Happy to share a film I worked on with a great post production crew in Nashville over the last several months. Project Return is an organization that assists the incarcerated after they're released from prison to get back on their feet and help to introduce them back into society. I think it is a good cause and I was glad to part of it. For this film, I wrote part of the score along with fellow composer Naoise Sheridan. Additionally, I produced and mixed the final musical track in as well as collaborated on sound design and special sound FX. It was a great experience.
- You may have stumbled onto this blog entry by accident...maybe you follow the band I play for most regularly...maybe you're genuinely interested in what I have to say - which incidentally isn't much in the verbal sense most of the time...I'm more of a thinker that occasionally has great timing for one-liners, and comical quips to get a rise out of a group I'd been sitting silent in for most of the night...or perhaps 2017 was also an impactful year for you as well. Regardless, I hope if you take the time to read this entry you feel as though it was time well spent.
There are definitely times when I wake up throughout any given week and wonder how the hell I got here...endured years of abuse..uh..er...."experience'" playing music in clubs and shitty venues with great bands, and great venues with horrible bands. Rides in vans, RVs, buses, trains, planes, and countless automobiles that all eventually break while you're riding in them. Disagreements with bandmates, managers, fellow musicians, stage crew, and sometimes even complete strangers. I even taught middle school band for 4 years...that experience alone probably taught me most on how to manage chaos in general...the funny thing about chaos is you KNOW you won't be able to control it, yet you know you need to some how figure out how to allow the sense accomplishment to always overshadow the challenges it took to get there. On paper, the institution of higher learning for me was The University of Central Florida, but in life, it's been the aforementioned experiences...the interesting thing is that I can't possibly imagine trying to navigate life without BOTH sets of those experiences.
I am 40+ years of age now...I have had close family members leave the world behind and endured watching others come very close to the edge (who are still with us at the time of this entry, which I'm thankful for). I have watched friends self-destruct, I have navigated divorce, extremely bitter breakups, and I have tried to comfort friends to the best of my ability after suffering the loss of a child. I have had things stolen from me, I have donated my time to charity, visited foreign lands to give to the less fortunate and also play music, and I have made many mistakes both in life and in work situations. I have had moments of complete and utter doubt and disgust and other moments of absolute elation and amazement that have moved me to a sobbing mess of a human. All of it - all things have brought me to this precise moment - I cannot possibly regret any of it - no matter how stupid or lucky I was - I own it - and I wouldn't change a thing...if I could - I probably wouldn't be moved to be writing what will likely be a novel of a blog entry.
This entry is serving a number of purposes. One, I need to get comfortable writing more again as if I were in college because - (cue the triumphant music) - I AM now officially a Grad Student. Just began my studies via online coursework through the University of Chichester across the pond in England. I'll get more into this later...but writing is going to play a big role in the completion of the degree. Two - I think writing is a great way to reset for me. Once it's out there, I think I will feel like I won't have to carry or wear certain info around with me anymore and I can simply leave it on the Blog - come back to it every now and then and remember - "Oh yeah, that is when I was really pissed (or happy) about that." I'm getting old! And I'm finding that my brain has less and less space to store things - but I'm learning how to get out in front of that.
The choice to pursue a graduate degree has been a challenging one to make...especially at "40ish". I have had people say - "why would you do that...pay all that money to go back..you MUST be happy with what you're doing." The fact is I'm thrilled with what I've been doing, what I've done - and what's most exciting (and sometimes scary) is where I haven't been, but want to go.
So where do I want to be? Happy. Interested in life. Loving what I have and what I do with the time that I have. Using that time wisely, and eager to wake up the next day to live it again - with or without someone to share it with. That last part is the tough one sometimes. I've learned that it's super easy for we has humans to fall into a mode to where we start to define who we are based on how long or how successful our personal life is...and soon begin to rest all of our self worth on whether or not someone is interested in us...or worse case, weigh it heavier based on the number of "Likes" or attention we receive in social media land.
