One of the best parts of running PensEyeView.com is opening my eyes to a new artist every 48 hours that I otherwise may have never met, or learned about. Featuring a different artist so often has been a more than satisfying experience, and now it has become common practice to receive emails from friends, family and industry professionals teasing me with subjects reading, “Have you seen this guy?!?” or “You HAVE to feature this person!”
Back in 2006, my brother sent me an email of a YouTube video, featuring a guy sitting in front of a piano singing about eating Chinese food on Christmas and going to the movie theater – A habit of American Jews that has become as common practice as sneaking a cookie in before sundown on Yom Kippur. This YouTube celebrity, a young musician named Brandon Walker, just happened to be the first one to publicly divulge a secret many Jews figured was happening everywhere. Some million (yes million) YouTube hits later, the song was a classic. In 2007, Walker put a new spin on his song, adding an entire music video and again received millions of hits worth of attention. It was then that I was fortunate enough to have him on PensEyeView.com – a feature that appropriately ran on December 25th and 26th last year. Needless to say, when I began work with the Jewish Times, catching up with Walker – almost a year later – was on my list of top priorities.
My initial interview gave audiences a much deeper look at Walker as an artist. Music has been an intricate part of Walker’s life since he was young child, beginning after his family inherited an old upright piano from a relative. He was seven at the time. Walker, who describes music as “the essence of everything,” has stuck to this philosophy his entire life, from playing in bands growing up to honing his craft at James Madison University with his band Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings (which could very well be the best band name ever). Today, Brandon runs solo, dedicating himself to the overwhelming task of writing and posting a new song every month. He has kept his promise so far and frankly, I don’t know how he does it.
As a music teacher at Beth Tfiloh, Walker tells his students that inspiration is everywhere. “Music picks us up when we need a lift, and just as quickly it induces sadness. Music gives us energy and it mellows us out. It arouses fear just as easily as it brings relief.” His laid back approach to the fundamentals of artistic expression is rewarded by a loyal and eager class of musicians. It also helps that Walker could easily pass as a student himself. I asked him, “Do you feel that you can relate to the kids better since you are young and into similar music as them?”
“Certainly. Plenty of my students have said to me, ‘Mr. Walker, how old ARE you? You look like a teenager!’ So, even if I try to create that separation of student and adult, I’m not so sure the kids would buy it. That said, my students are respectful people, and despite our relative closeness in age, all my students recognize and respect my position as a teacher.” Keeping his title as probably the coolest teacher there, he adds, “Although they probably get away with more in my class than anyone else’s!”
But don’t take this as a fault for Walker. Music is about self expression, and letting go… and getting away. With music you have to go deeper than what you read in a book or see on a board – music is a world of open opportunity, for anyone to take full advantage of. Walker explains it best, “I think music is amazing. It has the power to guide our emotions.” Guidance is something that Walker offers to his students who, although like to tease him about his youthful appearance, will turn to him when they themselves are told a career in the arts is not a normal “path” to follow.
This is a problem that every artist has faced in their life – as Walker (and I) can attest to. When you are a kid and you pick up a guitar, sit down at piano or grab a paint brush, it is encouraged – in some case considered “cute”. Somewhere along the way though, artists are told it is better off as a hobby rather than a profession. Just imagine if The Beatles got “real jobs” or artist Jeff Koons listened to critics who said he was “wasting his time” or if Walker’s parents told him that sitting for hours at that piano would never take him anywhere.
Luckily, Brandon’s family and friends encourage him. He says, “They support me. If I want to move to LA and go for it, they’re behind me. I even got my entourage lined up, Marky Mark style.” Kudos to Walker for having the guts to follow his dream, and better yet being an example for others. After all, 1 million plus viewers can’t be wrong.
For more on Brandon Walker, check out http://www.BrandonWalkerMusic.com
To find more great artists, check out http://www.PensEyeView.com every day!