I went to the Grammy's every year to enjoy the festivities and with the prospect of winning. I could usually tell when the nominations first came out who was going to win and for the most part I was right.
This last year I released my DANCING ON WATER recording, an all improvised solo piano album. It was doing well on Amazon and Billboard but I was thinking that even if it got nominated that I probably wouldn’t go to the awards event. Not only was I getting tired of not winning but it was also a long way to from Maui to New York City.
But the buzz about the album was so sweet and people seemed to really like the album a lot and I felt very moved by the support growing not only in the public but in the Grammy voting community. And when the nominations came out and I saw that I was in the company of artists that I knew personally and admired, even after 12 losses and a daunting 11 hour trip to the cold east coast I decided to go and to take my 13 year old son, Nathan, with me.
The seduction to believe that they might be right but the awareness that so many people have said that every year for the last 13 years. This continued through both the first round and final round voting periods. But this year I felt more support than ever and I started to believe that I actually had a chance. That’s a scary thing to give into because when you get your hopes up and then it doesn’t happen it feels like a let down.
But even though it hadn’t worked out in the 12 prior nominations I let myself go into occasional optimism and the larger acceptance that I’ll go and whatever will be, will be. Even though I totally admire and respect all my fellow nominees I felt that India.arie was my biggest competition because she wasn’t really a “new age” artist, had a large following and had already won 4 Grammy Awards.
Dec. 21st was the last day of voting and what ever was to happen on Jan 28th at the Grammy Awards was already decided the night of Dec. 21st. I wasn’t thinking about it too much. I had already voted several days earlier. But on the morning of Dec. 22nd I woke up and distinctly remembered being told in my sleep that night that I would win by a large margin of votes. It was a voice that I heard. There was no place or face attached.
I decided not to tell anyone about it or talk about it in anyway and just keep it for myself as some sort of comfort and a symbol or hope that I might actually win this time
But as time went on I would go in and out of believing and doubting the experience and would waiver between thinking I was going to win or that India.arie was going to.
My son and I went to NYC the Thursday before the Grammys and basically did New York types of things. A couple shows, dinners at restaurants you can only find in NY etc. I stayed away from the Grammy parties and networking events because I just didn’t want to be in the whole energy of “is this my year or not”. My closest friends and some new friends were all super encouraging and very convincing that this was to be my year for the long deserved award. I felt pretty cool and detached from the whole thing as long as I wasn’t thinking about it.
I woke up at 7:30am and literally stayed in bed till 1pm not wanting to get out from under my blanket and face the world. I even for a few moments considered not going to the Premier (pre-event) Show where they give out 75 of the 90 or so awards before the Telecast, including my category. At about 1pm I did the math and realized that if I didn’t get up I might be late to the event which started at 3pm.
I dragged myself out of bed, took a shower and woke up my son. I ran across the street and got us some wraps to eat real quick because we had to eat something before the long event. We got dressed and headed down stairs to get a taxi over to Madison Square Garden. As fate would have it the taxi driver didn’t speak much english and didn’t know what I meant by Grammy Awards and “red carpet” access with the green VIP pass I had and after sitting in traffic for a while we decided to get out and walk the last few blocks to Madison Square Garden.
We walked around the building for a while trying to find the red carpet arriving just after 2:30pm. By the time we got there I was actually feeling pretty good. I guess lying in bed for almost 5 hours feeling my fear and anxiety was enough to feel it and let it go. My son and I did the whole red carpet thing which is honestly less than gratifying because ALL the media there is only interested in speaking with the nominees in the top 10 - 15 categories that are in the televised show (even though there are 75 awards give out in the Premier event prior to the telecast).
