Hello my brothers and sisters or “Pagsaludo” and “nǐ hǎo.” My name in Nick Vasallo, I am currently a doctoral student at UC Santa Cruz finishing my degree in Music Composition and World Music. I also teach there, Los Medanos College (Pittsburg), and Gavilan College (Gilroy).
I like to take disparate musical elements and combine them in my compositions, some have termed this “Eclecticism.” Since the premise of eclecticism basically means “the style of having no style” I think it is somewhat of a paradoxical term. I’ll just quote Bruce Lee and say my music is like water, ever changing and flexible to the environment I place myself into. All my crazy music and list of accomplishments can be found here.
I am married to a beautiful Irish-Mexican woman, and we often imagine what our future children will look like. Having the last name Vasallo has been sort of funny. Most people see me and think I am Japanese so they assume I was adopted or my mother was remarried. They also misspell my last name so it is more Italian – Vassallo. High School was a very confusing time for me too, I didn’t really fit into the Asian cliques and mostly hung out with the “bad kids.” They liked the things I did: Punk Rock, driving fast, Mario Kart, and playing music. My friends used to call me the “Asian Anomaly” for a number of reasons. For more about me and the origins of Nick, read on…
My parents met during the Vietnam War in Taiwan while my father was stationed near a small city named Tainan and my mother was teaching English at a local university. At first my grandfather did not approve of their relationship because my father was Filipino, and at that time in Taiwan they (Filipinos) were considered the minority. My parents loved the Western culture, having both learned English, and they dreamed of someday raising a family together in America. Seven years later I was born in Oakland, CA.
My parents both had high expectations and encouraged me to strengthen other areas of scholastics other than the Arts, primarily Math. At the age of 7, I was doing Mathematic workbooks geared towards 12 year olds, and I had to complete these daily before my mother would let me go out and play with my friends. When I was placed into a school for the gifted, this thrilled my mother and she loved to tell her friends about it. This is the phenomenon that exists in Asian parents (especially foreign born), to give their children an overwhelming push to overachieve and brag about it. My parents wanted me to be the best, and any hint of mediocrity was looked at as an abomination.
There are points of your life that you look back on and realize the significance of. My life changed when I became 15 years old and received my first guitar; a cheap copy of a Fender Stratocaster made by Squire. 2 years later I was in a rock band with high school friends and writing music. My parents were unsurprisingly not very enthusiastic with my new passion and that created a constant friction in our relationship. Around that time I had to choose where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study. My father was pushing the idea of becoming a lawyer and my mother wanted to me study Computer Science. The idea of studying music was impossible in their minds and my parents even said if I were to go into the world of music; they would not assist me financially. I ended up attending Diablo Valley College for a number of reasons; it was nearby, my band members also went there, and for my G.E. (General Education) requirements it was inexpensive.
There are many terms that describe an Americanized Asian today: ABC (American Born Chinese), banana (yellow on the outside/white on the inside), and twinkie (see aforementioned “banana”). I fully admit to being any and all of these terms described above. I do not know how to speak any of the languages my parents know fluently – Taiwanese (synonymous with Chinese and parallels the relationship between traditional Spanish and ‘Mexicano’ Spanish) or Tagalog (Filipino native language). I guess my parents never taught me much of my two different cultures because they wanted me to excel in this new (western) world that they were also growing accustomed to. Because of 400 years of western colonialism, many Asians in the United States have been disconnected from their root cultures that have much to offer them as a validating and confirming influence.
The understanding of ethnic music is premised on an appreciation of indigenous instruments which are used in the various ritual and secular activities of these two cultures. Before my interest in the music of my roots I was (and still am) heavily engaged in the art of Western music. I do not wish to shed or cease the learning of Western music, but I do want to venture even deeper into the different spheres of World Music.
Music is a universal yet highly individual means of cultural expression, cherished as a distinctive and valued cultural heritage. The music in the Philippines and Taiwan, besides being intrinsically interesting for its own sake, has much to tell us about the societies in which they reside and about music in general. These two cultures along with my growing knowledge in Western music will help shape my personal music into an eclectic style which on it’s own accord will be individual because of the way I happen to form different aspects that seem reasonable to me.
I feel most new music today is geared towards specific pockets of audiences; art music for the scholarly, pop music for the average listener, and in between those two extremes exist countless other sub-genres of music and audiences. Perhaps what is missing is an amalgamation of what inspires people to witness the beauty of music performance; this is what I intend to bring after in depth research into World Music.
Culturally, there is a lot to learn from music of other countries – especially with the relationship between music playing and social gatherings. Every human being that is touched in some way by music is benefited…whether they know it or not; music is such a fleeting thing – it’s heard and felt…then gone. What we take with us exists in a mystical place that we cannot conceptualize in words. With my new knowledge in World Music and increasing knowledge in Western Harmony, I wish to create a music where all social groups can appreciate, enjoy, and be touched by something that all humans can relate to.
This is how I see my studies can benefit diverse social groups (young, old, ethnic, etc.)I like to think that I represent many of the small and unacknowledged cultures (groups) within “serious” Western music today; the musicians that stayed dedicated to their passion no matter what the conflict, the self taught musicians that finally went to school for their art as a “late bloomer,” the rock musicians that intimately learned the Classical world but amalgamated it with their own, and the composers that wrote what they wanted to hear; not what they think others wanted to hear.
“Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.”
Usually, eclectism is a term that refers to philisophy and the groups that do not attach themselves to a particular system but select from existing beliefs that seem most beneficial to them. Compositionally, this is how I am beginning to perceive how I write my music. Even if I stay within the boundaries of western music – there are countless ways I can and am already amalgamating different individual musical concepts and procedures: romanticism, serialism, non-functional tonality, heavy metal, film music’s economical use of instrumentation, post-primivitism, classical form, new tonality, etc. We are at a point in time where we have an infinitie resource of musical styles. In western harmony we have have established tonality and broken tonality; we have established set forms and created formless music; we have created music theory and attempted to make it impossible to theorize music in functional aspects but in pure concepts (John Cage).
As a composer, learning music from other cultures will not only expand my musical language but help my better understand myself. What I absorb and take along with me is a reflection of who I am. My career goals are to become a professor of indigenous music of one or both of my two cultures and offer it at a college level curriculum, to teach composition and theory, and write music that will inspire others to open their eyes in order to see the bigger picture of music.
I also want to continue learning Western music theory, and find other musical cultures that happen to touch my soul. I feel that if one has the ability to, it is necessary to incite and expand the passion of knowledge within others. To be able to open another’s mind, heart, and/or soul to experience something as personal as music in the profound way it has affected me – would be the greatest thing I can bring to this world.
For more info about my and audio/video of my music please visit http://nickvasallo.com