Clay Anderson, a multi-instrumentalist, discusses how he makes time for music while pursuing a more lucrative career.
What was your musical instrument timeline?
I learned the piano when I was seven, maybe eight. I was young. In third grade, everyone has to learn the recorder so I did. That was the dumbest thing in the world. My friend Dana and I joined the choir that year, too. We stood all the way in the left corner and we just sang terribly. It was a great time. Fourth grade, I took my dad’s trumpet and started learning how to play, but I didn’t memorize anything. This is the second dumbest thing I did. Because when we started learning in fourth grade, they wouldn’t let us read music. They would teach it to us and then we would have to memorize it, which made me mad. So I didn’t know any of my music fourth grade.
Why didn’t you just memorize it?
I didn’t want to learn it that way! I already knew how to read music. I don’t know. I was being stupid. And stubborn. I was a child. Fifth grade was much better because they finally taught us how to read music. Of course, the first two months I spaced out because I already knew how. I wasn’t that good though because I hadn’t practiced. So that year I was last chair, which I didn’t really care about it. But still. It was like, “You’re last chair.”
Were you ever first chair?
All through high school. Well, freshman year, I was second trumpet. But sophomore year on, I played first.
You know how people who are fluent in a different language are able to think in that language. Do you ever think in music?
Yeah, it’s strange. It’s kind of like you listen to a language so many times and get familiar with sentence constructions that you know what’s going to happen next. That’s a big thing if you ever study music theory and composition—that’s where you analyze it and learn the patterns. Pop music has the same patterns all the time, but indie can get really weird. Jazz, too. Halfway through, it’s a totally different song and you’re like, Where did this come from? That’s why I like those genres so much.
What do you do for music at school?
Not a lot, which I don’t like. But I don’t want to make a commitment to a concert band again because I don’t have the time anymore. I’d like to do a jazz band, but it’s not big at my school. If there were more people doing it, I’d be more inclined because there’d be less pressure on me. Last year, I did do a radio show and work with the choir. I played the trumpet for masses and sang with them. That was actually really awesome because we got to go to Ireland over winter break. But that choir director left, so I don’t know. I might not do anything next year.
Do you do anything outside of the context of school?
Well, last summer, I started learning the guitar, but I haven’t had a lot of time to do that so I’m not very good.
Is it hard to make music a priority?
Yeah. Because there’s so many other things going on. It’s so easy to listen to music all the time. But sitting down and dedicating thirty minutes to playing music is harder. There are definitely times when I’m just sitting on the couch and I could be playing music, but it’s such a different mindset than watching TV. It’s the pressure of “Oh, I have to go be creative.” It’s hard to make yourself do it. It was easy in high school because you have this class period that you sign up for and have to attend. But when I’m at home, nothing I do is hinged on me playing music so it falls down the list.
Do you wish you had made it a priority?
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I do miss playing and being part of something greater. And it truly is a great relaxer. It gets your mind off everything else because you have to figure out how the piece is supposed to sound and stay on meter and all that. But then when I’m sitting on three programming assignments and two projects and I don’t know what to do for any of them, I think, Oh, well this is when I would have to go to rehearsal for two hours. And I’d just be so screwed. Computer engineering doesn’t exactly allot you free time to burn. I could do it, but it’d require a lot more time management.
Did majoring or minoring in music ever cross your mind?
It absolutely did. But then, I don’t know. I thought, How many trumpet players does the world need? And ones that aren’t that awesome? I don’t know. I’m not great. I’m not the next Louis Armstrong or anything, but I love playing. And I want to do it and I still do. I find things to do and places to play but in my mind, I made the financial, logical, long-term decision. I realized that doing music just wouldn’t give me an income to live on. It just wouldn’t. But I’m never going to stop. I don’t want to. It’s been too important to me. Playing and being creative and having that part of me has helped me through really hard times. I don’t want to forget about those times or leave behind the instruments that helped me through them.
Interview by Anna Fitzgerald