Despite the fact that I've been married, and divorced, gone through some pretty heavy life lessons and remain a childless bachelor at 40ish years old.....I know everything I've done has led me to right where I am, right now...and I know that I'm doing at least a few things right with my life. Yesterday I found an old hard drive and brought it back from the dead and began looking through old photos of bands, former significant others, and snippets of life. I ran across an odd file entitled "Musically Declined". And it read as follows:
I am thirty years old, divorced, and sitting in a mobile home in Nashville, Tennessee at 3:38 AM. Today is February 25, 2007. In the distance I hear the whistle of a train trailing off into the night. The house is quiet, I’m the only one awake as we did not work this week due to the absence of a guitarist who we hope will arrive on Monday. The house is ugly, with dirty floors and bunched up dark red carpet. The heat only works on half of the house and my room stays cool, sometimes cold at night. In the kitchen there are boxes of .33 cent bags of instant noodles, a few loaves of bread and various other newly purchased food from the local dollar store. This place, I lovingly refer to as “The Band Cave”. Yet, I refer to myself as a professional musician.
I have no children and no responsibilities other than some student loans and a car payment. I live primarily on the road with five other guys and I get paid to play music in bars and clubs across the United States. This is the life people love to fantasize about, where you can meet and maintain meaningless relationships with women in every town you visit, where you can drink all night every night while you do your job and no one cares, and where the biggest thing you have to worry about when you get up every afternoon is which video game or TV show you want to watch before you take your next nap. You save your money only to spend it on the next night’s bar tab, or to buy the next best $5.00 shirt you can find. I keep my clothes in a large clear tote and I wear most 2 to 3 times before washing.
When I was nineteen, I swore to myself that I would NOT.... be exactly where I am right now when I turn 35. So the way I see it, I still have five more years to work on things. There are two schools of thought here. 1. This is who I am, and safety net or not, I’m doing this until I reach my goal. 2. I do this until I cannot survive without medical insurance, or a steady income, or a meaningful relationship. Because in this line of work, you almost can’t have either of those things. The problem is I love what I do, and I am willing to deal with all of these things in order to do it. The best part about what I’m doing is that I have chosen this over the “other” fantasy that everyone wants, known as the “American Dream”, AKA domestic bliss.
It was just a single entry. It was like I was writing it that day to remind myself on a later date that what I was doing was going to lead me....to exactly where I am right now. Spooky huh?
Now almost exactly 11 years later - in Nashville, TN - I'm sitting in a clean, well kept structure with central heat and air - that I own...I am alone, but that's just because I live alone. Listening to my dryer run upstairs as I type on the computer I paid for..Sitting in a room full of musical instruments I have paid for myself with earnings from a music career I reluctantly returned to after leaving a failed marriage and a steady teaching job back in 2006. The retracing of my steps - has been an adventure. Somehow back then I knew what I was doing...because of that, I MUST have faith in myself now so I can retrace my steps again in another 11 years with the same sense of pride and accomplishment. One of my favorite quotes ever was the following....I occasionally recite it in my head in the toughest moments.
"The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner. I will persist until I succeed." - Og Mandino
You can read more from the The Scrolls of Og Mandino below. It is truly inspiring.
I often think about how I got to where I am. Not really physically, but all encompassing - as in, one thing leads to another and another and another. If one traces back the steps in life - even the bad steps - and assuming we are sitting in a place where we have at least one thing we are proud or excited about - don't we really have to be thankful for every experience and person, who by at the very least, "social physics" propelled us into the direction that put us exactly where we are right now? More later on the less fortunate experiences that got me to this moment ...for today, I'll be writing about all good things and for good reason.
I've started this blog entry at least 4 times and scrapped the others, but dammit I'm going to finish this one. I'll do my best to keep it an easy read...haven't written much lately so I can't promise much in the way of organization and grammar. Maybe it's because it's coming up on the anniversary of his passing or maybe I just need to share this in hopes it inspires others to spread some good vibes around to those who are still with them...maybe both...either way, thanks for reading.
