The Inception Podcast

Why are you mentoring?

June 02, 2021 Akira Nakano / Karen Elaine / George Abud Season 1 Episode 1
The Inception Podcast
Why are you mentoring?
Chapters
The Inception Podcast
Why are you mentoring?
Jun 02, 2021 Season 1 Episode 1
Akira Nakano / Karen Elaine / George Abud

Inception Founder Akira Nakano talks to Inception Executive Vice President Karen Elaine, one of Hollywood's top calls for viola to discover why she volunteers her time week after week to the Inception Orchestra Young Composers Mentoring Program.  We'll discover why she has opened her rolodex along with the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) to help bring top tiered musicians, composers and arrangers to help our students in music composition.

We will also listen in on a mentoring session with Oud player, George Abud, as he brings his unbelievable musicianship to the table.

www.inceptionorchestra.org
www.asmac.org

Karen Elaine
Akira Nakano
George Abud
Mark Watters
Charles Fernandez

Show Notes Transcript

Inception Founder Akira Nakano talks to Inception Executive Vice President Karen Elaine, one of Hollywood's top calls for viola to discover why she volunteers her time week after week to the Inception Orchestra Young Composers Mentoring Program.  We'll discover why she has opened her rolodex along with the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) to help bring top tiered musicians, composers and arrangers to help our students in music composition.

We will also listen in on a mentoring session with Oud player, George Abud, as he brings his unbelievable musicianship to the table.

www.inceptionorchestra.org
www.asmac.org

Karen Elaine
Akira Nakano
George Abud
Mark Watters
Charles Fernandez

The Inception Podcast – Episode 1
Recorded May 15, 2021
Karen Elaine & Akira Nakano with George Abud

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 one of Hollywood's top calls for viola. She's Inception’s, Executive Vice President and strings coach, Karen Elaine. We'll talk about what and who she brings to the program; why she's here week after week; and truthfully, just how lucky our young composers are to get to work with the many musicians, composers and arrangers of her caliber. We will also listen in on a portion of a mentoring session with George Abud who dazzled and sparked the kids' creativity with his outrageous musicianship on the oud. My name is Akira Nakano, and I'm here with the wonderful Karen Elaine.

Karen Elaine
Thank you. You're making me blush.

Akira 
That was not my intention, but I'm glad I did. It's so amazing to speak with you. It's incredible to have you with me as one of the leaders of inception and to have just propelled this from a small, humble vision into something great.

Karen 
It's a pleasure and an honor to be a part of this winning team and our amazing cohort of students.

Akira 
It's been really fantastic because firstly, I met you playing a concert back in 2013. I think a lot of people listening to this may know that. I was told by a contractor who is also a Viola player. Don't talk to Karen, Elaine, don't look her in the eyes. And of course you were gracious and came up to me, gave me one of your CDs at the time. And that was super lovely. And so we kept in touch via Facebook, and as Inception formed, I always knew that we wanted to call you in if we were ever to do viola and sure enough, we did, and you showed up and that was just the start of this story.

Karen 
Yeah. And you couldn't get rid of me after that, right?

Akira
Yeah. It's been difficult. Just kidding.

Karen 
You’ve thought about it. You've tried.

Akira  
But what a great level of musicianship and professionalism you bring to our kids.

Karen  
Thank you, sir.

Akira  
What motivated you to be a part of this?

Karen  
Well, very first session that you invited me to be a part of when I came in as the viola mentor, I got to see firsthand the young people you've been guiding along this path of making music, what you've got them doing. It blew my mind. Absolutely blew my mind. I had no idea what to expect with the young composers online program. And. I very much, I'm comfortable, more comfortable with an in-person format. That's been my life and we've had to out of necessity, all of us, because of this day and age of COVID get more comfortable with being on zoom and online in one form or another. And you've really got it dialed in and the kids are learning a lot and it. The proof's in the pudding. There's some brilliant writing going on.

Akira
Yes, Thank you. It's just been spectacular to work with the kids. I am also an in person person, but I knew setting up the program. The original format was we'd be in the studio every other week with a rotating guest mentor. And then we definitely taught privately on virtual, even at the start of our program before COVID, because it was kind of a way to save money and an easy way to just schedule time. Plus, I think it's easier with virtual to share screens in composition. So you could make immediate notes instead of running around, looking for a xerox machine.

Karen  
Slowly but surely, I'm coming to appreciate about this digital age we live in is efficiency, pure efficiency, and money efficiency also. Just time and money is saved tremendously.

Akira
Yes, but I do promise that I will never, ever, ever, ever complain about packing up the van when we go back live to go to the studio Saturday mornings. I much prefer that.

