Gay Pride

Make Art, Not Perfection

I can’t say I’ve ever given a perfect performance. I often walk away thinking I could have done something differently. As an artist and musician, I need to be always improving. On stage, I make choices about the way I play and how I perform.

Perfection is not playing a song or piece through without any mistakes. In this age of pitch correction, it's important to remember slight imperfections or mistakes are often what make a piece of music so beautiful. It’s the human touch that connects us to music and each other.

Live music is about spontaneity. My mentor/piano teacher once told me every performance should be different. At first I didn’t understand, but he explained it could just be a moment or a look that changes. He insisted performers, musicians or other artists must never repeat themselves. This has become my mantra. I vow to never give the same performance. I want to be always growing, always changing.

I believe there is an “it” factor when it comes to music. Something intangible that can’t be articulated. Something otherworldly happens when we play/write/record music. Not everyone can do it, and we must not take this gift lightly. We must respect this power and honor the talent bestowed upon us.

As a piano student, I immersed myself in the study of classical music. More than any other genre, perfection is revered when performing classical music. Listening to an opera or a solo piano recital, mistakes are glaring and viewed as unforgivable. Critics gloat and tomatoes fly. In college, I would spend between two and eight hours in a practice room every day, desperate to perfect those impossible measures in a Beethoven concerto.

As musicians, we place unreasonable standards on ourselves that can be counterproductive. These standards cause insecurity, and we start to doubt ourselves and the choices we make on stage.

Letting go of the idea we need to be perfect is hard. Our culture loves to build people up, just to tear them down. Imagine 1,000 pairs of eyes following your every move. As you fall, 1,000 cell phones document the misstep, immortalizing your failure on YouTube for the entire world to see. The greater your popularity, the bigger the numbers and the farther the fall. It’s no wonder some performers have a debilitating case of stage fright.

Performing is scary, but also exhilarating and rewarding. That’s why musicians do it. We aren’t total masochists.

Musicians take what they do seriously, sometimes too seriously. Perfection doesn’t come from only sitting in a practice room and endlessly going over your part. I’ve grown the most as a performer when I let go and trust myself. Doing that is more difficult than learning the parts I need to play or sing. Practice lays the foundation. The walls, furniture and paint come from actually performing.

Whether I’m performing for five people or five thousand, I intend to give the best of myself for every performance. It may not be perfect, but perfection is so… well boring, right? I’d rather be honest and real.

So go practice your ass off, but don’t do it to be perfect. Do it to be the best you.

I’ll be performing at NYC Pride this year with my band, The Paisley Fields. If you’re in the NYC area, come to the Queer Music Festival at Rockbar on Thursday, June 25th.


There’s No Place like Brooklyn

After a performance with friends at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn 

After a performance with friends at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn 

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for over 10 years. When Im out, people often ask me where Im from. The two most common responses I get are: "Iowa?!!” and “Why New York?!” 

I’ve had my ups and downs. There were moments where I wanted to say “screw it” and leave NYC. Its stressful, smelly, crowded and expensive. I did actually leave for a full year in 2009, when I took a sabbatical in Japan.

Living and working in NYC is not especially easy. People often move here with certain expectations, only to have reality bitch slap them in the face. I have to admit New York wasn’t what I expected. Working three jobs to support myself while chasing an elusive dream can be exhausting.

But today Im proud to say that I make a living playing music in NYC. I’ve worked hard to do that.

As a gay man, the culture of the place I choose to live is important. Coming from a small town in Iowa, it was not exactly fashionable to be gay. It was actually quite terrifying at times. The melting pot is one thing that attracted me to the city. I could be myself without fear of being exiled. It sounds dramatic, but anybody who grew up gay in a small town in the Midwest knows what Im talking about. There is a thriving gay community here, bigger and better than anywhere I’ve been.

As a musician, NYC is almost limitless in the opportunities available. Its more competitive than most places, but if you are willing to do the work, your efforts can pay off. As the saying goes “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

The Paisley Fields on stage at Union Hall earlier this year. Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli 

The Paisley Fields on stage at Union Hall earlier this year. Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli 

Some of my favorite performances were in Brooklyn at Pete’s Candy Store, Branded Saloon and Union Hall. A couple years ago, I felt something was missing from the music scene in NYC. So I created a songwriting series for queer songwriters called Unhinged. We developed a following and after a brief hiatus, I will be bringing it back later this summer.

Every day I find inspiration. Whether its talking with a friend on the street, visiting a museum or walking through Prospect Park. Much like my elusive dreams, its hard to articulate exactly what it is about Brooklyn that I love so much. Theres something magnetic about this city. Its unexpected and exciting. Brooklyn has just about everything you could want. Its taken awhile, but I finally feel like Im home.

Next month The Paisley Fields will be playing the Queer Music Festival in Manhattan. It’s one of many LGBTQ music events that happen in this great city and an official pride show. Come see us June 25th at Rockbar with a fresh new lineup and a great group of bands and performers!