From heavy metal guitar tours to classical trumpet major, playing country music in Afghanistan to jumping out of planes (and bugling on the way down!) – Adam Liette’s passion for music has certainly taken him places.
Adam’s worldwide travels continue virtually as Communications Manager here at Musical U. He runs our social media, promoting our new articles each week on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. Adam reaches out to other music educators and amazing musicians, bringing us fascinating guest posts and interviews.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about your musical background.
Music was always a part of our household. My father is an incredibly talented singer, saxophonist, guitarist and pianist, and made sure that I and my siblings had an appreciation for music at a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are dancing in the front room of our home as my dad played his guitar.
After first picking up the guitar, I joined the school band as a trumpet player. Throughout high school, I was very involved in music, playing in the jazz band, marching band, and concert ensemble for all four years.
When I finally graduated, I had this dream of moving to California to “make it big” with my heavy metal band.
Thankfully, we discovered some serious complications with our interpersonal relationships before making that big move! So, after a year of going to community college and working as a carpenter, I decided to make the big move and apply to Capital University Conservatory of Music in Columbus, Ohio.
Looking back, I had no business going to that school! (How did I make the audition!?) All of my classmates had been studying privately for many years, while I was, at best, an amateur. So… it was a very steep learning curve and I had to work very hard to compete, let alone graduate!
Finally, by my senior year, I had built myself up enough to make it into our elite Symphonic Band (albeit, as the last chair trumpet player). Some of my colleagues had spent all four years in that ensemble, but shared in celebrating the progress that I had made over my time in the trumpet studio. I am still immensely proud of that accomplishment as it represented thousands of hours of hard work.
After graduation, my next step was to serve my country through music… but more on that a little later.
Today, I find great joy in teaching my children to love and appreciate music. They are finally getting old enough to start playing the piano, and I look forward to when their hands are strong enough to be able to make a proper power chord so I can teach them about heavy metal music!
Q: I guess it’s time for me to work on my hand strength too! What initially drew you to music? What would you say helped you develop your passion?
My first instrument was the guitar. Looking back, I can honestly say that I wanted to be exactly like my father. My parents caught on after I snuck into Dad’s guitar case and dropped all his picks into the sound hole as I played.
There was nothing but support for my music career in our house. To this day, I can’t believe they allowed it. My parents even accompanied me to my first ever gig at a bar – when I was only 14 years old! I couldn’t drive to the gig, but they stayed until our set was over at 2 AM just to make sure that I got into the music scene back at home.
As I got a little older, music became an outlet for me. I was never the “popular” kid in our small community, but when I put on a guitar and began to sing, I was in my own world. Writing music became an obsession, and I carried a small notebook to write lyric ideas to the many riffs I recorded on a small cassette recorder at home.
Writing and performing helped me develop a very independent identity that helped set me apart from my peers. Independence and self-reliance have been great traits as I have gotten older and moved on to other careers.
Q: And all that from a few lost guitar picks! What is your favorite thing about playing guitar?
I love the energy of the electric guitar. A power chord pumped through a high-gain amplifier is one of the world’s most amazing sounds!
While I have been classically trained, there is something about heavy metal music that has always appealed to me! Heavy metal covers all ranges of human emotion, and the lyrical content explores some of the darkest feelings in the human experience.
On top of it all, the fans of that genre are just incredible… waiting hours to hear a band play and voraciously consuming all the music that we would produce.
It was a sobering moment to hear hundreds of fans singing the lyrics to a song I wrote – and even louder than the PA system.
As I grew musically, I only appreciated heavy music even more. Once my ear had fully developed, it became apparent to me this music shared many of the same characteristics that I had studied through the likes of Mahler, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky.
I may have written a heavy metal tune based on the Tristan chord at one point… Ok… I stole that idea from Wagner. But, many musicians have said that all great artists steal ideas. So, I feel validated in that.
Of course, the fact that I met my wife while playing a metal gig certainly helps as well!
Q: A match made in metal? Now in the U. S. Army, I imagine “heavy metal” may have a slightly different meaning. You’ve had a fascinating career with the U.S. military. What can you tell us about that?
