This past week my colleague Sean M. Gill and I travelled to Athens, WV to give a guest recital for the music students and faculty at Concord University. We were extremely grateful to have Professor Casey Cangelosi as a host for our visit. Sean and I got to spend a nice evening with Casey and his students having all sorts of discussions about music and percussion.
Any percussionist that has ever been to PASIC or watched a YouTube video is most likely familiar with Casey Cangelosi’s work both as a performer and composer. At still quite a young age, he has managed to accomplish a wide variety of goals that many young percussionists hope to achieve. Casey was kind enough to agree to an interview regarding some of the issues that may me on the minds of younger up-and-coming percussionists:
MS: First of all, how did you get into percussion, and music in general?
CC: Being an 80’s baby meant that I was part of the MTV generation; music video was common in the house and my older siblings (I’m the youngest) were always blasting their favorites. My first love was drumset. When I was still very young my parents found drumset lessons for me from a neighbor and just a few years later my Dad set me up with lessons from the local percussion professor at Utah State, Dennis Griffin. Dr. Griffin would be my teacher for the next many many years.
MS: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
CC: I did a Bachelor’s in Percussion Performance and Utah State, a Master’s in Percussion at Boston Conservatory, then another Master’s in Percussion at Rice.
MS: How did you see a rise in the popularity in your compositions? How much of a role to do you feel your social media presence (i.e. YouTube) played in this?
CC: I think social media did everything, and certainly since then my own performances and others’ performance have done much more for it. My pieces are now showing up on competition lists, which perhaps also draws attention. But the very beginning was really simple: my friend, Ethan Pani, at Boston Conservatory said I should put my stuff on YouTube, and I didn’t even know what YouTube was at the time, but he said I should do it because people would dig my performances. I basically have a publishing business now just sort of “by accident.” More and more people started asking for my music and commenting on these “overly choppy” pieces and I didn’t know anyone was going to pay attention; I thought playing this really choppy music was just kind of fun and felt good and got easy cheap applause.
MS: Would you consider yourself a master of self-promotion? You sort of had this crazy transition from having some popular YouTube videos to being in high demand as a composer and percussionist.
CC: About me they say, “You’re really cool because you did it yourself!” It was the observers who decided. I didn’t win any free lunch (not that it’s an easy task!). I just did it myself and people decided they liked it, which felt really good because I haven’t needed anyone’s help… That’s something I’m really proud of.
MS: You publish almost all of your compositions yourself. How did Cangelosi Publications come about?
CC: It became a way to facilitate me being less busy. Before the website, people would request pieces via email and it would take several email exchanges before everything (address, payment, price etc…) was settled. This was cool for a while, but when it got busy it just became impossible, especially while a full-time student. The website facilitates all the communicating for me.
MS: Could you talk a little about your performance at the Marimba 2010 convention in Minnesota and how it came about as well as the endorsements that came shortly after?
CC: Fernando Mesa hosted the Marimba 2010 Convention in Minnesota and of course the roster of marimbists he had was huge; I was just a drop in a bucket. He put me on a concert with Pius Cheung and called us “Voices of a New Generation.” Luckily I had enough attention at the time that he thought I was worth inviting. It was such a huge honor for me to perform at the same event with all my heroes! I didn’t have any sponsorships so Majestic offered to pay for my travel expenses if I performed on their marimba, and that’s how that sponsorship came about. At the same time I got offers from several other companies and it just sort of went on from there almost at a comedic rate.
MS: What was the process like to get your first college teaching position?
CC: It was by word-of-mouth. At first this was only an adjunct position so there weren’t official listings or publicity. A friend of mine heard that Concord was looking for percussion applicants and gave my name. How did I get named over others? I think the answer is that you need to be good at working with people. I had a good reputation around my Master’s programs’ percussion studios, it’s very important to be talented, but more so to be someone that’s good to work with. There are a lot talented people out there, and certainly plenty talented enough to handle the average university percussion program, but do they have the personality for it? The work ethic? The right attitude?
That’s the life lesson I learned from this one - a proud self-discovery. Then of course there was the standard phone interview and submitting of materials, all that good stuff.
MS: I have spoken to several percussionists who have performed at PASIC who went through insanely intense preparation regiments to get ready for their performances. What sort of preparation went into your huge recital at PASIC 2011?
CC: It was only a recital, and at this point I have done plenty of recitals. A good deal of the rep I already had learned, but of course the Meditation (No.1, for solo snare drum) had to be composed and rehearsed. The Etude in E Minor was also new, and I really wanted that to be a virtuosic showcase kind of piece. It was just a matter of doing a recital with the addition of some new pieces.
MS: What has been the most important factor of your professional success thus far, whether it be a personal quality or a specific event?
CC: I would say standing out. I think from the beginning I drew some cheap attention by way of virtuosity, “whoa, that dude’s hands are crazy!” they’d say. That was one way of standing out and I think since then I have stood out compositionally. That seems like the thing. If you don’t stand out, you’re not going to get attention. You need to do something different and take sort of a calculated risk... I think if I had just played what everyone else is playing it would be different. The thing everyone else seems to do is perform their own commissioned pieces, I basically do the same thing but I’m the composer. I’m very lucky that this worked! The advantage of commissioning other composers is that you get twice the attention; you get the attention of everyone watching you and the attention of everyone watching that composer.
MS: What sort of advice would you give those who goals similar to what you are currently doing?
CC: I’ve always had the impulse to practice and play (and compose) no matter what. Regardless if I have a recital coming up or a piece due, I just like to do it anyway. If I don’t practice or compose I start to feel “itchy.” … It’s pretty much like the career found me and I was just always doing what I wanted to do and it just happened by accident. If I knew that people were going to be listening to my pieces and buying them I would have paid much closer attention to what I was writing [laughs]. Hopefully you just follow that “itch,” you know? If you say “I want to be this solo performer,” and you aren’t already performing a lot, are you sure you want to be a solo performer? People will say, “I want to be a composer!” but then I find out that they’ve never composed before. How could they know that want to be a composer unless they’ve composed before? There’s a little confusion between “I want to be known as this” versus “I want to actually do this.” It’s like Stravinsky said: “There are those who like to write, and those who like to have written.” Do you want to just be known as a player, or do you want to actually play? Follow exactly what you want to do and the right career will find you.
MS: Any big plans on the horizon?
CC: Nothing too big, just more pieces and more recordings and more of the same. I am at this place that I really like and each day I just want to find cool new music and analyze cool new music and share it with my students and meet new people. People ask me “so what’s the end goal?” and I think I’m doing it. I’m really happy. I just want to write and perform and interact with people like you and Sean. It’s a lifelong study, and on the horizon is just more of the same, which is actually just more of a lot of different stuff.
While much of Casey’s success arose from seemingly unorthodox means like YouTube, I think this shows that we are in a new generation of music, percussion, and life in general. It’s important for anyone who wants to succeed as a musician, especially as a soloist, to utilize any means necessary to get his or her name out. Not only do I have a website to promote myself, but I am turning more and more focus to my social media such as Facebook and YouTube and actually spending serious time tweaking my content and information on those websites. I would guess that the general percussion population is honestly seeing that information (and caring about it) more than my resume and website!
I hope you all found this interview to be an interesting read! I always enjoy hearing about everyone’s individual paths that lead to success.
Until next time,