My birthday! Lessons to my 28 y/o self from my 27 y/o self.

Today, I turn 28.

In the words of my girlfriend, “still young, but not that young anymore.” In my recent reflections, I’ve been giving a lot of thought of Reality vs Dreaming, mostly in context with my career. 28 is a big age developmentally for musicians. 30 is even bigger.

 

1. Time is running out. Right?

In conversations with a good musician friend of mine, Trevor H., the idea that we’d be 30+ year old dudes playing in local bars and clubs in hopes of one day “making it” seemed unacceptable. It still is. While do I feel like I’m “making it,” perhaps the better phrase is “making it happen.” The reality of what it takes to be an independent musician in this radically changing business climate is daunting, but this is our professional degree via the school of hard knocks.

Being a musician is like being a shark: one must constantly be moving or risk drowning in the very environment that gives you life. Creating and practicing is such a miniscule part of the day-to-day activity. There are plenty of better-written articles that talk about how much work goes into putting on even a moderately successful show. The point is that I feel like I’ve been working hard, working smart, and working long hours. But I still feel like I’m not working enough.

However, feeling like there’s never enough time is a good thing. I go to sleep excited, barely able to wait until I have a chance to move things even more forward.

 

2. Maintaining turns me into a caveman.

A lesson that I’ve learned this year was about the importance of adapting. Trends change so quickly, and what once was profitable, hip, and seemingly eternal can disappear. As another one of my musician friends (Geoff B.) had observed, guys who stick to the old ways are essentially cavemen still swinging branches in an age of bows & arrows. I realized that I was playing catch-up to a destination that was still going to leave me lagging woefully behind.

If I want true success, I have to take risks, suck-up failures from experimentation, and anticipate where trends are moving. Sure people will continue to find success in the traditional way of doing things, and maybe I will too, but even the rock stars of old have had to change to survive in today’s market. And I’m no rock star.

 

3. Touring is wonderful. Family is even better.

I began my 27th year of life single. I felt great about it: I was going to be a road dog, traveling nonstop so I can perform my music. With no ties emotional ties to a significant other, I wasn’t really hurting anyone, and I had a way of keeping the machine going, at least for a little while.

Then I fell in love.

After my summer tour, we moved in together. We had a puppy. I didn’t want to be traveling all the time anymore. But my finances suffered because of my extended time away from the road. After all, I’d planned my next few years of life as a performing artist with a packed schedule. Plans change.

I’m blessed to have a girlfriend who begs me to stick with music. She dismisses any notion of my getting a “real job.” She’d told me, “I can’t see you doing anything else. You found your calling and are meant to do this. It hurts me to think that you’d consider doing anything other than what you love.” Then she added, “It’d be a completely different story if I felt that your music sucked.”

We haven’t quite found the right balance yet, but I don’t think it ever gets easy being away from your girlfriend and puppy.

 

27’s given me a lot of lessons, some learned harder than others. I’m looking forward to seeing where 28 takes me! A big thank you to everyone who’s been supporting my music and making this all possible!

Much love,

Henry

Valentine’s Day?

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was single, just as I was for the previous V-Day, and many before that. No matter how one slices it, it sucks being single on February 14th.

To everyone, whether you’re single, involved or just getting into/out of a relationship: cherish your family. Cherish your friends. Above all, cherish yourself. No matter what you think of this holiday, one thing is true: the world can always use more love.

I’m so thankful to all of my friends new and old, casual and intimate, near and far who’ve helped me through difficult times and celebrated with me during triumphant ones. I love my family: they anchor me and are my constants in an ever changing world.

This weekend, I will celebrate my first Valentine’s Day in over half a decade. I’ve been looking forward to it but also wish lots of love on those who need it.

“Spirited Away” still has its magic

One of my favorite movies of all time is Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a film I feel to be Miyazaki at the height of his game. Natasia and I watched it over the weekend and marveled at the storytelling, the incredibly imaginative scenery/visuals, and the beautiful ethic driving the film. Spirited Away was a movie I remember anticipating highly in high school. I listened Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack months before the film had released in the US, and several of the numbers tug at my heart strings with more vigor than classical music mainstays.

