Eric Walschap is a musician, educator and ambassador for the arts from Norman, Oklahoma. He is a Professor of Music and the Coordinator of Facilities and Technology at the University of Oklahoma School of Music; the Program Coordinator for Jazz in June; on the Board of Directors for Friends of Music; and the creator and host of the OU Guest Lecture series, The Resonance Series. As a saxophonist, you can find him in the horn sections of the legendary Oklahoma cover band Banana Seat and the highly acclaimed group Boyd Street Brass.
How did you get started, education, etc..
My introduction to music was pretty typical in that I joined band in 6th grade (originally as a flute player, later switching to saxophone). I was not exactly the model student and didn’t take it very seriously, but when I got to high school and joined the Norman High Jazz Band under the direction of Mr. Jim Meiller, something just clicked and I absolutely fell in love with all things music. Shortly thereafter I started joining various bands and had the opportunity to tour across the country before I had turned 18, playing in venues from Las Vegas to Hollywood.
Did you always want a career in the music industry?
Once I had the epiphany in high school, a career in music was genuinely the only thing I knew I could ever do and truly find happiness. I was open to a number of careers… first was the typical dream of living in a van and touring the world, but unfortunately playing in a Punk-Ska band wasn’t paying rent. I went to OU originally as a Music Education major with the intent of being a band director, but along the way I started a music business with a friend where I apprenticed as an instrument repairman, and eventually dropped out of school during my final semester to pursue it full time as it evolved into running an Arts Academy. After only a couple years, I saw the value in having a college degree and went back to complete a Bachelors and then a Masters in Saxophone Performance while continuing to work and employ over 20 phenomenal private music teachers. The goal at the time was to either grow our business to have multiple locations, or find a position at a university as a Professor of Saxophone. Eventually an opportunity arose at OU just as I was finishing my Masters degree, and I was hired for one year as their interim Saxophone instructor (where I met my beautiful wife, Jennifer), and then accepted a position as the School of Music‘s Coordinator of Facilities and Technology. After a couple years, I was offered an opportunity to teach some classes and became an Adjunct Professor in addition to my other duties, and today I teach about 320 OU students a year in my “Experiencing Music” classes while overseeing the day-to-day operations of the School in regards to facilities and technology.
What is your role in the music industry?
Currently my main roles in music would be my staff position in the University of Oklahoma’s School of Music, teaching 4 sections a semester of Experiencing Music, playing in the bands Banana Seat and Boyd Street Brass, working for Jazz in June as the Program Coordinator, serving on the Board of Directors for Friends of Music at OU, teaching private saxophone lessons, and most recently creating and running the Resonance Series at OU. In the past, I was also an instrument repairman at Axent Music, the Executive Director of Infinity Music and Arts Academy, I have taught private lessons at the Norman Institute for the Performing Arts and McMichael Music, and as a performing musician have been a member of about a dozen bands, toured nationally several times, and have made seven albums with five bands.
Pidgin Band performing The Itis on The Set!
Most Recent Successes / Placements / Accomplishments / Projects? Career highlight?
It would be a disservice to all those involved to not say that the OU School of Music’s Resonance Series is the most significant accomplishment and highlight of my career thus far. This guest lecture series was created to bring world-class artists in all aspects of music to Oklahomans – not only OU students and faculty, but to any musicians and anyone that is a fan of music. In its inaugural year, we will have had 20 total guests representing ten Grammy winners who total 39 wins and over a hundred nominations, six Oklahomans (three who have won Grammys), and guests that personify the beautiful diversity found in music. We are truly bringing in the best in the business, from Michael Jackson’s duet partner (and Grammy/Academy-award-winner) Judith Hill, to Beyonce’s Drummer Nikki Glaspie, to Prince’s band leader (11-time Grammy-winning) Phil Lassiter, to Tia Fuller, the saxophonist who played with Jon Batiste and Questlove on Pixar’s Soul. We are so blessed to be in partnership with wonderful organizations such as the Recording Academy (Grammys), OU’s Women and Gender studies, OU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Colombian Student Association, the incredible Elaine Kemler who made the entire series possible, and of course Oklahoma Film + Music Office who have provided invaluable assistance and guidance.
What is your favorite Oklahoma music venue, music store, or recording studio?
