I was thirteen years old when I got my first drumset. If there was ever a moment that dreams actually did come true, it was then. All my life I’d wanted very little else than to make music, and it was in that place and time that I had found home, who I was, my identity.
It was that singular moment that drew me to High School Band, to College, and inevitably to sitting in my office right now preparing for year seven as a music educator. Kids need to find home, their identity. And in a world that changes so rapidly, it is incredibly hard to find for young people. To help these kids to be able to say “I am a musician” is something that can carry them far beyond the four walls of the classroom.
But that is only part of the story. The rest of the journey is about two brothers who, against all odds and over a decade, came to make something that encapsulated years of hard work.
So back to my thirteenth birthday. I was not the only one who started their musical journey that day. My brother had also set in motion a trajectory that would lead him far beyond any of our imagination. As I was making racket, and trying to figure out the basics of navigating the drumset. My brother took my father’s old acoustic guitar out of the closet, dusted it off, and started navigating it as well. Before we knew what a band even was, we had started one.
This lead to a myriad of what we would call “bands” over the next few years. We, along with a smattering of other friends who were novice at their instruments, would get together to play what we knew, and spend the rest of the time dreaming as big as possible.
My sophomore year of high school we’d form a metal band with a few of our friends and play the high school talent show. It was, without doubt, the largest crowd we had ever played in front of at this point, and probably the highlight of that year. It was this point that my brother would transition to singing, which would forever shape the rest of our lives.
After that performance, the band inevitably crumbled due to us taking ourselves way too seriously. I will never forget the invaluable lesson of not putting the cart before the horse. We were so concerned with “making it big” that we started blaming each other instead of focusing on bettering ourselves along side one another.
The next few years were when I could say I really learned how to make music.
My brother was blossoming into a fantastic vocalist. He’d moved away from “metal” (thank God) and was playing acoustic guitar and singing.
I had dedicated myself quite extensively to drumline at this point, and a few of my friends and I had formed another band.
If the previous band put the cart before the horse, this one was the polar opposite. The sole purpose of this endeavor was to make music. We’d meet at each other’s houses and play for hours. Taking one song or chord progression and exploring how many different possibilities there were. We’d change tempo, style, dynamics. If we messed up we’d try again. I can honestly say that this creative safe spaced shaped not only me as a musician, but my philosophy of music education.
After a little while on our own, my brother came to join us. We’d stay up nights jamming in the living room. A friend of ours who was learning how to engineer would record us. It was all for the sake of making ourselves better. These were the golden years, and the relationships and music that was made are still one of my most treasured memories.
After high school, my brother and I were fortunate enough to go to the same university. I studied music and he studied biology. We ended up being roommates which was fantastic because it taught us how to write songs together in a way that we still use today. But this was also when things got difficult. Both of us found ourselves being pulled in so many directions. Him with his studies in biology, me with my various other musical shenanigans as well as a budding music education career. It became more and more difficult to see a future together in music. At the end of college we had essentially parted ways musically.
The next few years were fairly silent as far as our joint ventures. My brother became a park ranger and moved to the middle of the state, I moved back to our hometown and took a job as a choir director. Little did I know that these things were the catalyst for what was about to unfold.
I began cutting my teeth on various musical instruments, experimenting with audio engineering, as well as fronting my own band. Before long I had become a multi instrumentalist with a fair amount of music production skills.
My brother was having adventures as a park ranger. But music always hung in the back of his mind, like an itch that needed to be scratched. It was this need that had him picking up his guitar, and recording music once again.
Who would have thought that urge just to be creative would lead to national television, to a new job, and to here. But it did. From those videos lead to my brother being on The Voice, singing for Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and to so many more amazing things.
The whirlwind of the next few years taught me so many valuable and difficult lessons, but they were necessary to stand on the cusp of releasing art that I am so grateful for.
First it taught me that art should be self fulfilling first. If we’re not making art we enjoy, then it is pointless.
It taught me that how you see yourself is important, and that it is also something we can change.
All of this leads me to here, to releasing music that my brother and I had written from our various experiences together and apart. Releasing music that required the skills that we acquired throughout our entire lives.
The Wolf River Gospel isn’t just a rock and roll record. It’s a celebration of two brothers coming home to the same art, to the same town, to make something worthwhile.