31 days of Gratitude, part 1 of 2
Time for an onslaught of gushing! For the month of January 2019, I have been making daily short posts of gratitude, mostly towards specific people. Rather than have it consigned to my personal profile on Facebook, I decided to duplicate it here. Hopefully its length doesn’t discourage reading it all, because it was really hard to narrow it to even these few. I have a LOT to be thankful for in my life …
Happy new year! 2018 was a major year of transition for me, with a lot of personal and professional changes, achievements, setbacks, etc. But in the end, I really have more to be grateful for than not. By far.
So for the month of January I’ve decided to make a short note of gratitude each day. Nothing elaborate. No essays. Just acknowledging something specific.
Day 1: To start, the guy who inspired this idea, and someone I cherish in my life: Tom Strahle. A couple months ago Tom sent me an email expressing a similar gratitude for our continuous collaborations, and it really affected me. I work with Tom more than any other musician I think, and cooking up musical ideas for him to execute has become one of my favorite parts of the compositional process. He’s also a truly wonderful, big-hearted guy.
Here is a photo of us making music together a few years ago. Don’t be fooled if you think I look like Bieber, I get that a lot.
Gratitude, Day 2!
More Musicians! There are many, many that I have been lucky enough to work with in my life. Kristin Naigus is another I find myself working with far more than anyone else. And with good reason: her dogs are adorable. Also she plays weird shit, like Hoot Flute and Xaphoon. And apparently oboe?
To be honest there are more than I could name but cherished others are Amy Tatum, Andrew Leonard, Sara Andon, Serena McKinney, Noah Gladstone, Laura Intravia, Steve Erdody, Mike Lang, Sandy Cameron, Alan Umstead and Peter Rotter. Forgive any names omitted, there are lots! And not just in LA, but also Nashville, London, Macedonia and elsewhere. I feel so lucky to have them in my life, and feel their expression and my music have been inextricably linked.
These are also people that have become friends through art, and made me not just a better composer but person as well.
Gratitude Day 3: Sonja Eisenberg and Siggi Weinberger
I could never overstate the impact these two, in particular Sonja, have had on my life. Upon moving to NYC in 2003, aged 18, my grandfather advised me to meet his cousins (who up to til then I hadn’t even known existed). A brother/sister pair of German exiles, who fled in the 30s and settled in New York. He became a successful businessman and she became a powerfully inventive painter. I ended up having dinner with them every Friday for over 2 years, and briefly moved into Sonja’s apartment before leaving NYC for LA in 2005.
Both are gone now; Siggi in 2013 at age 88 and Sonja in 2017, age 90.
Their story is far too rich and deep to go into here, and likewise regarding our relationship. But needless to say these two forever changed my life. Sonja gave me insights into art and creativity that I couldn’t fathom my life today without. I simply wouldn’t be who I am without them.
Gratitude Day 4: Sometimes new, deeply meaningful relationships emerge unexpectedly in plain view and today I want to single out specifically Anthony Parnther. A friendship born from an idle chat at a Local 47 meeting (that detail alone makes this feel like a lifetime ago), that has grown to encompass such a wide range dimensions. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I have music, then hit up a contemporary works concert with the LA Phil, then go to a midnight Avengers screening, while at every turn listening to inexplicably deep insights regarding it all. Also necessary to include that as a conductor he is utterly magnificent, and I’ve been consistently VERY affected by his concerts.
He’s an inspiring man, amazing musician and extremely prone to shenanigans and I’m deeply grateful for having all of that in my life. Expect me to write him a bassoon concerto that also necessitates stand-up comedy (mentioning this idea publicly here basically forces it to happen, right?).
Gratitude Day 5: The first two people I met when I moved to LA in 2005: Jim Dooley and Nathan Barr. I was a totally clueless 21 year-old who knew no one in LA, and both within days of my arrival were immensely welcoming and made me feel I’d just moved to my true home. They, intentionally or otherwise, represented this community as a place eager to welcome new voices (which I hadn’t expected) and I’ve spent the last 14 years here trying to pay that forward.
Incidentally, both were on the cusp of major breakout success and since have gone on to Emmy wins, creative acclaim, entrepreneurial stardom and insane organ obsessiveness.
