The Inception Podcast

About That Pivot...

June 03, 2021 Jack Aron / Chris Lee / Akira Nakano Season 1 Episode 2
The Inception Podcast
About That Pivot...
Show Notes Transcript

Today on the Inception Podcast we speak to Inception Vice President Jack Aron and our longest tenured composer, Christopher Lee.  We ask Jack about his arrival at Inception and what he loves about the program. And we talk to Chris about his Inception journey, having been with the program both in-studio and on zoom.

www.inceptionorchestra.org
www.asmac.org
https://schoolofmusic.ucla.edu/

Jack Aron
Chris Lee
Akira Nakano

The Inception Podcast – Episode 2
Jack Aron & Chistopher Lee, Moderated by Akira Nakano
Recorded May 20, 2021

Akira Nakano
Welcome to the Inception Podcast. Join us weekly as we explore the Young Composers Mentoring Program of the Los Angeles Inception Orchestra. Today, we're going to speak to Inception Vice President and brass coach, Jack Aron. We'll find out how he landed with the program; why he stays; and why he is so passionate about working with our students.

We'll also be joined by our longest tenured composer, Christopher Lee, who has been with us since June of 2019. Wrapping up his junior year at Harvard Westlake in Los Angeles, we'll talk to him about his Inception journey as he begins the college application process in music composition.

 Hey everybody. We're here today with Jack and Chris. It's great to talk to you guys. Jack Aron is our Vice President. He's been with us since August. Chris is on the Board and one of our senior composers and has been with Inception since July or June of 2019. How are you guys?

Jack Aron
Pretty good. How are you, Akira?

Akira
Great. Jack. Tell me about how you got involved here, and what you love about it, and why you're still hanging around. 

Jack
You know, obviously I met you, I believe, it feels so long ago… I believe in September of 2020, I mean, that feels like ages ago, but I met you through Dr. Frank Heuser at UCLA. So Dr. Frank Heuser is the UCLA… He's the head of the music education department. I was one of his disciples. I obviously studied with Dr. Heuser and Dr. Lily Chen over at UCLA in the music education department, Dr. Ian Krouse in the composition department. And essentially I had been telling Dr. Heuser for a long time, that I wanted to find a way to take both my pathways, composition and education and fuse them together because I could not choose one. Even though my composition professor was telling me I could only choose composition and that was breaking my heart. Thankfully, Dr. Heuser was able to figure out a way and it,  did not actually start with Inception Orchestra. It started with me really just studying music technology and trying to get me more interested in teaching music technology in schools, which is actually what my career basically is at the moment, too. 

But then of course, I received an email from Dr. Heuser saying that there's this program called the Los Angeles Inception Orchestra. And by the name alone, I was already hooked. I was like, this, this is such a cool name. I don't know anything about it yet, but I'm going to do a little digging. I'm going to research a little bit. I was told about, Kate (Bacich). Kate is another mutual friend who's also a former Vice President of Inception Orchestra. You know, another composer, another music educator. And I think what really sold me about Inception pretty quickly and pretty immediately was just the fact that it had taken two things that I absolutely loved… composition, classical, traditional theory and education, and infused those together so beautifully. I had sort of gotten to see a session before I even joined. So I was pretty sold on it from the beginning. And even now it's just been such a pleasure to obviously meet great students like Chris and get to work with the great faculty, the great teachers, the mentors that we bring in and just really become more connected with the music community in LA on the whole. It's just been wonderful. 

Akira
Well, it's been fabulous having you, especially because kids love you. I think that's something that's fantastic. And I think I love really having a true educator on our quote staff. So that part of it is really great. And I think that we also learn a lot from you, how you interrelate with kids and educating on the side. And of course I love having a true brass mentor on our staff. Cause I, I know nothing about brass. Chris, tell us about how it's been. I know you had a few sessions with Jack.

Christopher Lee
Yeah, I've had a few with him, and I could say they're good. I think he always brings really great ideas as someone that's studied composition in college and had that sort of time to develop their creative voice. I think him passing that on to me, and me sort of starting to think about stuff differently has been really helpful. And of course I can ask questions about brass. I also know nothing about brass. So yeah. I mean, it's been great, and I'd love to work with him more. 

Akira
Chris, you have been around long before Jack's been around. So tell us how it was when you first started about your experience the first year, and then what your feelings are about the pivot to virtual. 

