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Organ & Opera

[A post I made to LiveJournal on Sat, August 13, 2016.]

I had a pretty cool day of music yesterday =).

It began with my twice a month organ lesson. I feel bad because I just can't seem to get myself to practice the organ as much as I'd like, or as much as my teacher would like, but I am truly working to improve that. During the lesson I was thinking, "Sigh, I just don't like organ as much as piano!" I wouldn't tell my teacher that, though, because I really respect her, and these lessons are being provided by my church as a part of continuing education, so I TOTALLY appreciate them, you know? But it's hard being a "student" when I am driving all over the Bay Area, playing for this and that rehearsal, fitting in my own students, playing for two church services a week, on top of going to the gym for my personal training sessions now (!!!).

But as I was driving yesterday, I put in one of the organ CDs my teacher let me borrow, and it's just INCREDIBLE! I listened to one of the most well-known pieces in the organ repertory, "Toccata and Fugue in d minor" by J.S. Bach, and while the Toccata is a bit overplayed, the fugue is just GORGEOUS and so moving and powerful, and the other pieces on the CD were captivating and just so fantastic. Organ is truly a different beast, as I've said before. It's nothing like piano. You are an entire ORCHESTRA! A great organist is able to utilize the stops and manuals to make sounds of flutes, strings, trumpet, and to give that exciting "rumble" that you hear that is just chilling!

Of course, there are the practical difficulties of practicing organ: I can't just get out of bed and walk over to an organ: I have to drive to the church, set it up, and plan to be there at least an hour or it's not worth it. I am exploring the option of practicing at a church in Brentwood, so as to not always have to drive back to Concord. Also, organ is physically EXHAUSTING! The pedals are so very important, and to be really excellent at them takes leg muscle, and right now I'm not in good shape, so even half an hour of organ practice is tiring. But, I know that in time it will get easier!

The second aspect of my day in music was that I am REALLY liking opera nowadays! I've had the pleasure of working with a few fantastic conductors, and six AMAZING soloists, in rehearsal for the gorgeous opera "La Bohéme" by Puccini! We have been rehearsing in Palo Alto and Los Altos, and this work is just absolutely stunning. I mean, I've always known opera is incredible, but with SO MANY genres of the classical repertoire to study, opera wasn't on the top of my list; I was more focused on solo piano repertoire, chamber music, collaborative repertoire, and musicals. But now, working with these incredible musicians, I really want to delve more into the vast repertoire of opera that spans over 400 years.


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Driving vs. BART

I love driving and I really don't like BART, haha. [BART is "Bay Area Rapid Transit", which is the system of trains that connect San Francisco to the Bay Area and the Peninsula.]

I'd actually rather drive, pay toll, pay expensive parking, and then suffer and fight through the traffic on the way back to the East Bay, lol. All this because I really don't like BART.

Actually, I think it's because I don't like BART when I know the ride will be crowded. Knowing I would be taking it between 5:30-6:00 PM, when it's PRIME TIME, standing in the train car like sardines, ugh, I REALLY hate it.

Driving is so much more relaxing. My car, my space, my music or audio book, and a guaranteed place to sit!

[Written on my iPhone.]


This Crazy Phenomenon Called "Hamilton"

There is a new musical sweeping the Broadway land in Times Square of New York City. It is "Hamilton: An American Musical", by the incredible Lin-Manuel Miranda. This gentleman wrote the music, lyrics, and book for the show, and it is downright astounding.

I am absolutely in love with this musical. It is not one to completely understand from your first listen, and let me tell you why: the cast album is made up of forty-six(46) songs. Yes, I repeat: 46 songs. There are 23 songs in each act, and that is a HEFTY cast album. The total duration is 2:22:16, which is just amazing, because the show itself runs 2h, 55m, including a 15m intermission, meaning it is almost entirely sung-thru, like other sensational musicals (“Les Miserables”, for instance). I often enjoy shows that are ALL music, because it makes it that much more enticing. However, when the storyline DOESN’T make sense, like with “The Wild Party” by Andrew Lippa, which I recently saw in San Francisco, dialogue is much appreciated! That show didn’t have ENOUGH dialogue. Sigh, we can’t have everything, can we?

