Music is my answer

Thursday night gigs can either be great, or a drag. Most musicians walk that tight balance between day job and passion, and much too often, the day job takes away so much energy and joy. That Thursday night hit at 11 is something you look forward to all week, but you know that your 6AM wake up call is looming in the not too distant future, and that no amount of coffee is going to help you recover from four hours of sleep. That’s the truth as I write this!

So, how do you get excited for a drag of a show with a small crowd at a bar that’s charging too much for cover, in a part of the city nobody wants to venture to on a 5 degree night in Chicago?

You play. You play your frustration. You play your emotion. And, you play for those 15 people who happen to be there.

I had this type of gig with Four Star Brass Band last night. I was admittedly having a not so great day.

Looking for full time employment is tough, the rejection letters are coming in (finally some word – it’s frustrating when you’ve applied for over 200 jobs and had zero feedback!), and I’m finding it hard to see silver lining in my current hunt and frustration.

However, the truth is I am doing what I love. I’m playing music.

I wasn’t in a great mood when I got to the bar. I was tired from a late night rehearsal/lack of sleep from the night before, and honestly just looking forward to playing the set so I could go home and sleep. But then something amazing happened. I pulled out my saxophone, warmed up a bit, and walked up the stairs to the stage. There was an energy that changed from that top step to stage. I went from dragging my feet to smiling ear to ear. From those first warm-up notes to the last fortissimo fermata I was totally entrenched in the music, the crowd. People were smiling, dancing… I was smiling and dancing, and singing from the depths of somewhere I’m not sure I knew I had in me.

And now I sit, despite four hours of sleep, riding the high that comes with those flashes of energy, beauty, and the purest way I know love and life exist. Music is my answer.

The evolving persuit of dreams and passions – part 1

I’ve always been an ambitious dreamer.

Whether it was jamming with my older brother on pots and pans when I was 3, sitting behind an 80’s drumset 20 times the size of me when I was 5, picking up my first violin at 9, or starting saxophone at 10 I wanted to be the guy. I wanted to be admired for my talent. This stretched to all aspects of my life.

When I was 5, playing t-ball, I wasn’t shy about giving a strategic lecture about why you shouldn’t hit the ball to the left side of the infield with a man on 1st and 2nd with two outs. Despite being the smallest kid in my class, and one of the slowest, I would start my spring training every February when just enough snow had melted at the very back of my back yard to leave a strip where I could practice throwing a baseball into my fence.  I would visualize the game I loved so much, about how I would grow, get faster, become stronger.  I practiced day in and day out for that dream.  I had no natural talent, but I was a student of the game.  When the other kids grew taller, could run faster, and throw harder I was stuck behind (my growth spurt would come after my baseball career was all but over), I still put my best effort forward.  I knew I would never be an all-star, or hit a home run, but I showed up early every practice, every game because I loved everything about baseball.

While dreaming about my baseball career I was also playing the aforementioned instruments with the same fervor. I didn’t have time for friends or a social life.  Yes, it was because I was awkward, and would run home every day under the threat of being chased down and beaten by unscrupulous bullies who didn’t like my hair, or my glasses, or that I raised my hand in class, or that I often befriended those who were for some reason even more hated than me…

Unlike baseball, music was a completely personal and internal emotional therapy for me. With baseball I got to dream of being bigger, stronger, faster. With music I got to experience love, hate, joy and sorrow. I got to feel everything I tried to hide from those so quick to make fun of me. Learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on that 1/2 size violin made me dream of being a concertmaster of a symphony in a grand orchestra hall. I practiced to be better, and faster (baseball has it’s hold), but also expressive, and emotional.

When I first heard the saxophone, care of my older brother’s Jr. High Jazz Band, I was instantly in love with this beautiful instrument and expressive voice. The less I talked in real life, the fewer friends I had, the more I turned to the purest sense of feeling I could find. Music. Saxophone meant jazz! It meant Cannonball Adderly’s Somethin’ Else! It meant everything.

I was an ambitious dreamer. Unlike baseball, I found my natural talent in playing whatever instrument found it’s way under my fingers. I was never the “technical” best, but I wanted it more than anyone else.  I didn’t just want to master the technique, I wanted to play notes that spoke the words I dared not. The words I couldn’t find. The sentiments beyond my vision.

It’s a dream I’m still pursuing, and fight for every day.