We arrived at the Theater moments before the start of the awards and soon the categories, nominees and winners were being announced at rapid pace. Winners speeches were limited to 45 seconds which included the time that it took you to get from your seat to the stage. The New Age category was #25 on the list of 75 and there were only two musical performances between the beginning of the show and my category. About five categories from the New Age category was a performance by India.arie. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. Her dress was beautiful. The song, the lyrics and her voice were beautiful. And I thought . . . she’s going to win
The categories kept coming and soon mine was next. The sense of overwhelm and a flood of energy was intense. It’s almost hard to think straight at that point. Heart pounding. Increased nervousness. An almost numbing sense of intensity. I remember thinking that I just needed to let go. Whatever was going to happen had already happened. It was out of my control and there was nothing for me to do. I heard them announce all the nominees. And then the next thing I know they’re opening the envelope and I was waiting to hear the name announced. Was it India.arie? Was it Peter Kater?
Then I heard “Dancing on . . . “ and it took me a few seconds to realize that was my album. I don’t remember hearing my name at all. But I knew that I had to get up and walk up to the stage and that my 45 seconds were counting.
The feeling was amazing. I was so surprised that I was able to walk out of the my row of seats through several people. Then I even remembered to button my jacket as I walked down the isle. I even ran up the steps and didn’t trip or fall down and I remember feeling relieved that I got to the stage, held the statue and was standing in front of the mic without an embarrassing incident. And then I even started to speak. I was speaking but also at the same time feeling kind of impressed that I actually had remembered to say the few things that I wanted to express and I felt like myself and genuine and truly well received and even loved by the audience. It really felt amazing.
And then I was escorted back stage and was standing there for second and someone came up to me and said something like “Congratulations. My name is so and so and I’m going to be leading you through the photo and interview process, if you’ll follow me”. It was at that moment that I realized that I was in some sort of shock. I had a hard time understanding what it was I was supposed to do next. I felt kind of helpless but not scared. But I was standing there in a place and situation that I have never been in before. I kind of didn’t know how to navigate through it. It was a completely new experience that had eluded me for 12 years (or even all my life). It was like the person came up to me and said “Peter, you’ve been in an accident. But everything’s going to be okay if you’ll just listen to my voice and follow my instructions”.
And then we started to walk. I was following him and explaining to him how amazing this was. I told him I felt like I was kind of in shock and asked him that happened often back here and he said that yes it did. I was so grateful for his soft tone and kindness. I mean, it was disorienting. He explained that we would be going to several locations. I would get my official award acceptance photos for the media. Then I would go to the press interviews and be asked questions about my award and my work. And then we’d go to the Grammy Pro interview section. And then we would go to get my personal photos taken with the award. And somewhere in there he said we’d be going to the backstage vodka bar. One of the first things we did was go to the gift section where I was shown the commemorative BULVGA watch that I was to receive engraved with my name and award. I didn’t know that winners got free high-end watches! There were several award winners in the same space
Most notably the winners for some aspect of the music production for LALA Land. At one point one of them, a woman, turned to me and asked, “Are you Peter Kater?”. I happily said “yes” (feeling excited and flattered that someone actually knew who I was) and she complimented me for my score for BURN THIS, a Broadway play that I had written the music score for almost 30 years ago. She said she listened to it everyday for years. I felt so gratified that she knew of that part of my life and thought how interesting it was that I had so much success in New York in the past (scored the music for 11 On & Off-Broadway dramatic plays) and here I was again receiving an award that had eluded me for 12 years in Los Angeles.
After going through the whole process back stage and after a second stop at the vodka bar another Grammy winner and I were escorted to the freight elevator, taken up a couple floors and then kind of dropped off in an empty hallway and congratulated one final time. We proceeded down the hallway came to a couple turns with no idea where to go and just kinda used our best judgement which some how brought us to the backstage entrance to Madison Square Garden where the rehearsal for the telecast had just ended. “Wrong way” we were told and then we walked through a couple makeup rooms and another few hallways, escalators and literally after about 25 minutes of wandering around finally found our way back to the Theater where the Premier Awards were still going on. I was happy to rejoin my son and friends and for the rest of the day everything just seemed perfect. It finally happened. Phew . . . . what a relief!
I wrote the following about my approach to playing the piano. But I think it’s applicable to any creative endeavor whether it’s music, art, writing, cooking or even moving through your day. It’s about being present, showing up fully, breathing and expressing what you know and listening for what’s next.
