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Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT. --John Murphy

Tell me about your work: Chris Reza


Photo credit: Bryan Canonigo

What sort of work do you do?

I'm a composer, lyricist, bookwriter, Broadway musician, and activist for labor and social justice.

As a performer, I professionally play 16 woodwinds. I have served as a chair-holder in Radio City's Christmas Spectacular and Broadway's Fun Home, and also as a substitute musician in Broadway's The Book of Mormon, Matilda, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

As a labor activist, I am the Vice-Chair of the Broadway Theatre Committee which negotiates the collective bargaining agreement for the Broadway-musician community, the largest collective bargaining unit of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians, Local 802.

As a writer, I wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the musical Question 1 (currently in development) which explores human equality within social activism.


Photo credit: Jenny Anderson

What do you find most rewarding about it?

This is best described by my experiences as the reed player for Broadway’s Tony-award-winning musical Fun Home. Audience members would send us letters detailing how the show helped empower them to come out of the closet, to face their otherwise debilitating fears, to become true to themselves and others, and to see the beauty that resides within them. I do what I do because I know that my art--whether as a performer, writer, or activist--can potentially bring one person light during their time of darkness.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Simultaneously pursuing what some might consider to be 3 distinct careers requires the utmost commitment to effective time-management, goal-setting, and body-mind mastery.

What led to you doing this sort of work? What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

Growing up, I played saxophone in my middle and high school jazz bands which required that I also double on flute and clarinet. This consequently lead me to earn two bachelor's degrees at UNT (jazz studies and multiple woodwinds performance). The high demand for--but low supply of--musicians who can play in a jazz style and also play double reeds (e.g. oboe, English Horn) in a classical style really helped me break into the Broadway scene quickly.

I earned a master's degree in jazz composition from the Manhattan School of Music where I was introduced to musical theater writing. I've since used theater's storytelling power as my new passionate medium for activism.


Photo credit: Viva Violeta Photography

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

Before listing what I would have done differently, here are a few things I did that proved integral to getting me where I am today:

GOALS

  • Write down your short, mid, and long-term goals and make them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based)
  • Make your goals known to those who can help you achieve them
  • Track your progress regularly
  • Review and revise your goals at least once per year
  • Acutely manage your time, constantly ensuring alignment with your goals and priorities

THE BUSINESS

  • Before moving to a new scene, ask for as many referrals, connections, and recommendations as you can get from your current network of friends, family, colleagues, and faculty
  • Create your own LUCK (labor under controlled knowledge) by consciously putting yourself in the right place at the right time
  • Perfect your elevator pitch
  • Dialogues--not monologues--result in healthier networking

Below are things I wish I had understood better during my time at UNT:

SPIRITUAL

  • Pursue as much truth, beauty, and kindness in your life and in your art as possible (i.e. minimize the things, thoughts, and people in your life that do not embody truth, beauty, and kindness)
  • Gratitude is the one skill that "takes a second to learn, and will instantly change your life. You'll be more resilient, more humble, and more prepared to take what the entrepreneurial life throws at you."

HEALTH (MENTAL AND PHYSICAL)

  • Meditate 30 minutes per day. If you're too busy, then meditate for an hour
  • Full nights of sleep help your body and mind focus which makes better use of your practice time and retention
  • Show yourself compassion, patience, and respect by celebrating progress big and small--not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good

RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY

  • The three inescapable relationships you have in life are with yourself, with food, and with money, so make them all healthy
  • Consider maxing out retirement contributions starting today
  • Actively manage your cash flow to build financial abundance; living paycheck to paycheck negatively impacts your life and, thus, your art
  • "I am choosing to pursue an artistic career, which means that I have a responsibility to create not just the time to pursue my art, but also the financial stability that allows me to do so from a place of strength."


Photo credit: Kevin Chavez

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

If you or anyone you know wants to learn about breaking into Broadway or NYC living, feel free to contact me at Info@ChrisReza.com.

Greenroom Conversations, a podcast dedicated to inspiring students and those finding their own path to "making it" in the performing arts, interviewed me in 2014. It is available here.