The hype surrounding this show has been INTENSE ever since the show had its first preview on Broadway on July 13, 2015, and opened on August 6, 2015. Every single show has been wildly sold out, and at first, tickets were expensive, but manageable. You could get a ticket for about $200-300. I am KICKING myself because I was in New York City from February 11-15, 2016 this year, and I had the opportunity to see Hamilton for exactly $300.00. That may sound incredibly expensive for a Broadway show, and in some ways, it kind of is, because for me, I often pay between $80-150 for a Broadway show. The most I’ve ever paid is $152.75 and that was for “The Lion King” in 2011. So, seeing a show for double that price being considered “cheap”, is kind of humorous. No one’s laughing now.

On June 12, 2016, “Hamilton”, which was nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony Awards, swept the night and won 11 Tony’s, including all of the big ones, such as “Best Musical”, “Best Score”, “Best Book of a Musical”, “Best Choreography”, “Best Orchestrations”, “Best Lighting Design”, and “Best Lead Actor in a Musical” (Leslie Odom, Jr.). James Corden, the hilarious British host of “The Late Late Show”, was the host for the evening. In light of the terrible Orlando Pulse Shootings that occurred earlier that day, the Tony’s were an amazing night filled with love, acceptance, and camaraderie. Lin-Manuel Miranda, if he wasn’t already amazing enough (being the face behind “Hamilton”, and my other favorite show, “In The Heights”, 2008 Tony Winner), he wrote an emotional sonnet addressing the Orlando massacre which fills me with tears every time I hear it. Among other words, he states, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love,” and that we should “fill the world with music, love and pride.” I love Lin-Manuel Miranda so much for being such an outstanding human being, for being so humble, for bringing the world his music, and for truly revolutionizing the sound of Broadway music as we know it today. No doubt he will join the ranks of the best and most well-known theatre composers: Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Stephen Sondheim, and Alan Menken.

In listening to “Hamilton” since the Tony Awards last Sunday, I am in constant awe and bliss at how timeless and moving this show is. In a word, this show is spellbinding. Your attention is hooked from the first sound you hear, and it’s not over until it’s over. The storyline is incredible, the usage of words and phrasing and timing and prosody is just out of this world. The music is just downright COOL. And, not to put it lightly, incredibly emotional. A few songs stand out to me, such as “Dear Theodosia”, “Take A Break”, “It’s Quiet Uptown”, and “Who Lives Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. I currently listen to the album via Amazon Music Prime and their iPhone app, though I will likely purchase the album to show my support.

My original intent of writing this post was to point out how incredible the prices for this show have gone up because of its popularity and its Tony wins, but also because the composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is leaving the show on July 9, 2016. Yes, did I forget to mention that NOT ONLY does this man write the music, lyrics, and book, but is also an incredibly talented singer, dancer, and actor, and in both “In The Heights” and “Hamilton” he starred in the title role of his own shows? Yes, it’s true. Thus, with July 9 being only 3 weeks away, I regret to say I will not have the chance to see Lin-Manuel in this role this time around, unless he performs it on the National Tour or on Broadway again at some point. Not to fear, his understudy, Javier Muñoz, will be replacing Lin-Manuel and has already received rave reviews for his performances.

As far as pricing goes, up until Lin-Manuel Miranda leaves in 3 weeks, the ticket prices are out of this world. They start at $1,500 or so and go well up to $10,000 on some websites. You can basically only find tickes through StubHub.com or Ticketmaster “resale” tickets. I called a ticket agency in NYC that I’ve used before and the cheapest they could find me was $1,650.00 for the week Lin-Manuel leaves, which was the only time I could fly out to NYC if I really wanted to see it. Sixteen-fifty? Gosh, that’s just so much money. A part of me ALMOST wanted to say “Yes, I’ll buy a ticket,” just so that I had the opportunity of a lifetime and a chance to be a part of seeing this show. But then reality hit me, and I realized two things: first, I already have a ticket to “Hamilton” on Broadway that I purchased many months ago, and that show is on Wed, January 25, 2017. I purchased the ticket somewhat on a whim when sales for a new block of tickets had just gone out, and I got a 5th row orchestra seat for about $200. So, while Lin-Manuel won’t be performing that day, I’ll still get to see Hamilton for, virtually, an incredibly good price. (I could also sell the ticket if need be… but we’ll see). Secondly, “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco for a good two months in March 2017, and while I KNOW tickets will go very fast, I’m sure I’ll be able to snag one up (though, I’ll certainly want to see it at least two times, maybe three if possible!). So, the opportunities to see the show are there, and there’s no need to empty my savings to see the show at an astronomical price; frugality and practicality get in the way of that.

