Who amongst composers are my most important influences?? I don’t know where to begin so I’ll just start rambling…in this area, I could go on FOREVER!!! I can certainly say my composition has been influenced by an “eclectic” group…the records I wore out as a youngster were the Beach Boys, ABBA, Bee-Gee’s, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album blew me away. I didn’t have a lot of records, not that I couldn’t have asked for more, but I guess I had all of the musical food I was hungry for at that time. Then in sixth grade someone told me about Van Halen and I got their debut album Van Halen and the solo “Eruption” started my interest in the guitar. I then turned into a Van Halen fanatic. It wasn’t until I was 13 however that I would actually ask for and get an electric guitar for Christmas. I started with lessons at a local music shop and learned some things but I wasn’t really that focused. During the summer that year, my family moved to California and it was in that new environment, having to meet new kids at a new high school that made me more interested in coming home and practicing rather than forcing myself to meet new friends. Also at that time through a serendipitous meeting I met the guitar teacher that not only got me seriously into guitar, he also introduced me to flamenco.
More about that another time…so through High School I continued to enjoy pop music as in my early years. I remember really enjoying Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis, still loving the Beach Boys and the later albums of Michael Jackson but I was also listening to more rock groups like Journey, Aerosmith and the like. I got into even heavier music still with Metallica, Megadeth (I LOVED them) and real Guitar Shredders like Joe Satriani, Racer X, Steve Vai. Getting back to composition, Joe Satriani really stands out to me. Within all of the “shredding” and terrifying guitar technique, to me Satriani continues to stand out in his creation of melody. As a guitarist/composer I find myself always trying to emulate what I love, and that is a beautifully sung melody. I really feel that there is no better instrument than the voice…it’s so pure, so powerful, so fragile, so human. Any other instrument is just a non-human device that we as instrumentalists are trying to learn how to express our humanity, our voice, through. What a task! What can happen is that we get so carried away with the challenge of finding our voice through the crazy techniques that can be achieved on any instrument that we lose sight of what the real objective is…to sing. Try to sing with the instrument! Wow, I’ve gone philosophical and gotten off topic again…
So, somewhere along the line in high school I was introduced to the music of J.S. Bach. Now with the invention of CDs…I listened to a symphonic “greatest hits” CD of Bach’s music over and over and over. Upon graduation from high school, I took music classes at the local community college…theory, music appreciation, piano. This was my first formal “dip” into these waters. I was blown away by the music of Bach even more and kept really “listening” to his music. Not in the background, I would sit there in front of the stereo and just listen and feel. I never dissected it, other than some fugues that we worked on for class. I would just enjoy and soak it up. I wish I had soaked up a lot more, but I have no doubt that Bach’s music influence my writing style. Examples…I have none. I’ll leave that to the listener to try to hear, but I will certainly give credit to J.S. Bach for the shear joy and unbelievable inspiration has brought to me.
Continuing on…I returned to Tucson to attend the U of A. As a Classical Guitar Performance major I was, of course, introduced to a whole new world of composers. I actually wasn’t really passionate about classical guitar. I, by that time, knew that my interest had turned to flamenco. I didn’t know ANYTHING about it, but I knew that when I heard flamenco that I wanted to be a part of it. At that time I wasn’t aware of any program offering a degree in flamenco so I thought, “Well, a degree in classical guitar can’t be that bad and it will get me using a classical guitar (which I thought was the same as a flamenco guitar) and I’ll be that much closer”. So I learned pieces by Giuliani, Tárrega, Torroba, Turina, Villa-Lobos, Barrios, Lute Pieces by Bach arranged for guitar. I continue to be amazed at how much about music I learned in the program without even being aware of it. It is wonderful to be in an environment where so much energy is put into one thing. You end up soaking up so much of that energy without even knowing it. I have to admit that I was a reluctant student. I fought most of the program. I wouldn’t rest my guitar on my left leg like traditional classical guitarists because I had already convinced myself that I was a “flamenco” guitarist, not a classical guitarist…and at that time, that was the extent of my knowledge of flamenco guitarists…they rest their guitars on their right leg!! That’s just one example in a long list of ways I would swim against the classical guitar stream. I look back with a bit of regret now because I know I could have learned so much more if I wouldn’t have been so stubborn.
After graduation, I made the decision to move to Sevilla, Spain. I knew that I had to go to the source to learn flamenco. I consider my move there to be when I started playing flamenco guitar (Jan. 1998) although I was interested and certainly trying to figure out what I could on my own about flamenco guitar playing beginning around 1992. So with this move I was introduced to a score of new composers, flamenco song forms, keys, harmonies and new techniques to express these ideas on the instrument. My original favorites were Paco de Lucía, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo and Chicuelo. All are phenomenal composers and extraordinary instrumentalists. While I was listening to these artists and studying their musical genre I was also taking in a new music/culture because my primary guitar teacher in Spain at that time had grown up in Brazil. So, while studying flamenco I was being introduced to artists like Caetano Veloso, Jobim, Baden Powell, Gilberto Gil. Once again, a huge musical influence was introduced to me.
Although I’ve written quite a bit here, there is so much more to tell. I have barely skimmed the surface of what composers have influenced me and why. As a professional composer/performer, I now primarily draw my inspiration from voice. I am completely enamored by the human voice, the infinite power it has to affect emotion in another human. Whether it is without vibration in a whisper or a huge vocal onslaught of a choir, I feel the human voice is unrivaled in its capabilities. I get the most joy as a composer in creating music for voice. I have so many influences and pieces of music in my head from such a variety of sources throughout my life that I honestly don’t listen to too much music on a consistent basis purposely. I take note of movie/TV scores while watching and I listen to whatever music is playing at the gym when I work out. I occasionally listen to the radio and every once in a while I’ll pop in a CD or even buy some new CDs…listen to them once and then put them away. I am in a very fortunate position to be surrounded by music all of the time. I perform multiple times a week and I have many opportunities to compose and record. So I am usually listening to music in my head, nonstop.
Music is not my life, it is only a fraction of who I am. I have a deep love and appreciation for music and there are things that I can express through music that I have never learned how to express in any other way. As I grow into my art, my composition, I find such joy in creating something that makes my heart soar. I know I have something good when I feel like I’m flying inside. But what really takes me to my happiest state is when I find out my music has helped someone feel that they are flying inside. I am human. I have a limited time on this spiritual plane, but I have the unbelievable gift of leaving my music for generations. I am not my music; I aspire to be a little piece of joy in humanity’s heart through the experience of one of my compositions. If I were not a composer/performer I know I’d be trying to create joy in humanity’s heart in some other way. All of us are creators, but with composers things get musical!