On January 9th, 2012 - my grandfather passed on after spending a wonderful evening surrounded by family. The guy survived a multitude of heart attacks, the first I can remember was when I was about 12 years old - he was at my baseball game...survived that one and had a couple more after that - then went through open heart surgery a few years later and chose to fight through all of that to live happily through 67 years of marriage to an old age until his organs decided they'd just had enough - he was 87 years old. That sounds a bit like a sad story as I read it back to myself...and I miss the guy like crazy, but I owe him...a lot.
When I was about 6 years old - I played for a relative's wedding...it was my first gig! Guess who was there to help turn pages...yep - good ol Grandpa. Super encouraging, tender hearted and even tempered...everyone I met liked the guy...never met a stranger. Here is probably my favorite photo of him...where it all started really....super pivotal time for me.
I mentioned that baseball game...my brother and I did play some sports when we were younger...baseball, basketball etc (I was pretty terrible, but I did it anyway)...not only did Grandpa toss the ball and shoot hoops at home with us, but he was at every game, every weekend. When I retired from sports to do music (around 11 yrs old) he still came to every concert when he was in town and was one of the most supportive people and best examples of a grandparent I'll likely ever know. He was that way with all of our cousins too. Aside from my parents, was probably the single most influential and "pivotal" individuals I knew in my early childhood that nurtured and supported my interest in music and me as an individual.
Grandpa was a self taught player of the organ. He had a Thomas "Lawrence Welk" solid state organ. Man - that thing had a ton of bells and whistles! Drum machine, two manuals, pedals, and it would scream when you hit the gas pedal. Grandpa sang beautifully also....even sang on the radio back in the day. His brother was a member of a nationally touring vocal quartet called "The Hearlders" and would sing with them on occasion. He was a WWII veteran and lived through an era that I would describe as historically significant in terms of music. Main reason I'm fond of that musical era - you guessed it - because of him. Before I was 10 years old he turned me on to Sinatra, Crosby, Ella - war time songs like "I'll Be Seeing You", "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and all that big band and swing music from that time - which eventually led me to jazz music, which led me to playing all the other "popular" stuff of my generation..that wasn't quite as cool, but I later found out I could get paid to play...that's another blog entry.
I was lucky enough to live next door to my grandparents - they were what we Floridians called "snow-birds". They'd be around 6 months of the year and when they were, I'd be over at their house (we had an old Thomas organ at our house too, but growing up my parents worked a lot so I had a built in audience to play for next door) - the grandparents place was always available and I'd go over to play music, though it wasn't anything formal...they'd be listening from other parts of the house...every now and then I'd get a request. Playing was always fun. "Five-Foot-Two", "Kansas City", "Try a Little Tenderness" were some of the repeat requests. I learned most of my chords from Grandpa's chord chart...which I still have.
My other favorite thing to do was to sift through Grandpa's sheet music cabinet and pull out whatever I could find...he had a TON of great music in that thing. When I was young it seemed endless...I'd discover a new tune every time I went over there. I'd sight-read through it (often poorly at first) but he'd hear it and I could hear him humming or singing a line or two from the other room as I played - I knew I was close - so I played it a few more times till I got it right and then I'd move on to another tune. It was the perfect practicing atmosphere...fun and no pressure!
I've had a few really great music teachers as well, which I'll address in another entry one day. I teach around a half dozen students a week these days - not much time as I am fortunate enough to keep a significant touring schedule.
So my point in all of this is I learned much about encouragement from Grandpa and just simply ways to approach learning - the reality is sometimes it has less to do with what you're learning and more to do with how it's all delivered. I've always tried to keep that in the back of my mind as a music educator...and really - as just a decent human. It's all about delivery.