The weeks after Lin-Manuel Miranda leaves, the ticket prices drop, but are still going for no lower than $750 a ticket, it seems. And the reason these prices are so high is not because the THEATRE sets these prices, it’s just because people who resell the tickets know that the demand is so high, kind of like Super Bowl tickets. I’m fairly certain tickets for “Hamilton” range from $175-495, I’ve read, so anything higher than a few hundred dollars, and you know there’s a markup. It baffles me to think of people who are successfully selling like 6 tickets for some $6,000 each, and making a cool $36,000 profit for doing almost no work. Scalping is frowned upon, but apparently not illegal.

So there you have it. My next endeavor is to listen to “Hamilton: The Revolution”, which was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter and released on April 12, 2016 about the creation of Hamilton, partly narrated by the authors, AND MARISKA HARGITAY! “Sgt. Benson” from “Law & Order: SVU”! YES! Just saw this now. I am definitely ordering this audio book today. I’ll likely order a physical copy of the book too, but I am a huge Audible audio book fan (since I drive so much for work).

Until you can see it on Broadway or a National Tour yourself, enjoy the cast album of “Hamilton” and everything this remarkable show has to offer.

-Christopher 🎶🎵

One's "Annual Salary" is an interesting thing. I used to think that how much money you made was the only thing that mattered. For example:

Someone in their late-twenties, perhaps having 5 years of work experience in their respective field, making over $100,000/year was considered "successful", someone who was making $60,000/year was "doing well", and someone who was making $30,000/year or less, was perhaps struggling or not working a career in a field that requires a specialized skill. I used to look down upon people who had "minimum wage jobs". I mean, I've done the math: minimum wage JUST went up to $10/hour, and let's say you were lucky enough to have a full-time job that offered you 40 hours a week (a lot of minimum wage jobs don't offer their employees a full 40 hours a week, but rather 30-35/week, so they don't have to pay for benefits). This is $400/week before taxes, which for this example's purpose, let's assume is 15%. That's $340/week take-home pay, and assuming the employee works 52 weeks a year, that's $17,680/year. It's not impossible to live on that salary, but nowadays, minimum wage is NOT a livable salary. Back when it was invented in the early-1900s, yes, it could be considered "livable". Not today. I don't like getting into politics, but you can gather at this point that my thoughts on raising the minimum wage to "$15/hour" in the next 5 years is not a good idea. It will just inflate the USD like CRAZY, an make a coffee $10 or a candy bar $5, and it enourages people to not seek higher up and better employment. I think that starting with a minimum wage job is a great thing, but it's not designed for you to work there your whole life! I have a great respect for people who start at the bottom of the ladder, and work their way up to higher management. I sometimes hear people say "But I don't want that much responsibility," well guess what? That's why you get paid the wage you do, because a minimum wage job has no prerequisite. ANYONE can apply for a minimum wage job as long as long as they're 16 years of age. Okay, now that that's been discussed...

