The Landscape of Music

I have spent my life in search of. It’s true. To some degree we all have. So what? Ok. But we all have a different story and a unique path. Our search for place, for meaning, for love, for truth, is what keeps pulling us forward.

My life has been marked by the unique opportunity of living in many, many, many, many, different places—from Stephenville, Texas to Yosemite Valley; from Bainbridge Island to Grenoble, France. The places I have called home have inspired and shaped me in countless ways. I have also been lucky enough to travel extensively. I think that all of the places where I have lived or traveled have somehow worked their way in to my soul.

Young Tom

I grew up in Santa Barbara in the seventies and then later Yosemite Valley where my Dad was the manager of the Ansel Adams Gallery. I recall living in Evergreen, Colorado and Bainbridge Island, Washington. But out of all of the change that came with being a kid who moved around a lot, there was one constant: the places that I lived were absolutely beautiful. I was surrounded by magical landscapes from a very early age. This was a huge factor in my evolution. The indelible images of Yosemite Valley became part of my consciousness that I carry with me today. I remember looking at Ansel Adams photographs with Ansel Adams in his dark room with my father. Ansel’s vision, his ability to see the unseen, was something that shaped me long before I was aware enough to know what that meant. In hindsight, I see that my perception was changed forever. The notion of “landscape” would always carry a different feeling for me.

Later, when I was finishing up my BA at UCLA, I was introduced to Buddhism. I was a little weary from the four year comp lit death march where I worked on French, Italian and English literature. My senior thesis was on Arthur Rimbaud’s influence on Jack Kerouac. It was a study of the Picaro and the Picaresque tradition: the hero makes meaning out of his long journey, suffering road, by telling his story. All of the trauma and ups and downs become meaningful by the telling of his story. This is a significant data point for me because that concept cracked a code. It all came together on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland’s County Cork at a Tibetan Dzogchen retreat center where Sogayl Rinpoche was the resident teacher. I think it’s fair to say that from that moment on, I never saw myself or my life in the same way. Years later, when I was on retreat at Plum Village with Thich Nhat Hanh, I realized that I was not destined to be a Buddhist monk, but the three jewels and taking refuge was something that would inform the rest of my life.

Mixing Places You Know at Sonora Recorders

I have always enjoyed singing. In fact my wife and I sang together in the Santa Barbara High School Madrigal group. When I got a guitar my junior year in high school, I started with "three chords and the truth" as they say. Four years later when I moved to Europe for my junior year study abroad program I was writing my own songs and busking in the streets all over Europe. This was 1990. I was 20 years old and I felt like I was on the cusp of it all. I came back from that year in Europe and was set to start making records. And I did. I made many. I dreamed of touring and making a living playing music. It didn’t work the way I had imagined, but I did learn that I love making music. I still record music and I am sure that I will always have an album that I am working on. I have also returned to my love of the stage. I have come back to my love of acting and have been studying with the brilliant Cameron Thor and Alice Carter for the past year. The intensity and challenge of stage work is awesome and I am so grateful to have found two masterful teachers to work with on that process.

So after I got married, and it was clear that neither music nor teaching French was going to cover the mortgage, I started my own company, Mother Magnolia, Inc. It is a landscape/swimming pool design firm with the vision of transforming landscapes, and creating private sanctuaries for people in the Los Angeles area. It’s been a decade of work and we are still here. My time in those beautiful places of my early years is what shaped my vision of how landscapes should feel. There is a feeling and a quality of experience that I look to create for my clients. It is the process of transformation that continues to be inspiring. I think that what I really enjoy most about creating a refuge is the transformational experience. There is something magical about taking an idea and realizing it.

That was never more true than when I designed and built our family home in 2006. I had never designed a home before. And I certainly had never tried to build one. But how hard could it be, right? I got some books and lashed in to it. It was an awesome experience—life changing to say the least. So with my wife Kathleen and two beautiful boys, Champe and Griffin, I am still on this journey. It’s an interesting journey and I am excited to still be here. I am grateful for the opportunity. There will be more music and more landscapes, and just to put a nice bow on it: I will always listen for the music in landscapes and I will continue to shape my own landscape of music.

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