Teachers Who Make a Difference
On my last day of ninth grade, as I was walking out of the auditorium, my Theater teacher Mr. Bustilloz pulled me aside.
“What do you want to do with your life, Karnavas?”
I told him I thought I wanted to be a scientist or a doctor but I wasn’t really sure. Then he said something that I’ll never forget.
“You were meant for the stage. Whatever you do with your life, I hope you make time to be onstage.”
That was about fifteen years ago. The picture is from a couple weeks ago, the first time we had seen each other or talked since then.
What a tremendous moment. I was so excited to tell him that I had never forgotten his advice and that I was spending as much time as I could performing onstage. In fact, earlier that day I had performed onstage as AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse at my elementary school (post/video coming soon).
My music career surprised him because he knew me before I started singing, which began two years later and in a different state. One of the things we talked about was tracing back to the moments in your life that ultimately led to the choices you made that got you to where you are today. I’ve thought about this some more over the past couple weeks, and here is what I have come up with for my music/live performance journey:
Part One: Interest in music/sound
1)My earliest music memory is playing with the upright piano in our house, specifically pulling up the front swinging panel and playing the strings, or hitting the keys and watching the hammers move. But I never learned to play piano. I also remember recording Beatles songs off of the radio and onto cassettes. I would fall asleep with the recorder in my hand.
2)I wanted to play violin when I was 12 or 13, but my parents didn’t buy me one. I think that was because my older sisters had played in school band (alto sax and bassoon) but quickly abandoned the instruments, and I was playing a lot of soccer with no time for school band. So I invited a bunch of friends over for my birthday, they each gave me $10, and the next day I bought an acoustic guitar for $300 cash because I thought violins were really expensive since (A) my parents didn’t want to buy me one, and (B) the guys I saw playing them on TV or at the symphony wore tuxedoes. I still write all of my songs on this guitar. It’s a Washburn D-10 rosewood:
Part 2: Performing in front of people
3)I took Speech and Drama in 7th and 8th grade, where I won an award for impromptu speaking. I tried out for plays but never got any lead roles, which was a real bummer because I really liked my teacher, Mr. Winkley. We would travel to this big speech tournament in Seminole,TX every year. I really enjoyed competitive side.
Part 3: Musical Theater
4) My mom got us tickets to Fiddler on the Roof performed at Trinity High School with Matt Hinkley as Tevye and it completely blew me away. I discovered that I loved musical theater. This was a really big deal.
Part 4: Lead Roles in non-musical plays
5) Ninth grade! I enrolled in Theater Arts where we were all assigned a monologue from Antigone to recite onstage for audience of one Mr. Bustilloz. He told the class that he was blown away by my performance. That year I was cast as King Creon in Antigone and Captain Keller in the Miracle Worker. Big roles! On the last day he told me, “You were meant for the stage.”
Part 5: Moving and Isolation
6)Moved to Cleveland, OH. Spent a miserable year at an all boys school. Started writing poetry with all that alone time,mostly sad stuff! Moving was tough. Started playing guitar a little bit more often. When we first moved to Cleveland we had not sold our house in Texas yet. My mom was still in Midland with the house and my Dad and I moved into his mom’s house up in Cleveland for a few months. At her house, I found a CD copy of the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof. I listened to it all the time because it reminded me of the performance I had seen years before.
Part 6: Fiddler Strikes Again
7)High School #3 had girls and nice people. My Junior year the theater department announced that they were having auditions for the school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof and I was so excited. This was the first time I had ever sung in front of people, and the Director Mr. Langa really liked my voice. I got the part of Lazar Wolfe The Butcher, a really fun supporting role. This was also where I learned that I could remember music by ear because I auditioned and performed without knowing how to read sheet music. I just listened to the broadway recording to learn the parts and pretended to read the sheet music during rehearsals.
Part 7: Neil Young and college
8)My Dad bought Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and “Harvest” and started playing these in the car, and from there I was hooked on songwriting. Here was a guy who wrote all kinds of songs and I like all of them. I started playing my guitar more and more, but I was very focused on getting into a good college where I could play varsity soccer.
8)Stayed in Cleveland for College, majored in English and started down the pre-med track and playing soccer. The reason for majoring in English: I really liked reading and writing and didn’t want to burn myself out on the sciences before going to medical school. Looking back, I find this really funny. Now it looks like a red flag waving me away from a future career in medicine that I chose to avoid up until I got accepted to medical school.
Part 8: Back to Texas, I know what I want to do with my life
9) Moved to Houston, worked in the medical center and ultimately turned down med school, started performing at open mic nights, started a band (Runaway Sun) with friends from those open mic nights, and 5+ years later we’re still going.
10)Became an uncle, wrote some songs for my niece and nephew that led to recording the first AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse album and touring regularly.
And that brings us to now. I often wonder how different life would be if my parents had bought me a violin or if I hadn’t seen the Fiddler on the Roof performance. Above all, if Mr. Bustilloz hadn’t believed in me, if he hadn’t cast me in those roles and if he hadn’t told me that I was meant for the stage, would I be performing today? The last decade of my life would probably be a completely different story. He gave me confidence years after I was his student because he taught me that I could tackle large roles/things I had never done before, he trusted me with the performances, and he encouraged me to make room for the arts in my life no matter what I did. When someone outside of your family does that, it has a profound impact because this person is giving you the courage to be your most creative self and reminding you to listen to what life is trying to tell you.
Is there a teacher who made a difference in your life? I would love to hear your story.