“So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.”
- Aaron Copland
I believe in the transformative power of music, I hope my compositions can be conduits to effect social change.
“My Musical Journey”
I was raised in San Bernardino CA, and began composing and playing the piano at the of age 6, finding an escape and comfort in the music. I continued my love of music through all grade levels, from playing piano in jazz band, playing clarinet in high school and college concert band to co-starting a string orchestra at Cal-State San Bernardino. Music was my way to escape my world. I would sit for hours in Guitar Center, just playing every instrument-discovering new sounds, learning new chords. imagining my future life making music with other music nerds.
I didn’t come from a musical family, the rumor is that my dad played guitar, I wouldn’t know, my grandmother raised me. She was my only supporter, but there was only so much she could do. She was raising most of her grandchildren, on a very tight income, being the youngest, I often slipped through the cracks. But she knew as long as I could sit at the piano and play, id be ok. Most of my childhood was me just playing around on the piano, making up little tunes and picking up songs by ear. I remember Christmas 1994, she got me a “how to play the piano” VHS and by New Years I had learned all the songs on the tape…I started piano lessons soon after. Sadly, lessons only lasted about 3 months, are car broke down, resulting in my grandmother no longer be able to pay for my lessons. I took what I learned from my teacher and did my best to continue to grow. I couldn’t really read music that well, nothing over a quarter note…Then there was a music program at the local university where they’d teach inner-city kids an instrument, it was free, so I off I went. I talk a lot about how these types of programs are vital to communities like the one I grew up in, these young music teachers are doing the lords work. I was in the program for about a month or so, I played the recital (a song by Enya, I cant remember the tile) and that was that. I entered Junior high soon after that. I was still a terrible sight reader, I remember the Jazz band teacher having to show me EVERYTHING I had to play, but when it came to soloing, I was a natural. Over the years, I listened to everything from Duke Ellington, to Elton John, to Motown, to Little Richard-everything, and I would imitate the solos, learn the chord changes, all by ear. Reading music was my road block.
High school brought on a different set of challenges-during my time in high school, I asked my band teacher what I should do if I wanted to become a composer, and she told to me learn as many instruments as possible. I was fortunate to have her because she allowed me to take instruments home to play around with. She also taught a music appreciation class, but for band kids, it focused on theory and sight reading (I figured she gathered that a lot of us was terrible at sight reading) it worked though! I could sight read like nobody’s business! High school was great, I played in concert band, marching and jazz band. I was the drum major three out of 4 years, and in my senior year I conducted the concert band. I played keyboards, violin and percussion in all the musicals, ultimately playing piano my senior year. I always found it strange that I didn’t get the ‘Most likely to be a musician” award-I literally was in everything musical on campus. I loved high school, I came out during my senior year, high school was a place of refuge, home was hell. I dated the color guard captain, to me it felt like the captain of the football team and the cheerleader captain, as I was the drum major and him being the Color guard captain. i learned a lot in high school, mostly, that definitely wanted to become a professional musician.
Cal-State San Bernardino, I played my first piece of “classical” music-Bach invention #8, I fell in love! I couldn’t study composition until I reached the 200 level in piano, so I worked my ass off to get there and by the end of my freshman year, I was studying composition. Up into this point I had no idea what it meant to be a musician, I just knew I wanted to write it and play it. College was difficult in that, everyone else seemed to have an idea of what went into being a music student. EVERYTHING was knew to me, juries, singing in other languages, sight singing, what classes to take. I remember once I started studying composition-keep in mind, this is the first time Im critically listening and analyzing classical and romantic music-naturally, my composition reflected all this new information. My professor telling me things like “Brahms wrote it already” I had no idea what to do, I was writing the best I could with what I knew, I later came to realize he was trying to push me past “tonal” music-I just didn’t have the knowledge to do that. To this day I still write tonal music, it’s who I am, but I do write “contemporary” music for solo instruments, small chamber ensembles. after 2 and half years, I dropped out and moved to New York.