Throughout 2016, I have discussed with friends and family the fact that it's not about how much you MAKE, it's about how much you SAVE. I never really thought about this before. For the sake of example, let's take someone like myself: a 26-year old individual who is single with no dependents. So, that person earning $75,000/year, but who SPENDS all of their money, is NOT in the same category as someone who earns $35,000/year, but who saves 60-75% of their money (an extreme example, but we can assume this person lives rent-free (with parents), as many of my friends do, and who is frugal and saves). This means the first person earning $75K and saves a few thousand a year, is not as financially responsible as the second person, who, earning less than half annually, saving $21-26K/year, has an ASTRONOMICALLY higher chance of success with investing their money and becoming a millionaire within their lifetime. I've been listening to an audio book called "The Millionaire Next Door, and this is exactly what it discusses: the types of people and their earnings vs. savings habits. I want to turn more into the second kind of person, working hard and earning a good income, but SAVING as much of it as possible. I don't need to live a lavish lifestyle, at least not now.

Thus, nowadays I'm less concerned about "hussling" and working as much as humanly possible, but rather saving more and making sure that my bank account continues to grow each week/month, and that I don't see all of my money go to food and entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I still like working a ton throughout the course of a week, but sometimes I look at my Monday-Sunday income, and I think, "I don't even see half of this money!" And it's not because it goes to bills, it's because of the nature of my job, I am hardly ever paid on time. I often don't even like calculating how much money I make in the course of a week until I SEE the money in my hand or it's in my bank account.

I am a sucker for going to Starbucks and spending lots of money on coffee and other overpriced products. I also don't cook at my apartment... ever. I've been to the grocery store probably twice in the last 6 months, and that was to buy medicine. I definitely want to change this, so I can start eating healthier, but also to save money. My 3 biggest categories of spending happen in the following, and I'll include my annual estimate for how much I spend on them:

$12,600 - rent & utilities (based on my current portion of the rent for my apartment + my portion of utilies)
$10,500 - food & coffee (Jan-Dec 2014 actual spending; yes, how awful is this?! Averages to a whopping $875/mo for ONE PERSON! I've done lots of research on this, and many of my friends who cook at home, or spend less or don't drink Starbucks at all, spend some $200-250/mo on food; it doesn't help that I'm constantly on-the-go, but that's still no excuse for spending a ton of money on food, and if I restricted my coffee intake, or just brewed it at home, I'd save a ton, too)
$7,000 - auto expenses (breaks down to some $4K on gas, $1.5K on insurance, $1K on oil changes/maintenance (since I drive so much), and $0.5K on bridge tolls, etc) - yes, I'm going to be clocking some 40,000 miles driven from July 2015-July 2016 for all of my gigs. IN-SANE.

Total: $30,100/year spent

This doesn't even include things like buying clothes throughout the year, my medication, seeing movies/shows, any traveling expenses, entertainment costs...! Thus, individuals who earn less than $30K a year could not live my lifestyle. I'm not sure if it's defined as "lavish" or exhorbitant, superfluous, or excessive (haha synonyms), but if I worked more LOCALLY, and made food at HOME, that would save at least $10K. The rent is somewhat unavoidable if one chooses to live in the Bay Area of California. I could live at home with my parents in Brentwood, but it's not my desired area--truly, the most ideal place for me to live in this industry is Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco (all three INSANELY expensive: a one-bedroom apartment is easily $3K/month, or $36K/year; even sharing a 2-bedroom apartment would cost you about $2K/month, or $24K/year). Alameda is nice, too. It's difficult, because I'd love to live in a house again like I did in Stockton, so that I could play piano at any hour of the day, but living with roommates--living with PEOPLE--is hard. I once lived with 5 other people in Stockton; it gets MESSY and things go unaccounted for, and people don't clean up. Not only that, but moving out of Stockton was INCREDIBLY hard--the house and yard was a compelte disaster, and I ended up hoarding a TON of stuff, so I wasn't at all living the "minimalistic lifestyle" like I truly desire.

Because, why live in exess? Why waste money, why own too many things, why go overboard? There is NOTHING wrong with saving money, investing it, and planning for the future. This is going to be my mindset going forward. I was telling a friend on the phone that really, all I want to have is the following:

🎹 2 weeks' worth of clothes, including some nice dress shirts, a suit, and 3 pairs of shoes (casual, running, and dress)
🎹 a few items of sentimental value
🎹 a journal and a few books
🎹 my electronic devices (cell phone, laptop, iMac, iPad, headphones, maybe a camera)
🎹 [and of course, bed linen, towels, toiletries, and kitchenware], but...

