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Meet Joseph Ehrenpreis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joseph Ehrenpreis.

Joseph, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Music was my first language. I could read music before I could read or deliberately speak English. My Dad studied cello with the late Frank Miller of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra fame. And my mom is a Cuban immigrant, and like much of her family, she is tone deaf. She wanted to provide opportunities for me and my siblings that she didn’t get to have as a kid. She’s the youngest of five siblings and was the first in her family to attend university. My lullaby as a kid was my Dad Eli playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on the cello.

I started piano lessons at the age of 3 and absolutely despised them. I always enjoyed performing the recitals at Devonshire Park Center in my hometown of Skokie, though, mostly because I could dress up and wear one of my many hats from my hat collection as a kid. I think I’ve carried a bit of that energy of “wearing hats” into adulthood because I like to think that I have grown into expressing myself in multiple ways, not just musically.

Around Chanukah one year, I think when I was eight years old, my brother got an electric guitar as a present. I used to sneak into his room to play it, and my parents naturally found out that I was playing his guitar more than him. They struck a deal with me that I could play guitar if I played classical music, so I started my journey as a classical guitarist. I had an affinity for the guitar and taught myself how to play and fluently read music on it. In primary and secondary school, I played cello in the school orchestra.

When I turned 20 years old, I found the 8-string Brahms Guitar through chance. (It’s an instrument that was invented in 1994 by David Rubio and boasts an extended range up and down by (usually) a perfect fourth. It uses an endpin and a resonance box, it’s sort of the love child of my two instruments, the cello and the guitar.) So how did I find it? While I was attending a course at the Art Institute of Chicago, I fell in love with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. I had a 45 minute commute each way to school, so I used the time to read and listen to as much music as I could I listened to every recording I could find of the solo violin set and stumbled upon Paul Galbraith’s recording, arranged for the Brahms Guitar. I reached out to Mr. Galbraith, and he put me in the right direction of how to get an instrument into my hands. I commissioned one to be made from an English luthier, the protege of the inventor, named Martin Woodhouse, who specializes in making these instruments., and I have been playing it ever since. Later this month, my album “New Music with Brahms Guitar, Volume 1” funded by an Independent Artist grant from the Illinois Arts Council, will release. It features an international cast of composers that created a collection of entirely new pieces written specifically for the 8-String Brahms Guitar, the first of it’s kind.

Now as a budding professional musician living in LA, I’m finding my way back to the electric guitar! I just received a solo classical piece by my friend Max Vinetz for solo electric guitar.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I wouldn’t call it smooth unless you might consider skating on ice at hyper-speed with random, periodic patches of different heights of mounds of snow appearing to throw you off course on the path smooth. For me, at least, I feel that, at times, I’m in this creative, adrenaline fueled rocket blast off and at other times, I’m experiencing some two-dimensional form of the Great Potato Famine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some reflections from the practice room, being a musician requires you to sit, A LOT! Unless you play the violin, or the flute, or something entirely portable, you’re probably sitting while you play. When we travel to play, we sit on planes. I spend a lot of time on my yoga mat, trying desperately to convince my body that everything is going to be ‘A-OK’ We don’t get to see what goes into the routine of a lot of artists and people in the creative world.

Like a good chef, we need to prep our material, plan our timing and keep our knives (technique) sharp. This requires a hearty mixture of mental and physical gymnastics for the neurons and the small muscles of the hands. I love keeping checklists, it helps me sort out my brain. There is nothing as satisfying as being emotionally engaged in that list, checking off the really challenging and the mundane daily goals. Make that bed! And crush your practice block #2! It’s all necessary if you want to bring that irresistible banquet to the concert hall one day.

It takes a lot of convincing and acceptance to continue, too. I often think about interviews of some of my heroes. Whether that’s Bjork or Glenn Gould or Mitski or Anthony Bourdain, coming to terms with the cosmic, seismic, and minuscule nuances of the trade, I feel you. Ultimately, I hope that we share from a deeply empathetic strain that burns brighter than anything competitive or superficial. I hope it’s all for peace.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
I’m a guitarist. I’m usually a soloist, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play concerts for people from different walks of life and different cultures around the world. I’m still budding, and I’m still learning, and I think I will be for the rest of my life, but I’m grateful for every new experience. I appreciate them all, and I’m excited to continue this journey and see where it takes me. I have ambitious goals for myself and what I want to create, but they aren’t important for anyone else. I just want you to feel good, everything you feel is good.

Sound is inherently an abstract sense, it’s informed by semiotic responses in fight or flight, but music and sound differ. We can shape and capture sound to create music, and experience beauty, devastation, longing, belonging, and everything else you can imagine on the color wheel spectrum of emotive solace through music.

I specialize in solo classical music. And I love to play the music of living composers. It’s a really special time for the guitar because the classical (nylon string) guitar is starting to become canonized, and the electric guitar is starting to become more acceptable in contemporary classical music. Just in this past year, young virtuosos like Sean Shibe and JIJI have played at the most prestigious venues of the old world, like Wigmore and Carnegie Hall. That’s awesome, and it’s inspiring. I want to follow in their footsteps and bring my own flavor to the musical sphere.

When I’m not making music, I like to write, do street photography, jog, and read.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I come from the internet age. Something I’ve realized, and capitalized on, is that we have the contact information of the ‘greats’ at our fingertips. No other time in history has provided us with such a wonderful resource of information like the internet has. As a result, I have been able to study with some fantastic musicians and make friends with kindred artists, both inside and outside of music, simply by sending an email.

A shortlist of people that have inspired me, given me advice, or have been my teachers over the years:

Miroslav Tadic, Jordan Dodson, Thomas Viloteau, William Harper, Amy Brandon, Jonathan Leathwood, Chatori Shimizu, Kyoko Caulfield, Taiwo Adegoke, Ryo Hasegawa, Jacqueline Kumer, Shawn Head, Charlie Sun, Max Vinetz

Reach out, speak your peace, and ask for help! I can say personally that I love to answer curiosities about the guitar!

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