Thank you gentlemen for these years of friendship and inspiration.
Gratitude Day 6: Inspiring colleagues!
Leaping from yesterday’s post, I wanted to highlight how grateful I am to have colleagues I look up to. Growing up, one becomes accustomed to being influenced or inspired by heroes that seem to live on Mount Olympus. Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, James Horner, or whomever else. As a kid, these folks were not mere mortals but genuine gods. Yet, a realization I had later in life was that they never saw *each other* as gods. They were simply colleagues at the frontier of this exciting industry. Even as I find my place in the world and industry, it’s always felt like a stretch to label my contemporaries like John Powell, or Alexandre Desplat as “colleagues” though.
As such, I am so thankful to call some specific composers not only colleagues, but heroes and friends. It’s such a privilege to feel inspired by people I feel myself sort of “riding alongside” professionally. Specifically, Jessica Curry, Jason Graves Music, Darren Korb, Peter McConnell, Grant Kirkhope, Danny Baranowsky and Bear McCreary. All are friends who I value knowing, and all are composers who’ve written music that’s *deeply* affected me.
And I must specifically single out Jeremy Howard Beck. We met as wide-eyed college freshmen at NYU and began a lifelong friendship. His music is bold, personal and consistently incredible, and sharing the journeys of life together has been something I can’t over-value. He’s the ONLY composer I’ve made a point of sharing in-progress work with, seeking feedback, and someone for whom I do the same with great honor. We have precious few photos together so forgive the shitty blurry selfie from this past October’s premiere of A LIGHT IN THE VOID.
It’s worth noting that the list of composers I could name here is pretty long, so I hope no one omitted feels slighted. It’s a vast community with many talented voices in it …
Gratitude Day 7: Matt Nava.
Ironically, Matt doesn’t use FB and likely won’t even see this but I can’t overstate the impact this man has had on my life the last decade+. I think he’s quite likely the greatest artist working in video games, and his stamp will be felt for generations.
I remember being speechless witnessing his work on thatgamecompany’s FLOWER (which, for the record, I had no hand in. The music is by Vincent Diamante!). Then later, without a doubt the most inspirational part of JOURNEY was his work. It was 3 years of joy to send ideas back and forth. He then outdid himself on ABZU, his debut game as creative director (at the helm of his newly-formed Giant Squid game studio).
Now onwards to THE PATHLESS, which again manages to be genuinely arresting yet again.
I could never thank this man enough for his friendship and overwhelming inspiration. Even if only as a gamer, I’m forever indebted to him.
Gratitude Day 8: I know it’s low-hanging fruit, or even a cliche, but I’d be remiss to not express gratitude towards my family. Today is the 4th anniversary of the death of my father Terry, and it has me reflecting on how much of my life was directly enabled by his inspiring influence and guidance. So much of who I am was directly a result of his presence in my life. Together with my mother, Shelley Wintory, they went out of their way to encourage my pursuits as a composer, never once giving me that “maybe you should look for a real job” talk that so many others received.
The last 4 years, my mother and my sister Audrey and I have been finding a way to re-define our family absent my father. It’s not been easy; his impact was incalculable. But we forge ahead and I’m so grateful for them, all they do, and all they teach me.
The above photo is my father and *his* father Nicol Wintory, also now gone.
Gratitude Day 9: thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen, Kellee Santiago, Robin Hunicke, Martin Middleton, and Tracy Fullerton.
This is probably an obvious one, but my relationship with TGC and USC is the most singularly life-changing one I’ve had. Under the incredible guidance and mentorship by the unbeatable Tracy Fullerton, TGC was borne of USC’s game design master’s program. The chance to work with Jenova and Nick Clark on flOw, and then subsequently deeply with Kellee and Sony (eternal gratitude also to Chuck Doud, Monty D. Mudd, and Paul Fox for that amazing experience as well). That set my career on a path that led a few years later to JOURNEY. And nothing has been the same since.
And I don’t just mean that my career jumped to a new place, though that’s true. But as a human, I saw life differently. The collaboration with these artists altered me down to the genetic level. I was never the same after that. I will cherish every one of these people for the rest of my life.
