There’s something exciting happening in the world of new music, and Indianapolis’ Forward Motion wants to be a part of it. Ahead of their performance at Musical Family Tree on Saturday, our Seth Johnson caught up with the group’s Eric Salazar for an interview.
Seth Johnson: First of all, I'd love for you to give Musical Family Tree readers some background on yourself as a musician. What led you to the role you currently hold with Classical Music Indy?
Eric Salazar: Yes! I’ve got a fun career right now. I started playing clarinet in middle school band. Before too long, I switched over to bass clarinet. Bass clarinet uses the same finger combinations as clarinet, but everything else is quite different. For a long time, I wasn’t really any good, and I didn’t take private lessons. When I was 17, I decided that I wanted to be a musician, so I figured I better start taking lessons. After taking some lessons, I decided that I wanted to be a music performance major in college. What I didn’t know was that you had to audition to get into music school, and that people who got in had been taking lessons for six years (unlike me who had only been taking lessons for six months). I actually was not good enough to be admitted into music school at first. I was rejected more than once, and it ended up taking me three tries to finally get accepted at Ball State. I worked hard and somehow got myself to the point where I was good enough to be accepted for the master’s degree program at Bowling Green State University.
During my time at BGSU, I realized that I walk a different path from the traditional classically trained musician in two major ways: 1) I improvise and compose. I truly love performing my original work. 2) I enjoy both the artistic aspects of creating a great performance experience and the administrative aspects – I like to lead on-stage and off-stage. This realization led me to understand that although I had sufficient musical training, I really needed more experience as an arts administrator if I was ever going to have my dream job of being Executive Director and Clarinetist with a chamber ensemble. Running with the idea, I took an office job with the Indianapolis Symphony. I worked for the ISO for a little while in the Development Department, but then an opportunity came knocking with Classical Music Indy. I took on my role as Community Programs Manager because I love how CMI handles its community outreach and because I knew I needed the administrative experience for my long-term career goals. Working for CMI has been one of the best decisions of my career thus far. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve gained have set me up for a bright future of my own choosing.
SJ: I know you've done a lot of solo work as a clarinetist here in town. Can you bridge the gap for me between that and the start of Forward Motion?
ES: Well, to be honest, if I didn’t play my solo sets around town, I probably would have never met Corey, Jenna, Maya, Caitlin, and Tricia. I know for sure I wouldn’t have met Corey. We met at a CMI/MFT event called Tuesday Mash Up. I happened to be playing that night. He told me that he hadn’t heard of very many people playing music like what I do — clarinet and electronics — so he thought he would check it out. I’m glad he came to that event because we really hit it off and started playing together. Corey was the one who originally said, “Let’s make an ensemble.” Around that time, too, I found Maya online because we are both alumni of a great summer music festival run by Fifth House Ensemble called Fresh Inc. We met and played together and also got along really well. Once we knew we sounded good together, we played some gigs around town. As if by magic, a couple gigs with Jenna fell into my lap around that time, too. I speculate that I was hired for those because I’m “the weird clarinet guy” in town who plays all kinds of crazy music. Jenna was the one who introduced me to Tricia and Caitlin. I was delighted to meet with Tricia and Caitlin because we found we had similar artistic ideals and career goals. After we all met and talked, it was pretty clear that we just had to put this group together. We are all well trained so we sound good, but what makes us special is our chemistry. When people see us perform, that’s what they connect to — the bond we have as an ensemble.
SJ: From my perspective, there aren't a lot of groups doing what Forward Motion is doing in Indianapolis. Was that something you wanted to change? Did that at all play a part in the group's origin?
ES: Definitely! I don’t know every single musician in the city. I do know we have so many great musicians here who are performing the kind of music we play (indie classical/new music). Our ensemble did notice, though, that there is not a full-time professional ensemble specializing in this music here in Indy. At this time, to my knowledge, Forward Motion is the only ensemble of its kind here in Indianapolis that is not affiliated with a university. The group was born out of each member’s desire to have opportunities to perform the music we love. You see, if you play rock music here in town you know what venues to call. If you are a hip-hop artist, you know what venues to call. It’s not really that way for us. There isn’t an established new music venue, yet. There are also not very many new music groups.
