Kyle Blessing – Violin, Guitar Teacher

Violin, Viola, Guitar, Ukulele, Piano, Bass
Composition, Music Technology
Temple University
Classical, Jazz, Contemporary Styles

After a couple of false starts trying to learn guitar from my dad, I took up playing viola at age 10 in my elementary school orchestra. A year later I took up guitar again and began studying both instruments privately, as well as playing in orchestra, jazz band, and chamber ensembles at school. Growing up, my parents took me to a lot of bluegrass and blues festivals, so I eventually picked up bluegrass fiddle and mandolin from that same teacher as well. In high school I began teaching myself piano, and ended up studying jazz with with Ranny Reeves, a renowned jazz instructor on Long Island since the 1960s. I also began taking the train into New York every week to play in a contemporary/experimental music youth orchestra called Face The Music, performing with the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall, the International Contemporary Ensemble at Merkin Hall, and many other renowned performers at various New York venues.

In 2014 I moved to Philadelphia to study viola performance at Temple University, but I soon switched over to studying composition and music technology. I studied with two incredible composers, Matthew Greenbaum and Adam Vidiksis, and fell deeply in love with electronic and electro-acoustic music. As a presidential scholar, I was also afforded some amazing opportunities to study abroad, including learning how to play one of the first ever electronic instruments, the ondes martenot, in Montreal, and studying some of the most cutting edge contemporary music and technology at IRCAM in Paris.

During my time at Temple, I also became more and more involved in playing with various rock bands in the local DIY scene, and in the last couple of years I’ve released a number of albums and had the amazing opportunity to tour up and down the east coast playing this music with some of the most wonderful and talented people I could have ever hoped to meet. I also do a fair amount of session work now, performing and arranging strings for various recording artists, from country bands, to indie bands, to grammy winning pop producers.

For the last 2 years, I’ve been teaching privately in Richboro, PA and Philadelphia, and have over 35 students in my studio. As a teacher, I seek to inspire that same creative passion that has carried me through so many of the trials and tribulations of my own life. If you can create music for yourself, then you’ll always have something positive to turn to no matter what else is going on. I emphasize good technique and reading ability in lessons, but also make sure that my students know how to improvise and ultimately, have fun making music they enjoy.

 

When did you begin playing viola and guitar, and why?
In 4th grade we were asked if we wanted to start playing an instrument in school. I asked to play the violin, but was given the viola instead (an age old slight many violists are quite familiar with). I took to it pretty quickly though, and came to love playing those oh so important inner voices, occasionally getting a few seconds to shine with a dash of melody, and then sinking back into the shadow of the violins. It helped me to appreciate the nuances of supporting the lead voice of an ensemble, whoever or whatever it might be. A year later another teacher started a guitar club at school, and I joined that as well. My parents then signed me up for private lessons in both.

What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
My main instrument these days is my 5 string violin, which allows me to play violin and viola parts on one instrument, though I mostly just use it as a fiddle with an extended low range. I play a variety of keyboard instruments, including piano, organ, and synthesizers, and have been trained in the Taubman Method on piano. I also play bass-guitar, mandolin, ukulele, cello, and some drum set. I’m mostly self-taught on these.

What are your personal goals as a musician?
My goal is to make music that inspires others as much as my musical idols have inspired me. If I could write a song that means as much to someone as, say, Joni Mitchel’s ” A Case Of You” means to me, I’d be happy.

Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
When I performed at Merkin Hall with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), we played an improvisational piece titled “Artificial Life.” The ensemble was fairly large, and we were separated into small groups of similar instruments all across the hall. I was playing guitar, in a group with a pianist and a bassist, located on stage. In the balcony directly across from us were the horns, mostly trombones and trumpets from what I remember. In the second movement of the piece, each ensemble was given specific instructions on how to improvise, and mine was “duet.” So the pianist and I went into a sort of dual improvisation, and then a few seconds in the bassist started erratically pushing down on my whammy bar, so that my notes began to slide all over the place. The horns picked up and this and began imitating me, and for about 20 or 30 seconds we creates this wildly synchronous cacophony that seemed to just melt and ooze across the hall to the various groups, before the ensemble began to move towards it’s next sonic destination. This moment taught me everything about improvisation. I learned how important deep listening is, and how unique a specific time and place can be in terms of the music it generates. How mood and space influence your music making on any given day. I think about this quite often.

What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
Something I think back to a lot recently is when my first composition teacher, Matthew Greenbaum, said to me “all of the experiments have been done,” and then just stared at me, wide-eyed, eyebrows raised, as if to say, “come on, prove me wrong.” And I couldn’t think of anything to say! And when I first left that lesson, I was angry. I thought he was just some jaded old man who didn’t know anything about what’s going on in music right now and just wanted to squash my excitement and idealism. But I’ve come to realize that it was a challenge. He was trying to fire me up, and it worked. I’m always looking for new things to try in music so that one day I can send it to him and say, “HEY! Look at this, I made something NEW!” It might not be my absolute favorite piece of advice, but I sure do think about it a lot.

What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
When I was preparing for my college auditions, I was also extremely busy performing in a number of ensembles, trying to finish my eagle scout project, and working at my first job, not to mention school. I knew that if I wanted to get in, I would have to practice for 3 or 4 hours a day, every day until the last audition. So I did that, and during those roughly 6 months, I’m not sure I touched my guitar once, and I definitely didn’t write any music. And when it was over, though I did feel a sense of accomplishment for getting in and having worked that hard, I also felt like I had betrayed a certain part of myself, because writing music and being creative has been my absolute favorite thing to do since I was 12 years old. Denying myself that happiness was an extremely hard sacrifice at the time, and so I switched over to being a composition major almost immediately, because that process showed me what mattered most to me.

What is your biggest musical achievement?
I put out an album earlier this year with my band line leader. I was asked to do things that I never would have thought I could do, but every time I ended up making something that amazed me as much as it did everyone else. I grew so much as a musician, making something I deeply cared about with 5 of my closest friends in the world, and now when I listen back to it, that’s what I think of. Making something you love with people you love is the most wonderful thing in the world.

Favorite thing about teaching?
Seeing my students grow! And then being inspired by them to make myself better, or to see music in a different way, or even a way I’d forgot.

What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Try a lot of things. If the instrument you’re learning or the style of music you’re learning on it aren’t clicking with you and making you want to play ALL THE TIME, then try something else. There is an instrument and a style of music out there for everyone. Well, probably more than one actually, but start with one.

Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc.
Diaphane – my personal musical project, where I write the songs and record a lot of them myself. Some sort of experimental rock/pop.

line leader – Psych Rock/Art Rock band I play keys, strings, guitar, and sometimes bass in.

Ma’aM – Country band I play fiddle for.

Barleyjuice – Irish rock band I play fiddle for.