Yesterday morning I joined my 11-year-old guitar student Connor at The Seattle Channel’s studio to watch him perform for the show Art Zone with Nancy Guppy. Nancy had contacted me a couple weeks ago looking for a rock guitarist to perform on an episode dedicated to young local artists. I sent her links to some of the videos from my 2009 Coffee Shop Jam. When she saw Connor’s explosive performance of “Death Nightmare,” she knew she’d found her rocker.
Connor had to do some scrambling to get ready for his TV gig. For one thing, in the past year Connor’s been revising his old songs, adding long guitar solos featuring new skills he’s developed. “Death Nightmare” in its current iteration is a sprawling, 5-minute epic. But Art Zone limited performances to 3 minutes. Uh-oh. Previously, when I’ve tried to nudge Connor toward making his songs more concise, I’ve been shut down. I may as well have been telling Michelangelo that he’d chiseled David all wrong.
Connor will be joined by an actor, flutist, hip-hop dancer, and magician.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Nancy Guppy did what I could not. Connor was more than happy to hack up “Death Nightmare” for the promise of TV stardom. When I saw him next, he’d already figured out how to shorten the song to a crisp 2:45.
A tougher challenge Connor faced was performing for a TV camera. When you’re playing in front of a cheering crowd, it’s as if you’re connected to them by electric wires: Their energy pumps you up. But playing for a video camera is like playing into a black hole that’s sucking your energy into space. The only solution is to be your own generator.
I posed this problem to Connor by showing him two photos.
“You’re used to playing for this,” I said.
“But next week, you’ll be playing for this.”
“It’s not that you don’t have an audience,” I told him. “It’s just that you can’t see them. You’ll be playing for hundreds of people, and they’re going to love your music. But they’ll be invisible. How do you play for an audience like that?”
“I could imagine them,” said Connor. Bingo. For the rest of the lesson, Connor visualized cheering fans while playing “Death Nightmare.”
It was great to see Connor relaxed and having fun on the day of the shoot. He chatted with the friendly film crew, noodled on his guitar between takes, and hammed for the cameras like an old pro. Well, maybe not that old. Toward the end of the filming, Connor reminded the crew that while he digs 80’s metal, he’s still a kid of the cell phone era. On one take, Connor finished his song and then Nancy rushed in for her post-song interview, yelling “That ROCKED!” and holding up a lighter. Connor looked at her as if she were holding a banana.
Also, if you’d like to see Connor perform live, he’ll be playing and singing a few Metallica songs at the School of Rock Classic Metallica show on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 6:30pm at Studio Seven. $10 advance, $12 at the door. Details here.
Finally, in case you haven’t seen this, here’s Connor playing “Death Nightmare” at the 2009 Coffee Shop Jam. Hold on to your hairnets.