I love to improvise. When I’m playing for myself that is mostly what I do. Also about 50% of my live concerts are improvised. When improvising I’m just exploring certain ideas or emotions and expressing them without an agenda other than just to explore and express them. I sit at the piano, take a few deep breaths and clear my head and I usually get an image in my mind as to where to start. It’s usually a certain key or pattern of notes. Just a beginning. I have no idea where it’s going. It’s only a starting point. I play what I was “shown” and then I listen to it. Then I receive another “idea” or “impulse”. Then I play that and again, I listen.
My intention is to respond to each impulse, each spark, fully, without hesitation and then immediately let it go, moving onto the next and the next. When I say “impulse” or “spark” I mean it’s like an “idea flash”. They happen very quickly. It’s a quickly passing thought or impulse. It’s clear but swift and they come one at a time. It’s so important to act and respond to the first initial idea. Because if I don’t express the first impulse without hesitation then immediately following that is a “second guess” doubting the first impulse. I believe that the initial spark comes from something higher than my ego mind. You could say that it comes from my Muse, the Universe or God, whatever you want to call it. Or you could call it some kind of guidance or intuition. The “second guess” comes from my ego in fear that the initial spark was incorrect or not good enough. This might sound funny, but I’ve talked to many other musicians (my peers and mentors) about this and they all concur. The first impulse is that “still small voice” that we need to practice listening to. It happens so fast and then our egos are so quick to respond with compensating thoughts and distractions. It’s like we want to believe in an ultimate universal perfection and intelligence (call it what you will) but our doubt and fear is sometimes louder and more frequent.
For me, it’s like following a trail of breadcrumbs. I don’t see the whole picture but I know what’s next and next and next. And if my trust and swift response is solid and consistent then it just becomes one continuous inspired pulse. It’s like a series of sparks igniting quickly enough to where a fire starts to burn on it’s own and then I’m just in the experience and expression of that creative flame. Breathing into it. Listening to and witnessing it. Enjoying it as a participant and an observer. And it burns and burns until it’s finished. No longer, no shorter.
It’s important not to judge the impulse or spark. Don't question if it’s the right one. Embrace it, express it and then let it go. Staying present is key to the process. Thinking about the future (the next passage) is just as counterproductive as is lingering on a misplaced note in the recent past. Both are not about the present. Play each note or line with totality and then immediately let it go. Let it go if it's a perceived mistake or even if it’s perceived genius. It's over. Let it go. Any thoughts invite our egos and separate us from source and take us out of the moment. Something new is presenting itself now. And now. The past or future is not important. What’s important is being present with each note, phrase, nuance and spark of inspiration.
In the past in concerts I would get so flustered and annoyed with myself for making a mistake, hitting a wrong note or chord; a clam that I would be thinking about for seconds or even minutes afterwards. In the past, one mistake would sometimes ruin a whole song for me because I could no longer be present in the song afterwards because I’d be thinking about it or feeling embarrassed. Again, if I’m thinking about something I did a few seconds or minutes ago then I can't be present with what I’m doing now.
Fortunately now, after many many years of practice in presence (and forgiveness and compassion), I leave an error behind in just a few notes. We all make mistakes. Perfection is a human-made concept that doesn’t really exist. Compassion and forgiveness are actually key attributes to letting go of perceived “mistakes” and staying present with what “is”. This is obviously true both creatively and in life in general.
I also really like to record my improvisations. As a professional musician it’s good to be recording as often as possible. Even if I’m just playing around and improvising for myself. Not only is good to have the recordings to listen back to if something “inspired” happens. But it’s also good to get used to relaxing and playing freely while in “record” mode to help get over the “I’m recording so I better not make a mistake” perspective.
Presence is sometimes harder to achieve when other’s are watching/listening or when something perceived as “special” is going on. So it’s good to practice presence in all kinds of situations, not just the easy ones when we’re alone by our selves. Then it becomes easier to drop into it in any and all circumstances. Enjoy!!