Days off. In the life of a medical resident, these are elusive and feel almost foreign when they arrive, bringing a jarring quiet that is in stark contrast to the constant onslaught of difficult yet extremely rewarding work that we do the other days of the week. For me, however, this sense of quiet -- typically minimally disturbed by such banal activities as grocery shopping, laundry, and other day-to-day comings and goings -- is quickly filled with music. And lots of it. I don't do well with inertia. I'm a musician and feel compelled to create; I grow restless when I cannot. To me, this is a way of life and I just refuse to live it any other way. Likewise, every day, I'm impressed with people's capacities to juggle multiple loves, multiple passions, and do them well. I meet such people in both the medical and musical spheres of my life and consequently feel a commonality of spirit right away -- I'm not alone! Yet, inevitably, I also run into those who not only promote a sense of conflict between what I do, but somehow remain incredulous when I insist that neither music nor medicine is a hobby for me. Though I rarely sense any maliciousness or ill intent from those who ask me such questions, it never fails to stick with me. Why have I had to defend my passions (plural!) to so many people over the years? Sometimes, the questioning is quite obviously meant to hurt -- I once had a musician tell me "I hope medical school starts for you sooner rather than later" so that I would no longer be an active part of the local music community. Another out-of-state musician told me to quit the guitar if I ever wanted to pursue medicine because I'll never be able to do both at a high level. These were things said to an impressionable and frankly easily-hurt teenager who simply fostered a deep passion for two seemingly diametrically opposed fields (they are not, but that's a topic for a different day).
My days off from medical work are filled with the same activities as every other resident's, by which point I realize that most of the day has gone by in a flurry of inconsequential errands. But the difference lies in those extra few hours afterward, often late at night, where I remember my commitment to music. It can be anything from the beginning of an arrangement to a sketch for a new album to writing out a piece for one of my students, and everything in between. This does not conflict with my medical studies or career. Some might argue that I'm not "all in" with either field and therefore am destined to never reach particular heights in one or the other. I've had this said to me point blank before, with the accusation being that I'm not "committed." These comments do not bother me anymore. They simply motivate me to continue along the path I've carved out for myself -- a medical residency in the field of psychiatry, which I am incredibly passionate about, alongside an active career of a concertizing performer and teacher in which I constantly continue to hold myself to yet higher standards. I'm immensely proud of my latest album, "Masquerade," and find myself realizing that those extra hours during days off are more and more veering toward thoughts of new projects. The problem is knowing where to start... To those who have always supported me, my sincerest thanks. To everyone else, I hope someday your passions become so innumerable that you simply can't live your life without enjoying them all.
Here’s a really fun interview I gave through TC Jewfolk; a great conversation about music, medicine, and everything in between!
Listen here: https://tcjewfolk.com/who-the-folk-daniel-volovets/
A little late to post about this, but I was recently interviewed by Phil Nusbaum at KBEM for a very nice feature about my newest album Masquerade and balancing two careers in music and medicine. You can listen to it at the link below!
Between the frantic rush of call shifts and the emotional rollercoaster of feeling semi-competent to completely inept that is inherent to intern year, it's easy to neglect time for self-reflection. Almost three month since residency orientation (has it been that long already?), it's definitely time to put metaphorical pen to paper.
Full disclosure: I absolutely love what I do. The long hours can be exhausting, but that's off-set by the fact that I'm doing what I set out to do back when I started along the path of a neuroscience major at the University of St. Thomas. Setting the goal of pursuing medical school -- specifically a career in psychiatry -- and actually seeing it through to fruition has been incredibly rewarding. On top of that, I was accepted to my number one residency program, for which I split time between Hennepin County Medical Center and Regions Hospital. I'm thrilled to be a part of a program that prioritizes working for underserved populations, delivery of high-quality care, and teaching as a central crux of the hospitals' mission/vision.
