Musical U’s own Adam Liette talks about his long and winding musical journey – from his conservatory years, to serving his country through music in the Army band, to his work at Musical U – and the realizations he’s made along the way about playing professionally vs. playing for the sake of joy and fulfillment.
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Hello. My name is Adam Liette and welcome to the Musicality Podcast. Now if you’re a regular listener to the show, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute. That’s not Christopher Sutton.” No it’s not. Christopher asked if I could share with you some of my personal insights and experiences, and how it really relates to you our audience at the Musicality Podcast.
I’m the communications manager for Musical U, and in that job I do just a wide variety of different things. And one of those things that I love to do is to manage all of our social media channels on Facebook, and Twitter, and YouTube, and Pinterest. And I love to get to see and read your comments, the things that you post on our articles and our videos. And it’s a great thing to get to hear so many of you musicians, and how what we’re doing at Musical U inspires you.
And then every now and then there’s a comment from someone that feels that life has passed them by, that they were a musician and now they’re too old to pick it up again, or too old to pick it up for the first time. And it just breaks my heart because that hasn’t been the case in my life. It hasn’t been the case in my experiences, and I just wanted to share with you just how far you can get away from music and still come right back to it.
So I’m calling this episode The Long and Winding Road, not just because I love the Beatles, and I do, but because that’s how life feels sometimes. We get this perception from our coaches, and teachers, and family that we should have this path in our life, these goals that we set when we’re 18 and 19 years old, and we continue on until we fulfill those goals, and we’re happy and we live happily ever after. And I know for me that hasn’t been the case. And I imagine for a lot of you it’s not as well. And that’s not just because of my age, I’m barely a millennial, just barely, and my generation is pretty notorious for career changes. We are not set to just stick in the same job. We move around a lot and we do a variety of different things. And that certainly has been the case in my life.
So just to travel way back to that time when we’re supposed to make those decisions. At age 18 I entered into college. I had this dream of being a band director. And so I went to the conservatory, and for the next four years studied classical music in hopes of becoming a high school music teacher. Now at the time I was also playing Rock and Roll. That’s how I largely financed my college education. So I was learning classical music all day, and going and playing heavy metal at night, kind of a juxtaposition and an odd mix of different musical styles, but I loved it! I love the variety of music I had in my life and how I’d just go from Mussorgsky and Mahler to Megadeth and Metallica. It was wonderful. I loved it.
And then I graduated. And I graduated, I’m supposed to go get a job, get married, do all those things that we’re supposed to do. And instead I chose a remarkably different path. You may remember, this was back in 2006 when I graduated, and at the time the war in Iraq was raging. We were at the height of the war and the surge was in effect. And I was at that age where for better or worse I felt that it was my turn, it was my time. And I was compelled to put aside everything else and go serve my country. Now I didn’t do it the typical way, just entering the Army, I entered the Army band because that made the most sense to me. And I would do it again, absolutely.
And so I served my country through music. I was a trumpet player and so I played Taps for funerals, was one of my biggest jobs during my first year in the service. I played Taps for hundreds of funerals, because I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And Airborne does mean we jump out of airplanes. That was part of our job was we were paratroopers. And the 82nd Airborne really took a big hit in that war. It was not pretty. And I’ve talked about this on a previous episode of the podcast, talking about what that was like to play Taps for so many funerals.
Now it wasn’t all drudgery and these kind of depressing gigs. I got to do some incredible gigs. I got to play at NASCAR races. I’ve played for two U.S. presidents, four star generals, and U.S. ambassadors. I toured the world as a musician in the Army band, going to Afghanistan and training the Afghan National Army Band for a year, in addition to also picking up country music as I was touring around the country playing for our troops, living out of Black Hawk helicopters, the ultimate dream as a musician, right?
And life was great. I was a father. I had two young children at home. I had a wonderful wife. Everything should have been perfect, and I should have been able to stay on this path that I was on as a professional musician making a living. And yet once again life pulled me in a different direction, because I did love my job, I loved the service, but I still felt the need to go a little deeper. And so I tried out for U.S. Army Special Operations, and to my complete shock I made it. I made it through the initial selection. I ended up going through a year long qualification course. And then for the next seven years I was in an operational unit deploying almost every year. I deployed for a certain amount of time, and I wasn’t home a lot.
Now I remember when I made the switch I deliberately decided if I can’t be a professional musician, I don’t want to play anymore. Because I felt at the time that I had reached a certain level of performance, a certain level of professionalism that I wouldn’t be happy playing as a “amateur” anymore. I wouldn’t be happy and content with my musical experience unless I could continue to play at the level that I had been playing. And just from a mechanical perspective, if you’re not playing the trumpet for two to three hours a day at the level that I was playing, two to three hours a day is just maintenance. You’re not improving at that point, at that level. And so I gave it up entirely, because I knew that. I knew that there was no way I could maintain where I was as a musician and still have a job, and still be a family man. So I gave it up entirely. And for close to two years during the initial training and some of my initial deployments I didn’t play at all. I would barely even listen to music, let alone actively listen to music. Music became a background. It became something I used to do, someone I used to be.