About my musical: "When a closeted politician becomes the center of Maine's heated 2009 same-sex marriage debate, he must choose between being honest with himself and the world, or risk losing his entire career and family. Inspired by true events, Question 1 is a musical dramedy about human equality and the power within each of us to contribute either strife or kindness to humanity."

www.ChrisReza.com

www.Question1Musical.com

Marshall Gilkes featured with the One O'Clock Lab Band on Feb. 9

Hear the One O'Clock Lab Band with guest artist Marshall Gilkes on Feb. 9 in Sherman, TX:
Community Series 50th Anniversary 2017-18 Season
presents UNT One O’Clock Lab Band with guest trombonist Marshall Gilkes
Friday, February 9, 2018
4 pm: Lecture-demonstration
7:30 pm: Concert
Wynne Chapel, Austin College
Sherman, TX
www.communityseries.org/home

Tickets: $15 general admission; $5 college faculty/staff with ID (plus $5 for one guest); FREE for students with current college ID and persons under 18.

Welcome Auditioning Students!

On our first on-campus audition day, Saturday Jan. 26, the College of Music will welcome 324 applicants hailing from 36 states (other than Texas) and 14 countries! We look forward to meeting the Jazz Studies applicants. There is an information session on Jazz Studies degrees from 10:30-11 a.m. in room 282.

Tell me about your work: Daniel Rojas

What sort of work do you do?

I’m a film composer and music producer, based in Los Angeles.

[Daniel Rojas's website is www.506music.com. His IMDB profile is www.imdb.com/name/nm3908159/. His music can be heard in the movies Downsizing (currently in theaters) and Crash Pad.--JM]

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I always enjoyed writing music, and film music in particular. So I’ve honestly been aiming for this for a long time… I started with short films and commercials, and moved into film and TV over the past 7-8 years.

How did you prepare for it?

When I was young I was a huge fan of film scores, mostly due to the influence of my older brother (who was an even bigger fan). So I think my preparation started with listening to a lot of scores and learning how to play them on the piano and guitar. It’s similar to learning jazz by ear, a lot of it is imitation and learning the language. I would also transcribe many of them by ear cause I didn’t have access to the scores when I was in Costa Rica. Then I went to UNT and did my jazz studies degree, first as a guitar major, but switched to jazz arranging because it was closer to what I wanted to do. One thing that was very useful was that I learned Logic and Pro Tools by myself while I was in school (it wasn’t offered at the time), so when I moved to L.A. I was able to get jobs as an assistant.

What's a typical day like?

I usually do an hour workout in the morning because I know as soon as I get to the studio I might stay there the whole rest of the day. So I try to be at my studio around 10 a.m. and usually start off by taking care of emails and admin stuff. Then I often check my work from the day before because it's always useful to listen again with a fresh ear. I'm more creative in the afternoon and evening, so that’s when I try to write/produce or schedule sessions.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

To me, the feeling of going into a movie theater and listening to something you wrote might never get old. It’s still something relatively new for me but it always gets me very excited. Same with songs, I think songs have a value different to scores because they can stand on their own more easily, and often reach bigger audiences - which I also find very rewarding.

What do you find most challenging about it?

There’s a lot of politics and heavy competition involved in the music and film industry. That’s no surprise to anyone but it's certainly a daily challenge. If you want to work you need to find a balance between what you want to do and what the client or audience expects…because while we are artists, we serve a specific role in the film or record we’re working on, and it’s very important to keep that in mind and not let ego take over.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

Film and pop music rarely reach the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of jazz, but I feel like having a solid background in jazz gives me a lot of tools. I work with colleagues from many different backgrounds, and one thing that I never have to worry about is “what meter is that?” or “why does that chord sound weird?”, because those are things that come very naturally to me after my formative years at UNT.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

Worry less about lab band auditions! Reading is important, but unless you are pursuing a spot in a professional big band I feel like that's a lot of wasted energy. Instead, I would take more time to learn other instruments (even at a basic level) and further my knowledge of ethnic music. I would also spend more time learning about audio software and studio equipment, and practice a lot of piano.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I’ve done quite a lot of work as a studio guitarist, mostly because I’m familiar with the language of film and pop music so other composers and producers feel comfortable hiring me for their sessions. I do a lot less now, but over the years I’ve recorded for prominent composers like Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer, Gabriel Yared and Alan Menken; as well as pop records for Demi Lovato, Jason Mraz and Bryan Adams.

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