As for music, even with all of the above, I've been able to continue my teaching practice on the weekends, albeit with some creative rescheduling from week-to-week to accommodate residency hours. I'm grateful to my students and their families who have been flexible with scheduling, and it's immensely gratifying to see students who came to me years ago with no musical background whatsoever and now have a level of competency that is humbling. So proud!
I also recently finished a concert series to celebrate the release of Masquerade, performing all over the Twin Cities as well as a recording stint in Boston, MA at Berklee School of Music with the inimitable vocalist/jazz pianist Jireh Calo, who invited me to be a part of her upcoming album as well as record some pieces for YouTube (see the "Collaborations" page for the latter!), a few shows in Madison, WI, and a concert in Bloomington, IN. I'm currently on a bit of a performance hiatus, but that doesn't mean I'm not working on anything new. In fact, a few words about several new projects...
The above is a sneak peek at trio material I've been working on with local guitarist extraordinaires Ben Abrahamson and Ryan Picone. We're cooking up a varied set that we hope to share in both recorded form and live later this year. Stay tuned!
Finally, on the note of recordings, I'm also hard at work on a new album to follow Masquerade. It's still too early to talk about it in any great detail, but given the warm reception to Masquerade and the accompanying live shows, I will say that this new album will expand upon some of the ideas I explored in Masquerade while drawing upon the music of many cultures in a way that is both respectful to the source material and also allows for unique treatments of familiar melodies. I hope to share more about this new project in the coming months.
As always, to all friends and fans who continue to follow my music in spite of periods of silence, my continued gratitude and appreciation for all the help and support along this journey.
I was recently interviewed by the folks at "Lake Minnetonka Magazine," speaking about balancing music and medicine!
You can read the full article here: https://lakeminnetonkamag.com/art-medicine-science-music-meet-minnetonkas-guitar-playing-doctor.
I was featured recently by the folks at "The Minnesota Daily"! You can read the full article here: https://www.mndaily.com/article/2019/03/a-daniel-volovets-strums-to-the-beat-of-numerous-passions
Friends and fans! My new album Masquerade is now available and you may listen to samples/purchase it by clicking here.. I am so excited to share it with you all. This is an album that has been in the works for several years, and is actually my first entirely solo record. Read on for a little bit about how it came to fruition, as well as the influences/inspirations behind the music.
Welcome to the newest version of my website! It's still a bit of a work-in-progress, so please check back soon for things like scores and additional photos/videos. In the meantime, the CD store is now fully operational, which you may find under the "CDs" drop-down menu, Feel free to check out the samples for all 6 of my currently released albums, and keep your eyes peeled for samples from the upcoming "Masquerade." :)
Also, you may follow me on a variety of social media channels. Check my pages out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
There is nothing like drinking from the well of musical inspiration.
It is often empty, but when the well is overflowing, its water can quench the most ravenous thirst. One may lie in wait for days, weeks, months; eager for a single satiating drop. Perhaps a few notes from a favorite musician... an afternoon spent listening to birdsongs... a walk along a gurgling river in a secluded grove... inspiration may come in many forms, and sometimes it graces us when we least expect it. But what if the well is poisoned?
Territoriality, bureaucracy, in-fighting, contrived patriarchal hierarchies, inflated egos... these are but some of the many toxins that can wreak devastating effects on an already scarce supply of inspiration, especially for young artists. How easy is it for the established artist, ideally an individual of great skill and even greater willingness to share their craft, to take the fledgling artist under their wing and foster their talents. Unfortunately, it is easier to be swayed by jealousy and fear; this is how the well is first poisoned.
How is that seemingly self-respecting artists engage in such pettiness, irreparably compromising their integrity (both as artists and human beings) in the eyes of any objective observer? I have been on the receiving end of such nonsense more times than I would care to be, and I have seen it happen to other people. It is never OK and is practically without fail indicative of a deeply-seated personal issue; often, leveled accusations are rooted deep within the accuser's tangled psyche. Worse yet, something else is left untended in the process -- as drama and other schoolyard antics unbefitting of professionals unfold, true art withers away. The result? One of the following: 1) no one chooses to pass the proverbial baton, instead keeping it for themselves even when they can no longer hold it, 2) no one accepts the baton in its current sorry condition, and 3) there isn't and never was a baton at all. Each of these scenarios is uniquely sad, but the circumstances that lead to any of them are equally reprehensible.