Karen  
Yeah, there's an energy. About playing in a room with other people. When you make eye contact, when you don't have verbal communication and you're able to hock it to ideas off of each other. I know that a couple of the kids who were in the program from the beginning, they're really unhappy and not about not being able to get into the studio and work in real life person, but all the kids that are in the program, they show such amazing skill and ability and interest and the ones who really apply themselves and work hard. They're blowing the minds of professional colleagues of mine, like Mark Watters and Charles Fernandez, other well-established well-respected composers who've come in and been blown away by what these young people can do. So that's how I came into it. I'm loving it. And it's a pleasure and honor, to be able to give back. That's one thing that one of my teachers encouraged me to do years ago. When I left undergrad school, she encouraged me to give back to the community that I had gotten so many great opportunities and professors who'd done extra things for me. It's my turn to give back and do the same. So that's what I see myself doing here.

Akira
Well, and giving back, you certainly are. And let's talk about these great mentors who've come in, all of them are at great high levels. And when we first started, they were all contacts of mine out of my rolodex. And what's become amazing is that you opened your contact list. And then also we have this great partnership with ASMAC (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers), who, like you said, many of them are your colleagues. And so this combination of the three of us bringing in these incredible mentors now to these kids, I just never dreamed I'd be working with musicians of this high ilk.

Karen  
It's the natural progression when one applies oneself. And really kudos goes to you, Akira, the compassion and passion that you have behind this craft of making music, how you share it with the kids… on all levels with the music, your technique, the people that you bring into the lives of these people, how deeply you dig into your own pockets to share. It's amazing. I can't wait for some gazillionaire to find this and take it on as their project and fund it so that you can relax. And all of us can just enjoy the fruits of our work here.

Akira
Oh, yeah, but I mean, who's ever going to really relax. Of course, funding is great. I mean, I think the thing that I really want to see happen and what we're going to do when we come back in a new format to have their kids play, not only be in studio, but to have their kids pieces played live by musicians, not just once at the end of the year, but every couple months, every month, if we have the budget for that, because that will really… some of these kids are doing great and they can imagine, but they are, some of them are scoring and orchestrating to MIDI still. And that is not what we're here for. And so I'm really excited to have these kids get, to hear their pieces live. I know we're going to do some recording upcoming for our summer event, but it's still not the same thing as being at a concert.

Karen
Exactly. And you and I have a very different music training experience from when we were younger, having played in music, conservatory, ensembles, or youth, the general community, youth orchestras, and the vast majority of the young people in this program, partly because of COVID, but partly because they come from a wide spectrum of activity in the music world, most of which does not include having them play in symphonic orchestra for youth. They don't have the practical sense of what would sound appropriate together. And I mean, who who's to say, what is not appropriate? Anything can be paired off as far as instruments, any kind of ensemble setting. But to understand if you're writing a solo for a particular instrument, what instruments are going to be the proper textual accompaniment that won't overpower that will compliment, that will enhance, that will make it easier for the solos to be hurt in. Likewise, when structuring the build in the storytelling of a piece of music, all of these things, you get that storytelling, you get that orchestration experience just by sitting in youth orchestra.

Akira
100%, 100%. Karen, I honestly get frustrated when kids or people can't identify instruments. And to me, it's just so natural purely because of my mom put me in this great music training as I get, my mom and dad, put me in piano lessons, music theory, chamber music, and two youth orchestras on the weekend. I mean, it's so important to be able to hear these things. And what I love about what you bring all the time to the program is these listening assignments that you give to the kids as they relate to the pieces they're working on, because these kids have to listen to these things and they're just great samples. And now it's so much easier, right? They're available on YouTube. They don't have to go to the record store. They don't have to go get a conductor score to follow it. So that is just an amazing thing also with your knowledge of music that these kids get to help with their pieces.

Karen
Yeah. It's my pleasure to be a part of their growth and what one of my teachers called me and a group of his favorites when I was in high school were his sponges. We would get listening assignments, writing assignments. We get all sorts of creative project, fun assignments outside of the class. And it always helped in a tangential way of making a more three-dimensional musical experience as opposed to something that was real simple rhythm, real simple melody. You learned to expand those musical ideas. When you immerse yourself like a language immersion program, you immerse yourself in the practice and the study of listening, of sitting and listening. And our guest today in class, Mr. George Abud talked extensively about that. That's the only way you learn this style of music for the oud. And when you're learning any kind of piece of music, the more you sit and listen, as opposed to just playing and playing it the way you think it ought to go. If you really sit and listen, you're going to end up having a more profound understanding and ability to play and be more flexible to meander around and the different kinds of subtleties in any given piece of music offers.

Akira 
Oh yeah. I mean, he was saying he listened to things thousands of times. So here's George playing from class today. Just to give you an idea.

George Abud plays a solo on the oud. [10:22]

Akira
So amazing to hear George's work and to watch him. Of course, I was getting goosebumps and I was like, oh, if only where they are in person to see that. But it was still a pretty great example for our students. And I just was not expecting to be as moved as I was by an oud player. It was just such a sensational storytelling. He was such a brilliant musician who's on Broadway, who has just this rich history of music. And I think what I loved is that the oud music is passed down generation to generation, and he was playing his great-grandfather's oud at one point, and I just thought that was just a goosebump moment.