New York was A LOT! so many life changes, personally realizations, musical growth, emotional and physical highs and lows. Discovering how fucked up and racist Art orgs are. I decided to go back to school, I received my BA from Hunter College in 2012. I wanted to finish school before my grandmother passed away. She died the following year on her birthday. From that point I knew I was going to return to California, a decision I tend to regret from time to time. While in New York, I scored 3 plays and wrote one musical. I worked on these plays with my now artistic partner (The New Alchemists), Lily Raabe directed all of them. Our process is fun and extremely collaborative. Instead of writing the music on my own, in my studio, I would attend most rehearsals and develop the music as the actors develop their characters and learn their blocking. Learning all the beats, entrances and exists, rhythm of long monologues, during the rehearsal, proved to be time well spent. It worked in reverse as well, Lily would sometimes direct her actors according to how Id accompany the scene. We wrote all these shows over a span of 3 years, oh what a time to be alive! over the past 10 years, My friend Dale Novella have produced an open mic show, PoetWillBeTelevised, i would often play a set. it had this underground feel, Dale devoted her time to showcasing some of best poets, spoken word, rappers, musicians New York has to offer. She’s a true artist and advocate for black art and safe spaces for black folks to express their art. I still, to this day, regret ever leaving NY-but I do appreciate the growth I went through during my time in Los Angeles.
After 8 years in NY, I decided to move back to Cali-and thus began the path to where I am today. Its weird, after moving to LA, many of my “classical” music opportunities generated from the east-coast. Within my first year in LA, I met Juan Cosme through our mutual friend Danilo Pichardo (another amazing composer/producer) it was musical love at first sight. We immediately clicked, and thus the Humble Boys was born. We would go on to write our EP “All You Seek” an album dear to our hearts. Spawning from personal experiences, from Juans past relationships, to me losing my grandmother, this album helped us cope with our, at the time, depression. Juan and I would go on to write more music for our show “All You Seek” which we were able to get off its feet, back in December 2018, directed by our fearless leader Danielle Reynolds. As of now, Juan and I are developing All You Seek into a compilation of short films, a film for each song, when combined will tell a story as a full length feature. Bethel Solomon, or as we call her Betty, is so near and dear to my heart. her and I would sit and drink wine, I’d bake cookies or cook a meal, and we would just moan groan about life then we would write music. Over three years Betty and I would uphold this wonderful writing system, culminating into our album Beh.te. Food was and has always been the center of my creating process, Betty and I, like I said, would eat and drink and chat for hours before we got started. I, more than anything, needed that time with her. We bonded over this process-she’s like my little sister, even though she acts older than me! Im a big-ol child. but like Juan, Betty and I experienced that same feeling, musical love at first sight. We were great at balancing each other out. If i had an idea but couldn’t sing it (I’m a terrible singer) they both would, in their own way, knew exactly what I was trying to do/say and would blow my socks off with their interpretation. Ive yet to have this same loving, open, collaborative energy with anyone else 🤞🏾I think it boils down to respecting each others craft and knowing what your limits our. Juan went to school for song-writing, but doesnt have the western classical skills I have as a composer/arranger. i definitely do not have the song-writing, singing, guitar playing, business skills that Juan has. But we’ve both inspired each other’s “Talents” Juan has helped me with strings parts and Ive helped him with how to sing certain songs. We’re open to each others thoughts and opinions and honest with each when it doesnt work. Same with Betty, Im patient with her and she is patient with me. I trust her musical instinct, I never let my “education” get in the way of our art. What I know is what I know, but I could always learn more and Betty has definitely taught me A LOT!
