I've played piano since the second grade, mostly hymns with some easy classical. By high school I'd taken up the clarinets (mostly alto and bass). It was in high school that I started playing jazz piano, which led me to my first improvisations on the piano and my first songs written. (My first song with words was for a girl, it made her break up with me, that is a whole different story.) By the end of high school as my family moved to Rexburg I knew that I was going to study and eventually create music.
That summer after high school proved to be a turning point.
After graduating I was sure that I wanted to start a band, in which I would play piano and write songs and hopefully find somebody who could sing better than me. The most influential bands on me at that point were Elton John (and Something Corporate and Ben Folds, both punk/emo Elton John wannabees.), emo bands like Dashboard Confessional and Brand New, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, who had a certain sort of complexity to their music that I admired. I was just sure that if I just spent that summer writing music, that by the end of it I would be ready to get a band together that year at BYU-Idaho before my mission.
All in all, rather naive, optimistic, and in retrospect, fully plausible. Thank goodness my influences have changed since then!
Something interrupted my plans, however, and resulted in me being saved from sudden young fame. Her name was reality, and she and I still don't get along.
That summer after high school my family was moving to Rexburg. My father was there building a house my friend Ryan Spackman lovingly dubbed, "The Great and Spacious Building." Every day we drove up from Pocatello, an hour and a half drive, to work all day on the house, returning in the evening. Although I got exposed to a lot of classic rock radio (I still don't like the eighties!) I didn't get any songwriting done at all. Nothing. My time was either spent building, driving, or sleeping. My plans to write a great emo masterpiece that would solidify my eternal spot amongst the captains of emo were thwarted and how!
One day I had as it were my Faustian conversation with the devil. It is a conversation that, I think, is repeated with musicians of all levels in all times and places. The evil one has a sinister interest in controlling those who entertain. The conversation went on in my mind as I was building the house one day and went something like this:
"So you like music, right?"
"Yes, very much."
"You want to get rich and famous?"
"I think so. I think mostly I want to express my feelings. I want other people to hear my music and relate."
"Right, right - you want to feel accepted by them, understood...You could do it, you know. Be famous, I mean. Make music. Be heard."
"Yeah, I think I can do it. Building this house has put my plans on hold."
"Hmm, I see that. But this house will be built soon, you'll be going to classes, and then soon onto your mission. What if you just stunk it up in school? Write your music. Find your band. Don't worry about getting ready for a mission, you're ready now...and if it needs to be postponed a little while you get your name out, that will be for the better, right...?"
I can't really do that deceiver's invitation justice with my little recreation. Those weren't the exact things 'said' or the exact things I was enticed to do. I can't even confirm that the conversation was anything other than in my head. I do know, however, that I realized at that time, that the lifestyle I thought I wanted was not really what I wanted to pursue. The 'sacrifices' of more important things I would be required to make would be too much. I thought again and again that summer about that conversation, and I realized that I wanted nothing to do with the devil's plan for musical success.
It was around that time that the phrase came to me, that has influenced my musical growth more than any other single thought.
"If you want to write good music,It was at that time, as we moved temporarily to the little Rock House in Rexburg, that I first sought out classical music. In the the 6 years since then, I have become convinced of the two points driven home to me that summer. First, the devil wants musicians to be successful in a way that destroys them in all the ways that truly matter. Second, listening to, learning from, and being inspired by the best music and by divine whisperings is the best way to learn how to write truly great music.
you've got to listen to better music.
If you want to write great music,
you've got to listen to the best music.
If you want to write the greatest music,
you've got to listen to God." -me, circa 2003
I remember dozing off one day on the floor of my room in Rexburg, a dozen CDs of classical music from the library on the floor around me, another dozen CDs from my collection in the trash bin. It seemed to me in my sleep that I was surround by the eager figures of long-gone composers. Wagner, Chopin and others in the shadowy background seemed to be encouraging my new path. Whether or not that was just a hopeful dream or something more, I've known ever since that it was my calling to create music.
What experiences in your life have led you to love music?