Variations on a Theme: Musicians of the Panhandle

Brittain Mudge, Reporter

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The lights go down in the music hall and the audience is quietly waiting to hear the beginning of the show. The anticipation is killer for some of the musicians on the stage, but for Mark Cota, the feeling before the start of a show is pure excitement and happiness. The director walks on to the stage. Mark places his fingers on the piano, ready to begin, and the first cue is given.

In another part of town, the bright lights in the venue illuminate the dark room in vibrant colors of white, green, and red. Erik Gampick looks out over the crowd while he waits for his bandmates to be ready to start the show. He is overcome with the feeling of excitement and overall body jitters. The lights go out. The drummer clicks his sticks four times, and the lights flash on, cueing the first note.

At a restaurant around the corner from the music hall, the lights are dim. The many people in the restaurant are conversing as they wait for the blues group to begin playing. CJ Carter and his bandmates finish warming up their instruments and are ready to start. The atmosphere is exuberant, which makes CJ’s adrenaline start flowing all throughout his body. The bandmates look at each other and nod the beginning of the first note. The people in the restaurant stop talking and give the band their full attention.

Mark Cota, 25, has been playing music for more than half of his life. His father is a musician, so he was around music all of the time while growing up. He was introduced to the guitar at 10 years old. From there, he took interest in the saxophone through the band program at school, which led him to piano and voice as well, and further helped him explore his love for jazz and composing.

As he got older, he explored deeper into his love for jazz and took much inspiration from Chris Potter, a famous saxophone player. He also finds inspiration and guidance from Bach. “Bach created jazz before jazz even existed,” Mark said. Chris Potter and Bach both helped contribute to Mark’s composing and overall passion for music and performing. Mark composes music daily, and it takes him about one to two weeks to complete a piece he composes. If he ever has an idea, he takes that idea and he finishes it. Often times, the initial idea is different than the completed piece. He is currently working on jazz compositions for his group Thelonious Funk.

Thelonious Funk, currently on a break, has been around for about three years now. The band consists of Mark Cota, James Barger, Steven Ronk, and Stephen Galvan. When he is playing with them, they often perform at parties, art galleries, coffee shops, and bars. Mark also does a lot of performing with the bands at West Texas A&M University, where he is involved in jazz band and choir. “It’s the one thing I absolutely love,” he said.

While Mark has no set plans for the future, he does know that he wants to be “performing, composing, and having a lot of fun.” “I don’t know what I want to do,” Mark said, “I don’t have high aspirations, but I have the ones I have now. I want to be a good performer. I really don’t know, to be honest.”

At the music hall, the first piece is over. Mark feels no sense of nervousness and the excitement only grows. He preps himself for the next song, which is one of his favorites. The director takes

a minute to talk to the audience and they quietly listen before he gives the first down beat that features Mark on the piano.

In another part of town, Erik’s band continues their first song straight into the next. There is no time to think about any other feeling besides excitement. The energy coming off of the crowd is radiant and lively.

Erik Gampick, 22, started playing music when he was 12 years old in junior high school band, beginning on the trumpet. He picked up a guitar a few years later when he was 15 years old because he was influenced by the popular video game Guitar Hero. Erik loved that game when he was in the seventh grade. “I saw that I was good enough at Guitar Hero, my hand could move at the same time as the game,” Erik laughed, “I picked up a real guitar. I wanted to be as good as I was on Guitar Hero.” Erik hasn’t put his guitar down since and he continues to play every day.

Along with playing for at least two hours a day, Erik also composes music daily. He gets a lot of his inspiration from famous innovative guitar players like Tosin Abasi from the progressive metal band Animals as Leaders. “You don’t have to love one genre, you can take one thing and combine it with another and I admire that Tosin Abasi does that,” Erik says. Along with progressive metal, Erik also draws a lot of inspiration from jazz, Latin, and anything else that sparks his creativity. He loves all of the different genres of music and is open to gaining inspiration from anything. He doesn’t limit himself to one thing.

Erik craves writing and playing daily, and it has been a part of his routine for the past few years. When he gets an idea in his head for guitar parts or vocals, he takes the idea to his music computer program to work on it and add other parts to the piece such as drums. “It’s a jumble of ideas,” he said, “Sometimes I have something going on in my head and then I’ll put it in the program and it sounds exactly how I want it to.”