...That's IT! Even right now, I feel strange owning a beautiful 1918 Steinway Grand Piano that I don't even play. I feel awkward playing it in my apartment, because I've gotten "knocks from the ceiling" on the floor of my upper neighbor when I play, and that is incredibly uncomfortable to experience. Yet, I'll have the TV or YouTube blasting, and I don't get any complaints. There's just SOMETHING about the sound of a piano that drives ordinary people bonkers. Besides, it hasn't been tuned in the whole time I've been at the apartment, rending its sound reproachful and displeasing. I've enjoyed the time I've had it since November 2012, but I honestly might sell it. I really like my good ol' Yamaha P-120s Digital Keyboard that I obtained in August 2002, and that instrument does not need to be tuned (saving me money, lol), and I can wear headphones, and also use it to trasnscribe, notate, and compose music at my desk.

What would my life be like if I lived in a different country? One that has no tax, even? I assume I'd walk a lot more, make food at my home, and have a very different outlook on life. I've always loved traveling, and more significantly, adventure. Living, working, and thriving in a foreign country would be thrilling and exhilarating. In America, I feel tempted by things like greed and gluttony. I want, and because I'm American, I will have, it seems. Being at a 24/7 Starbucks doesn't help either, fueling my interest in an irregular and odd sleep schedule (haha). My dislikesness for sleep is for a different entry, though :).

-Christopher 🎶🎵

I always wonder if what I'm doing at the present moment in life is fulfilling enough. I seem to always be seeking more. I think many others feel this way, too. This is particularly true for me because as a professional freelance musician, I have so many niches that I enjoy working in. These include:

🎼 teaching private lessons
🎼 playing keyboards in the pit orchestra for musicals
🎼 music directing musicals and shows
🎼 conducting musicals with baton, or keys-conducting (from the keyboard)
🎼 playing auditions/callbacks for theatre companies
🎼 accompanying choirs and choruses, whether community choruses or middle school/high school choirs
🎼 accompanying vocalists and instrumentalists for a variety of reasons, from evaluations to recitals
🎼 arranging and transcribing music
🎼 playing piano or organ for churches
🎼 playing piano for weddings, funerals, and private parties

And I'm sure that list isn't complete, ha. There's just so many things one can do in the music industry, especially with piano and conducting. My favorite thing to do is to play musicals, and still to this day I'd love to pursue a career playing musicals on Broadway in New York City.

After I graduated college in December 2012, I continued teaching in my own private studio, and throughout all of 2013 and 2014 I had a fairly active piano studio, with some 25-30 students. Teaching was at least 2/3 of my livelihood. Then, in late-2014, I branched into music directing and also playing a lot more shows, which took me into 2015 where I played FIVE (5) shows that had an 85-90 mile commute per show, each way. Yes. I'm insane. This included playing keys 1 for "Tommy" in Sonoma (November 2014), being Assistant Music Director for "Home Street Home" in San Francisco (January-March 2015), keys 2 for "Hairspray" in Berkeley (April-May 2015), keys-conductor for "The Cable Car Nymphomaniac" in San Francisco (May-June 2015), and keys 2 for "Avenue Q" in Berkeley (September-October 2015). It is a RELIEF that I was able to move to Concord--60 miles closer to San Francisco--on November 28, 2015. I just hit six (6) months of living with my apartment-mate, Derek flybirdfly. The time has FLOWN BY!

I've done lots of shows throughout the Bay Area even still, but with all of the above musical edeavors, my private piano studio dwindled. I currently teach about 7-8 students as frequently as I can, and they live in Antioch, Brentwood, and Stockton.

This summer, I'll be playing for a Vacation Bible School for a church in Danville, then I have 4 weeks of work at American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco July 11-August 5, playing for a high school theatre arts intensive (I did this last year too), so those will be fun! I've got an opera recital coming up (accompanying 5 opera singers), will be going to Las Vegas with my Mom at some point this month (super excited!), and I've got various other projects that I'm working on. Oh, those and church on Sundays, of course, as well as teaching as many students as I can, scheduling permitting. However, I also substitute all the time for various theatre companies for rehearsals, so I take those as they come at me.

