Give these two a listen…

Toward the end of the school year, a few of us were sharing cool music and videos of performances we thought were really cool. Even after the end of the school year, I find myself looking up these videos and listening to some of these performances. Here are two that stood out and are still blowing me away.

Jacob Collier performing a version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Nora Jones in a tear-jerking tribute to Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performing “Black Hole Sun” shortly after his death. Both fantastic performances.

Rabbit Hole and then Jennifer Hudson…

Sometimes I start listening to music and looking up different videos, just to see if I find something new and interesting. This time I landed on Jennifer Hudson. I must have listened to this about five or six times. Her inflections and phrasing are simple and beautiful. The kind of music making that makes me rethink the use of space within a line. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

Identity and Representation

Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone.  These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.

The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale?  Oh, for music.”  I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland.  Not quite what one typically would expect.  Okay, maybe the rap music.

My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient.  More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal.  That’s how we learn.

The Westerlies Tiny Desk Concert

I love having time to just listen to something new to me. I also love checking out familiar groups with new projects. One of the groups I like to follow is The Westerlies. I came across their NPR Tiny Desk Concerts performance from 2016. And I loved it! It’s a refreshing and inventive program, with great brass playing. Hope you agree.

The Westerlies have a bunch of other video’s to check out, just look them up

Singing President

Recently I listened to another installment of the New York Times Popcast and became even more impressed with the level of discussion about America and in particular it’s relationship with President Obama. This is as close as I ever hope to get in communicating anything political in this forum, however there were a lot of good things mentioned about Obama in this podcast and I feel the need to share.

In my opinion, his most powerful moment was his performance of Amazing Grace at the funeral for victims of the Charleston church shooting. I still get chills when ever I hear or watch this moment unfold.

Talking

This time of year has traditionally been a time of reflection on the year which had just passed. Sometimes I even look through some old journals just to see what I was on my mind previous years. Recently I had opportunity to participate, prepared and give a TEDx talk. The process of putting it all together offered a level of self-reflection which I was not really ready for. However by the end of this undertaking I felt the message in the talk represented some of my journey as an artist. The self-doubt, the persistence, the tension, and the development.

In the end, I would not have done this with out the help and encouragement of the TEDx coaches, my wife, my family, the other TEDx participants and ultimately the my friends.

Color and Classical Music In December

theatre-audience_3133209b-800x305Sometimes I look out into the audience when I perform music. I don’t mean to take an subconscious pole of the demographics of the audience, but it’s hard not to notice. The picture above isn’t what I usually see, in fact the picture below is more of the reality of I tend to notice. Often I am the only person of color in the room, and after 20 years of holiday performances I started to wonder about those numbers.

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I didn’t grow up going to classical music concerts, especially not during the holidays. So why and how I came to the place where I love classical music and am a performer of this music is a mystery to me. Either way this is the common ground under which the audience and I share community.