He mainly writes for his band, The Chroma Leaf, but ultimately the process of writing for the band is always a group effort and they work together to come up with the music that fits what they want to do the best. The Chroma Leaf has been together for about three years since Erik has joined. The band consists of Erik Gampick, Benjamin Ellis, Dalton Jacolby, and Caelan Wheat. They mainly focus on progressive metal, but they all love experimenting with different genres within that. “The hardest part is trying to make the music transfer to a different genre tastefully,” Erik explained about trying new things. Erik and his band have been trying to include new genres into their music instead of focusing solely on metal over the past year and a half and they have so far been successful. They plan on releasing a CD within a few months, and a much anticipated album in the future after that.

His life plans involve music indefinitely, as well as branching out to audio engineering in the future. He plans on performing, learning how to play every instrument, writing scores for symphonies, and recording music. He wants his life to be completely absorbed in everything that is music. “I’m not trying to be a rock star,” he said. “I think I have enough talent to be something like that one day, but it’s not realistically what will – most likely – happen.” Erik knows what he wants to do with music in his future, though. “A lot of people don’t know what they want to do with their life and I’m so lucky because I have that and I know,” he said.

The show is so fast paced for Erik and his band, but that makes the night even more exhilarating and exciting. The band members talk to the audience and get them pumped up for the final song. The lights flash and Erik proudly starts off the first note.

At the restaurant around the corner from the music hall, CJ and his band are interacting with the audience while prepping for their last jam. CJ is still filled with adrenaline in the best kind of way. The restaurant is relaxed, and the crowd has their eyes locked on the band. They can’t wait to hear the final song. CJ nods and they begin playing.

CJ Carter, 28, was seven years old when he started playing an instrument and learning music. He began playing and learning on the piano, and later on started playing saxophone when he was 11 years old. He pursued the saxophone and discovered a little later in life that music was his passion. Soon after it became more than just a hobby or something he had to do for school band. At one point in his life he was studying computer programming, but quickly found himself going back to music after one semester.

CJ pulls much of his inspiration and love for music from the many saxophone greats such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and more modern players like Joshua Redman. CJ’s biggest saxophone hero is Leroi Moore, late saxophonist of the Dave Matthews Band. “Hearing him play with the Dave Matthews Band was some of my first exposure to a saxophone with a rock band,” CJ said.

Leroi Moore also inspired CJ to be creative with his music compositions and work he’s done with different groups and bands throughout the years as well. CJ has been a part of many rock bands while being able to play the saxophone and finding interesting ways to intertwine the instrument with rock music. The bands he is active in now are Kilo Road and Mesquite County. While Kilo Road has gravitated more toward country, Mesquite County experiments with Americana, blues, rock, and reggae. The band performs at coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and other venues of the sort. Being a part of different bands throughout the years has encouraged CJ’s interest in music and inspired him to continue playing throughout the years. “I have met some of my best and closest friends being a part of Mesquite County,” he said.

CJ plans on being involved with music for the rest of his life. He hopes to move to a bigger city in the future such as Austin, Texas, where he will be able to find more gigs and bands to work with. “I want to find enough success to perform for the rest of my life,” he said. “If I don’t make it performing, I look forward to being able to teach music.”

In the music hall, Mark presses the keys that sound the last note of the piece. The audience immediately applauds and gives a standing ovation. He knows he is doing what he is meant to do. He is a performer and his heart is full of happiness from tonight’s show. He takes a bow for his solos, and submerges himself in all of the applause.

In another part of town, Erik’s band goes all out for their last song, and they pour all of their emotion into the music. It’s noticeable to everyone in the venue, which makes the energy levels sound through the roof. He strums the guitar, sounding the last note of the song, and the crowd goes wild. Erik smiles and feels on top of the world. His body jitters settle down and he uncontrollably smiles the biggest he can.

In the restaurant around the corner from the music hall, CJ and his band finish their last song and the people in the restaurant are clapping and hollering with joy from the great performance they just witnessed. CJ is overcome with the emotions spilling out from the audience. He is happy and content with his performance. The feeling from tonight’s show reassures him that performing is his calling.

Mark, Erik, and CJ converse happily with their band mates and music companions after all the fun is over. They receive many comments of praise for how great their show was and how their next show will be incredibly anticipated. The three gather their instruments, music, and belongings and head home.

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Variations on a Theme: Musicians of the Panhandle