We want to show Indy that this kind of music is really great to listen to. Not only that, we want to show Indy that indie classical (new music) is not exclusive. There are connotations that this music belongs in a university or cannot appeal to specific demographics. Both of those notions are incorrect, and we are determined to show the community the opposite. This is why we are so thankful to be able to play in the MFT space. Our performance there is going to allow us to show people that this kind of music can be for anyone and happen anywhere — not just in concert halls.
SJ: For those who might be unfamiliar, can you elaborate on the term "new music"? What excites you about the current state of new music, both locally and beyond?
SJ: New music is a genre that pretty simply means “music that has been composed recently.” By recently, I mean by a living composer. It often uses classical instruments and has been known to combine them with modern electronics. Another term people use is contemporary classical. My personal favorite label for this genre is “indie classical.” Think of it the same way you think of indie rock — although heavily influenced by classical, the music is not really classical. It goes beyond the traditional rules and methods.
I’m excited by the potential for growth in this genre here in Indy. I think Indy has been waiting for a group of people to take up the reigns and make this scene happen. Forward Motion doesn’t want to be the sole authority or anything like that, we just want to help the artists and audience members get connected so the new music community can thrive.
SJ: With this show at MFT, you'll be performing works from composer Bill Shotton. Can you elaborate on how that teaming came about, and why you're excited it's happening?
ES: We are excited to be playing Bill’s music. I happened to record some clarinet on one of Bill’s albums last year. We stayed in touch and talked off and on about collaborating. Forward Motion is always looking to add more music to our mixing pot, so teaming up with Bill seemed like a good way to add a couple of pieces to our repertoire.
One of the big ways we are trying to grow this following for indie classical here in Indianapolis is by collaborating with Indy composers. The whole magic of new music comes from the fact that the music being performed is by a living composer, someone you can go right up and talk to. When you can hear why the composer wrote things the way they did, when you can go and talk to the composer after the performance about the music — that’s what defines this genre, and I think people are going to get hooked once they experience it live. We hope to put a spotlight on many more Indianapolis composers and even collaborate with other new music ensembles so we can have one big happy indie classical community.
SJ: Tell me about the show on Saturday. What can people expect?
ES: The first 30 minutes is going to be a short set by Bill and me. Bill is also a singer-songwriter, so I’m going to sit in with my clarinet on a few of his tunes. After that, Forward Motion is going to take the stage to perform some of our favorites and some of Bill’s compositions.
As far as what to expect… You can expect to hear some gosh darn compelling music. I would also say you can expect to hear sounds you didn’t know existed. A lot of this music calls for us to play our instruments in ways that most people haven’t heard before. You’ll get the characteristic sounds of each instrument, but you’ll also get things that are new to your ears. For example, have you ever heard what it sounds like when a flutist sings while playing the instrument? Trust me, you have got to come and hear Jenna when she does that for this show.
The other cool thing is that several of the pieces call for us to play our instruments with special electronics produced by a laptop. If you haven’t heard what it sounds like when a fully acoustic ensemble blends their sound with electronics, you should come check it out.
SJ: It really seems that you're on a mission with Forward Motion. What all would you say you're trying to accomplish?
ES: I think at the end of the day, we’re trying to breathe life into this vibrant yet disjunct new music community here in Indy. Our ensemble feels that there is a dire cultural need here, one that we intend to help fill. We are going to show Indianapolis that this music we love, indie classical, new music, contemporary classical, whatever you want to call it — we are going to show Indy that it has a place in our culture. Forward Motion has pushed and will continue to push boundaries, in the name of growing this new music community. The only way we can build and grow an audience is if we get out and bring our music to the community. We are making ourselves vulnerable, uncomfortable even at times, because we truly care about bringing this music to the community.
We hope to unite artists and audiences into a cohesive community, to build a home from the ground up for this kind of music, and to give some freakin’ good, meaningful performances along the way.
If you go:
Time: 8 p.m., Saturday, April 8
Location: Musical Family Tree, 1043 Virginia Ave., Ste. 206 (Indianapolis)
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