We had the good fortune of connecting with Chris Kapica and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chris, what’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Make inroads in academia vs. try to shoot the moon on tour. In 2010 I was a year out of earning my master’s degree from Juilliard and trying to survive in New York mostly through teaching (which I love) and writing music on commission. I had a gig as a tutor for Juilliard’s Pre-College division, subbed for professors at other institutions, and taught several private students. Meanwhile, at night I traded in my blazer for a bomber jacket and moonlighted as a bassist for several bands around town. One of them, a roots rock group then called The Auctioneers, began gaining traction. In May they offered me the chance to hit the road for at least a year and record an album with them in both Detroit and El Paso. The catch: I would be unplugging from my New York network and potentially squandering the career capital I was accruing in academia in favor of chasing my childhood dream in a 2005 Ford conversion van. You can imagine what 23-year-old me chose to do. For over three years I played amphitheaters for five-figure audiences one night and dives for the bartenders and my ex-girlfriend the next, though it was almost always somewhere in the middle. We also recorded a ton of music that I’m extremely proud of. Though we didn’t achieve stardom, I learned so much about aspects of music and the industry that college never taught me and made memories and friendships that I’ll cherish forever. It even led to a job as the staff composer of an upstart record label in Los Angeles. Fast-forward to 2016, when I returned to academia as an adjunct professor at California College of Music in Pasadena. I’ve applied all that I’ve learned from the conservatory, the road, and the studio to my work there, and now I’m its Dean and Chief Academic Officer. I could never do what I do now without having rolled the dice and played the devil’s music.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a musician who straddles the line between the classical and popular music worlds. My mix of conservatory training and music industry experience informs everything I do. My greatest asset as an artist has been my ability to glean big-picture takeaways from all kinds of music and apply them to whatever I’m working on. There’s immense value in studying as much music as you can, even the stuff you’re not naturally drawn to; those people might pay your bills one day. Whether it’s discovering certain harmonic trends associated with a certain style or realizing how specific musical gestures and production techniques can affect the listener, there’s always something to learn. This has allowed me to do everything from writing concerted works to collaborating in bands to producing music in myriad popular music genres for TV, ads, and even Cirque du Soleil. I’m currently working on an EP for a new solo project that combines everything I’ve learned so far and taps into all kinds of influences ranging from 19th century French Impressionism à la Debussy to bone-rattling industrial music by Nine Inch Nails. How did I get here? Assiduous study of music; some calculated risk-taking; a little luck; and a LOT of help from family, friends, and mentors. Has it been it easy? Hell no! Nothing worth doing is. I’ve endured so many professional setbacks and disappointments, and I’ve had to learn on the job more times than I’d like to admit. But by building a strong suit of musicianship skills, I’ve been able to say yes to more opportunities and trust that I can figure out what I need to do, whether it’s composing a multimedia ballet for the Albany Symphony, producing a hip-hop track in a day for a commercial, or designing college curricula. Speaking of which, the work I’m most proud of is what I’m doing at California College of Music. We’re equipping aspiring artists with the musicianship skills, expressive tools, technological fluency, and business savvy necessary to thrive in an ever-changing music industry. I’m imparting everything that I’ve learned (and continue to learn) throughout my career to my students, who amaze me every day with their talent and drive. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with them and help them achieve their artistic goals. (If you’re a singer, songwriter, producer, or instrumentalist, check us out at ccmla.edu!)
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh boy. (This all assumes no pandemic.) We would HAVE to do Saturday brunch at WoodSpoon, a Brazilian joint downtown run by one of the most delightful and sweet women I know, master chef Natalia Pereira. It’s small and quaintly rustic, and the food is soulful and divine. Come hungry and get the feijoada. We’d also have to eat at least two meals in my stomping ground, Koreatown. There are so many incredible spots here, my favorites being OB Bear (spicy, gooey hot wings and other Korean staples like spicy rice cakes) and the unassuming Mapo Galbi (basically a vat of some of the best chicken you’ve ever eaten, cooked in front of you). For my Thai food lovers, we’d go to Night + Market, hands down my favorite Thai food in L.A. If you’ve got quarters to burn, there’s always a game bar like EightyTwo or Button Mash for some drinks. For tourist-y experiences, a novel, albeit macabre, museum I enjoyed was the Museum of Death in Hollywood. And I hear there are beaches out here, too. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
As an educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize teachers who left indelible marks on my life. When I was in sixth grade, our school district hired a new Music Department Chair. One day he called me into his office because I must have been noodling on my clarinet and not playing what was on the page. He sensed my creative impulse and asked if I had ever considered writing music (I hadn’t) and if I’d like to learn (I guess so). At the end of that year, the middle school band squeaked and squawked its way through my first-ever composition that I scrawled on looseleaf paper. I was hooked. For the next six years, the Department Chair spent countless hours of his free time after school reviewing my music and introducing me to new concepts and composers. He even pushed me to apply to Juilliard even though I didn’t consider myself of that ilk. He did everything he could to help me with my application, going as far as hiring a string quartet from Yale to record one of my pieces for my audition. I (somehow) got in thanks to his generosity and encouragement. So here’s a shoutout to Dr. Joseph Phillips — thank you for everything. Two of my college professors transformed me from a raw talent to a polished professional. First, my composition teacher, Pulitzer- and Grammy-winner Dr. Christopher Rouse, inspired me every week with his seemingly boundless knowledge of music, esoterica, and Baltimore sports. He challenged me to rethink my compositional approach and accept the rock and pop influences that shaped me as an artist. Because of him, I found my sound. Second, my ear training instructor and teaching mentor, the inimitable Mary-Anthony Cox, not only pushed me to the limits of my musicianship; she showed me how to stand up straight, look people in the eye, comport myself with dignity, and how to be warm but demanding in a classroom. My two-year teaching fellowship under her set me on the path to becoming the educator I am today. I even stole some of her curriculum — to any of my students reading, memory projects were her idea.
Zach Mendez Lauren Han