Interview: Laura Welch

Today we’re joined by Laura Welch. Laura is a phenomenal musician who makes a living as a pianist. She mostly performs for musical theater and she also plays at the local dance studio for the ballet classes. Laura plays a wide variety of musical styles and has even performed as part of a symphony orchestra on occasion. It’s a clear she’s an incredibly passionate and dedicated artist who loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

WORK

Please, tell us about
your art.

I am a musician – a pianist, specifically. I am classically
trained, though nowadays I am highly experienced in playing a multitude of
genres, from your typical “classical” fare to jazz to modern-day pop. I make a
living primarily through playing piano – something I try not to take for
granted as not everyone can say they live off doing something they love and
don’t really consider “work.” I play for a church service (sometimes two) every
Sunday morning, and I currently accompany ballet classes at a dance studio. In
the past I have accompanied voice classes held at various schools in the area,
and at one point I was part of a thirteen-piece jazz orchestra as well as a
ragtime band. Occasionally I am given the opportunity to play in the local
symphony orchestra, but it does not happen too often.

Currently one of the biggest presences in my life where my
talent is concerned is the theatre community where I live. I played my first
musical back in 2007 – I was freshly nineteen, I recall – and after that I was
quickly absorbed into the world of musical theatre. Since then I’ve played for
a plethora of shows (I stopped counting about three years ago), and I’ve even
gotten to music direct a small handful of them! I can’t see myself stopping any
time soon, so long as I am available and can be put to use.

What inspires you?

I find much of my inspiration comes from the people I get to
work with in whatever environment I happen to be playing in. In theatre, it’s
the actors, crew, and musicians I get to perform alongside. In the dance
studio, it’s the teachers and students whose movements are supported by my
playing. In both of those cases there’s a feeling of collaboration for me; we
are creating something together by
combining our respective talents, whether it’s for an audience or for ourselves
in that moment. The challenges that come with playing alongside other people –
be it other musicians, dancers, vocalists, or whoever – push me to do better,
to be worthy of working with these other performers who have dedicated
themselves to their own crafts and are working just as hard to do well by them.

I also get inspired by particularly moving pieces of music,
especially ones that are adept at conveying an emotional story. I am a huge instrumental score/soundtrack
junkie, whether it’s from films or video games or what have you, and it’s not
uncommon for me to shut myself away in my bedroom with my phone and a pair of
earbuds and just sit and listen for
an hour or three. Doing so when I have the time is relaxing for me, but it also
reminds me why I do what I do and why I love it so much. Having a story told to
me through music alone reminds me that I’m capable of doing the same, and what
a pleasure and privilege it is to be able to reach someone else’s mind and
heart through something that I can create.

What got you
interested in your field?  Have you
always wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always held a fascination with music, even when I was a
very young age. At this point I really don’t remember always wanting to be a musician, but when I was seven my parents
asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons and I recall taking to them
immediately. My parents got me this tiny little keyboard to practice on, and
once it was apparent that I was getting better and better – and fast, at that –
my teacher urged them to buy me an actual piano. (Spoiler alert: they chose to
make the investment, and I bet they’re glad it paid off!) As time went on I got
more and more invested in being able to play the piano, so much so that I left
other hobbies and commitments behind (including playing softball and learning
to play the trumpet). It got to the point where it followed me to school, so to
speak: I got my first real shot at accompanying in sixth grade, when I learned
to play a song we were singing in choir and was then allowed to accompany the
group at a concert. More opportunities arose in middle school when I joined the
orchestra and jazz band, and by high school I was both singing and playing piano in the choirs I had
joined. By the time I was nearly a legal adult I had clearly decided that yes,
this was definitely the path I wanted to continue taking.

Do you have any kind
of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work
that you’d be willing to reveal?

I’m not sure if calling it a unique feature is correct or not,
but I’ve developed this one tendency that pops up when I’m involved in musical
theatre that people have come to associate with me: I have to see to it that the production’s band/orchestra gets a name.
I just do. Every musical has a band, and every band needs a name. It’s silly,
but I’ve found it can be a bit of a bonding experience among the musicians (and
even the cast and crew) when it comes to deciding upon one.

Often times the names will be inspired by something from the
musical in question; sometimes it’s a line of dialogue, sometimes a lyric, and
sometimes even a tempo marking in our music. Two years ago when I music
directed a production of The Rocky Horror
Show
, we named our band The Satanic Mechanics (inspired by a lyric taken
from “Sweet Transvestite”). Last year in a production of Little Shop of Horrors, inspired by the brief gore featured at the
end of the first act, we called ourselves Gut Buckets (but you can’t just say
it; you have to sing it to the tune of the Hot Pockets jingle). And recently
for a production of Chicago, we had
two drummers splitting the five-week run between them, which essentially meant
we had two different bands, so we needed names for both of them! We ended up
alternating between The Spread Eagles and The Dirty Bums (both names having
been pulled from one of the show’s most famous numbers, “The Cell Block
Tango”).

