Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Artist Profile: Peter Bierma, Bassist


1. Where are you from originally?
Milwaukee, WI, but I grew up in Houston, TX.

2. What do you do for a living?
I am a Kids Pastor at a local church. So, you know, a natural progression from music college.

3. What kind of music do you like to play?
If I enjoy the people I play with, I'll play pretty much anything from jazz to R&B to country. There's so much I can learn from various styles of music. That's one of my goals as a musician and just as a person: never stop learning.

4. How long have you been playing?
Since I was 14. A friend of mine called me up on the phone one day and said, "Hey Peter, I'm starting a band. Want to play bass?" I said, "Sure! What's a bass?"

5. Where do you get your creative inspiration?
I guess music is too easy an answer. Right now I get a ton of inspiration from the kids I work with. My experience is they tend to ask fantastically broad questions that many adults don't/can't answer. For example, a 9 year old girl came up to me one day and asked, "Peter, are you a real kids pastor?" I had no clue how to answer. I mean, I couldn't say (to her satisfaction), "Well, um, I guess I'm a real pastor; I mean, it's my job, and I was selected from many different people, so yeah this is what I do. But I don't derive my identity from my job, so I'd have to say, um, it depends how you look at it." Instead I came up with some brilliant response like, "Yes." But you get my point: there's a profundity in the questions I'm asked, and it always keeps me thinking and wondering and in awe.

There's something inspiring to me about someone who has mastered a skill or, in my case, an instrument. A friend once asked me, "So, Peter, you play bass, so the bass must 'speak' to you more than other instruments, yes?" The more I thought about her question, I quickly realized I have a deep love for many different instruments. When I hear a piano solo from one of the greats, my heart skips a beat. There's video game music (!), of all things, that I often find imaginative, which pushes me to that end. Or when I hear a terrific drummer, there's joy that seems to "bubble up" in me, and I can't control the smile on my face! Of course, that's come after an ungodly amount of hours of listening to bass players! It must take a special (twisted?) soul to love good bass lines more now than when I first started playing.

Last, I'm continually drawn to anyone who improvises anything with skill. Whether it be an actor, musician, sculptor, or even a debater, I'm always amazed at someone who can operate at such a high level of functioning. I've also noticed my favorite improvisers (whatever their trade) tend to have years of experience and depth in their craft; that is, their words or music don't "come from nowhere." There's typically a breadth of knowledge and routine and study and practice that's beneath it.

6. Who are your creative mentors?
Dave Buda in Boston, MA comes to mind immediately. He was my private teacher in college for about three years, and he always pushed me to excel at whatever I did. My parents were/are creative folks; Mom plays several instruments and Dad is a savvy businessman//entrepreneur (a different type of creativity). So our house was a safe place to "try" art, about which I feel very fortunate! Also, I've always been blessed with creative friends.

7. What do you enjoy doing when you're not playing?
Listening. To words, books, movies, music, people.... I LOVE my time with other people. I live for good conversations :).

8. Would you say your environment (where you live, work, play) influences your creative process (or creativity)? If so, how?
Absolutely - I strongly believe a person's heritage, upbringing, and current environment all (over the long run) heavily influence a person. A tragic loss, a competitive school, or a close group of friends could all shape a person's work. Or at least they have for me!

9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right hand on my heart, left hand in the air: I have no clue. Something I'm trying to work on is being a better friend, so I hope in 10 years I can say I've taken some steps forward in that area, for example. I guess my "goal", if you want to call it that, is to grow in all areas: as a musician, kids pastor, husband, and friend.

10. What do your bass lines entail?
My bass lines entail, hopefully, all of my influences which work towards helping me find my unique "voice" on the bass, or my unique sound.

11. Tell us about the one project you are most proud of.
This is kind of an unlikely story, and won't earn me any "wow, this guy is really good" points with readers. About my 2nd year in college, I still stunk pretty badly on the bass. Nonetheless, my bass teacher saw my passion and dedication on the bass (I have to guess), and he invited me to perform alongside him for a song in front of a bunch of other bassists, and in the middle of a music store, to top it off. You can imagine my excitement! I got up there, and to say "I blew it" would be a grievous understatement. A good bass player should make the lead musician sound better, and, well, I did the exact opposite. Mid-performance, my teacher looked at me with confusion and disbelief, along with the crowd, who were all of course other musicians! I was so embarrassed. I'm pretty sure I went home that day and cried. And not surprisingly, that was the first and last time my teacher asked me to play publicly with him.

Why is this the story I'm most proud of? Because I kept playing! Such a blow to my ego might be a deal-breaker for some, but for some reason I kept on playing. And I'm glad I did, because I love the bass more than I ever have, and I now know my success on the instrument doesn't depend on how many good performances I have.

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