Chris
Yeah. Okay. Well just quick background, my mom and Akira work together. So that's how I found out about the program and that's how I got in. And when I first came in, it was me and two other kids. It was interesting, and it was my first time dealing with like orchestral composition. I had always played classical piano from a young age, but I never really listened to classical quote-on-quote music that much. And coming into that with no experience and meeting all the mentors, even though I came in late and there was a lot that I missed, it was still amazing to like be in the studio with these musicians and playing our stuff… and I guess trying to improvise and, you know, getting all the feedback on pieces. I still remember my first piece. There's a lot I would change, but it was the first one. And about online, you know, the pivot to online… I think Inception has handled it really well. If I just heard about it, I probably wouldn't have had high hopes, but I think the fact that we can be online and go into breakout rooms. Right. And then also have mentors that aren't necessarily local come in has been really great, you know, in getting these people that you wouldn't really have experiences with. Otherwise like George Abud just comes to mind. He just came in. He's in New York. We wouldn't have had an oud player probably without being on zoom. So that's maybe a silver lining about it. 

Akira
Oh yeah. I think also too, just virtual in this weird way is much easier. And composition, you could immediately look at kids' scores. I remember before we would do our sessions, I'd be running to my old job and making xerox copies of everybody's music. So that has gone away. But I do say that I would love to get back to that studio in some format, as we are slowly coming back here. Jack, tell me about your experiences teaching and what do you enjoy about the kids or what would you like to see different about the kids? You don't have to love them? 

Jack
No, no. Obviously I do. And really what I love most about teaching the Inception kids specifically is that they are sort of following in the footsteps that I had to when I was trying to figure out, even if I wanted to be a composer. So often when I talked to the students like Chris, I always mentioned it's like I had to sort of come to terms with this career choice. I had to sort of figure out is this what I really want to do? And my parents famously told me in high school, well, this is all you can do because I was not a good student by any means. And I just saw that they got rid of the SATs for the UC’s. And I was like, why couldn't I have been a student at that point? I probably would have been a lawyer. But besides that, you know, obviously, I quickly came to realize that this is what I wanted to do, and I was going to devote my time and my energy and any resources I had to composition. And so meeting students like Chris who share that same sort of passion, it really does make me happy to know that there are people who are crazy enough to want to do this, but also committed enough to want to do this. And it is not something for the faint of heart. I know we constantly talk about how this is not for everyone, but at the same time, we do mention that if you have a passion for composition, there is a place for you. You can make, you can mold your own career out of this passion. So I think just to take this very long-winded answer and summarize it a little bit, I think what I love most is that there is this combined shared passion and pleasure with regards to composition among pretty much all of the students and that just breeds excellence in my mind.

Akira
Great. So we want to play a sample of Chris's work right here. This is from 2019, a little clip of tower of Babel.

Music: “Tower of Babel” by Christopher Lee [7:51]

Akira [9:07]
So that was fantastic. And I really enjoyed playing that. Chris, you were actually playing the piano on that performance. How is that playing live? But in your composition live?

Chris
You know, it was great, you know, just like actually playing with people and realizing all the things that were wrong with my score.

Akira
Sorry, there were a lot of things right. With your score too.

Chris
Right. Well, I think one of the examples of something that was wrong was the fact that there was no dynamics and, you know, we didn't have that much time to rehearse beforehand. 

Akira
Yeah. I would just like to interject, I know that we had, so that was more than the amount of time that anybody gets to rehearse in commercial music.

Chris
Right. But they probably have dynamics.

Akira
No. And then what else? 

Chris
Just seeing the musicians sort of take the notes on the page and make it into a real thing was incredible. MIDI just doesn't compare to the real thing. I know everyone says that, you know, blah, blah, blah, MIDI. But it really is that much of a difference. Hearing like Jeness Johnson play the cello and just everything was great.

Akira
Yeah. And you have Jonathan Sacdalan playing the clarinet. He was like our one wind instrument and he's like one of the best clarinet players in town, and just did so much with that, that melody line. That was great. What I did enjoy about being in that rehearsal process was that we got to just on the fly, add percussion. We added a percussion to your stuff right there. I believe that's how it went.

Music: “Tower of Babel” by Christopher Lee, Excerpt 2 [10:27]

Akira [10:37]
That part was pretty cool. How has your composition evolved since then? 

Chris
I'd say it's a lot fuller and I don't necessarily mean instrument wise, but if we'd like, take a look at the score for “Tower of Babel” versus things that I'm doing now, it was very like rudimentary. It was just very sparse, which of course can be good sometimes. But I think for that particular piece, it wasn't necessarily what I was going for. And I think just learning everything from Inception, you know, how instruments work, what they can play, and the different techniques has really evolved my pieces into something more complex.

Akira
Well, I think this year we really did take that tour of the orchestra, which I've always wanted to do. I wanted to do back then, so I'm glad we had the opportunity to do it this year. So as you're thinking about writing forward, what are your favorite instruments to write for that you've worked with.

