Saturday, August 29, 2015

OMOD Conference Season & Other Happenings – Part 2

Immediately following the conclusion of OMOD conference season, I switched gears to indulge my passion for creating music. My old roommate and musical collaborator, Felipe Archer, flew in from his home in Ashland, Oregon to help me arrange and record four new songs. Over the course of a week, we tried hard to abandon all other thoughts in order to focus purely on making the best music possible.

Work on each song began with me either sharing a raw recording of the song or playing a stripped-down live version (à la sparse piano chords and often breathless, off-pitch singing). Felipe would then nod, understanding the potential for the song, and we would launch into a week-long discussion of song parts, riffs, chords, harmonies, drums, recording techniques, instrumentation, etc. The next two hurdles would be to record scratch rhythm and vocal tracks for each song to play back while recording drums, and then record everything else over the drums. Of course, this is easier said than done, and two full days of drum take after drum take can attest to that. Last comes mixing and mastering, which is often the most time-consuming of all.

For me, the real beauty in recording music is taking a small seed of inspiration and watching that seed grow into a full-fledged song, with intro, chorus, verses, bridge, guitar or piano solo, and outro (of course, not every song calls for this exact structure – and often times they don’t – but you get the idea). Because many of my songs originate as simple chord progressions played on a little keyboard on lonely weekend afternoons, much of my appreciation for a finished song stems from recalling this image of myself and recognizing that what appeared at first glance to be a sad waste of a sunny Saturday afternoon was in fact the crafting of something rich and beautiful (in my humble opinion, at least).

An emotive, eyes-closed version of myself
recording vocals for “Amends” in my bedroom

As I worked with Felipe this time around, I couldn't help but think back to how I got involved with VSA Texas in the first place: the New Media Arts Music and Recording Summer Camp of 2012. It was here I learned that many people with disabilities share my passion for music but that through physical limitations or the lack of access to technology, gear, or other resources, these dreams are often stunted. I was incredibly heartened by this music and recording summer camp because it provided a rare opportunity where young people with disabilities – regardless of background and musical experience – could create original music in a supportive, low-stress, and accessible environment. Not only was I able to share what I knew about making and recording music, I also learned a lot myself, which bolstered my own musical journey (I remember spending several solid weekends just experimenting with drum loops after the camp concluded).

Me instructing two interns in the
Spring of 2014 Music and Recording Internship
Since then, I have been involved in some capacity with almost every music program that VSA Texas has sponsored, including the year-and-a-half old Lion and Pirate Unplugged, where my musical band of brothers, Dude Choir, and I can often be seen performing. This is an inclusive monthly open mic held at Malvern Books for writers, performers, and acoustic musicians presented in partnership with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ Pen to Paper Creative Writing Contest.

Former Dude Choir members, Caleb and Felipe, and I pose for a photo
after the May 2014 Lion and Pirate Unplugged open mic
(Photo courtesy of Malvern Books)
In my musical adventure, I've learned that if you can imagine a song, you can make it. Programs and events like those sponsored by VSA Texas empower musicians with disabilities like myself to realize our creative dreams. That said, many more strides must still be made in order for musicians with disabilities everywhere to achieve their full potential. Our struggle will not be over until all stages and studios are made fully accessible, and all aspiring musicians with disabilities are connected to the technology, people, or other resources needed to give life to their music, still simmering inside.