Road to Nowhere: Covering a Classic

Road to Nowhere: Covering a Classic

What’s the first CD you ever bought? Back in the 80’s, when those shiny new laser disks appeared in elongated cardboard packages, my first purchase was Talking Heads’ Little Creatures.  I enjoyed the entire album, but I particularly liked to play the final track, “Road to Nowhere,” on endless repeat.

ABOVE: Watch David Wallace & Friends perform Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” at the 2016 MWROC festival.

Road to Nowhere in the Golden Era of MTV

In fact, MTV’s heavy rotation of “Road to Nowhere” was probably what prompted me to buy Little Creatures. Lead singer David Byrne always had artistic concepts and films for Talking Heads’ songs. “Road to Nowhere” remains my favorite for its symbolism and cinematography:

Byrne perpetually jogs on an invisible treadmill in the lower right hand corner. Meanwhile, other band members perpetually twist, age, and cycle through life’s major events.  If you watch the video in slow motion, or frame by frame, prepare to catch oddities you may have missed while staring at the jogging Byrne:

We briefly witness Trinity, the world’s first detonation of an atom bomb (0:59-1:01)

Road to Nowhere Trinity Atomic Test Film

Screenshot of the original Trinity atomic test film, briefly excerpted in the Talking Heads video

At 1:20, drummer Chris Frantz appears to have become a musical Sisyphus, dragging a heavy accordion up a steep hill.

And then we see sparring, rotating men wearing business suits and Mexican luchador masks (1:45). I can’t explain why this ten-second montage rings so true to me, but it does.

Does the stop-motion animation beginning at 2:55 looks familiar? That’s because it inspired the subsequent video for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”

Covering Road to Nowhere

At the 2016 MWROC Festival, I needed a set-closer to follow my new electric viola tone poem, Array of Irrevocable Light. Since “Array” digs deeply into nuclear wonders, threats, and problems, “Road to Nowhere” seemed a fitting conclusion. Why? Well, consider David Byrne’s summary of the song: “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom.” Although I intended to take my audience to some dark places, I also wanted to leave them joyful.

A few notable covers of “Road to Nowhere” exist. (For example, check out Jars of Clay or the Young at Heart Chorus). For my unique spin, I added violins, cello, and rhythm viola to the original orchestration. To me, the song feels as timely today as it did when I first spun Little Creatures in 1986.  Enjoy!

2016: Take a Career and Creative Inventory

2016: Take a Career and Creative Inventory

2016 was the worst year ever?!! Enough bellyaching. Set aside death, disappointment, and global chaos for a moment. Take a creative inventory of your life and career. Reflect on the good things that happened over your past 12 months. Document them, and celebrate!

At the end of each year, I take a “career and creative inventory.” To get a better perspective of what actually happened, I list all of my performances, publications, compositions, workshops, new repertoire learned, and any professional or personal highlights.

Get your calendar out and try it! You will discover just how far you’ve come (probably further than you think). When you write your accomplishments down, your dreams become concrete. In the process, you also keep your resume and c.v. up-to-date for that next big opportunity!

Once you’ve documented your year, start planning for the next. Here are select highlights from my 2016:

NEW RECORDINGS FOR 2016

Hat Trick trio debut album released in 2016

On December 9th, Bridge Records released Hat Trick’s debut CD, “Garden of Joys and Sorrows.”

This month, Bridge Records released Garden of Joys and Sorrows, the debut CD of Hat Trickmy classical trio with harpist Kristi Shade and flutist April Clayton. David Frost (multi-Grammy winner for Classical Producer of the Year) did a fantastic job of bringing out our best!

In addition to featuring beautiful trios by Claude Debussy, Toru Takemitsu, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Theodore Dubois, the CD opens with the world premiere recording of Miguel del Aguila‘s Submerged. We commissioned Submerged from Miguel in 2013. In our opinion, it’s a masterpiece.

Miya Masaoka Triangle of Resistance 2016

Miya Masaoka’s Triangle of Resistance: Heavy stuff!

Late August marked the release of Miya Masaoka’s Triangle of ResistanceReleased on Innova Records, this eerie, emotion-laden work explores Masaoka’s mother’s recollections of life and community during her detainment in the American World War II Japanese-American internment camps.

This CD instantly received a rave review from the Wall Street Journal.  Subsequently, Miya’s composition made the 2017 Grammy long ballot in two separate classical categories. Certainly, I am proud to be the violist in this world premiere performance and recording!

