Albums That Influenced My Life… The Cheaters Version…


This is one of those surveys that has been making it’s rounds on facebook. I decided to post it here too because music is an important part of my life. Most of this list contains material that helped shape who I am as a musician now during my “formulative years.” Music was a great outlet for me when I was young, and one of the few safe places to express what was really going on inside of me. It helped me to deal with the the trauma I experienced as a child and as a teenager. Here’s my entry as it appeared on facebook:

Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you’re over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wazoo, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag 15 others. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you’re it…

Ok, so I’m never good at playing by the rules, and you can’t expect a music teacher with a bizillion albums to be able to hang with 15 albums. I decided to divide stuff up by musical grouping part of the time with the stuff that shaped and formed my life and the way I play. There could have been a lot more.
Motown – (Early 60’s) Some of my earliest memories in California were hanging out with my next door neighbor listening to early Motown, especially Diana Ross & The Supremes.

The Beatles – Life as we previously had known it would never be the same after they showed up. For me it was not one of their albums it was the total package and the way they kept changing and morphing and creating such an amazing variety of really good music. I wanted to play the guitar after that. I learned about the power of a great melody from them. So many of their songs had these out arrangements on the recordings, but most of them still work with one acoustic guitar. It was because of the Beatles and The Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds that I became interested in multi-track recording.

Led Zeppelin – (1969 – 1980) I was blown away by their creativity and the sheer variety in their music. I think all of them were amazing musicians individually and together I don’t think there’s ever been a rock band that’s quite that strong as a unit.

Great guitarists, most who died too young. These guys totally influenced my life and my playing just a few of them were Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, BB King, Buddy Guy, and Bonnie Raitt. (On a side note I would love to have her voice.)

Singer/Songwriters: Cat Stevens – Tea For the Tillerman (1970) Helped me see the power of the song. Simon & Garfunkel -Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) All these years later I’m still blown away at the power and beauty of these songs. Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is (1986) That album, and especially that song, still powerfully resonates with me. That was the theme song for my life for a long time. The basic idea… people say this… “but don’t you believe it.”

Carole King – Tapestry (1971) The first album I ever saved up my own money to buy. I loved the lyrics and melody and the percussive piano playing. I wore it out from playing it so much. It was the album that helped me survive middle school, my mother’s death, and the sudden death of my childhood.

Neil Young (All the early stuff) I loved his rawness and crustyness.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – The guitars! The Harmonies! (Especially Deja Vu)
David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) I was stunned by the harmonies and the music.

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973) La Grange and Jesus Done Left Chicago Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs ( 1974) Both of these bands made me want to play blues rock in a big way.

U2 – Their early albums were so passionate. They are still a great rock band. Every worship guitarist on the planet owes a debt to The Edge.

Progressive Rock – At the same time I was starting to play blues rock I was also drawn into progressive rock. Some of the first stuff I played in bands in high school was in weird timing etc. Some of the bands I loved to listen to and play on guitar were early Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes, Emmerson Lake & Palmer and later Dream Theater and Rush.

Christian Artists: 2nd Chapter of Acts – With Footnotes (1974) Raw Christian music with good lyrics and amazing vocal harmonies that would go from “pretty” and almost too vibrottoy to edgy screamy rock. When Annie Herring sang “He took away my sin and shame,” I knew it was true for me too. Seeing them live a bunch of times was amazing. They did a tour that was them, Phil Keagy, Barry Mcguire, David Souther and some other great musicians that made me want to get better on my instruments. KEITH GREEN – His whole body of work (1975 -1982) Keith was an amazing songwriter and musician. I loved seeing him play live and at home in California during the early days of what would become Last Days Ministries. I think his death in a fiery plane crash in 1982 was the catalyst for a much needed reevaluation among many in the contemporary Christian music industry. A lot of people didn’t like him because he was so extreme… but I did notice that a lot of the artists that had been straying away from their original ministry goals did refocus after that. RICH MULLINS – Such a great songwriter and odd guy who didn’t give into the system and wasn’t perfect… a good role model. DANIEL AMOS/DA – These guys were way ahead of their time and were one of the most creative bands to ever get pigeonholed into the CCM category… Alarma and Doppelganger are amazing.

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973) and Songs In the Key of Life (1976) – Completely amazing. The rhythms.

Heart – Dreamboat Annie (1976) and Little Queen (1977) I grew up in a world without many female rock roll models. Here were women who could sing like crazy and play too. It’s sad that I was a senior in high school before these guys showed up on the scene.

David Wilcox – Once again it’s not just one song or album. It’s the entirety of his career. David’s not that well known, but he’s an amazing songwriter and guitarist. He’s that rare breed of musician who’s not interested in being a rock star. He wants to practice his craft and be able to support his family. He tackles tough issues and sings about faith in a way that makes the gospel live without cramming it down peoples throats. He uses weird tunings, and makes the acoustic guitar sing.

Patty Griffin – Living With Ghosts (1996 ) I’m overwhelmed by the power of one focused voice and guitar with passion and great material. I never get tired of listening to this album… or any of her stuff for that matter. I want to be like her when I grow up.

I am a fortunate woman. I get to do something I love for a living. More than that, I get to do it as a vocation. Every week I see an amazingly diverse group of people who show up at my door ready to learn how to play different instruments, or how to write songs, or lead worship, or a variety of other music related things. Each one of them is unique. Each one of them brings something different into my world… that’s for sure. It can be a noisey, messy, crazy time. It can also be aggravating at times challenging. But I still love it. I love watching kids eyes… their whole faces light up when they get something the first time. Anyway, enough yammering. In December, a bunch of my students… aged 6 – 60 played Smoke on the Water while I videotaped them. We edited all those together so everyone could get their 5 seconds of fame. I think you’ll enjoy it. Proving once again that music is a lot about just having a good time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 (2:10am)
More of the Best of the Next Generation…
One of my favorite things about teaching is having students who are like sponges. I can teach them the mechanics of what they need to be able to play their instruments… but they have the passion and the fire that inspires them to push forward and use that knowledge to create something beautiful or significant.

Rachel is someone like that. She wanted to be able to play worship music. She’s worked really hard to learn her chords and her strums and all that stuff. But more importantly, she’s internalized the songs and made them live for herself and the other’s she plays for. She’s only been playing for a little over a year but she has tons of songs memorized already.

More than anything I love the purity and the innocence of what she’s doing. In a world that tries to take music and warp it into something ugly, it’s beautiful to see it in such a pure form. It is such a gift for me to be able to see that. It’s my prayer that it always stays that way for her. When I was in 7th grade I began a relationship with God that was new and foreign to me. I was never raised around faith at all… quite the contrary. But the main reason I wanted to pick up the guitar and play it was to express something to God that I was having such a hard time expressing with words. I had a profound sense of gratitude and awareness that my life would never be the same. In Rachel I see myself at that age. The bottom line for me is that sure I love to rock n’ roll. I love to play rowdy music… but there is nothing I love as much as sitting alone with my guitar and doing exactly what Rachel is doing here. Welcome to a glimpse of what is best in my world.