Over the past ~5 years, I have been privileged to spend time teaching (and learning from) dozens of guitar aficionados, ranging from beginners to experts. Each experience has been gratifying in its own way, and I could not hope to accurately describe in this one blog post the wide range of personalities I've encountered. I've also been lucky enough to teach a not insignificant number of guitarists who I believe will go on to become the best in Minnesota and perhaps beyond, thanks to their prodigious talent and incredible work ethic. But how swiftly this could fall apart if I spike the drink of inspiration for those whose eyes still twinkle with excitement when they learn a technique, master a new piece, or compose their own music... The power wielded by anyone in the position of an instructor can arguably be used to do more harm than good -- it is for this reason that teachers who do not use their authority with great discretion and only the best of intentions must not be allowed to poison the well.
And if the well is already poisoned, let the rain come and wash away the ill-wishers and the jealous peddlers of mediocrity, making way for positivity, encouragement, and cultivation of art! There can be no room for condescension, animosity, and egoism in a beautiful world fueled by creativity, passion, and inspiration.
Crafting a unique artistic aesthetic -- one's undeniably personal "stamp" -- is perhaps the ultimate goal for any serious musician. The essence of such an aesthetic is something I've thought about for a very long time, as it seems to transcend the quality of one's instrument (ever heard the "s/he would sound like themselves even if they played a cardboard box!" sentiment?) or even one's technique. For musicians, some have described it as a unique "touch"... otherwise call it playing with "soul"... but I think it has more to do with an almost spiritual surrender to music and acceptance of a gift that is as intangible as it is real. What I'm talking about is grace.
After years spent mastering one's instrument and learning the art of other musicians, which involves both mechanistic/repetitive learning and truly listening to the artistry of others, one may in fact begin to develop a sound all their own, an unmistakable sound that can be analyzed cerebrally ad nauseam, which does it an incredible disservice. I could write a PhD dissertation on the unique sounds of Paco de Lucia, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astor Piazzolla, or any number of timeless musicians, replete with terminology that only makes sense to the most seasoned musicologist... and ultimately fail to capture what can be transmitted by just listening to what these incredible artists had to say. Within seconds, one can hear so many things in the music of the great artists -- a sort of distillation of their life story. And even that does not entirely capture what it means to have a unique artistic aesthetic.
There are many who struggle with this idea because they have seemingly checked all the boxes, such as decades of practice and an encyclopedic knowledge of their art-form, and yet still cannot distinguish their playing from that of others. In the end, grace may never come. However, I'd like to invoke the words of the famous Swiss-German author Hermann Hesse to get at another crucial element of what underlies a unique artistic aesthetic:
"I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace."
Perhaps then it is not so surprising that we are faced with a generation of artists who seem to revel in vapidity, expressing privilege through the most banal "art". I do not intend to make sweeping generalizations -- but one look at the pop music of today, as compared to that of the generation prior, is enough to make my point. We live in an era of relative privilege, where music is a hobby at best or an extraneous distraction at worst. This conception is far removed from the experiences of musical vassals through the centuries, who suffered for their art and attained musical grace through their struggles. Of course, one does not need to live in poverty or endure cataclysmic trauma to become a good musician. But grace cannot penetrate the musical ivory tower; it demands that its seeker live life: laugh, love, endure heartbreak, make meaningful connections with others, ponder their simultaneous transience and permanence, etc...
In the end, where there isn't grace, there cannot be art. Then, how is grace related to art? Once again, Hesse put it simply and incredibly eloquently.
"Art is contemplation of the world in a state of grace."
May the artists reading this never cease to aspire to contemplate the world in a state of grace.