Hop the fence.

Dear Musicians,

Perform for poor people. Perform for people in rural communities. Perform for people who don’t look, think, or act like you.

Places like Brooklyn, LA, and Austin will offer you inspiration. You will be surrounded by art and you will love it. You will surround yourself with other like-minded musicians who will support you at your concerts, and you’ll support them at theirs. People will talk like you, dress like you, and think like you. They will even vote like you. You will be happy.

I’m writing this to ask you to consider the effect your music can have on people who are not like you, people who don’t have the opportunity to experience art and music on a regular, or even semi-regular basis.

I ask that you consider what your purpose is as a musician, and if any part of that is to cultivate change, then consider where that change is needed. In New York City, a newspaper critic might write something nice about you, or you’ll impress someone at Le Poussin Rouge, or maybe you’ll find monetary gains gigging in and around the city. But in Victoria, Texas, for example, you won’t find any of those things. Instead, you’ll find a kid like me.

I grew up in a trailer park. The one pictured above. I was poor and loved music. I just didn’t know a lot about it, academically speaking. Lucky for me, a guy named Phillip moved into my town. He was an Eastman School of Music graduate, who, instead of moving to a big city to chase his dreams, moved to Victoria and helped me find mine. He took a job as a music teacher at my high school and taught me how to be a percussionist, how to work hard, and how to practice smart. I had no idea what classical music was, much less what a music conservatory was, until I met Phillip. In three years, eight of his students went on to study music collegiately, four at Eastman and four at University of Texas, all majoring in percussion. I was one of those eight kids. Phillip was my out, and if not for him, who knows where I would be right now. Thank you, a million times, Phil.

I share this story to get you to critically think about the possibilities your music can offer and the effects it can have on others. Maybe Phillip’s journey is not the journey you want to take. That’s totally ok. I’m not asking you to move from your arts city and take a job in rural town, USA, but I am asking you to consider how you can impact people in places like Victoria. Or Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, for example.

My friend George Clements has been hosting a percussion festival in Lewisberry for 10 years now, and it is flourishing. It’s called the West Shore Day of Percussion. I was there this past weekend. It was an absolutely beautiful event with over 50 public school percussionists participating in masterclasses, clinics and performances of some pretty elaborate music. This rural town and surrounding community has embraced our weird art music / percussion fest over the years. I met a father who spoke to me with such sincerity. “My son has been attending this festival since he was a little boy. He looks forward to it every single year. It’s truly a highlight for him.”

It’s a highlight for me too, and I know Aaron Staebell, Mark Boseman, Drew Worden and Erik Forst, all on faculty this year, feel the same way too.

I just read an article about how listening to music from other cultures helps people value diversity. This article reminded me of an earlier year at the same festival, where an elementary school student made an under-his-breath comment about me hopping over a fence to get here. He wasn’t talking about the metaphorical fence between my echo chamber and his. He was talking about an actual fence, to get to the U.S. from Mexico. Because I’m brown. There aren’t many people with my complexion in his area, and who knows what his home life is like.

Fast forward a few years to this past weekend. I coached the same kid in a music group. He was respectful and attentive, fully engaged in the music we were making. He was happy, and so was I. I’m not sure, but maybe this yearly music festival has opened up his mind to new ideas? Maybe our shared musical experiences have created a shift in his perspective, even if only a little bit? Perhaps this little festival in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania is the most important gig I do? This is why music is important.

As you go out into the world, by all means, chase your dreams. Move to a big city and make your mark if that’s what you want. But don’t forget where your music is needed the most. Perform for poor people. Perform for people in rural communities. Perform for people who don’t look, think, or act like you. That’s how profound change happens. Hop the fence.

With love,


Searched for Drugs, Riding a Bike, and more Summer 2016

Summer has been wonderful. Traveling, teaching, writing. My wife and I are building a home; I feel lucky. Not everything has been smooth though, and one incident in particular bummed me out.

My last name is pronounced Tre-vee-NYO. Yes, like with an Ñ. I’m Mexican-American. I get my name from my dad, but the Mexican comes from my mom. She was born and raised in Mexico, in a small border town called Reynosa. She had a tough life growing up and her family had little money. She didn’t get to go to college, so me going was extra special. As a young teenager, she got a job at a souvenir shop to help her family, and to buy books. She’s the smartest person in our family, and it’s not even close. She’s now a US citizen and is proud of it, and I’m proud of her.