But am I content? I always want more. The future may be drastically changing for me, so more on that in the future...! ;-)

-Christopher

Gigging & Musical Theatre Thoughts

I am quite sleepy right now. It's kind of the "middle" of a very long week for me. This week contains TONS of work, which keeps me busy; I like that, but I'm looking forward to next week when for several days, I don't have any definite plans--just things and projects I need to get done.

I've played for 3 rehearsals for the amazing Broadway By the Bay theatre company, over in San Mateo (but they perform in Redwood City). This was for their production of "Oklahoma" that is coming up June 3-18, 2016. I have one more engagement with them this coming Monday to play for a full run-thru! I'm super excited. Since I feel that I'm a confident sight-reader, playing for rehearsals does not phase me, and I oftentimes just come to the rehearsal and sight-read the music.

I had a couple of random gigs this week: on Tue, 5/17, I played the second half of a gig with Music Theatre Works (MTW) in San Francisco, where I accompanied some kids classes in their short performances of "The Music Man". It was so much fun, the kids were awesome, and I got to play on a 9' Baldwin Concert Grand! It was awesome! This was at the Harvey Milk Center in San Francisco. Then, the next day on Wed, 5/18, I accompanied a vocalist for her ABRSM evaluations; it was a short, sweet gig, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless!

Now, continuing yesterday, has been "Mary Poppins" in at San Leandro High School for the Bancroft Middle School Theatre program, with my friend Meghan Michelle McGovern conducting! We had 3 performances last weekend, one last night, one tonight, TWO tomorrow, and one more on Sunday. I've got auditions to accompany this weekend as well as church as normal on Sunday.

-----

What I wanted to post about tonight was this: I am very big into musicals and theatre, whether I am simply playing keys 1 or 2 in a pit orchestra, or Music Directing the show, either with stick/baton or keys-conducting, my favorite thing (playing and conducting simultaneously from the keyboard). There are TONS and TONS of theatre companies in the Bay Area. I've already quickly made a list of 38 reputable companies that do several musical productions each year. I have only been Music Directing since August 2014, so it hasn't even been two years yet. I can't honestly expect every theatre company to offer me Music Director jobs when I'm JUST breaking into the scene. I wouldn't necessarily compare it to Broadway, where I've found it takes 5+ years to break into the scene, but this also takes time. The good thing is that I can work with TONS of high schools, middle schools, and other less-professional but still awesome theatre companies to fulfill my theatre needs.

It just gets frustrating when you hear that a company is doing a show that's on your bucket list -- like for me, "BILLY ELLIOT" is one of my FAVORITE shows of all time, and I found out that Berkeley Playhouse is doing it in 2017 and of course already has a Music Director for it. Another favorite is "IN THE HEIGHTS", and Tri-Valley Rep is doing that, as well as literally like 2-3 other companies, it's kind of ridiculous how many companies are doing that show in the near future. The thing I've got to focus on is just DOING GOOD WORK and HONORING my commitments, you know? Making sure I am kicking ass and doing the best I can; making those networking connections and getting my name out there. Then, people will be wanting to hire me more and more, that's just kind of how this industry works.

The good thing is I'm playing lots of auditions nowadays, and I have also worked with some great companies already, so I feel good about what I've accomplished so far. Also, I've got TONS of plans for the rest of 2016 -- sheet music to publish, arrangements to make, transcriptions to do, albums to write and record, a recital/concert tour of Northern California this fall, and just tons more stuff. I SHOULD NOT worry about not having tons of work on my calendar for the fall, because I know it will come.

The last thing I want to say is that many of the companies, schools, and organizations I've worked with this year, tell me they want to hire me back for next year! So that's a good thing =).

Anyway, it's literally 3:12 AM right now and I need to get my day started soon, egads. I don't know HOW or why I've been staying up so late this week... it's very strange! Until next time!