What advice would you
give young aspiring artists?

It’s easier said than done, but try not to let your mistakes
and insecurities discourage you from practicing your craft. Growing up, I was
very much a perfectionist concerning just about everything I did, and I
practically crippled myself with doubt whenever I hit too many walls when it
came to practicing piano. I could be very impatient with myself, and it took me
years to allow myself the courtesy of
making mistakes without beating myself up afterwards. It doesn’t mean that I
don’t still occasionally have bad days where I get frustrated with myself. If
it does happen, though, I do allow myself some distance from whatever hurdle it
is I’m trying to overcome before I attempt it again. Practicing in anger does
me no good at all, and brief time away can help refresh my mood.

One other thing I try and make sure I do when practicing is
give my weaknesses twice the time that I give my strengths. Sure, it’s fun
playing the passages I’m good at over and over again, but that intimidating
section I’m still struggling with will continue to be difficult if I never
actually practice it. Yes, it will be tedious and slow-going and I may not
enjoy it at first, but before I know it a week will have gone by and suddenly
it’s that much less intimidating! Why was I ever afraid of that section in the
first place? It’s so easy now! Because I gave it time. Slowly and in small increments, yes, but time nonetheless.

Photo by the Humboldt Light Opera Company (https://www.hloc.org/)

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum
do you identify?

I am gray-romantic asexual.

Have you encountered
any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve never encountered prejudice in my field. I was never
really worried about judgment from within the theatre community, considering
the vast diversity of orientations and identities I’ve seen among the people in
it. Though I publically came out as asexual about four years ago, I’m sure
there are still plenty of people I work with at places like the dance studio
and the church I play for who have no idea I’m ace. The topic of my orientation
is not one I feel comfortable just diving into without good reason, though if
it happened to come up I think I’d be fine with divulging the information. The majority
of people I work with outside the theatre community are pretty broad-minded, so
I’d like to think I wouldn’t encounter any prejudice from them either.

I’ve only personally experienced a couple of moments of
ignorance, and outside my field at that, but it was never anything hurtful. One
instance was a person not knowing of the existence of the asexual spectrum (who
listened intently when I offered to explain it to them), and the other was a
person making a (mostly) harmless generalizing assumption about asexuality in an
offhanded comment while in conversation with me.

What’s the most
common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

The idea that because a person is asexual, it means that
they don’t desire – or even understand
– relationships at all is one that
I’ve encountered enough that it’s starting to give me a headache. I’ve seen it
perpetuated in various forms of media, from fanfiction to comics and then some.
It feels like too many people zero in on the misconception that asexuality = NO
SEX, and then too many of those people continue on and assume that without sex
there can be no relationship, which is utter bullshit.

People can be asexual and enjoy and desire sex, just as they
can be asexual and not enjoy or
desire sex. People can be asexual and feel and desire romantic love, just as
they can be asexual and not feel or
desire romantic love.

The lack of sexual attraction towards others does NOT automatically disqualify the
possible desire for romance and/or intimacy.

The sooner the general populace starts to understand this,
the less headachy future me will be.

What advice would you
give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their
orientation?

You do not have to
figure yourself out right now. You have time. Some days it will feel like you
needed to figure shit out weeks ago but the answer is nowhere in sight. Some
days it won’t bother you at all. Just know that solving the puzzle that is you
often takes more than a day. Sometimes it takes months, or even years. It’s
possible you may never figure it out completely. But know that in the end,
regardless of everything, your feelings are still valid. It sounds cheesy, but listen to your heart and your body. If
it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you think it feels right and you feel
safe, maybe give that something a shot.

And if in the end using a label makes you feel that much
more comfortable, use it. If the idea of using labels is uncomfortable, then
don’t. You are no less valid regardless of what you do or don’t do. You are
you. And you matter.

Finally, where can
people find out more about your work?

I don’t really have an online space dedicated to my craft.
(I keep telling myself to make an artist page on Facebook or post recordings on
Soundcloud, but so far no dice.) I do, however, occasionally post things on
Instagram (at flamingo.hate.marshmallows)
related to my adventures in musical theatre. I’ve got two shows in the works as
we speak, so there should be some fresh musical-related content added soon!

Thank you, Laura, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.