She taught me something when I was younger, about the police. She said, “If you ever get pulled over, put both hands on the steering wheel so the cops can see you.” In other words: “Make sure they know you don’t have a gun. Make sure they know you are not a threat.” I was telling this to some of my white friends, who never recalled such conversations with their mothers…

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was pulled over while driving in New Jersey, for a “sudden turn”. Two officers approached my car, one on each side shining flashlights into the car. I had both hands on the wheel, just like my mom taught me.

They didn’t believe my story, that I was a musician traveling from NY to a music studio in NJ, that I had flown in days earlier for a gig in Corning, NY, and that my rental car was rented using my band’s company credit card. I even presented them with the rental car paperwork.

They kept pressing me, with ridiculous statements like:

“You’re going to a music studio in Montague, NJ? Seems weird to us.”

“Do you even make money doing this music thing?”

“Your story is just not adding up.”

After much discussion, they asked me to get out of the car, and then asked to search my car for drugs. I said, “Go for it.”

They searched the car up and down, removing seats, searching the glove box… Of course they found nothing. I stayed cool, but damn I was worried. Not because I did something wrong, but because something wrong could happen to me.

30 minutes later, I’m still on the side of the road. My hands down by my side, my heart rate up, and I’m thinking about my mom and what she would tell me. “No sudden movements, no looking at your cell phone…No talking back.” Kind of sad, isn’t it?

They asked me where my car was rented. Since I didn’t rent it, I was honest. “I’m not sure, maybe Newark airport? Again, my bandmate rented it.” The officer quipped back. “It was rented in Pennsylvania!” A big voila moment for him.

I quipped back. “I didn’t rent the car, so I wouldn’t know. But my band’s studio is minutes away from Pennsylvania, so that makes sense to me.” A big voila moment for me 🙂

Still more waiting…

Finally, they realize that I’m not a threat, that I’m not smuggling drugs from Mexico, that I’m just a musician with brown skin trying to get to where I need to go.

They let me go with no ticket and this explanation: “You took a sudden turn, and then your story wasn’t adding up. That’s why we stopped and searched you.” I simply said, “OK”, got in my car and drove away, both hands on the steering wheel.


If being searched for drugs was the worst thing that happened to me this summer, Chosen Vale was the best thing! Doug Perkins and Amy Garapic are king and queen of summer camps (sorry, seminars). They know how to do it. The atmosphere, the good vibes, the sense of community. It really is a Shared Space at Chosen Vale. See what I did there?! It was beautiful. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for summer enrichment. I was enriched. And I LEARNED TO RIDE A BIKE! You read that right! Here are some photos, and a hilarious video:

Speaking of good vibes, a big thank you to my pals Aaron and Sarah Staebell for hosting us at their beautiful cabin in Rainbow Lake, NY. Love you guys.

CYMBALS. STEVE GADD PHOTOS. AMAZING. I was a guest at the Zildjian factory. I played cymbals all day and hand picked some Kerope and Avedis crashes and ride. But by far, the coolest thing was meeting Leon Chiappini, head cymbal tester. Leon has been working at Zildjian since 1961 and has played and tested over 9 MILLION cymbals. He was gracious in sharing his time and insights with me, and some funny stories too. No photo with Leon, so google him and his story. He’s great. 

I’ve been writing a lot this summer. Here are some things I’ve been working on:

Space Junk for percussion quartet + narrator. I wrote a children’s story, and set it to music. My buddy Mike Turzanski is illustrating the book. It’s a thing now, as he has started drawing. See below <3  This piece is commissioned by Lagan Percussion out of Waco, TX.

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Making moves

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Float Like a Butterfly
for solo marimba. This one was written in memory of Muhammad Ali, who demonstrated such amazing social activism during the 60’s and 70’s. One of my favorite athletes and social figures, ever. This piece is commissioned by Mark Boseman for his new marimba technique book, which will be available at PASIC 2016.

The Bird That’s Flown Into My Room. for cello and percussion quartet. I wrote this for my friend Meta Weiss of Queensland Conservatorium. She is good at the cello!

Untitled saxophone solo. I used to be a sax player. Excited about this one.

Texas PML: some of my solos and ensemble pieces were added to the TX Prescribed Music List! Really grateful for that.

I also arranged some of my music for an upcoming documentary called New Chefs on the Block. I’m a foodie and am excited about this documentary. It should be out by the end of the year or early next year.

I’ve got a few more commissions coming up, and then I’m taking a break from commissions to focus on my own things.

Me and my wife are building a home, and it’s almost done! We move in in less than a month.

Music Room!
Music Room!

Happy summer everyone.

With love,