Gratitude Day 10: My enablers!
Several principal people, and two ensembles by extension. Anthony Pierce, of the Colorado Symphony, has proven to be a great friend and life-changing enabler of my crazy dreams. He first granted me the bucket list item to conduct my hometown Colorado Symphony years ago, and has invited me be back regularly since. I’ve had the chance to conduct (alongside friends like Tommy Tallarico, Clint Bajakian and Peter McConnell) at Red Rocks(!) and many times now in Boettcher Concert Hall. This culminated in the green-lighting and execution of A Light In The Void, which was by FAR the most ambitious thing I’d ever done. I owe him more than words can ever do justice to.
Similarly, Dan Visconti, Melissa Ngan and Eric Snoza brought the Fifth House Ensemble to my life and thus was born Journey LIVE. I love this show so much, and am so grateful for the chances I’ve had to perform it over the last few years. It challenged me to open my mind as a composer, forced me to become a much better conductor, and gave me a wonderful vehicle for staying connected to the JOURNEY community. Not to mention the new musical worlds its opened up with them since then.
To these people and these ensembles, I can only say an unending thank you for all you’ve done personally, professionally and artistically. I hope to do justice to your trust for decades to come.
Gratitude Day 11: Tony Lund.
I don’t even know where to start with Tony. A friendship which began spontaneously on the streets of Park City during the 2008 Sundance festival blossomed into the insanity that is A Light In The Void.
Several years ago, when the initial idea for the show was little more than embryonic concepts, Tony texted me to say hi. A lightning bolt flashed in my mind: This ambitious science+theater+concert idea needed his brain. I asked him to dinner the next day and he instantly said yes. Years of blood, sweat, midnight oil and tears later, we hatched something both us feel is very nearly our purest selves.
I can’t fathom a better man to have gone on that ride with, and for the continuing road ahead.
For the countless hours we spent together, there are surprisingly haphazard photos documenting it. For most of these daily posts, I’ve been trying to limit it one or two choice shots, but I decided to throw a huge pile in today. This journey has been unlike anything I’ve ever imagined and I actually love how these fleeting glimpses capture it.
Upwards and onwards my brother Tony. Despite the paragraphs above, I really have no words about you.
(PS this above photo of Silver Lake is the oldest LITV-related shot I have, taken from Tony’s front door on the night of our first proper meeting about it, in 2016. I came over at dusk and left at, I think, 4am?)
Gratitude Day 12: Loved ones lost.
I’ve already made reference in this series to several important people in my life no longer among us, but wanted to highlight two more specifically today: Kenny Hall and Claire Naber Matalqa.
Kenny became a very dear friend after we met at USC; his class was among the highlights of my entire education and we stayed very close for nearly a decade following my graduation. Claire became essentially part of my family, borne of a very special friendship and collaboration with her husband Amin Matalqa. Both Claire and Kenny were struck down by cancer, seemingly in their primes.
I could tell endless stories of all the wonderful meals, laughs, and adventures with both of these people but actually for the purpose of expressing gratitude, I wanted to focus on loss/grief itself. As painful as it was to say goodbye, in the end I always feel so keenly thankful for the time that I got, especially as a reminder to never waste a single second of my own life. The existence of *loss* is such a powerful teacher that I can only express my gratitude, even if its often tearful, for all its taught me.
Gratitude Day 13: Troy Baker
Some people come into your life and are simply loads of fun. Some people challenge you to think in new ways, even about subjects you’d considered “settled” in your mind. Others drive you to be a better artist, and to give yourself permission to take risks you’d never dreamt of before. And still others make you so excited about the future you leap out of bed each day, itching to get to work.
This man is all the above, and more. Often accompanied by a glass of Blanton’s.
Gratitude is not a sufficient word regarding my feelings for having Troy in my life.
Gratitude Day 14: Andrea Pessino and Ru Weerasuriya.
Some time in 2013, I got called down to Ready At Dawn for a meeting regarding an unannounced game. The first thing that happened on walking in the door was this genuine Juggernaut of a man with a thick Italian accent appearing and insisting I autograph his copy of JOURNEY. I’d certainly never had a meeting start like that!
