The Unknown

6/17/2012 Sunday 7:33 pm

It’s been an unbelievable week.  Last Monday at midnight Randy Avers and Benoit Albert arrived at our home having flown in from Europe (Norway and France, respectively) and driven over from Houston.  Randy and I went to Oberlin together (read a series of 7 vignettes I wrote, beginning with number one, here), and he met Benoit in Paris at the conservatory about ten years ago.  So we have had a fantastic time catching up, trading stories, and gearing up for the amazing project we’re presenting this coming weekend.

I can’t say enough about it.  Randy and Benoit have knocked this out of the park.  Last December I sprung this idea on them: to compose and perform and original film score to accompany a 1927 silent film starring Lon Chaney.  They watched the movie, “The Unknown”, and fell in love with it.  It’s dark, very dark, and also very brilliant and extremely deep.  They were almost instantly enthralled with it, and told me so, and enthusiastically began the project.

What they’ve come up with is phenomenal.  I haven’t heard it all yet, but what I have heard is stunning.  They’ve got themes for each character and the music relates directly, on a second by second basis, to the action of the film.  The themes develop throughout, and they’ve brought remarkable sophistication and insight into what is a fully developed musical interpretation of the incredible cinematic work.  I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to chare it with everyone who comes out Friday night.

Big press came out this week, 2 stories in the Chronicle, one on the film and one on the music and food we’re doing – and a cover story in the Statesman’s Austin 360 about our whole summer series, along with the summer festival of the Austin Chamber Music Center.

The Alamo Drafthouse has been unbelievable to work with – inspiring really.   Josh Jacobs is the genius behind the Rolling Roadshow and so many other Alamo major events.  Josh seems to be everywhere all the time.  They just did a screening of Mad Max Road Warrior with a live demolition derby with fire-breathing cars, for example!

This week will be active.  Tuesday at 6 we’ll be live at the cactus Cafe for Views and Brews (free, at 6PM).  Me, the Alamo Drafthouse’s co-founder Tim League, and the musicians will talk about the whole project and the guys will even play the first scene of the film!  Wednesday we’re live on morning TV at 8:50 (Fox 7) and then on John Aielli’s show on KUT at 11.  Thursday at 2 we’ll be on KOOP radio.

The film show will be Friday at 9PM with grounds opening at 7:30 for 500 people.  We have Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour, That Damn Band, live hula hooping, knife throwing, full dinner, wine, and so much more – prior to the show.  Randy and Benoit will play a recital also on Saturday night for our Austin Guitar Salon series with our friends at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and Twin Liquors.

I have no doubt that this project will measure up in terms of unbounded creative artistry, to our most bold endeavors ever.

From left to right: me, Benoit, Randy, Glenda, Dave (Justy) and Patricia. We were at madam Mam's for delicious Thai food!

Into the summer!

6/10/2012 Sunday 5:05 pm

So much to report.  So much to be thankful for.

Glenda and I had a vacation the last two weeks of May.  That is, I took two weeks off from teaching and I tried to take one week away from ACGS.  The latter didn’t really happen, but I did slow the ACGS schedule a touch.  My teaching schedule is over 35 contact hours per-week, however, with appointments until 9 Monday through Thursday and Saturday from 9-4.  So when you remove all those appointments, it really frees some things up.

My studio recital was Saturday, May 19th.  the next afternoon I played a concert at the lakeside home of my board member Penny Jamrack.  That was the end of the major obligations.  Vacation highlights were going to Mike and Linda Light’s house on the lake, going to Motown Monday at the Highball, having drinks with Joe and Quentin at the Tigress, and spending lots of time with Glenda ranging from cooking together, to basic home and automobile maintenance, to walking, meditating and general introspection.

ACGS is raging!  And that’s one of the reasons it was not really practical to disconnect.  The office is bigger, the team is bigger, our vision is bigger, and our events are multiplying.  All of this has added to the rates and amounts necessary for fundraising, along with logistics, publicity, and management in general.  Add to that that we’re deep into strategic planning mode – and had a board retreat on Sunday June 3rd – and you have the recipe for exciting and challenging times.

Some of my most favorite times of late at ACGS have been moments in my new office around the conference table with amazing and dedicated people talking about our dreams, our challenges, and the solutions we’re going to go and make happen.  This level of production and camaraderie is something I didn’t ever dream we’d be able to put together.

Randy Avers arrives tomorrow from Norway.  He’ll roll in to my house around midnight with Benoit Albert from France.  They will be here for two weeks and I’m super excited to see them again.  I went to college with Randy.  He and his duo partner Benoit are some of my favorite people.  They’re in town for an insane project I’ve asked them to do: write an original film score for a 1927 Lon Chaney silent film and perform it live, outside, with a violinist in front of 500 people!  It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be challenging, and I hope people love it.  There’s a huge amount of press planned in the coming weeks.  Live appearances, radio and TV, and several major news print stories that I’m aware of.  I’m excited for the roll out.

Meditating these days.  And I’ve brought back my gratitude journal.  I missed it!  It’s a chance to sit and write out 10-20 of the things I’m most grateful for every day.  It’s a wonderful gift.

There’s no way to get it all down – but I wanted to be sure and write this story:

About two years ago a 58 year old man came to me asking for my help.  He is an accomplished bluegrass and pop guitarist who owns his own music shop and he decided he wanted to learn to play Bach’s Chaconne for his 60th birthday.  He is not a classical guitar player – and to wish to learn to play classical guitar and perform any piece at all in a two-year period is a lofty enough goal, much less one of the pinnacle works of all time.

His story was compelling, though, and he explained that at this point in his life, he decided he wanted to try and do something beyond his abilities.  He wanted ot push himself to new limits, and pour his all into something he was not at all sure he could attain.  But he wanted to give it his all as an example to himself, his family, his friends and his students, as he approaches this huge milestone in his life.

How could you say “no” to that?

So we began working.  I won’t bore you with all of the technical work we did.  I will say, however, that we worked hard and spent a huge amount of time singing individual lines, analyzing, visualizing, imagining, resolving, breathing.  At the point that I met him he had already had neck surgery.  He would go on to have 4 additional surgeries including back, left shoulder, and for carpal tunnel syndrome in his left hand (longtime issue – not brought on by this project!).  There were periods when a month would go by without me seeing him, or more, during his recovery periods.

But he kept on it, and starting in January as the home stretch came into focus, our lessons became more frequent and he began practicing in earnest.

Last night, in front of about 65 students, family members and friends, he performed the entire Bach Chaconne from memory.  The performance followed a very moving statement he made about his life, about the point as a boy when he left classical guitar behind him, and about how it was something he always regretted.  He described how he set this goal for himself as a way to prove to himself he could reach up and finish something important.

He’d be the first to tell you that the performance was not a touring professional quality performance.  But I was moved beyond words.  And there were many beautiful moments throughout, moments with shape and breath and beauty, that communicated clearly to an audience of largely non-musicians.

Of course his larger message, to all of us present, will resonate within our minds forever.  He told us that time is short, and time is precious, but if we dedicate ourselves to things we’re passionate about, we can accomplish our goals, realize our dreams, and make the most of the time we’ve been given.  More than that, he showed us.

And I’m very pleased to report that our next lesson is tomorrow afternoon!  Even after accomplishing this crazy goal, he told (last week) that he’d like to continue on now, and learn to play classical guitar “the right way” (his words)!