Chris
Maybe I'm biased, and I feel like I should move away from it, but Viola has always been, I guess, a favorite, just cause, you know, we have Karen (Elaine) and she's so avid about her Viola playing. You know, I think clarinet is great. And I'd say that I'm really digging vibraphone right now, which I use in my new piece. 

Akira
That's awesome. Jack, what would you say your composition style is? And can we listen to something of yours? 

Jack
My composition style has grown at this point because I think my early influences back in the day when I was really studying in high school with my professor, Dr. Ian Krouse at UCLA, I think I was really into Celtic music at that time and kind of a phase of my life. So I created a lot of sort of like Celtic inspired music. I was a huge fan of the British brass band writer, Philips Sparke, as well as sort of Gustav Holst. And I sort of drew a lot of inspiration from that. I wrote a lot of open fifth and open fourth chords. I'm sort of saying all of this because I feel like as composers, we constantly change. We're not the same composer we were even just a year ago. I do find that I'm constantly adding new things, finding new inspirations, finding new sounds. I like colors. I like and sort of molding my music from there. And I think at this point I've pretty solidly landed on calling myself sort of a contemporary classical composer. I want to be more avant-garde. I'm trying to find more ways to experiment. Several of my close friends in music, especially one who I just recently brought into Inception, Lucas, whole lot of inspiration from avant garde jazz. And I am in love with that. So I'm trying to find ways of incorporating more improvisation into my music. While it is hard for composers to sort of describe their music. I usually will just go with the generic contemporary classical. With a little avant garde, jazz and improvisation thrown in there too.

Akira
Okay. And let's listen to a clip from Jack right now.

 Music: “Interlude” by Jack Aron [13:22]

Akira [14:29]
That was fantastic. Jack. I'm so happy that we got to share that with everybody. And it's great to you have your level of composition mentoring our kids, especially as someone who's younger and fresh out of college. I think that's one thing also that we like as much as we may joke about how we have some younger kids on the leadership team, I think it's really important to have this variety of styles. I've been around a lot longer. Karen and I are both stuck in our ways, in some ways. But you have a new, and some of our other VPs who are, who've been here, Amy, Kate, Blythe, you guys all have younger, fresher, [views] in music sometimes, which I think is great also for our kids. And you have a pulse on what's happening now and today as well. 

Jack
I struggled for a long time with accepting comments and criticism for my music and accepting, really even compliments for it. I really did not. I sort of kept it so internal for so long. So to have this opportunity to now tell students, no, you should share your music. No, you should be open to comments. No, you should be open to feedback. It is kind of nice being on the other side of that and still really, it makes me more open with my own music. So thank you so much for your kind words. 

Akira
Oh, of course. And I think truthfully, when you see what kids are doing and you have to provide feedback to the kids, it actually makes you think about your own compositions in a very different way. I think that even if I look back at some scores, I should have modulated here and done this here. And I, once I write that modulate, make it engaging. Chris, what do you hope to see with Inception? You pretty much have one more year before you go off to college. What do you hope to see with inception as we grow? What would make it better? 

Chris
That’s a tough question. I'm enjoying it so much as it is. You know, I hope to go back in person, but that's not something we can control. That's more like a pandemic thing. But it seems like maybe that's in the cards in the future. I'd really like more assignments. We're starting to do that now with films going clips and, you know, even like the podcast intro clip. But I'd love to see more things that were geared for each person, and that doesn't necessarily have to be something composition based. It could be like, find your favorite horn thing with like when a brass specialist is coming in or something like that. Just like a little something during the week so that I guess the kids are getting their mind in gear for the session.

Jack
I was actually going to completely agree with Chris on that. I think getting engaged before the Saturday session is really important. Usually what will happen when Saturday rolls around is you can kind of tell a lot of students have just, you know, they've had a very exhausting week. I myself have had a very exhausting week and sort of having time to engage with the material or engage with the concepts before you even roll into the Saturday session, I think is a really great idea. So, thank you Chris for that idea.

Chris
I mean Jack just during this like podcast, it's weird. I feel like I've found a bunch of similarities. Like what you mentioned like during high school, I'm definitely in my Holst phase right now, as well as just random things. Like you saying, like you were playing around with like open fourth and open fifth chords. That's definitely something I've been doing. Yeah. I, I, it's just interesting that that's coming up. 

