As a musician, I've heard many friends and colleagues tell me a similar story of inspiration. It typically goes something like "I had this experience and I immediately thought of this piece of music. I knew that I had to play it." I will admit, I always thought of these stories as little more than an overly romanticized narrative of something that may or may not have happened. Well, I officially had a case of foot-in-mouth disease during the summer of 2017. Enter Black Forest Canyon National Park & Mesa Verde.
During the summer of 2017, while I was living in Denver, I took a trip with my family to southern Colorado. Our first stop was at Black Forest Canyon National Park, a truly remarkable expanse of vast canyons. I was completely awestruck by the expansiveness of what I saw, and Joaquin Turina's Sonata, Op. 61 immediately came to mind. In the first and third movements, I could imagine an eagle soaring through this canyon to the tune of the opening motives of these pieces. Beneath, I could picture a bear rumbling through the bottom of the canyon as the piece's low notes accelerate throughout the first movement.
The next and final stop on our trip was Mesa Verde, a series of Native American cliff dwellings. As a person from the northeastern part of the country, I didn't even know things like this existed! It was unbelievable to see what the Ancestral Puebloans accomplished in terms of buildings, agriculture, and even infrastructure. When you are there standing among the buildings, you are almost forced to imagine what life may have been like for these people. Again, this sonata came to mind. Filled with medium to slow tempo melodies that interject between some of the more aggressive parts, I thought of these as a sort of sing-song that could have been hummed by any one of the Puebloans during their day.
This experience in 2017 was truly inspiring, and the reason that I decided to prepare this sonata for my 2018-19 concert season. To listen to the third movement of this piece, click here.
Happy New Year to everybody! At this time of year, it is customary for people to make resolutions for the new year. I thought I would share a few of mine with you, and I would love to hear about yours in the comments below!
Dive Deeper With 'circles of influence'
One thing that I pride myself in as an artist is creating a world in which each piece lives in. This involves creating what I refer to as a 'circle of influence' for each piece. This typically involves finding other arrangements of a piece, other guitar works by that composer, non-guitar works of that composer, influences, and non-musical influences of that composer. For example, one piece that I will be performing in my 2019 season is Maurice Ohana's Tiento. I love this piece, and I have found a wonderful world in which this piece lives. The 'circle of influence' surrounding this piece that I have compiled is the following:
- Harpsichord arrangement of Tiento
- Si le Jour Parait - Maurice Ohana
- Trois Graphiques - Maurice Ohana
- Cadran Lunaire - Maurice Ohana
- Estelas - Maurice Ohana
- Homenaje: Le Tombeau de Debussy - Manuel de Falla
- Concerto for Harpsichord - Manuel de Falla
- Flamenco Cante Jondo
- Groupe Zodiaque
I hope to extend this work further in the coming year so that I may develop an even more comprehensive world in which each composition lives and convey some of the world's greatest music to you!
Remember to Relax!!
One of the things that I enjoy most about what I do is that I get to wear a bunch of different hats: guitarist, teacher, arranger, ensemble member, doctoral candidate, and researcher. While I love this, it can certainly become stressful at times and it is incredibly important to remember to take short breaks throughout the day to re-center. During the coming year, it is a resolution of mine to make this a regular practice.
Be More consistent Sharing On Social Media
This one is a very tough resolution for me. Those of you who know me personally know that regularly updating my professional Facebook & Instagram profiles is a difficult task for me. However, after counting my blessings this year, none of which would be possible without all of you, I realized that I am sharing my life with you whenever I put something up. Since you all helped me reach where I am and make 2018 the best year yet, I only think it is right that I share in these things with you as a way to say thank you for your continued support. I cannot promise to be perfect in my diligence, but I certainly hope to be consistent. More than anything though, please know that I appreciate every listen, every view, every like, share, and concert attendee. There is no possible way that I can thank each of you enough, but I will certainly do so at every turn in my modest attempt to show you how much each of you has warmed my heart with your support.
I hope that this article has given you some ideas for resolutions, and I look forward to a great 2019 together!
Author's Note: While many of these points specifically reference Christmas as the winter holiday of discussion, I am discussing it in relation to my family's traditions as that is the holiday we celebrate. I am proud to live in a country that is diverse enough to celebrate multiple religious and cultural holidays during the winter, and I encourage you to share your traditions of your respective holidays below in the comments section!
Visit Historic Bethlehem
This is probably number one on my list whenever visiting home for the holidays. For me, there are few things like visiting Bethlehem, PA in December. The city completely lights up with holiday cheer and prides itself in doing so. For holiday shoppers, Christkindlmarkt is a must-go destination. Providing thousands of handmade gifts for the season, this pop up marketplace has made U.S. Travel & Leisure's list of best holiday markets. If you are looking to pop in for lunch during your visit to Bethlehem, look no further than Fegley's Brew Works for some great food (I personally recommend their burgers) and an in-house made brew. If you like a spiced beer, their Rude Elf's Reserve is sure to put you in the holiday mood! Finally, a MUST see destination is the Moravian Book Shop. It is actually the oldest continuously running book store in the country. I also may be biased, since this store has a very special meaning to me personally. It is where I met my fiancé and later on I proposed to her in front of the store - the very spot we met. We visit Bethlehem every December and it is one of my favorite traditions.