Like any good work of art, so many interpretations and angles can be taken from the movie, but one particular theme that resonated with me was that of loneliness. Protagonist Chihiro struggles with loneliness: she’s an only child,  is in the process of moving at the beginning of the film, gets separated from her parents, gets isolated in the strange spirit world she finds herself, and [SPOILER ALERT] has to say goodbye to all the friends she’s made by the film’s end. However, she seems to resolve many of her initial loneliness issues by helping others confront theirs.

One of the most heart-warming things about the movie is the cast of outcasts who help her in spite of a world and culture that demands the contrary. Not all are kind to her, but they are genuine. My philosophy is ever-changing, but something that has changed was that most of us as individuals cannot do much to make sweeping changes to the world around us. However, we do exercise a great amount of power in the way we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives.

A little bit of kindness and respect go a long way in making the world a better place. While it’s easy and basic instinct to blame others for the bad in the world, it’s much harder to look within, acknowledge our own faults, and live our lives in a way that helps the people around us. I feel that many people–myself included–are too quick to assume the worst from others or be weary of the trustworthiness, generosity, and kindness of strangers. Yet when we allow the fear of having that trust betrayed rule our lives, we further isolate ourselves and feel ever more lonely.

I elect we stick together and be a positive influence in our community, no matter how big or small.

Phoenix burned to the ground in an act of vandalism

This weekend, I performed as a part of the Phoenixville Firebird Festival which celebrates Phoenixville, PA’s economic turnaround. The day’s festivities were to culminate in the burning of a 30’+ tall, hand-crafted wooden bird as it always has in previous years. It’s a beautiful occasion for people to gather and celebrate.

Unfortunately, arsonists burned down the statue well before the festivities had even begun. In spite of all-day heavy rain, Phoenixville banded together and continued with the festivities. Musicians, artists, performers, and craftsmen all gave their all in celebration. Within hours, people had donated wood and helped reconstruct a scaled-down version of the bird so that the ceremonial burning of the phoenix could go as planned.

My thoughts are two-fold. First is being upset that people would consciously go out of their way to destroy something that not only took months of work but also symbolized something positive for a community. Second is admiration for how Phoenixville lived up to their name and carried the spirit of the festival, even despite the act of vandalism as well as the terrible weather.

On a personal note, this also felt like a revival of sorts for myself. I’ve been making some significant changes to how I’ll be approaching the business side of my music for the coming year, something I’ll be announcing soon as events unfold. However, this weekend’s show was a test run and proving grounds for part of what’s to come, and things felt good to me. Cryptic, I know, but despite trying circumstances, this weekend helped remind me that it’s important for us all to band together to support something we truly believe in, especially when that something is your community.

The Last Action Hero

Delete LAH 3

This past Thursday, Natasia and I decided we needed a good ol’ fashioned Chinese takenout & movie night for ourselves. I picked up the food after work and met her at home. We decided to watch The Last Action Hero. Neither of us had seen it. It came out around the time that I moved to Germany. I remember having an Arnold action figure from the movie and always wondered how it was (you know, because Arnold is so rangy).

Verdict: it was super enjoyable for 90’s action movie fans like us. Everything from the self-aware, gratuitous explosions to the tongue-in-cheek look at action movie cliches to Arnold’s PUNishing one-liners had us laughing with glee in between bites of orange beef and shrimp lo mein. This is one of those movies that I feel is more of a gem now than when it was released and is a total love song for kids of the 80s and 90s who love their cheesy action flicks.

Losing my voice

Over Thanksgiving Break, I lost my voice. I was able to talk a raspy talk, but singing was impossible. Over the week, I’ve been getting my voice back, but it’s been tough staying patient while my throat heals up.

Not being able to sing made teaching lessons hard. It’s funny when I think about it; when I first started teaching at my current school, I was afraid of singing and certainly wouldn’t sing in front of my students. Over time, I realized that singing is one of the best ways for musicians to connect with the music they’re playing, especially when developing one’s ear. This week, I surprised myself with how much of a handicap it felt like to have to teach lessons without being able to sing to and with my students.

Reality is setting in; I have a show tomorrow where I’m expected to sing for 3 hours. My voice as it is now is able to whisper out a tune here or there. Basically, the vocal singing styles available to me at the moment are Enya or Tom Waits, hahaha. I was looking forward to debuting some new covers and even some vocal originals, but I might have to wait another day.

That said, I’m still able to compose and put new ideas to paper, so I haven’t truly lost my voice in a meaningful way. : )