-Christopher

Right now, I am living in Concord, California. I live with flybirdfly, aka Derek! Him and I have never lived together, but have been friends since 2002, can you believe that? We moved to The Lakes apartments on November 28, 2015. While it's a bit pricey, and definitely more expensive than Stockton, I am LOVING it here. Parking is difficult, as we only have one designated parking spot, but it's not too bad. There IS a lake, and we have 2 balconies, which is great! The air conditioning is fantastic, the living room is very spacious, AND I've got my 1918 Steinway Grand Piano in the apartment too (that I purchased in 2012).

I have stopped working at the Contra Costa Childrens Chorus. I was one of their accompanists from January 2015 - March 2016. It was a great experience and I loved working with the kids (I played for Level 2 and Level 3 choirs, so ages 6-11 overall), but I just couldn't continue to commit to Wednesdays, 4-6 PM. This took place in Lafayette, CA. And yes, from January - November 2015 I commuted from Stockton, CA (some 75 miles each way). Insane.

I have also stopped working at the New Mozart School of Music in Palo Alto, CA. I worked there from September 2015 - April 2016. Not too long of a time, but I started out with 10 students immediately, since I took over for a teacher who all of a sudden had to move to New York City for a new job. Things went pretty well, all the way up until about March 2016, where many of my students had to drop or switch days due to their schedules. Then, all of a sudden, I had 4 students spread out over 6 hours with tons of breaks. It just wasn't working out. Plus, they take a RIDICULOUSLY huge 60% overhead for lessons, and I just was never comfortable with how much extra they charged overall just to seemingly RUN the school of music, when they weren't fueling me with new students every week; a school of music with 500+ students SHOULD have been able to draw more attention, but I guess not. I left on amiable terms. Oh, lastly: commute from Stockton (the first 6 weeks I worked there), was NINETY (90) miles each way. Ridiculous. Then, in Concord, it was only 58 miles each way. Still, crazy.

Another job I had was for the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus in Modesto, CA. I worked there from September 2013 - May 2015. I lived in Stockton the whole time, and the commute was about 30 miles each way. But it was a grueling 7-10 PM rehearsal with a demanding director/conductor, and I always felt like I was working very, very hard for the compensation they provided me, which was just truly not that much for all the work I had to put in. Throughout the two seasons, we did Brahms' "A German Requiem" and Vaughan Williams' "A Sea Symphony", plus holiday tunes approaching each Christmas season. I played for a good 60-some rehearsals and attended both of their big performances with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. The chorus was about 130 members, too, and very prestigious. But for such a big organization, they don't treat their accompanists well.

Living in the Bay Area now is wonderful. It is WHERE I WANT TO BE! It allows me to do many more musicals with less commute, and to be involved with lots of gigs, including auditions, accompanying choirs, and church.

I now proudly work at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord, CA, and I am treated so well, love the people and the Pastor, and BEST OF ALL, I am working with my high school piano teacher and mentor, Kathleen Flemming! She is the current choir director there! Were were both hired to start in April 2016, and it couldn't have been a bigger blessing. Kathleen is SUCH an amazing person and she is single-handedly the BIGGEST musical influence in my life. Her, along with my HS choir teacher Susan Stuart, and college piano profesor Frank Wiens. I studied with Kathleen from August 2006 - August 2008, and all throughout college and afterward we kept in touch, but now we get to see and work with each other on a regular basis! She has so much passion for choir, and I truly feel like my work at this church is so important and meaningful. I am compensated very well, and I am also receiving free organ lessons from Kathleen as continuing education to improve my craft! My title is actually "Organist", and I am required to play part of each service on the organ. Lastly, the great part about this arrangement is that it's ONLY a 3-hour commitment on Sundays--no weekday rehearsal. I started subbing at this church as far back as October 2015, but was just installed in April. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

The summer has LOTS of great and exciting gigging opportunities for me, including playing many days of auditions, a VBS camp for a church in Danville, working at ACT (American Conservatory Theatre) in San Francisco accompanying their theatre arts intensives, working with Berkeley Community Chorus, as well as church, teaching my handful of students, and any other gig that comes my way!