Karen 
For me, the magic of the Inception experience is how professionals, people at the peak of their style of playing their instrument, outstanding people in the music making world, composers, et cetera. How they come here, and they bring all of their greatness and that greatness is visited on the kids for me, just like when Lettrice (Lawrence) worked with the trio Diego, Angela, and Elliana, and then she and her producers transformed the song, sketch that they wrote, into something. absolutely magic. Well today, George did the same thing And they came up with a brilliant, very much in the idiom of the style of playing the oud, and he took their sketch, their vocal sketch, and made magic out of it.

George
Eliana, sing your part again. I want to make sure I got it right.

Elliana Escamilla sings.

George
I'm trying to think of a good rhythm we could do with it. There actually is a lot of Spanish mixture in classical Arabic music that already feels like there's a nice merging of Spanish and north African stuff there.

Karen  
Somebody said, I didn't think it would sound so good. Yeah. I think it was Leo when he heard his piece played back, and that's what the magic is going to be visited on these kids as they get in front of a real live orchestra.

Akira
It was incredible. There have been great mentors who've done that. I love two, and they were both the cello mentors that we've had in the past. Jeness Johnson, who did play on Lettrice Lawrence’s solo that we played in class. We just found that out by happenstance. And then also your colleague, Maksim Velichkin who came in and just did such an incredible job. We mentor in our breakout rooms and have the mentors come through and play their compositions for them, and Maksim just took it to the next level… A lot like George did… make things, suggestions, showing them how they could carry it to the next level. And that's what we love to see from these professionals. What was super funny about Maksim, and a lot of the players too, when they first come in, especially when we earlier on in the program and didn't know what we were doing, they were like, oh, I don't know what to expect. What are we going to do with three hours? And then Maksim at the end said, “What, that's it? Three hours?”

Karen
I think I was the beginning of starting to stretch this whole thing out. You normally had the mentors for one or two hours. And I think my session was three-and-a-half. I didn't want to stop. The kids were offering up such greatness. It's magic. You don't want them to stop. You want them to be inspired and to leave the class and want to go home to the practice room and continue with that work. So we propel them in that direction, and I think it's working.

Akira
Oh yeah, and I want to really give a good shout out to our incredible collaboration with ASMAC. We have seen composers Nathan Wang, who is one of the top composers in China. We've had Kim Richmond. We've had Raymond Torres-Santos who came in and simply taught us chord progressions, but how important and how amazing of a teacher he was. And then also of course, Charles Fernandez, Chuck, who was incredible and the storytelling and is so generous with this time. I also want to thank both Milton (Nelson) and Gayle (Levant). They are the Executive Vice President and President of ASMAC, for always just being so collaborative and supportive. Gayle's a colleague of yours. Karen, why don't you say something about Gayle?

Karen  
Well, Gayle and I have been playing award shows and commercial music in the Los Angeles area for some 35 years together now. And when one plays in orchestra, obviously we do not have the opportunity to have a whole long dialogue from across the room. You know, you're playing your instrument. The way she communicates with her instrument just drew me in. And she'd been long time seasoned veteran in the commercial world by the time I came along. But I had to just go up and introduce myself to her.

Akira
Yeah, it was really great. When Gayle came in last November, after our all day virtual conference, Gayle came in one Saturday with Charles Fernandez and then she did a special session with Gigi (Johnson of the Maremel Institute) and Milton about ASMAC, and what a phenomenal lady.

Karen  
Yes. And her dad, incidentally was one of the top recording studio concert masters in Hollywood for decades. He played on film scores and such. So it's long time legacy that these young people are getting to interface with. Last week, working with Mark Waters and how he's continuing to propel students to the next level in his grad school program and saying the ultimate compliment that the kids in the Inception Orchestra, their compositions rival what his students are doing.

Akira
Yeah, that’s huge. He was one of my composition teachers back at UCLA Extension and just such a phenomenal man. And I'm so grateful to get them and have them come in. And we have some upcoming people that are really amazing as well. June Kuramoto from Hiroshima is coming back. And then also you have lined up Jonathan Sacks, oh my gosh. How great is that? That's going to be thrilling. Of course, we've worked with MB Gordy, Brad Dutz, incredible harpist Heejin Yoon, who I love to work with. And it's been just this great ride of people, and we are so, so, so excited to bring these all to the kids. And Kiran, we're gonna wrap this up now, but I want to say thank you so much for everything you bring to the program.

Karen  
It's my pleasure and honor to be a part of it, Akira. I thank you so very much for having me and I look forward to more.

Akira
If you're interested in writing music, these are just two of the 50 mentors. Our current cohort got to work with. Think about joining us 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 at www.inceptionorchestra.org. Thanks everybody.