Back in 1991, I was in Ear Training 4 at Berklee. The teacher was awesome. He had a lot of energy and he organized trips to Africa every couple years to study rhythm with an African tribe. He was very exciting and dynamic. One of those teachers you want to impress.
Ear Training gets pretty arcane after a while. At first, you are just identifying scales, intervals and simple rhythms. Then you move on to identify complex harmonies, harmonic tension and complex, sometimes odd, time signatures. This particular teacher used familiar songs to identify more complex structures. Like Changes by Yes.
And for those of us used to just picking out things by ear, detailing the documentation for a complex rhythm was pretty hard work. Honestly, looking at this song, it doesn’t seem so hard right now. But back then, when I was just being introduced to a lot of these concepts, this was incredibly difficult in the way that a new riddle is difficult. Of course it seems easy when you know the answer.
“I look into the mirror”
We would take a song like Changes, and five others, home and try to transcribe a few of the instruments and what the time signature was. Then we would come back to class and discuss the outcome of our analysis. The riddle would be exposed at some point, and we would either have it or not. But it was pretty likely that we would get it from that point forward – lesson learned. The teacher encouraged us to learn the songs thoroughly which of course meant more work in an already busy semester.
“I see no happiness”
At the time, I was getting burnt out. Berklee does three full semesters a year. You can take the summer off like normal people, but the school doesn’t really attract normal students. Four semesters in a row was taking its toll on me. I still studied hard, but I was really tired and just wanted Ear Training to be over. And Ear Training 4 was the last ear training requirement.
“All the warmth I gave you”
As the semester came to an end that Spring, there were a bunch of auditions happening. Berklee always did a bunch of international outreach with jazz and R&B bands going on foreign tours to promote Berklee. I really wanted to take some time off that summer. There was an audition for a rock/funk band going to China. All instruments needed. I was doing auditions a lot so I was getting good at it, but auditioning sucks. It’s like doing a 15 second job interview. The programming equivalent would be standing in line, when they let you in, they sit you at a computer and they say, “Okay, write a file parser with a team of people you have never met in 15 seconds.” GO!
“Has turned to emptiness”
I actually really wanted this particular gig. It would have been quite an experience. So I showed up early and sat where the line would be forming. I knew even then that being the first person at any type of interview was the best. People remember the first person. After that, you better really be good. If you are both, the first person and really good, then you can nail it.
“You’ve left me here believing”
So the door opens and the audition starts. And as luck would have it, the guy in charge of this ensemble, even managing the whole trip, was my Ear Training 4 teacher. He was pretty excited to see me and greeted me warmly. He ushered the first group of us in. One instrumentalist for each part in the band. Then he started handing out the sheet music as we all set up. He caught my eye as he slid the music in front of me pointedly. Changes by Yes.
“In love that wasn’t there”
I hadn’t learned the music. This was a guitar part that if I had learned it, even by rote, and pulled it off in an audition, then I would have looked really good. It was really just a turn of bad luck for me. But it was sort of a crushing blow. Given the opportunity to focus on one thing that could accelerate me into a pretty decent performance career, I just simply focused on the wrong thing. That’s pretty much my professional life in a nutshell. The designated path to success is never the one that I could follow. I don’t know whether this is good or bad.
“Change changing places”
It seems like such a shame that this is the story I have about Yes. Their music captured my imagination at a very young age. Roundabout is a song we would listen to over and over as kids. Mood For A Day, a flamenco classical guitar composition by Steve Howe, I learned on the guitar while in treatment when I was 17. Starship Trooper is a progressive rock masterpiece. Owner Of A Lonely Heart got me through some brooding teen and early adult years. Changes is a complex and well orchestrated composition that showcases Trevor Rabin in the band for the first time. I prefer the Steve Howe era of Yes, but Trevor Rabin is such a great addition to the sound. There is so much more of Yes because of this time with Trevor Rabin. And the name is represented metaphorically by the music. There are a lot of time signature changes.
“Root yourself to the ground”
I have since learned that these on the spot kind of interview/auditions are not for me. I used to take these tests during the interview process for programming languages. I have stopped taking them. If someone insists on a test, I tell them they need to find someone else. If they want someone to ramp up quickly and figure out their system overnight, that’s me. If they want someone who is an expert at this one thing, then they need to find that person.
“Capitalize on this good fortune”
I actually think that a lot of people are like that. Innovation is discouraged as a matter of fact in our daily lives. From our education system through our entire professional careers, the question is loud and clear, “Do you know how it has been done before you?” It’s a relevant question and it’s necessary for society to foster this for the purpose of consistency and security in our society. For a creative person with lots of ideas, it can be a crushing blow. “You want to wake up every day at the same time and do what?” But even then, creative endeavors are anchored in the past or else we would have to re-invent the wheel every time we wrote a song.
“One word can bring you round”
But for most of my life, change has been the only constant. There are some clearly defined ways to achieve success in some careers. I don’t see anything wrong with this. But I don’t seem to be able to follow any of these paths.