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How Wine Tasting Made Me a Better Musician

Something that is assumed when you begin a career as a musician is that you will spend a large amount of your life in a practice room working to become an expert on your instrument. If I were to calculate the amount of time that I have spent working at perfecting my craft, I would imagine the amount might be a bit staggering to someone else especially since I have been doing this since I was very young. I have spent these countless hours working on technique, repertoire, as well as music theory and history all in order to develop a musical pallet and to make myself the best musician that I could be. I feel that I have picked the perfect instrument for my personality as well because, as a percussionist, I always feel like I have something new to work on in my playing. This time practicing is such an important part of my life because I will always strive to be better at performing, but I have started to realize that practicing alone will never make me a true artist because in order to truly be an artist, you need experience the world around you.

I began my studies as a Doctor of Musical Arts at Stony Brook University several years ago and around the same time, quite coincidentally, my wife decided to join one of our local wine clubs following a weekend of tasting with her friends. I have never really considered myself to be a wine drinker by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my main wine experience came from Sunday Mass, and let me tell you just in case there is any debate, this is NOT GOOD WINE.

One weekend I decided to go with her on a tasting tour in the Temecula Valley in Southern California while visiting my parents. As we drove through the countryside, going from vineyard to vineyard, I was struck by beauty of the planted rows as well as the process that goes into putting a finished product into each bottle of wine. Luckily the first winery we visited wasn't too busy so my wife and I could take the time and really listen to the folks from each winery guide us though the tasting. 

They described the methods they use to taste the wine, something like...

 

Take a sip of wine and let it linger in your mouth. ...


Aspirate the wine after your first taste. ...


Take another sip of wine, this time with air with it. ...


Look for balance in a good wine. ...


Note the aftertaste of the wine. ...
Write down what you think about the wine.

 

All while discussing growing techniques, tasting methods, and the character of the wine in terms of color, thickness, and acidity.   

Artists and poets still find life’s meaning in a glass of wine.
— Joy Sterling

After this weekend, I was hooked. I was fascinated by the different types of wine grapes and the places they are grown. I also wanted to know more about how to pair wine with food and the things I could taste from every sip.  In essence I wanted to know about what I was drinking and to be able to express in words what I was experiencing with each sip.

Now to be clear, I have no interest in giving up my music to pursue becoming a Master Sommelier. But I do get excited at the chance to take a class on wines from different regions, or go to wine tasting in order to try something new that I hadn't had before. I think another reason I'm excited about these things is because this new hobby of mine has little to do with percussion whatsoever. and because of this lack of "percussiveness" I am getting to experience something that I never would have been able to if I was focused on music all the time.

OK, I do occasionally use the bottles as instruments because, lets face it, they sound really cool when struck with a mallet. 

 

By opening myself up to trying something new that was outside of my usual interests, I have allowed myself to try something I was not comfortable with and these days at wineries have made me a better musician because they have forced me to leave the practice room and live away from my music. That's what a good hobby does for us as musicians and why I now feel that it is important to allow yourself to pursue other interests outside of your main focus without feeling as if you are a bad person for neglecting your instrument.  My hobby has let me experience the world in an different way has helped me notice things both away from music as well as in my playing, that I may not have noticed before. It is an odd thing to admit because we are always told that we must practice our instrument to play better, but we must practice experiencing life in order to become better musicians.

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