Gary Powell: Dreams and Aspirations

” … stay alert, do no harm, listen inwardly, then express outwardly by nurturing relationships with individuals who are fair-minded and also your equals in intellect, passion, and talent.” 

As creative individuals, we all have dreams. A dream is a romantic sort of thing, I think. It’s the cloud you ride on or the star you leap toward.  It’s the thing we focus on and believe in when all else fails, when our world is wobbly or worse, crumbling.  My dad always told me that I should reach for the stars or I’ll never get off the ground, and that’s what I’ve always done … in most aspects of my life.  I reach and reach and reach, and look higher and higher and higher. I leap over and over again. I feel my spirit yearning to get there … somewhere … up there. It’s a feeling that never goes away and keeps me moving forward.  

My guest today, fantastic Grammy-nominated composer Gary Powell suggests that when considering our talent and creative goals we should consider replacing the word dream with aspiration. He says that “Aspiration denotes discipline. Dreams, not so much.”  Gary, who has been around the block a time or two and has amazing accomplishments in his pocket, suspects that focusing on the term aspiration may be a little bit scary for some folks. It strips away much of the romantic la-la land quality of the situation, and begs the question:

“What do I want and exactly how am I going to achieve it?”  

Aspiration, like real truth, calls us to the creative carpet where life actually happens. It brings the scenario out of the clouds and into the real world of goal setting, hard work, and dedication. It makes us sweat. It also brings to mind the similar question:

“What do I want and what am I willing to pay for it?”  

I think about this a lot.   

Gary’s mantra shifts with each day but he has a few overarching internal marching orders, ” … stay alert, do no harm, listen inwardly, then express outwardly by nurturing relationships with individuals who are fair-minded and also your equals in intellect, passion, and talent.” 

In considering what I want and what I’m willing to pay for it, I’m beginning to realize that having like-minded individuals in my life may be critical. Finding these folks and connecting with them in a real way can be quite tricky. As I’ve kept my focus on all those stars above, I’ve worked on that as well as some of the other key requirements that my level of aspiration calls for; I’ve made progress.  Now I’m struggling with the realization that it may beg for a higher price than I imagined.

Maybe it’s not just about jumping toward a star; it’s about feeling your feet hit the carpet. It’s about running.

Gary Powell, professional composer, musician and arranger, has composed, arranged and produced music for 145 musical albums and videos which have sold some 45 million units across 69 countries. All have been produced in his Austin, Texas recording studio Powell Studio Productions.  In Powell’s work with Walt Disney Records, five of his productions have gone Gold and two Platinum. In 1999, Powell won a Grammy nomination along with co-producer Ted Kryczko for their production of Disney’s “A Bug’s Life Sing Along”.   

Of note, Dan Rather will interview Gary on AXS.TV, airing this Tuesday.  Watch for it!

What’s your story (in a nutshell)? 

Teen tennis champion and privileged son of Dallas, Texas takes the unexpected and never-traveled road; music and only music.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an “ah-ha” moment you can tell us about?

Creative focus is a discipline for me. It’s not about talent or aptitude. It’s about study, work and a fearless capacity to achieve one’s highest aspirations and goals, even as they morph in unimaginable ways under pressure, circumstance and serendipity.

For you, is music more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to make music?

Music seems to be the great integrator of all that’s good about being human. In that, creating what feels like the perfect expression of any given event or feeling becomes at once, the grand unifying equation found within the totality of being alive.

How would you describe your musical style, and why does this appeal most to you creatively? What inspires you, and how does that relate to your style?

Becoming stylistically fluent as a composer is like learning new languages for a translator. Sometimes curiosity inspires me, extreme challenges focus me, and money can certainly fuel it. Outside of obvious rewards, however, personal satisfaction comes from within and is usually outside the earshot of clients and accountants.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both? 

The aberrations of living a creative life are born from a societal disregard for almost any definition of what has artistic value. Celebrity we understand. Once we as people loose the connection with the art itself and next replace it with empty gestures posturing as art; artists cannot prosper. Within education, the artist could be taught strategies for negotiating within a market-based system and then slip confidently into a successful and inspiring life. This seldom happens within our higher education institutions, but it should.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you’ve dealt with it?

My family had no experience with artists or the artistic life. My parents were high-functioning individuals who supported my musical interests from the beginning, which began in early high-school. Therefore, my personal drive to explore, learn and prosper was emotionally hard-wired in me from the beginning.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about for various reasons. Have your biggest dreams come to pass yet? What do you dream of achieving now? 

I went to study music as a freshman in college only knowing where middle-C was on the piano. Admissions to the music school said I would fail, but they gave me one semester to try. Even from that place, I imagined great success. What surprises me is my continuing and deepening relationship with music regardless of the success I’ve enjoyed. My current artistic aspirations live outside mainstream music; my theatrical concert “Aristotle’s Prayer” being exhibit one.

Do you ever wonder if what you’re creating or expressing is as meaningful to others as it is to you? How important is that to you with regard to your overall goals? If you’ve created something that purely expresses who you are, is that enough, or is the circle only completed when someone else says, “Yes, she understands me” or “Yes, that’s how I feel”?

An early mentor once told me “nobody creates in a vacuum.” I’m not sure that’s true. I would say that some of my most precious musical moments as a composer have indeed happened in a vacuum; a closed space, a studio, a piano, a note written on a cocktail napkin. The question is: a vacuum within what context? Surely, like universes, there are parallel vacuums we live in, so who’s to say? Also, as I’ve aged and matured, the need for external edification has greatly diminished, even dissipated. But, the responsibility to nurture my consciousness and self-awareness has magnified greatly. This is the gift of aging. Outside the pain and loss held within aging itself, music becomes the elixir, the antidote and the unifier of all things important to being human. From that place, yes, I do feel understood.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Talent is simply unrealized aptitude. Talent is everywhere and largely not mined or developed. To change this, I would suggest we replace the word dreams with the word aspiration. Aspiration denotes discipline. Dreams, not so much. Maybe it’s too scary to take personal responsibility in this way. Outside of the endless models of fear there are more opportunities now within the arts than ever in recorded history – we just need new models in education and new inclusive models in business to mine the gold in order to experience a personal and sustainable prosperity within this new construct. When aspirations and aptitude, existing business models and curriculum, are all in concert together, they make a powerful formula for creating successful lives: purposeful and self-directed.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My mantra, if you will, shifts. The inspiration needed on Tuesday may not be effective on Thursday. So, stay alert, do no harm, listen inwardly, then express outwardly by nurturing relationships with individuals who are fair-minded and also your equals in intellect, passion, and talent. 
Info on Gary and his work:

Powell Studio Productions


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