I am pretty content with things now =)

-Christopher

How I Use My College Degree

I like how I went to college to be a classical pianist, and that is exactly what I'm not doing right now.

I didn't do ANY shows or musicals during my 4.5 years at University of the Pacific.

Now I do 8-10 shows a year, whether playing in them or Music Directing them.

I didn't learn ANYTHING about liturgy or church music in college, yet I play at a church every weekend and have done so for 8 years now.

One thing I DID learn in college is a bit about piano pedagogy, but at that, it was a one-semester class and I don't feel that I got too much out of it. What really helped was the hands-on experience of teaching 10-15 students each week during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of college.

So, was going to college worth it?

I would say so, yes. What I DID learn was the COMPLETE foundation of how to be a successful pianist. I learned the proper technique, voicing, sight-reading abilities, how to play in an ensemble, and I did learn a good amount about accompanying from Dr. Cetto's crazy choir classes. My time spent with Frank Wiens, Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Leong completely shaped how I am as a musician, and that is priceless and invaluable.

They say you need hundreds and maybe thousands of hours of practice to "hone your craft" and to become proficient, and that's precisely what I did in college. For over four years I practiced 3-6 hours per day and learned the absolute hardest repertoire I've ever played in my life, including a Rachmaninoff concerto!

Moral of the story: college helped shape me as a person and set me up to use my skills as a pianist in the professional world. I guess it's like an engineer or computer scientist learning everything about their major, but then when they go off to their job, they still need 6 weeks of "training" to learn EXACTLY what to do at their job, because it can be so varied from each niche of the occupation.


Life Changes to the Future

A couple of life changes:

  • I will officially be moving to the Bay Area within the month of October 2015. Currently, that place is Concord, CA.

  • I am hoping to increase my work load at the New Mozart School of Music to 3-4 days a week, teaching upwards of 40 students a week when I hit full capacity for up to 4 days.

  • My Stockton days are numbered, and this includes employment in Stockton.

  • Possibly seeking out a bigger church position, ideally Music Director of any denomination, though I am content at my current church in the Bay Area.

  • I'll still be doing shows, and have two more after "Avenue Q" in Berkeley, but I want to focus on teaching more starting in 2016.

  • I am hoping to start driving for UBER some time in the near future.

I will be moving in with my best friend Derek flybirdfly, and I am SO excited for that! I'm not sure what I'm going to do about my 1918 Steinway Grand Piano. I'd like to bring it with me, but I might have to move it into my parents' house.

I'm actually excited to be leaving Stockton, finally. My time here needs to end. I have TOO much baggage in Stockton. It'll be really hard to leave my current house @ 5101 Strawberry Way. It's been my home since October 27, 2012. I LOVE it here, but it's just too far from the New Mozart School of Music (90 miles from Stockton to Palo Alto) which will truly be what I want to do as much of as I can in the future.

My Stockton church jobs will be ending soon, if that makes any sense. I believe someone will be taking over as Music Director at the Cathedral in a salaried position starting January 2016, so I won't need to work there anymore. And, I also still have a position at Holy Cross Church in Linden, CA, but that's Saturdays at 5 PM, and if I want to work at New Mozart School Saturdays 9 AM - 4 PM, I wouldn't be able to do that mass. We'll see how that pans out, but it may be time to end there.


Then there's the concern of my Stockton students: (4 - Jorge, Sarah, Debbie, & Ruth). I would like to travel to them on Saturdays or Sundays and teach them, or any day that's convenient for most of them and teach them all in one block. Three of them have been with me for several years and it would be sad to see them go.

Lastly, I really want to start driving for the company UBER. I feel like it'd be a really enjoyable use of my time when I just want to drive and earn some extra money. I have to finish the paperwork, but maybe I can start doing that next month!

Feeling decent about things. I'm currently playing "AVENUE Q" the Musical @ Berkeley Playhouse, and that's been a blast! Can't wait to do more shows in the future. Now, off to bed!

-Christopher





today's thoughts

life is what you make of it.

carpe diem; seize the day.

take an adventure—make a new friend—do something spontaneous.

life is exciting; life is ever-changing. it is never dull.

=)