Finally, I am pleased to report that in 2016, The Doc Wallace Trio finished mixing and mastering Live at the Cornelia Street Café. We are embarking on the final stages of the liner notes and artwork. Hopefully, we’ll have the new CD ready by June.

NEW WORKS FROM 2016

Robert F Ryan and Qin C Ryan Foundation Composition AwardIf 2015 was the year of Personas for Rachel Barton Pine, 2016 was the year of Array of Irrevocable Light. “Array” is my new through-composed tone poem for six-string electric viola (or violin). Commissioned generously by the Robert F. Ryan and Qin C Ryan Foundation’s Award for Composition, I composed the work over the first six months of 2016.

Array of Irrevocable Light‘s program wrestles with Faustian bargains, the loss of innocence, and our world’s looming, growing nuclear threat. During its composition, I sketched and improvised some terrifying and mind-bending explorations using extended string techniques, digital delay, twelve-tone techniques, and jazz modes. The piece is entirely composed, but with a few aleatoric moments where the performer creates specific textures for set durations.

Fortunately, the MWROC Festival filmed the July 12th premiere.  When I have the video, I’ll share it with you in a future post. Meanwhile, check out the program note, which some have deemed a “powerful philosophical statement” in its own right.

Throughout 2016, I sketched new solo works for electric viola and for acoustic violin. Stay tuned. . .

2016 CONFERENCES AND MUSIC FESTIVALS

In September, I delivered a Talk 21 (“Becoming Village People”) at DePauw University’s 21CMPosium. In short, the 21CMPosium is a paradigm-shifting conference dedicated to defining 21st Century musicianship and training. Speaking of which, do you have the skills to become a “Village Person?”

Berklee String Faculty Global String Program Creative Inventory 2016

Berklee’s 2016 Global String Program faculty!

For the second year, I produced and directed the Berklee Global String Program. This is a wonderful, immersive week of concerts, jams, and intensive ensemble experiences with the phenomenal Berklee String faculty. Presently, there’s still room for you to join us for year 3!

Doc Wallace Rock Violist at MWROC Creative Inventory 2016

Doing my best to embody all of MWROC’s slogans for 2016! (Leave Your Comfort Zone at Home! Unleash YOU! Love, sing, play, rock!)

July is always one of my favorite months because I spend a full week teaching and performing at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp (MWROC) and Music Festival. The faculty and students are a wild, boisterous, creative extended family; for this, I love them dearly.

Soon, I will have videos from my 2016 set uploaded to my YouTube channel. Join us in 2017! -If you them I sent you, you get a discount!

AMERICAN STRING TEACHERS ASSOCIATION 2016

Naturally, a career and creative inventory should include service. I rounded out my first year as Member at Large of the American String Teachers Association’s (ASTA) National Board. I’m a firm believer that string teachers must band together, collaborate, advocate, educate, and make this world a better place. Thankfully, ASTA members are succeeding in every regard!

At the 2016 National ASTA conference, I co-presented two sessions. With Trickle Up Stringonometrics (If you Build It, They Will Come), phenomenal educators Elizabeth Fortune, Bob Phillips, Kelly Barr-Clingan and I shared how to develop multi-stylistic string programs in secondary schools and higher education.  In Tools for the 21st Century Musician, Joe Deninzon, Sean Grissom, and I gave the standing-room-only crowd a whirlwind tour of looping, jamming, transcribing, and transposing.  So that you can benefit from our resources, practical advice, and lesson plans, I’m linking the session’s handout.

Don’t miss the 2017 ASTA conference in Pittsburgh! I’ll be co-leading a half-day pre-conference session (Cultivating Creative Musicians) with master artist-teachers Matt Turner and Darol Anger. I also look forward to joining sensational artist-composer Martha Mooke for Violists on the Verge.

On a phone call with the Chicago Symphony Creative Inventory 2016

I don’t get to post this on my door every day. . .

TEACHING ARTISTRY

In November, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago hosted me for a two-day teaching artist residency. To demonstrate principles of interactive performance, I led workshops and gave performances of Array of Irrevocable Light and Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia. Additionally, I coached orchestra fellows on their own interactive concerts. We immersed ourselves in Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos (-How can we share them with diverse audiences?). Afterwards, I enjoyed coaching their stunning memorized adaptation of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote.

NEW [My] talent FORGE VIDEOS IN 2016:

My Talent Forge

Since January, I filmed 26 new video lessons for MyTalentForge.com. The lessons support four series: Secrets for Shifting Success, Shifting Practice, Left Hand Life-Hacks, and Quick Tips. To watch some of my MyTalentForge.com video lessons, click here. You can subscribe at this link.

BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC:

When you make your creative inventory, do not neglect your primary work. For me, that’s being Chair of Berklee College of Music’s String Department, which still feels like a dream. I’m incredibly blessed to work with a magnificent team of teachers, artists, and composers.  Consequently, I’m challenged and inspired create the best musical environment I can imagine each day.

Because our string population keeps growing, I hired three wonderful new professors in 2016. Joining us are cellist Natalie Haas, violinist-violist-multi-instrumentalist Beth Bahia Cohen, and violinist Sharan Leventhal.  Notably, Sharan is the first String Department professor to serve jointly on the faculties of Berklee and The Boston Conservatory, which merged in June.

David Wallace Bruno Raberg and Dave Tronzo Doc Wallace creative inventory 2016

Performing at the Equinox Festival with the Bruno Råberg Trio with Dave Tronzo on Guitar

Next year, you’ll find me performing frequently with my colleagues from other departments. I’m thrilled that my longtime collaborator, Richard Carrick, recently joined Berklee as Chair of the Composition. (As a side note, Rick conducted the recording of Triangle of Resistance).

Reflect on Your Creative Inventory

So, it has been a full year. -A good year. Take stock accordingly. Although 2016 may have been challenging, distressing, or disappointing, look closely. Because you surely can find blessings and accomplishments, you can settle the past and find hope for the future.  Take your creative inventory.

Wishing you all the best for 2017,

Doc Wallace, December 31, 2016

Dear Prudence – The Story Behind the Song

Dear Prudence – The Story Behind the Song


During The Beatles’ Indian sojourn, John Lennon wrote “Dear Prudence” as a serenade for Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow. Along with Mike Love of The Beach Boys and a handful of other celebrities, they all had traveled to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

After ten days, Ringo Starr left. (Apparently, the food disagreed with him. The desired spiritual results eluded him as well). Paul McCartney left the meditation course after a month to pursue other commitments.  However, George Harrison and John Lennon persisted for another couple of weeks alongside the Farrow sisters and several others.

“Dear Prudence, Won’t You Come Out to Play?”

According to Lennon, Prudence had withdrawn to her hut, meditating nonstop. “She’d been locked in for three weeks and wouldn’t come out, trying to reach God quicker than anybody else. That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first.”

Worried friends selected John to reach out to Prudence and encourage her to socialize. As John puts it at the end of this early demo of his song:

“No one was to know that sooner or later she was to go completely berserk, under the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl because she was going insannnnnnne. . .So, we sang to her.”

From all accounts, Lennon’s simple serenade had a positive impact.

“Dear Prudence, Won’t You Open Up Your Eyes?”

Eventually, John and George left India, disillusioned with the Maharishi. (He was rumored to be womanizing.) Moreover, to John, the Maharishi seemed more interested in earthly wealth and fame than spiritual matters.

As a rebuke, Lennon wrote a scathing song entitled “Maharishi.” The lyrics castigate the Maharishi for breaking his own rules and for making fools out of his disciples. Out of respect for the positive lessons they had learned from him, George persuaded John to change the protagonist of “Maharishi” to “Sexy Sadie.”

“It’s Beautiful, and So Are You”

However, “Dear Prudence” remains unchanged from its original form. Lennon’s gently coaxing masterpiece reminds us that for a healthy spirituality, we mustn’t hermetically withdraw from the world. Rather, we must open our eyes, perceive, smile, and interact.

So that’s the message I shared with the audience in this set-closing psychedelic jam at the 2015 MWROC festival. Have a listen! Come out to play.

David Wallace: electric viola & vocals

Laura Kaye: vocals

Matt Vanacoro: keyboards & vocals

Sean Grisson: cello

Rob Bambach: electric guitar

Paul Ranieri: bass

Jason Gianni: drum set

Doc Wallace Goes for the Emotional at MWROC 2013

Doc Wallace Goes for the Emotional at MWROC 2013

David Wallace gives an emotional electric viola performance at the 2013 MWROC Festival

David Wallace gives an emotional performance at the 2013 MWROC Festival

I owe a musical debt to fiery collaborators of the great cellist Pablo Casals: Karen Tuttle, Julius Levine, Felix Galimir, and Alexander Schneider. Whenever these gurus conducted, coached, or taught me, they demanded 110% emotional commitment. Anything less was a crime. Just as they shared Casals’ passionate approach with me, I aim to impart their fervor to the next generation.

Going for the Emotional

This year, “Going for the Emotional” was my mantra at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp (MWROC). My general sessions explored Karen Tuttle’s compendium of the five human emotions: love, joy, anger, fear, and sorrow.

