2020 Vision

It’s not very often that a decade ends.

Well, ok. That’s not strictly accurate. Technically the decade-long timespan that began at 3:56 pm on December 31st, 2009 (PST, obviously) is ending as I type this. But a calendar decade, like the ’80s or the 1350s BC, is a much rarer and more significant event. (I did some complex differential equations and determined that it happens every ten years.)

Of course, nothing significant happens when the ball drops and the clock strikes midnight every year. As far as I can work out, lots of people sharing a kiss is the only thing significant that happens when the calendar rolls over (not for me yet, but we’ll get there). It should be business as usual for the genesis of 2020, and the fact that the part of the world that’s already in 2020 (as I type this still stuck in 2019) hasn’t burst into flames and/or ascended to another plane of existence is pretty good evidence for that. But everyone I know, as well as society at large, is placing huge importance on the beginning of the roaring ’20s.

Why?

Well, at least from the 20th century forward, decades have been the unit of time that defines our society. When you hear or read “the ’40s” or “the ’80s” you can instantly conjure up music, fashion, pop culture, and world events that defined that decade. Probably more things than that depending on what you’re into (for me it’s cars and trains). Each decade leaves a unique weave on the fabric of our culture that can only be imitated…never matched. Many people wish they were born in a different decade or were in their prime in a different decade. Sure, you could probably claim some decades were worse than others with a reasonable amount of evidence (it’s probably safe to say that the Great Depression-stricken ’30s were worse than the Roaring ’20s), but ultimately each one remains as an important window into what it was like to be a human at that time. With the 2010s coming to a close, we can now look back on it as a snapshot of who we were, collectively and individually.

Additionally, many people think of a new year as a new beginning – a blank slate providing opportunities for personal growth and exciting new adventures. As mentioned before, nothing really changes when the clock ticks over to midnight, but a placebo effect that works is just as valid as anything else. Imagine, then, how much of a fresh start a new decade could be. With the 2010s on their deathbed (to the relief of many, let’s be honest), we (collectively) have 3,653 days to leave a new imprint on future history books. So it’s no surprise that people are excited.

For me, leaving the 2010s is bittersweet.

On January 1, 2010, I was a junior in high school. Still yet to begin breaking out of my perpetually shy and socially awkward self, still with a buzz cut and big Harry Potter glasses, and entirely unaware of the course my life was about to take. Now, on the eve of January 1, 2020, I have two college degrees, have unintentionally fooled people into thinking I’m an extrovert, have 2-foot-long hair and no glasses, and am still entirely unaware of the course my life is about to take.

The big stages of peoples’ lives don’t usually neatly mirror calendar decades, but mine is pretty close. And furthermore, I can confidently claim that the 2010s (essentially from exactly January 1, 2010, to now) were jam-packed with nearly every event, decision, and milestone that has shaped my life thus far and will continue to shape it until the day I die. (The one notable exception as far as I can remember is deciding to join the 5th-grade band in 2003 because my brother was in it.) Granted, that’s not at all a surprise considering you don’t usually have to make many life-altering decisions before you decide what to major in, but my point is that the 2010s were an extremely important decade for me. You could say that everything before 2010 was just a tutorial and 2010 was when I started actually living.

Before I leave the 2010s (and 2019 specifically) to focus on the 2020s, I want to briefly summarize all of the great things that I was blessed to experience in the 2010s. (More detailed summaries of every year and group of years are covered plentifully by older posts in this blog.)