The Christmas Pickle
My family has a very strong German heritage and, being Pennsylvania Dutch, the holiday season would not be the same without the Christmas pickle! Now, some of you might be scratching your heads wondering what a Christmas pickle is. The tradition of the Christmas pickle was believed to come to America from Germany, known as Weihnachtsgurke. The tradition of the Christmas pickle is that it is hidden somewhere on the Christmas tree when the children have gone to sleep and the next morning they have to find it. The kid who finds the pickle gets to open their presents first. This game has definitely lead to my brother and I pushing each other into the tree when trying to find the pickle on more than one occasion!
Christmas Eve Chinese Food
This is possibly the longest-standing tradition for my family, dating back a few generations. This tradition started with my grandmother, my mom, and her sisters. When my mom was a kid, my grandmother worked in a Chinese restaurant in Allentown, PA. Around the holidays, they would always have a family dinner at the restaurant at some point. Eventually, my mom and aunt adopted this dinner as a standing family tradition and it was later moved to Christmas Eve. I always think this is a wonderful way to commemorate our family's history, and we all get Chinese food every Christmas Eve - quite an order considering there are usually around 20 of us!
The Great Schnecksville Bake-Off
So my hometown of Schnecksville doesn't actually have some huge bake-off around the holidays (that I know of, at least), but rather I am referring to the morning when my family decides to make cookies for the holiday season. Usually, my mother, sister, nieces, and sometimes aunts and cousins will get together on a December morning to turn out cut out cookies, thumbprints, and kiffles by the hundreds....I'm not kidding. Usually, the adults in the family are responsible for preparing the dough, cutting out the shapes, and loading the oven. After each batch of cookies are finished, it's go-time for the kiddos. The kids are usually responsible for decorating the cookies with different colored sugars, sprinkles, chocolate chips, and whatever they can find - a job that was formerly assigned to my brother and I. You can always tell which kid decorates which cookie though! Personalities definitely shine through, with the cookies ranging from very well organized and thought out to piles of confectioner's sugar under which there is probably a cookie!
It has been such a joy to write about these family traditions and share them with you. I hope that everybody has a wonderful holiday season, and I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming solo or 2nd Ceremony concert!
The Beach Is Back!
I grew up as an east-coaster, so the beach was always a big part of my summers. My family would take trips there every year for a week (usually Ocean City, Maryland or the Outer Banks) and my college years had many day trips to the shores in New Jersey. My first summer in Denver, I quickly came to the realization that the beach was not a quick drive away - the closest is 1,044 miles away in Los Angeles. I definitely missed the beach during that time, but I got to experience summer in typical Colorado fashion. Speaking of which, that brings me to....
There's Nothing Quite Like The Rocky Mountains
Growing up in Pennsylvania as a Boy Scout, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, I spent a lot of time hiking the Appalachian Trail. While the Appalachians are wonderful and majestic in their own right, nothing can quite capture the breathtaking Rockies. During my years in Colorado, I always told people that seeing the Rocky Mountains snowcapped should be on everyone's bucket list. As a side note, I was always lucky that the guitar suite at the Lamont School of Music looked straight out to the Rockies - a truly inspiring view (check out a great picture of the view here). Summers in Colorado were spent exploring these expansive mountains through hikes in Rocky Mountain National Forest in Estes Park, visiting Mesa Verde, Vail, and exploring the wonderful Centennial State. It is hard to find more beautiful country than Colorado, and I think about my time there every day.
Finding A Brewery Is Much Harder
Those of you who know me personally know that I am a huge craft beer fan, and have tried my hand at home-brewing once or twice with little success (maybe more on that at another time). One of my favorite things to do when touring a new area is to sample a local beer and hopefully visit one of the breweries in town. Coming from Pennsylvania, some of my favorite locals were Victory, Lancaster Brewing Co., and Yards. Naturally, when I moved to Denver I was eager to see what the craft beer capital of the country had to offer. While I couldn't find a beer that quite hit the spot like Victory's Hop Devil, the breweries in town were endless and provided a lot of variety. Some of my personal favorite Denver breweries were Denver Beer Co., Comrade Brewing Company, and Black Sky Brewery. Maybe it is that I'm still busy getting settled here in Baltimore, but it has been much more difficult to find a good local brewer than in Denver - although recommendations are certainly welcome in the comments section!
There's No Place Like Home
I am, possibly above all else, a family person. As much as I love Denver and made some great memories in Colorado, being nearly 1,700 miles away from my family and friends was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life. I am unbelievably lucky to have people in my life who made the effort to call every day, Skype regularly, and visit Colorado on multiple occasions. Without them, and the support from my incredible fiancé, I am not sure that I would have been able to complete my time at the University of Denver as successfully as I did. Now that my fiancé and I are in Maryland, bordering our home state of Pennsylvania, these people are much closer and we are able to visit frequently. I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to be more physically present in the lives of those who I care about. There's no place like home!
Hello, and welcome to the first installment of my blog. This series is designed to tackle a question that I have experienced firsthand and witnessed with many of my colleagues – “How do I maintain a healthy lifestyle as a musician?”.
Today, I thought we would start with the most prevalent issue that I have witnessed among musicians. I have come into contact with many that have expressed to me that they would like to eat healthy, however it seems like a Herculean task to do so on a fast paced and ever changing schedule. Surely, anyone in the music world knows this problem too well. Between performing engagements, rehearsals, teaching, and classes (if you are a student) there is very little time to choke down a burger from a fast food joint, much less eat a healthy meal. Adding to the problem, many of these engagements are not in the same place and we are constantly driving from one spot to the next. In this installment, I am going to discuss ways that we can navigate these hectic schedules and maintain a healthy eating lifestyle.