Saturday, January 22, 2011

Finding A Voice

I went and saw one of my favorite artists and Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips last night. The show at Denver's Soiled Dove Underground was sold out, for what I think are three reasons. First, it's Glen and he has a lot of fans. Second, he was playing a solo acoustic show, which brings out the formidable Colorado singer-songwriter crowd. Third, the opening act was Vienna Teng.

Prior to last night, I thought that was a band, not a person. I was wrong. Turns out she is a classically trained pianist with a decent voice, charming personality, and knack for writing captivating songs.

Vienna was great, and played a nice long hour plus set. Glen was wonderful, and easily won over the crowd despite dropping no fewer than five F-Bombs. Capping the evening with Paul Simon's "American Tune" was a surprising and spectacular choice. Yet without a doubt, the evening belonged to a performer I have yet to mention: percussionist Alex Wong.

He plays with Vienna, and labeling him a percussionist is like calling DaVinci a painter. In the course of one song, Alex would commonly play the cajon with his hands and his feet, while expertly playing a metallophone (left handed) and managing both snare and cymbal with his right. He didn't miss a beat or a note, his sensitivity to sonic dynamics was other-worldly, and I couldn't stop watching him. He also played the piano and guitar, various other percussion instruments, and sang original songs.

It is nights like these when I find myself equally energized to work on my own music, and shut it down because, well, I'm no Alex Wong.

This is a common experience for me after seeing my idols. I know from experience that eventually inspiration trumps the desire to shut-down, but I am keenly aware of both energies and their various narratives.

Try as I might, I will never groove like Alex Wong, write like Paul Simon, or play like Stevie Ray Vaughn. And the more I try to be like them, the more I lose who I am.

Finding a voice as a songwriter (and as a human being, I suppose), is an endless process. Allowing myself to be inspired by another, and integrating that inspiration into my own being is a gift. Yet at times I lose myself and try to write songs like so-and-so, instead of coming back home, going within, and seeing what emerges. I try to remember that I have a service to provide that is of value to some. Many, I'm hoping. And that as I continue to tap into my own authentic voice, the path will be revealed and the money will follow.

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