  • 2011: I graduated from high school and moved to Bloomington, Indiana to begin my seven years at Indiana University. Before graduating I got to perform on stage and trade solos with one of my trombone heroes, play three different instruments on my swan song high school band concert, and conduct the top band playing my first ever musical composition…all in one week. At that time it was by far the best week of my life thus far. Once I began studying at IU in the fall, I was placed in the Latin Jazz Ensemble, which began an incredible journey learning Afro-Cuban music via two of the best mentors on the planet.
  • 2013: I won a bass trombone solo competition at the annual Eastern Trombone Workshop.
  • 2014: In my junior year, I won the IU Brass Concerto competition on bass trombone and performed my winning piece as a featured soloist with orchestra. (I would win it again on euphonium the following year.) Additionally, I was recorded as the bass trombonist on two full albums, including one that was Grammy nominated.
  • 2015: I graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in bass trombone and euphonium (and a minor in jazz studies). Before graduating in May, I gave my senior bass trombone recital on April 27th, entitled Kodachrome. Kodachrome was a 40-minute piece I wrote for 42 of my friends and I to perform in lieu of a traditional, boring recital. The satisfaction of pulling it off after a very arduous journey, the thrill of performing it, and the immense outpouring of love I received from everyone (both performers and audience) afterwards made it a truly magical night. At that time it was the best day of my life thus far. And the reception afterwards, in which my family all took off their shirts to reveal matching custom shirts they had made just for the event, was the icing on the cake. (I couldn’t leave the 2010s without sharing that to the world at least once.) Finally, in the second half of 2015, I also began working for Dr. Tyron Cooper and the IU Soul Revue, which was the best job and family anyone could ever ask for and very significant in the course my life would take.
  • 2016: I began my master’s degree at IU. I wasn’t planning to, but I was offered an amazing assistantship to stay working for the Soul Revue for two more years. I felt that I didn’t need to get another performance degree, so I went for something that would broaden my pallette – jazz composition. (I also really just want to learn how to write like Brent Wallarab and Wayne Wallace do.) A jazz composition degree did not exist, but Tom Walsh (the chair of the jazz department) demonstrated his capacity for being the real-est of real ones and let me do it anyway. Additionally, in the second half of 2016 I joined the fledgling band Huckleberry Funk. Huck Funk became one of my cherished families, as well as very significant in my musical development. It exposed me (and got me addicted to) a side of playing music that you could never get in a music school (or even in the Soul Revue, really), and began my synthesizer obsession. Finally, I was recorded on another Grammy-nominated album, this time on four different instruments.
  • 2018: Possibly the banner year of the decade. I completed my master’s degree, played my last shows with the Soul Revue and Huckleberry Funk, received a prestigious jazz composition award, met and subsequently played a gig with Bootsy Collins, and then moved to Los Angeles (soon after which, the first Huckleberry Funk EP was released). I had been planning to eventually end up in LA ever since I arrived at IU, because I wanted to play on the big movie scores. I finally made the leap of faith in 2018 and began the long climb from the bottom. Before graduating from IU again in May, I staged the sequel to Kodachrome, entitled Ektachrome, as my master’s recital. This one was longer and far more ambitious, and it…sort of worked.
  • 2019: After a very optimistic end-of-2018 blog post, 2019 turned out to be a giant slog of a year, and one that I’m very happy is over. However, I got to do some pretty wild things in 2019, such as perform with the Los Angeles Opera and Pasadena Symphony Orchestra, record lots of horn parts that I wrote for a certain previously mentioned funk icon, and have four albums that I played on get released. I also played a gig in Tijuana wearing a sailor hat and played piano in a band (somehow). I also accomplished two very significant personal milestones in 2019: I wrote a symphony and released a solo album. Finally, I found an incredible church and community in January, which kept me sane as I barely scraped together enough money to survive throughout the year.

So, yeah. It was a pretty eventful decade. At this point I should probably do a more detailed total summary of 2019, but…I don’t really want to. I am very ready for this year to be over, so I’m just going to skip that. Now nobody can accuse me of padding my word count!

Alright. Now that it’s the late morning on January 1st, let’s talk about the very real new year and decade.

2020 has the potential to be the most important year of my life. I’ve lived in LA for 16 months now and, while it’s been a monumental struggle just to stay afloat, I think I now have a good foundation to build upon and potentially really thrive from. I have a feeling that the next few years will bring my musical career trajectory more into focus, or at least hint at it. As is I’ve put my foot in quite a few different areas and I don’t know what is going to stick…or make me a living. Additionally, the entirety of the 2010s has essentially set me up for where I am now, and it’s the job of the 2020s to grow the fruits of those labors. What are those fruits? At present, I have no idea. My career could go an infinite many directions, all drastically different from one another.

But forget about the potential for a moment. What do I want to accomplish in 2020 and the ’20s?

In 2020 I would like to write another symphony and release another album. (It feels good to say that these feel like very attainable goals.) I would also like to nurture all my friendships, new and old, and I would like to improve myself and (perhaps more importantly) my opinion of myself. Finally, I would like to make more than barely enough money to pay rent each month, so that I don’t have to sell any more instruments or be in a constant state of near-mental breakdown. That would be good! 

Meanwhile, in the ’20s, I would love to see my musical career blossom into something spectacular, in whatever form that may take. But as long as I’m playing good music with good people and making enough money to live comfortably, I’ll be happy. Honestly though, apart from finding love and moving into a place I’m really happy with, I can’t think of many more goals I have for the decade. The fact that everything that happened in the 2010s all happened in that single decade is mind-boggling to me. It feels like I lived an entire lifetime in those ten years, so I kind of short circuit when I try to imagine all the things that might happen in the ’20s. But I am confident that whatever does happen will be better than anything I can hope for.

Here’s one thing I know for sure, though:

Everyone is excited for 2020.

Many people my age that I love, know, or follow think that 2020 is going to be a great year, or even their year. The optimism is everywhere, and it’s contagious. And alongside this optimism is something else: a battle cry announcing that we are going to make 2020 our year, and the ’20s our decade, whether they want us to or not. That we are going to grab the year and decade and conquer them with maximum zeal. There is something in the air that says “this is our time”. Of course, people say confident nothings about the new year every year, but this feels much more palpable than the usual half-optimistic resolutions. And I am so here for it.

I’m ready to go big and not go home in the Roaring ’20s. I’m ready to take that optimism and fervor and turn it into a life worth remembering. And I’m ready to do it side by side with the people I love.

You in?