An Emotional Facsimile of Karen Tuttle's Compendium of the Five Human Emotions

Facsimile of Karen Tuttle’s Compendium of the Five Human Emotions

Through gut-wrenching actors’ studio work, we conjured up deep personal experiences. We then modulated our emotional intensity using a 1 to 10 scale. (1 represents a mild manifestation of a chosen emotion. At the opposite end of the scale, 10 is where a person overflows, loses control, or has nothing left to give.) In addition to expressing ourselves through vocalizations and dramatic poses, we improvised and composed with our instruments.

Building Emotional Ensembles

In my small ensembles, we deepened our initial emotional explorations. One group, The Indubitably Sunny Phish, explored the mellow end of the spectrum. Since their improvisatory performance of Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall’s Wading in the Velvet Sea greatly moved me, I vowed to sing it in 2014:

Meanwhile, a technically advanced ensemble, Harbingers of Darkness, explored the dark recesses of the human psyche. As a group, we reconstructed Tet Offensive from Billy Bang’s Vietnam: The Aftermath.

When the entire faculty and student body came together as a magnificent orchestra for the final concert, we were not just playing loudly. Yes, we were rocking out, but we were filling every note with uttermost feeling. Without a doubt, my mentors would have been proud.

Walking the Emotional Walk

Because credibility means everything for a teacher, I must practice what I preach.  For my faculty concert on July 17th, I put together as emotionally loaded a set as I could envision. When you watch the performance, you’ll see that we encompassed all five of Tuttle’s human emotions. I actually pushed myself quite close to a 10.

After the concert, my collaborating MWROC faculty member, producer Matt Vanacoro sent me a priceless text:

Best. Text. Ever!

Best. Text. Ever!

Hey, David!  Karen just texted me. They found your soul onstage after you ripped it out and showed it to everyone. Might want to run back and pick it up!

Be Expressive!

-Doc Wallace, 29 July 2013

Look Out, World, Here Comes docwallacemusic.com!!

Look Out, World, Here Comes docwallacemusic.com!!

Rock violist David Wallace DocWallaceMusic

Dr. David Wallace performing at The Bell Center

DocWallaceMusic has a website? I can hardly believe it. . . After years of dreaming, procrastinating, and pouring all my energy into living the life of a musician, composer, and teaching artist based in New York City, I’m finally launching a website!

What’s that, Vi?  (Vi Wickam‘s my web guru / personal-mentor-in-all-things-internet). This post is actually the beginning of the DocWallaceMusic blog?

Oh, man, I should say something pithy, momentous, or engaging. . . but I’ve only got a few hours to pack all my clothes and electronics gear for Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp and Music Festival!! Come to think of it, MWROC is extraordinarily momentous; I’ll let next week’s events do the talking!

I’ll be performing on every faculty concert next week at the Bell Center in Olathe, Kansas. My own set is Wednesday, July 17th. I’ll be performing a movement from a string quartet I’m writing for the Marian Anderson String Quartet, some Lead Belly, my ever-popular Nahum: An Apocalyptic Prophesy for Electric Viola, as well as some surprises. Other highlights include performing a Mahavishnu Orchestra chart with Joe Deninzon, Tracy Silverman, Lucas Shogren, and Matt Vanacoro on Monday; shredding heavy metal medleys and a movement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 with Rachel Barton Pine on Tuesday; and joining the MWROC Beatles and Zeppelin orchestras for the final concert on Friday night.

[2017 Update: You can actually view the full MWROC 2013 set on my YouTube Channel.  Here it is, in all its quirky glory:]

Spread the word! I sincerely hope some of you can make it out to some of the concerts. Here’s a sample from last year to whet your appetite. This is a 100% improvised psychedelic jam based on Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company’s cover of Moondog’s All is Loneliness: 

Can you see why I’m so excited?! But that’s just part of the adrenaline and endorphins:

During the day, I will be teaching and coaching inspired musicians of all levels and ages how to improvise, rock out, create their own arrangements, and thrive in an atmosphere where everyone is unconditionally loved, celebrated, and accepted.

So, I think that’s plenty of material for this first entry. DocWallaceMusic.com is still a work-in-progress, but it gets a little better and more complete each day. I’m editing and uploading new content constantly, so bookmark the page, and check in frequently. My goal is to have all sections fully developed by the end of July. Meanwhile, please browse!

Thank you so much for sharing the journey with me!

Rock on!

Doc Wallace

13 July, 2013

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