In the fall of 2001, just a month after the attacks of 9/11, I boarded a plane bound for Osaka, Japan. It would be the first of many trips across the Pacific and the beginning of seven years in that fantastic country. I recall the flight from Florida to Japan being so long that I felt as if I had always been on that plane. We eventually did land though and the adventure began.
My job in Japan wasn't glamorous, nor were my cramped living quarters consisting of a very small tatami mat room and a thin futon. I remember opening the door of my apartment for the first time and wondering where the other half of it was. I had roommates from other English-speaking countries, and we were all there to teach English.
But really I was there for other reasons. Among them were exploration, adventure, and escape. I probably wouldn't have admitted it then, but I was running alright. Running from my dreams, in fact. I had recently completed a degree in music, and my experiences studying music at the university enriched my life in ways I had never expected. After school, I spent a couple of years teaching, but my real dream was to be a composer. Lack of money and a deepening insecurity that maybe I didn't have the talent to be a composer caused me to change my plans. Instead of pushing myself, I avoided graduate school where I had originally planned to get a PhD in music composition.
Instead of writing music, I spent those first few years in Japan throwing myself into language learning, immersing myself in the culture, and generally having a good time. Japan was a fascinating place, and the culture was so different from anything I had experienced so far. I loved the food, the people, and I enjoyed life in a big city. But I knew in the back of my mind I was burning up years that could have been well spent doing the thing I most enjoyed. Eventually, I decided to get an iMac, and of course, it came preloaded with Garageband. Suddenly, making music got easier. I had no more excuses.
When I left my home in the States, my insecurities about writing music had centered on the fear that I just couldn't come up with anything original. It had all been done before. How could I possibly compete with a Symphony by Gustav Mahler or a Prelude by Rachmaninoff? Even modern musical genres seemed to have exhausted all possibilities of originality. Despite holding onto this self-defeating opinion, and despite the gnawing insecurities about lack of talent, I wanted to write again.
I found a group of composers online at a place called "MacJams" who were welcoming and inspiring. Members of the site post their music and others comment on it. In most cases people were almost too nice, but there was also helpful feedback. MacJams helped me start writing again. As I wrote, I realized that I definitely had many shortcomings as a composer, but at least now I was back on course. I continued to write and also began helping with music at church—playing piano and guitar and sometimes leading the singing.
While in Japan, I also met some excellent musicians. In fact, many of the musicians there seemed much more dedicated to their craft than I had been. It was years before I realized that becoming a good composer is as much about craft and determination as it is about talent or originality—probably more so.
Just as music school had enriched my life in so many ways, Japan had done the same. Now, ten years since moving back to the US, my family and I are planning a return trip to Japan. For me it's a rather emotional one. On the one hand, I have some painful regrets about the time I wasted, but Japan was also the place where I began to write again. This fall I'm planning to release an EP called Japonica. The album is about places and experiences in Japan that have meaning for me. Japan and music have had enormous and unforeseen impacts on my life. This album will be a musical offering of two of my favorite things.