Ben Zander and BPYO in Bern, Switzerland with the U.S. Ambassador (above)
August 2015 marks one year since I decided to put all my professional working energy into my Audio/Video company, and I have to say, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Only six months have passed since going full-time in January and despite the difficulty of leaving my friends and the security of a teaching job at Boston Arts Academy, a new sense of collaborative freedom and creativity has opened itself up for me and the clients I've serving. After balancing a performing career with teaching privately and in a classroom for 20 years, clearing the space in my life for a new thing- making music videos - has been rewarding on all fronts, financially, personally and musically. I even get to spend more time with my family. People have asked, do I miss it? My answer is repeatedly that real teaching (where students learn to do something well) is a collaboration where everyone gains through creation and conversation. So in that regard, I'll never stop teaching. I still do it everyday in a hundred different places. Now I just have to catch up on all these projects before next season starts... Yikes! Thanks for these opportunities.
The past 3 months of June-July-August have been extra special as I wrap up post- production on two major Audio/Video projects and another international tour.
Tours toughen you up, test your artistic process for leaks, and make you get organized in an urgent, survival-of-the-fittest kind of way.
Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra's seventeen day tour of Europe (Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany) was an incredible journey. I have never worked so hard or experienced so much in a single sustained period of time with one group. The concert halls we played and recorded in everyday were historic and wonderfully musical. One concert after another the orchestra was giving their all on very challenging music and I felt it an important responsibility to document it as best I could for them through image and sound. Sir Simon Rattle said at a farewell concert we were lucky enough to see, how a "concert hall's walls have a memory" that stores all the notes played by all the musicians that have ever performed inside them and creates the spirit of the space within. This is a wonderful way to describe the feeling of reverence I felt inside the halls and churches we visited and in which we worked. The same air and walls upon which Bach's, Mendelssohn's, Mozart's, Beethoven's, Wagner's, Mahler's, Dvorak's, Mahler's notes traveled and still remain... magical to say the least.
Tours toughen you up, test your artistic process for leaks and teach you to get organized in an urgent, survival-of-the-fittest kind of way. You need to do what you do but under the pressure of limited time, bare-essentials for equipment, and the physical/psychological rigors that go along with the logistical stresses traveling.
Many tours ago I discovered both as a performing artist and as a videographer/engineer that it is never okay to freak-out about stuff. This means freak yourself out or other people. Things go wrong all the time and other people, situations, equipment are unpredictable. The best thing you can contribute to a group on the road is positivity, humor and support. If you're cool on the bus, it will show onstage as well.
One of the biggest challenges was keeping all my equipment ready to go. Most people have cameras in their pockets, or an iPad for recording life's moments. We're lucky to be living in an age where we have constant access to such sophisticated devices! Some of my best professional images I've done on my phone! (Shhhh! Don't tell anyone!) So most people can relate on what a chore it is clearing and managing the storage on your phone. Music files, photos and video especially take up a lot of memory at the 1080 HD resolution most people are used to. When I capture a concert, especially a concert with the 127 member BPYO, there are 7 cameras. Each has to be powered independently by a long-life battery (no time or desire to try to plug in all cameras, especially with international currents/plugs, extension cords to tape down, etc.) and each camera has to have enough SD memory card space to capture 2.5 hours of music.
I like to clear my SD cards from my cameras each night before sleeping, or set an alarm to wake up periodically so I could clear cards all night. The tour chaperone chat feed was particularly entertaining during SD card clearing time. I kept abreast of what kids were out of rooms after curfew, which room the staff would gather for "debriefing" after the day's events. Vending machines in European hotels often sell cans of cold beer. A civilized development. We in America can't seem to conjure up enough freedom to be responsible adults with a luxury like that!
On a tech note- I tried out some Røde NT55's with omni capsules and they performed beautifully hanging over the BPYO and continue to do so in my microphone collection. Also, the GoPro is a "go to" as it is one of my favorite cameras for wideshots, tough to reach or tight spaces- which I am constantly up against.
Here is a great article about the tour in a media-rich document: (Boston Musical Intelligencer)
Mika Stoltzman, marimbist and wife of Richard Stoltzman is working with me on her videos that will include several promotional documentaries. Particularly exciting parts of these mini-documentaries are interviews with Chick Corea, Steve Gadd and marimba maker Douglas DeMorrow.
August 13 I captured "Mikarimba!" Mika's full ensemble featuring Dick Stoltzman and Steve Gadd. Steve is such a great player, and his famous-ness resonates down through me all the way back to my first drum lessons in New Hampshire, where local drum teachers and friends of my father's would mention the deep grooves and "Gadd feel" on Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Steely Dan's Aja and countless others.
Mika was able to arrange for some time with Steve to sit with me on camera for an interview. I'm not nervous around famous people, but was a bit nervous because I didn't know when or where the interview would take place and when it happened I would have to be ready in a moments notice... and then NAIL it because it's Steve Gadd. I get curious meeting famous people who are really good at what they do and have gained fame because of it. Some people feel it's not enough to just do their best and be themselves. A lot of people get sucked in by the greed, popularity, power and attention... they have to overcompensate and prove something with attitude or shows of their power.
Steve could certainly throw his weight around if he wanted because of his stature in the pop-music world and the respect that he commands. The buzz in the Rockport Hall was certainly all about him. But like his collaborative grooves on stage, he moved about the crowds exchanging kind words with people, signed autographs and posed for pictures. Clearly in command of the room but so willing to share it with everyone. He's super comfortable with himself and I think more powerful because of it. He is a really cool guy and agreed to do the interview after a long day of rehearsal, soundcheck and concert. We talked about how he met Mika and Dick at a PASIC convention when she was playing with the Nexus Ensemble.
In the performance I recorded, most of the time Steve was still finding his way in Mika's charts and giving her support. A lot of these super-drummer types may have chosen to grandstand or usurp Mika's limelight. The chops to steal the show were certainly at his fingertips at any moment. In a way I was wishing he would have stolen it because I dig him so much! But, I was ultimately more impressed by and will remember longer that, he had the sensitivity to NOT take over the show and in itself that's amazing part about him and why his thing runs so deep. He gets the calls from the big boys of his generation because he knows what's right for the song and delivers 100%. I've always tried to be like that and it was inspiring to me that he's 70 years old and still killin it on drums, at home, with his wife, kids (who were there with him) and as a person. Bravo Steve.
Also notable and releasing soon is some great work with Tom Vignieri. Videos of performances of latest commissioned works "To Sing" and "The Tides" are due to be released in the next weeks as he leaves his post as music director for From the Top and moves to England.
He wishes to pursue his writing and composition career increasingly from Europe. I hope promotional video will be an important part of his moving forward and that I can keep helping out because it is really a pleasure to work with a person whom I consider to be a Master administrator/producer musician/composer... Here's to more learning with Tom Vignieri!
Our Past project "There Will Come Soft Rains" was filmed in Symphony Hall and released last Summer:
If you are still reading this I am impressed!
Thank you for your interest. Drop me a note on Facebook or email email@example.com.
Thanks and Cheers! -Dave Jamrog