After graduating college with a music education degree, I decided that I would put off teaching for a couple of years and enlisted in the Army. There were many reasons for this, but I did feel a sense of duty to serve as so many people I knew from home had done service during the time period after 9/11. And I felt that the best way I could do that was to join the Army Band.
My first job after Basic Training was as the Division Bugler for the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In case you were wondering, Airborne means we jump from airplanes. So, I am an Airborne Trumpet Player with over 50 jumps from military aircraft under my belt!
At this time, the surge in Iraq was in full effect and our Division had over 15,000 paratroopers serving in the war zone.
It was my job to perform “Taps” at military funerals all around the United States to honor our fallen warriors. Quite a sobering duty, but it gave me incredible perspective on life and I am proud to have been able to honor the fallen through music. One of the coolest moments of this time was getting to perform at a NASCAR race for Memorial Day 2007. 200,000 people in person and another 5 million watching on television. I still get tingles watching this video:
In 2009, I was finally called overseas and served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. Our job was to bring a little bit of home to our service members and help take their mind off the war, if only for a little bit. In Afghanistan, I discovered my love of country music. We formed a small country band and would fly in Blackhawk Helicopters to some of the most remote regions of the country to perform.
When we weren’t playing music, we had a training mission, teaching the Afghanistan National Army Band how to perform military music. While western melodies and harmony were difficult for the Afghan musicians, I was truly amazed to hear them play their native instruments. Even after a decade of Taliban brutality, their music survived in the people’s hearts and was passed down through rote teaching.
And, in case you were wondering, nearly all Afghan music is in Phrygian mode.
After five years of service, I left the Army Band, but continue to look fondly upon those days as I moved on into other adventures!
Q: The power of music! It is said that Alexander the Great – who made it into Afghanistan – set out to conquer the world after hearing a jam in the Phrygian mode at a dinner party. What advice would you give aspiring musicians to gain their own musical power?
Enjoy the art of music in your life. Most of us will never make a living at music, but having music as a part of your life enhances it in ways that few other things can. Love music for what it does for you, and expect to be challenged.
You may have dreams of becoming the next superstar. Go for it!! But know that you have never “failed” as long as you love your art and stay true to yourself.
I am at a point in my life where I don’t get much time to practice music, let alone perform. But, I am still a musician. While some people are able to say that they “used” to play football or baseball, you never cease being a musician. The art stays with you and will be there again whenever you want to pick it back up!
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your work at Musical U?
I am very happy to be the communications manager here at Musical U. As communications manager, I handle our social media pages and relationships between other music educators throughout the digital ecosphere.
The primary thing that I do is post all of the content that is published to our Facebook Page, Twitter profile, and YouTube Channel. So, anytime that you see our articles posted to social media, that is my work. I also reply to any comments and direct messages that we receive on these platforms. It is always great to talk directly with our amazing audience!
My other job is to do outreach to other great musicians that have online programs similar to ours. We believe in being collaborative and working with our fellow musicians, rather than treating everyone else as a competitor. I know that this sense of community has helped us develop strong relationships with others in the industry and hope that our members feel this same sense of community.
Q: What is your favorite part about working with the Musical U team?
I love the mission of Musical U. Music has been such a blessing in my life, and I wouldn’t be the person that I am had I not picked up that guitar so many years ago. Helping spread the passion of playing music to people all over the world is a very rewarding job that I am grateful to have. I like to think that we are not just helping people learn music, but helping them achieve a fuller, more complete life!
Music means that much to all of us on this team, and I hope that we are able to portray this passion to all of you who come to us to learn more about musicality.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my wonderful colleagues here at Musical U. This team is such a pleasure to work with and I couldn’t be happier here. It doesn’t feel like a job most days and I look forward to every time we get to meet!
I look forward to that too, Adam. I’ve appreciated this opportunity to get to know you a little better. There are so many ways, obvious and hidden, that music molds and shapes our lives. Thank you for your wise words!
The power of music – the discipline, creativity, collaboration, and understandings of form, structure, and service that we build as musicians – extends throughout every aspect of our lives. And we appreciate Adam Liette for applying those qualities to his work on the Musical U team. Take inspiration from Adam, and take a moment to reflect and be grateful for all that music has brought to your life.