Czar Life

 Czar life

By Louie Czar on June 12, 2009 – 12:41 PM

On the eve of the biggest Czars show I’ve done to date, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the time I’ve spent with this amazing group.

About a year ago, I was sitting at my old house in south Austin, probably eating some Torchy’s tacos or having a smoke, when the phone rang out of nowhere and suddenly Josh Robins was talking to me. He said that The Invincible Czars were looking for a new drummer and Dan Barrett (vocalist/guitarist for Porterdavis and co-owner of Red Leaf School of Music) had given him my name.

I must admit something at this point: I hadn’t actually heard the band before then. I had been noticing the name in a few different places - The Chronicle had written a little bit about their version of “Night on Bald Mountain” and association with Golden Hornet Project. After talking to Josh, I listened through an mp3 of “An Ounce of Confidence” and was immediately hooked. Not only did I love the song and the 11/4 and 13/4 rhythms, I thought that this group could possibly be able to help me fulfill some of my life-long musical career goals.

Some of those goals have included playing rocked-out versions of my favorite pieces of classical music. At this date, the following are all in the Czars’ active repetoire:

Noch’ na lysoy gore (Modest Mussourgsky) - A little tune we know as “A Night on Bald Mountain.” I first played this at age 16 in the Roanoke Youth Symphony. I forget which instruments I played - The score called for tympani, triangle, crash cymbals, bass drum, and orchestral chimes, if memory serves me. I used to listen to the opening bass line and imagine it played with a swing feel, adding in some jazzy hi-hat cymbal. One of my proudest contributions to The Invincible Czars has been adding these very soft, jazzy 4-bar phrases in the two spots where I have 4-bar rests. Josh’s charts are very easy to follow, but also indicate lots of opportunities to throw in interesting, unexpected surprises. This piece has a long tradition of being re-arranged, and I like that we have become a part of that …

1812 Overture - I learned this piece on tympani at Salem High School under the direction of a fine musician, Dennis Reaser. Mr. Reaser was a trumpet player for a military jazz band, and allowed young musicians like myself to combine musical study with self-discipline. He also stressed understanding the historical significance of this type of music. I learned how to use music as a way of understanding the emotions that world leaders, soldiers, and citizens of Eurasia must have gone through under Napoleon’s rule and conquest.

Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (Maurice Ravel, 1908) - Also known as “Dance of the Beauty in the Woods Asleep,” or “Sleeping Beauty,” or “Sleeping Booty.” I learned this piece from Doug Richards, a great instructor at VCU. Around the same time I was studying “The Rite of Spring” and experimenting with playing it on drumset.

The Nutcracker - A whole album’s worth of tunes I have heard and played from a very young age. Playing “Marche” with the Czars feels like playing drums did when I was 6.

Later today, we are going to play most of these pieces for the audience at the OKMozart Festival. I see it as a turning point for myself and for the Czars. To prepare for it, we have worked up about 2 hours’ worth of classically influenced instrumental material. This includes all the above pieces, plus music from “ffortissimo,” our latest CD, and a few nuggets from the first Czars album, “Gods of Convenience.”

We’re also playing “A Cry For Peace,” which I wrote for string quartet in my last semester at VCU. It was written as the Iraq war was looking like it was going to last longer and longer … Like a lot people, I was pretty upset at the world’s reaction to the World Trade Center attacks. We were all terrified on that day, but it almost bothered me more to see how violent people were in their responses. I took Sept. 11 as a sign that we need to slow down, and question wether our everyday actions are hurting someone. People in the WTC were for the most part just there to do their jobs. They had no idea that there were people in the world who were plotting a violent attack against them. I wrote this piece to express that yearning for peaceful resolution which might never come. Josh heard it a few months ago and encouraged me to arrange it for electric violin, guitar and bass, soprano sax, synthesizer and drum set.

On that note, I want to write more about how cool it’s been playing with each member of the Czars, but time grows short and soon we’ll be playing at the festival. I like blogging on my new laptop so get ready for Czar life #2 soon.



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