Archive for the ‘My Students’ Category

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:

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.

One of my favorite things about teaching is watching my students take the raw material that I give them and then bulid on it to make it something different, and a lot of times better. Here is a video of one of my students… Ryan Palmer. He was working on one of my arrangements of Silent Night. He changed some of the chords to give it a slightly darker feel. I love what he did with it. That’s one of the things I love about him and his music. I think you’ll enjoy it too. If you have a youtube account, stop by and give him some feedback.