And then little things started to happen. I remember being on the deployment when our host nation counterparts invited us out to Karaoke. And after a couple beers I agreed to go sing. And I didn’t let go of the microphone for the rest of the night. I sang one song, they went absolutely crazy and asked for more. And so I kept singing. And then someone came up with a guitar and they gave it to me. And I hadn’t played guitar in close to two or three years. But it was like riding a bike. I picked it right back up. I strummed a few chords and played some songs.
And that was the start of a slow journey back. A slow journey realizing that, yes. I would never be the professional level musician that I was ever again. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with just playing for the sake of playing, and playing for my own enjoyment, playing for my own self fulfillment.
And this would repeat itself over the years several times. So I knew that the path I was on and the job I was doing, I couldn’t do that forever. Who can do that kind of job forever? Plus I had a very loving wife who was more than ready to be done with the military. And so I did all those other things you’re supposed to do. I went to grad school. I got my MBA. And I was a couple years away from getting out of the military and I was just bored, so I started freelancing. I was deployed and I needed something to pass the time in the evening, so I started working in digital marketing. And I was just having a hard time initially getting gigs, getting clients, because without getting too much into specifics, this is kind of a dog eat dog industry.
And then along the way the most amazing thing happened, is I saw an advertisement online for this company called Musical U that was looking for a communications manager to help with their company. And I applied for the job and I got it, and I’ve been here ever since. And I just think it’s so amazing when I sit here and reflect on everything I’ve been through, everything I’ve done, the amount of countries I’ve been to, the times I’ve been around the world, and there’s always these opportunities that just present themselves. They appear in front of us, and it’s amazing what happens when you have the ability to say yes, I will do that. Yes, I will take that chance and put myself out there, and maybe do something I’m a little uncomfortable with because I haven’t done it in a while.
Now you may be thinking, “Gosh Adam. You’re just lucky. You got this gig landed in your lap, and now you’re able to do this again.” But I don’t believe in luck. I believe that luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet. We all make our own luck, and it’s a matter of recognizing the opportunities when they’re in front of us, and jumping back into something that we are deeply passionate about even if we’re scared to. And since then I’ve discovered that yes, mechanically I’m not nearly as proficient a musician as I used to be. But in many ways I’m a better musician, because I have a deeper appreciation for the art, I have a deeper love and passion for making music. But I developed and matured as a person so that I’m more able to apply myself to go through different exercises, to learn from different experts, and to become an even better musician than I was in many aspects.
And that’s really something that I’ve noticed just in the short time here at Musical U, all those things, those innate inner skills of musicality, they’ve come back tenfold. I’m now for the first time able to really hear intervals, able to hear a progression and a melody in a way that I wasn’t be able to back when I was playing professionally. And it’s because I was not afraid, and I was able to take that chance.
And as I sit here now I think to something that often happens in our culture, in our societies, where you compare a man to their father. And I’m realizing more and more that we are a lot alike. I’ve always known that, but even more now because my father had very much a similar career path. He started as a musician, left in order to raise us, raise us children, and took a different career. And now that we’re grown and out of the house, he’s able too, to return to music. And it’s not in the way that he thought he would ever do it. But it was opportunities that presented themselves in front of him that he was able to jump on to do something different, and discover a new passion for a different genre and style of music that he never knew he had. For my father specifically it’s Barbershop, not really what he thought he would ever get into. But because of where he was in singing in our church choir and being a community band director, an opportunity presented itself and he was able to take that opportunity, and make it his own and discover a new passion and love for music that he didn’t have before.
And I just think we only have so much time on this Earth, so much time together, so much time to share and experience this joy. If we’re not taking advantage of it, if we’re not looking for those opportunities and doing stuff that may seem out of the norms, but you know it makes you happy, you know it fulfills you, I just think that’s one of the greatest gifts we’re given is these opportunities and the people that we meet, the experiences that we have, and the joy and pleasure of being able to share with others.
And that’s what I wanted to do on this episode of the podcast, share with you some of my journey, how I came here in hopes that I will inspire just one of you. If I do that, I’ll be thrilled. So just to close the episode, we are all on a winding road, this winding path of life and it will take many turns. And whether or not you came from a position of being a professional musician, or you’ve ever just thought that you would like to play music, don’t be afraid to just take that opportunity, take that chance, because you’ll never know until you do it. Because life is too short to live with regrets or what could have beens, when we have every opportunity we need right in front of us. Until then this is Adam Liette from the Musicality Podcast and I’ll see you next time.