This was Andrea Pessino, CTO and co-founder of the company and probably the single most anomalous human to exist: a body building software engineer with a deep love of motorcycles, prodigy-level piano faculty, astonishing composer chops, with the ability to write next-level physics simulation from scratch AND while crying at Italian opera. In fact, the musical literacy of this self-described “non-musician” is off the charts. Meeting him was to meet someone I knew would be a kindred soul for life.
That meeting (For THE ORDER 1886, in which I ended up playing a small role alongside Jason Graves’ superb score) also brought Ru Weerasuriya into my life, RAD’s co-founder and CEO. Ru is the type of creative fountain that only great games can spring from, full of unconventional, daring ideas. (plus he’s a foodie with a serious understanding of a great meal, I’ve found). Andrea and Ru are two of the most generous and creatively fertile leaders I could ever imagine a developer having at the helm.
To have such a creative blank slate on their subsequent game DEFORMERS was a dream of a lifetime, and their *incredible* support of A Light In The Void was beyond words. Both men are gracious, fun, wickedly sharp and cut from an immensely rare cloth.
As with all these other posts, gratitude really just doesn’t cut it.
Gratitude Day 15: My introduction to music and childhood piano teacher, Derry O’Leary.
When I was about 10 I started plucking out melodies from my favorite movies on the piano, clumsily with one finger and entirely by ear. Music had not been a part of my life in any way up to that point, so the idea of starting piano lessons was a bit of a curveball. My father made a strange challenge: Learn to play Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and I could have his childhood Benjamin Franklin air rifle.
In walks Derry, “Santa during the summer,” and tremendously gifted pianist (particularly for jazz). I demand to learn the Beethoven immediately. We skipped past scales, Hanon exercises, etc and by rote, I learned to play the piece in a few weeks, and got my air rifle. My piano career was seemingly complete.
But … I’d had a taste of something new, and he said “do you want to actually learn piano now?” I realized I felt something magical from this instrument, from music itself, and said yes but that I had no idea what to learn. I didn’t even casually listen to music (I played games, read novels and comics, watched movies, etc; but no music except a ground-down Star Wars vinyl). He said he’d share his favorites the next week. Seven days later he appeared with 3 vinyl LP’s: PATTON, A PATCH OF BLUE and PAPILLON (leaving me to believe he’d alphabetized his collection). Three scores to films I’d never heard of, by a composer whose name I’d never heard: Jerry Goldsmith.
In one afternoon I went from knowing nothing about music to knowing what I wanted to do with my life.
To say I owe this man seemingly my entire life is no understatement. I can not fathom my life without music, and ALL of my understanding and passion for it traces back to this remarkable man.
Gratitude Day 16: Bill Erickson and RJ Miller.
My piano teacher, Derry, was my sole music instructor until I got to high school, wherein I managed to connect with two more teachers who would transform my education.
Bill Erickson was a rather legendary choral director in the area, whose recent retirement was practically Colorado state news, but in my case was my first music theory teacher. I took several classes with him and found some of my first true flourishing as a composer under his guidance. He was (And is!) the real deal Mr. Holland, full of an endless catalogue of unique personal sayings and “Mr. E-isms” that decades of students will never forget.
RJ Miller was my first private composition teacher, and in particular led me to grasp the fundamentals of my career today. We would talk business, orchestration, conducting and technology and he later would help produce my first stab at a recording session. He now teaches university composition students and visiting his classes has become a highlight of my Colorado visits in recent years.
Much like with yesterday’s post, I was *incredibly* lucky to cross paths early in life with these gifted musicians who altered my development in ways I can’t begin to estimate. I honestly shudder to think of my life without them.
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Ok, just over 50% of the way there! For anyone still reading, THANK YOU for indulging this giant love letter to all those who’ve steered my life so powerfully. This exercise began as a little off-the-cuff thank you and became something far more soul searching. If nothing else, I’d be thrilled that it might make you take a moment to contemplate your own gratitude, and to whom its owed. Needless to say, as long as this list already is, it’s surely 1/100 of how long it could be.