When I think back to my fondest memories of playing live, the majority of them are at The Deli in Norman, Oklahoma. After hundreds and hundreds of shows, whether the crowd spilled out into the streets or it was just the regulars, I was always reminded of how lucky I was to create music with my best friends and bring pure joy and musical ecstasy to others. I know it’s tacky to have such a generic answer, but as a nerdy saxophonist who can’t sing and doesn’t know what side of a guitar to strum, having audiences lose their minds to our music will always be one of my fondest memories.
As far as my favorite recording studio, how could I not mention Trent Bell at Bell Labs? A Grammy-winning Audio Engineer and Producer whose professionalism, attention to detail and kindness make him and his studio the instant choice for any of my recording needs. I don’t think people realize how much of a treasure he is to Oklahoma, I’ve worked with him several times and only recently heard some of the fascinating stories and experiences he’s had. The guy seriously needs to write a book!
Networking and connecting with others who share your dream or vision is a vital aspect to the music industry. Can you share which Oklahoma organizations (if any) have contributed to your success and are there Oklahoma organization you would recommend other connect with? To help further their craft or promotion?
What a wonderful statement with which I agree whole-heartedly. In music, 99% of success relies on networking, being pleasant to work with, and being reliable. Even if you are literally the best player on your particular instrument in the state, you will not find gigs if you are unpleasant to be around. Personally, the main organizations I’ve seen help foster success would be being involved with a university and all the performance opportunities and connections you can make that are inherent with being surrounded by music 24/7; the Oklahoma Film + Music Office as far as connecting musicians across the state with each other and creating collaborations that otherwise wouldn’t be possible; and Christian Pearson’s brainchild OKSessions.
As the Program Coordinator for Jazz in June, I can share that at least one of our bands every year comes directly from applicants that go through the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO), and beyond that we look at dozens (sometimes over a hundred) of their artists and bios to make sure we’re up-to-date on who’s doing what in Oklahoma. I imagine some states or regions don’t have organizations like OF+MO, and certainly even fewer are as organized and helpful, and it’s important we as a music community do not take it for granted and understand the huge impact they have on all of us – whether directly or tangentially.
Christian Pearson has also truly created something unique and essential to the music scene with the OKSessions. His vision and passion has created so many opportunities for people in all aspects of the music business in Oklahoma that every single person in the arts should know his name and be asking to collaborate in some way. He is truly a visionary. He coordinates musicians and bands, gives them a platform to share their music, writes thought-provoking and insightful articles, highlights artists through interviews, and literally creates music venues both from scratch and by coordinating with local businesses. He has genuinely reshaped and improved the entire music scene not only in OKC, but with cascading effects to the rest of the state.
How can we follow you? Best place to purchase and listen to your music?
To see me perform live, you can follow Banana Seat and/or Boyd Street Brass on Facebook and catch a show. Boyd Street is on all streaming services if you’d like to check out the music, or go to boydstreetbrass.com. Once the pandemic begins to subside and the music world starts recovering, we will go back to playing regularly.
If you would like to join us for the Resonance Talks on every second and fourth Thursday at 3pm, you can watch live on Facebook, or actually join in the talks by Zooming in at oklahoma.zoom.us/my/resonance and using the password: resonance.
Advice for someone interested in working in the music industry.
I tell this to all my students looking to perform for a living… be kind, be humble, practice your sax off, say yes to every gig until they’re coming out your nose, and enjoy every second of the journey.
For any other area in the music industry, remember that it’s a small world and everyone in the music business knows each other. Be sure that you realize the product you are putting out is not just the music you create, but you as an individual.
What are some of the benefits of having a music career in Oklahoma?
One anecdote that has stuck with me came from Professor Jay Wilkinson, the Jazz Professor at OU. The top musicians in Oklahoma (or any state), are just as good as the top musicians in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, or any other place in the country. The difference is there are just more of them in the bigger cities. You will still find some of the literal best musicians in the business at your local bar or on stage at the Civic Center. This is also true for every aspect in the music industry in Oklahoma. The opportunities that can be found here, the passionate circle of music professionals that look out for each other and collaborate together at the drop of a hat, and the low cost of living all create a perfect balance that means music in Oklahoma will continue to flourish and produce some of the top talent around.
Although it’s been attributed to many people and gone through many iterations over time, “An amateur practices until they can play something right. A professional practices until they can’t play it wrong.”