Reinventing Myself: My Journey Back to Music
As a child I imagined myself playing guitar. I didn't actually have a guitar, but a tennis racket sort of looked like one and that was enough.
When I did finally get my hands on a guitar for the first time, I figured out that, using only the open strings (luckily it was tuned), I could play most of "Taps." So, with a slight tuning adjustment from someone older and wiser, I gave my first concert to a group of my six- to eight-year-old peers. It wasn't until I was fifteen years old that I actually bought my first guitar and started lessons.
A Reevaluation Of Priorities
I realized fairly quickly that I had a passion for the instrument. Practicing became my favorite activity as I marched through the lesson materials in record time. One thing led to another, as it usually does. Bands, music school, gigs, the best private instruction South Jersey had to offer, girlfriend, marriage, day jobs, more bands, more gigs...
Did I mention children? They have a way of introducing a whole new set of thoughts and emotions into your life. I got to a point at around thirty years of age where I wasn't willing to risk the livelihood of my family for my dreams, so I just stopped. I went back to school, got an education in a field that offered plenty of opportunities for success, and went after that success for close to two decades. It worked out too, just like we planned (work, money, house, college for the kids, etc.). I guess you could say I reinvented myself back then.
The Life Change
But then something unexpected happened. The kids went away to college, and, when they graduated, they didn't move back home to share all their newfound knowledge with their parents. Instead they struck out on their own to face the world as responsible adults. I guess this is ideally what's supposed to happen, but I hadn't done it and my wife hadn't done it, so it was a bit of a shock. It was so shocking, in fact, that when we realized the kids weren't coming home we went out and replaced them with two Old English sheepdogs. We said to ourselves, "Now these are our new children, and they'll never grow up and leave us."
As time passed, I started to feel more and more dissatisfied with my chosen career path. I didn't love the work, and even though I was making very good money I didn't really feel successful. I knew I wanted to do something I loved with the rest of my life.
I heard a man being interviewed on a popular daytime talk show about being successful in life, and he summed it up in five words: "Embrace your area of excellence." I knew what he was saying. It doesn't have anything to do with how much money you can make or how many jobs are available, or with your age, gender, or any other practical considerations. It has to do with actively pursuing what you're best at doing. I knew in my heart that, if I really applied myself, I could be a very good jazz guitarist. So I asked myself, "What do I need to do to get back into music as a career?" I could study again, find a good teacher locally, and take private lessons. The problem with this was that I'd already gone that route. What I needed to do was get a masters degree.
Making A Plan
I started looking at jazz studies masters programs in guitar around the country. There are several very good ones, including the University of Northern Texas, the University of California (UCSD), the New England Conservatory, and New York University. But the one that really caught my attention was the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia.
There were several interesting points about UArts that attracted me. Pat Martino and Jimmy Bruno are listed on the guitar faculty, and the masters program can be completed in one year. For someone in my situation, where time would be an important factor in my campaign to reestablish myself as a musician, this was an important point. So I decided to give UArts a try.
Making It Happen
The next step was to apply and audition. I had approximately five months to prepare, so I found the audition requirements for the masters of music in jazz studies program and I started working. I reviewed all scale, arpeggio, and chord requirements, prepared an original chord/melody, learned a Joe Pass etude, transcribed a guitar solo and learned to play it, and worked up some tunes to play and solo over. I practiced all these things so hard that I developed a case of carpal tunnel syndrome in my left wrist. It was serious enough to require surgery. Fortunately, that surgery was successful.