Jack
I mean, it's, it's great to hear that you're having that phase. And by the way, I, that might not be a phase for you. I think for me, I grew out of that when I became more exposed. And you're going to go off to college. And I often tell my students this, you know, especially my high school over at Culver City, I tell them this all the time that when you go off from high school, you have no idea how huge the world really is. I played with all different types of ensembles when I got to college. I got exposed to various types and cultures and styles of music that I had never known in high school. All I really listened to in high school was classical music. And specifically, I listened to a lot of wind ensemble music. I was a big band nerd. So when I finally got the opportunity to hear more orchestral music, hear more jazz, hear hip-hop. I listen to hip-hop in college that completely. Threw me a, you know, many curve balls. So Chris, obviously you may be in your Holst phase now, but the one piece of advice I can give you is that you will become so much more a nuance composer once you travel out into the world, college or not.

Akira
I totally agree with Jack. And I think that people should be listening to everything. I think people are shocked when I don't necessarily just listen to classical or Broadway. I love that Karen Elaine does is give out these listening assignments to everybody. 

I would love to talk about what our experiences are around some of our favorite mentors that have come to play. What we loved about. Maybe let's each pick a few favorites. You can talk about what they did and what you've learned from them. Chris… 

Chris
Firstly, I just say, I mentioned it earlier, but George Abud. That was great. I've always been a fan of Middle Eastern and Arabic music and just non-Western music has always been like a real interest to me. I think the sounds are so different that it's like, it feels fresh. Yeah. I can remember being very young and listening to some like Russian folk band and going to see their concerts at the Starlight amphitheater and that sort of thing. And I guess I have to thank my parents for that. And then I guess Mark Watters. It peaked my interest as someone who wants to go into film composing, having him come in when he's such like a, a revered person within the profession and show sort of his process and his work and what I guess to do and what not to do. That was incredible. 

Akira
Those are the two most recent ones. Do you have any others? 

Chris
I know but, Okay. Okay. Going in a different direction. I loved when Kim Richmond came in, because jazz is also like a big interest of mine, you know, I'm in the jazz band at school and out of school. And it's something that I'm an avid consumer of. And to just see him come in and sort of do his whole thing on big band arranging was really fun because it's something that's always seemed sort of foreign to me. I guess, playing in school. I only get my part and I'm a bassist, so my part is just dashes for the entire thing, because I'm supposed to just do a walking bassline and do whatever I want. Seeing the whole score sort of come together…

Akira
Yeah, that was an incredible demo. He's the best in the business. Jack…

Jack
Between the three that I absolutely loved the most, I would say Ric Becker, you know, showed me a lot of different sort of just versatility with the trombone and someone who really just has a ton of talent for the instrument. I could just listen to all day. I loved hearing him play Latin jazz. That was just so much fun to just sit and listen. Obviously Chris brought up, George Abud. Another favorite. I remember chatting with Akira in the zoom, just saying I could listen to him, play all day, all sessions. I know that's not the point of these Inception mentors that come through, but really when you just get to hear them play you yourself kind of become inspired. I just wanted to write for the oud. And I've never even seen an oud before that session. So it was kind of amazing to just hear that instrument, hear the versatility from both of those instrumentalists. Um, and then finally, I would say Nathan Wang, and I think the reason I say this is because I am no film composer. I did not really get into media composition. But he made me inspired to even just try it. I mean, just watching him compose on the spot and really like describe mood and setting in music and really just take some of these pieces… He took one of our students Sean's piece and he just molded it into something I couldn't even believe what I was hearing. These three, in particular, I just felt like I had so much talent and so much to bring to their sessions. It was just a blast to just even just listen in. 

Akira
Yeah, of course, both Kim and Nathan, who you mentioned, of course, Charles Fernandez and Raymond Torres-Santos, who basically came in and taught us chords. They're all off of our incredible collaboration with the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC). Big shout out to Milton Nelson and Gayle Levant and Charles Fernandez, of course, for really, really being an awesome collaborator with us and welcoming us over to their sessions as well. And I think this is really helped expand our incredible reach and program. So we're very grateful to them. 

 I will quickly wrap up my, uh, but I'll just tell you that I will say Maksim has Maksim Velichkin, has a very special place in my heart because that was the first time we'd been in COVID and Maksim didn't really have a place. So I said, let's just risk it. And he came over live to my apartment to mentor some of the kids. Of course, he was an incredible mentor in the breakout rooms, really pushing the kids on what to do. And, of course I got to experience his beautiful cello playing live and there's just no substitute for live. So, Chris? Yes, I agree. I hope that we come back. 

 If you're interested in writing music, our new cohort starts in September. Thank you for listening to today's podcast. The Inception Orchestra Young Composers Mentoring Program in partnership with the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC)

is funded by grants from organizations such as the Los Angeles Central City Optimist Foundation, and generous donations from friends, family, and listeners like you. Please check us out on www.inceptionorchestra.org. Thanks everybody.