Tom Conrad "Grandpa" was a super pivotal person for me. As an educator I often hear the phrase, "well maybe he or she will stick with it" when talking about music lessons or playing an instrument... - I was lucky enough to have Grandpa to shape and nurture my love and appreciation for music and IT - is what stuck with me. In my opinion, much of that had to do with him and how that encouragement was given - of course the music was fun too...regardless, I'll be forever grateful he was around to share all of that with me.
For the handful of people who will ever read this, I hope you'll make a point to go out and thank a pivotal person in your life soon...even if they aren't still with you..it may bring some peace into the world around you even if in a small way.
Amhrán Simplí is translated as "simple song" in Irish / Gaelic.
When I began with this theme, it started off as just a simple piano melody with harmony. The piano melody is both a little sad but somehow became a little inspiring as it continued to develop. From there I took more of an epic / fantasy turn and really brought it home with a huge orchestral finish. I hope you enjoy!
If you require a composer or sound designer for your next short film, documentary, video game, or corporate ad - reach out - would love to hear what you're working on!
Have a great November! - DL
I've enjoyed a number of Danny Elfman scores over the years from Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands to Alice in Wonderland... His influences creep out in this selection more than anything I think I've done in the past.
Take a listen - feedback is always welcome.
Glad to share the news of the upcoming EP release from my pal Jesse Isley!
Always a pleasure working with Jesse and this band.. With so many other choices out there it was an honor to be asked to play on this project. Stream it on Spotify and iTunes, but if you love it (which I'm confident you will) the highest compliment you can pay any artist is to BUY their music.
In other news I'll also be playing at the release party in Nashville on July 27! Hope you'll stop by to pickup a copy of the album and have a drink!
Cheers! - DL
Featuring a new "Track of the Month" on my home page today called Elegant Piano. This one is currently available for licensing exclusively through #Jinglepunks catalog. Inquire at www.jinglepunks.com!
Well the time has come.
I'll be participating in the Keys 100 Ultra-Marathon on Saturday May 20. With my compadres from Sister Hazel (I'm the "sixthman" - ha!), we will collectively run 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West, FL.
- I'll be the first to tell ANYONE, that I am not a runner, nor have I ever aspired to be a runner... I don't even really enjoy exercising all that much...BUT, the journey in preparing for this race has been just as important as the actual event will be. I have taken the time to learn a little more about myself and how much abuse (exercise) my body can take...and also take comfort in the fact that even though I am over that fort-er-uh, 39-ish year hill - I still feel pretty good -physically, mentally, and even spiritually. The sense of accomplishment that comes with participating in an event such as this, with this particular group of guys (despite the rigors of enduring ultra close quarters in a a shweaty van) will be reward in and of itself. - PLUS we're raising money for the band's childhood cancer charity, Lyrics for Life - a truly great cause.
I feel confident that I'll be able to finish the 15.6 miles (approx. 1/6th of the 100 mile course). The good news is that I won't have to do it all at once.
Below are my specific leg distances:
2.5 miles, 2.4 miles, 1 mile, 2.9 miles, 3.5 miles, 1.2 miles, 2.1 miles
Our team begins at 5:45am Saturday morning -and if all goes as planned we'll finish around 12:30am Sunday morning.
IT WILL BE A LONG, HOT, SHWEATY, REWARDING DAY.
I wanted to document some of my training and those videos can be found below in addition to the youtube trailer the band released. I'll likely add a few more before, during and after videos on social media to keep everyone up to date on our progress!
Let's do this!
Tour Season is upon us and in full swing and the year is zipping by incredibly fast at this point. I'm glad to be back out with Sister Hazel this year.
I'm working to keep this news section active as I move about the country this summer (which includes some shows on the west coast!!) and also while I'm working at home on some upcoming film & TV projects... - Thank you for reading and for your continued support! - DL
Dave LaGrande is a professional musician and composer based in Nashville, TN.