Colour of music festival-this is where id say I got my big break as a composer. Lee Pringle reached out to me to perform my piece Across the Calm Waters of Heaven, a piece I composed after the tragic shooting in my hometown of San Bernardino. Up until this point the piece had only been performed once, by a small group of friends in NY during a benefit concert I had arranged (while the humble boys where on tour in NY) for the victims of the Pulse Night Club. Lee heard the piece and wanted it to be apart of the 2016 COM festival. This was a turning point in my life and career. I had a wonderful time in SC, meeting Americas best black musicians, sitting in the beautiful guidliard theater! With Roderick Cox at the helm and Anyango-Yarbo Davenport as concertmaster, my piece had its professional world premiere. I cried the entire time! and from that point on, the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, lead by Barbara Day Turner gave it its west-cost premiere along with my piece Ascension, with James Pytko as the Clarinet soloist. to now, having the Janacek Philharmonic recording Ascension, all of this started with Colour of Music. Also, the friendship I made while at Colour of Music have proven life changing as well. Andrew Lee, ED of DC Strings a predomenitly black orchestra in the DC/Anacostia area, has brought me out every year to conduct his orchestra, an opportunity that has built my skills in way i never could have, on my own. Samuel Thompson and Veronica Jackson, not only are they dear friends and incredible educators but they both have been fervent advocates for my advancement in this crazy industry, I am eternally grateful to them both. There are many others that have gone up to bat for me, and they know that I’d do the same for them. All of this to say, without a strong, supportive community, navigating this industry is very difficult. For some, their family is their support group and community, for others, who find it hard to connect and grow your community, I offer this advice: message people on facebook, instagram, twitter, ask them questions, request their services, engage with them and also be willing to offer your talents. This is something Ive done over the past several years. For me, as a person who didn’t go to grad school, I find that this approach ideal. It allowed me to grow in the classical world and in the non-classical world. If you’re reading this and find it hard to communicate your needs or difficult to talk to others, message me-Im happy to get you started.
I guess I should have mentioned this at the beginning, but, ive always wanted to be film composer. While in NY i took night classes at Juilliard to learn logic, and when I moved to LA I took classes at UCLA extension program in film scoring. Tim Kelly, man what a great teacher! Throughout all this time, I would practice my scoring. I applied to Columbia College, TWICE! didn’t get in. In high school, I applied to CalArts, nope, didn’t get in. I was always missing something…CalArts i just didn’t know what i was doing, i just wanted to be a composer. I wrote all the music for my application, but I didn’t have the engraving skills, also, I just didn’t have any knowledge of what “good” writing was. Composing music, “properly” was something i had no training in. As for Columbia, I didn’t have the tech stuff down. Just like learning the piano, I had long gaps where i would just figure stuff out on my own. I couldnt afford logic or any type of DAW-I just had Finale. My music was very reminiscent of John Williams, he was my influence, but I guess he had already done it, so... I wasn’t great at writing self-essays, I dont like writing my story as some kind of “PLEASE, LET ME IN. I COME FROM A POOR, UNDERSERVED COMMUNITY...so pat yourself on the back for letting me in...” I think my background made me who i am today, and Im proud of that. It shouldn’t be reason for someone to decide if im worthy of ANYTHING. Therefore my essays lack the BITE that organizations/administrations are looking for. 🤷🏾♂️ and to this day, they still do. I'll talk more about this in my “Call to Action” section of my website. But non of this has stopped me from scoring films for my friends. I've written for features, phone app commercials, Emmy award winning web series, short films, etc… I’m fortunate enough to be apart of the Composer Diversity Collective-A group of Black and Brown composer in the LA area that would meet every month to discuss the industry and opportunities. The group, to me, is more than just a community of composers, but a family. i respect I have for leaders like Amanda Jones, Jongnic Bontemps, and Michael Abels, trail blazers in the industry. Making space for others to find their voice and place within it all…its inspiring. This group also showed me that there are many black film composers out there. that we do exists, and were fucking AMAZING! so the group is more than just a bunch of composers, but its a family. Our shared stories and experiences brought us together and, I hope, it’ll keep us together for many years to come.
That bitch Covid. Now we’re pretty much caught up. Once Covid hit, me along with many of my friends and colleagues lost their income. I held out as long as I could in LA, but the cost of living was too high. Thankfully, my dear friend Danielle offered I come and stay with her and her family in Boise. During this pandemic, I fell into a deep depression-my mom was living with me, I was jobless, I was eating horribly, I was worried about everyone I love, doom scrolling, I stopped playing the piano and composing altogether. Pandemic plus yet another display of utter hatred and disrespect on black lives, put me and many others, over the top, emotionally this year has been a complete and total disaster. If not for Danielle, and her family I would have been pushed to my limit, and Im not sure what would have happened at that point. Im optimistic about whats to come, the future is uncertain, which is beautiful. That uncertainty can be led with love, compassion, innovation, respect, education, accountability, forgiveness, a fresh set of eyes, and combined understanding that we are all great and deserving of happiness, and strong positions in our career.