Nathan Hudson is a composer and educator currently living in New York. He holds a BM in Trumpet Performance from the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University, an MA in Composition from SUNY Stony Brook and is currently a PhD student and graduate teaching assistant at Stony Brook, studying under Dr. Daniel Weymouth.

As a curator, Nathan has collaborated with author Ben Loory and has also curated at MISE-EN_PLACE Bushwick to present cross-disciplinary concerts of new music. The recipient of several awards, prizes and residencies, he has had works performed at colleges across the country and at festivals such as the: Aspen Music Festival and School, Avaloch Music Institute, Sewanee Summer Music Festival, Orford Music Festival, Carlsbad Music Festival, Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, Lancaster New Sounds, National Trumpet Competition, International Trumpet Guild Conference, International Clarinet Association National Conference, International Double Reed Society Conference, among others.

Check out Nathan’s website here, and listen to some of his music on SoundCloud below:

In this episode of Thunk Tank Podcast we chatted with friend and composer Nathan Hudson. Much like myself, he is a musician and big fan of craft beer. Through those two lenses, we talked about many topics including:

  • The importance of slowing down and considering the details and the craft that go into the things we eat and drink (makes me think of the Vietnamese proverb: “When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking clear water, remember who dug the well.”)
  • The concept of “mainstream” in music
  • How we decide what is “good” or “bad” when it comes to creative work, and the importance of being honest about that
  • Comparing various branches of innovation in musical history (tonal→atonal→serial etc) with similar branches of evolution within the craft beer world (like The Alchemist brewery’s Heady Topper→the current “haze craze” of hazy IPAs)
  • Hip hop music (we’ll do a full episode on this in the future)

Listen to the full episode below, and read further on for some final thoughts:

Appreciating Creativity and Craft

I often find myself thinking deeply about the word “craft”. I have appreciated this word for a long time as a musician and trumpet player, but it was more recently that I began to appreciate it in contexts other than music. I think a hobby becomes a craft when enough quality hours are put towards a hyper specific goal. These hours of dedicated and obsessive human energy are filled with many (perhaps mostly) failures mixed in with some successful moments that keep the fire burning. It is pretty easy (if you’re a curious person) to get obsessed with something for a short time, but to find the discipline within to stick with a craft through the failures and approach that ceiling of perfection requires a respectable type of human being. Thinking deeply about the word craft also brings to mind a Japanese word that I first encountered while geeking out about specialty coffee. This word, kodawari, refers to the pursuit of perfection while knowing that perfection is not really attainable. It is one of these concept words that carry a whole meaning with it which includes the knowledge that even though you cannot reach perfection it is the striving towards an ideal that gives life meaning.

“To those who do not understand it, kodawari might be interpreted as a serious obsession; a mental disorder; a ridiculous obstinacy.

It is no such thing. Wherever you encounter kodawari in the world, applaud it and appreciate it. Kodawari is what maintains quality in this life. Because some people are willing to devote their lives to the singleminded pursuit of an ideal, the rest of the world enjoys a better average standard. If no one was pointing out the pinnacle, we would all languish in the valleys of insignificance.”

-from Sunny Bindra’s Appreciate the Perfectionist in your Midst

For me, music helped to form the initial pathways in my brain that allowed me to really appreciate craft. The amount of details and obsessive work that go into high level performing in music was far greater than I assumed at first. But once you grasp a sense of the ideal (for music a memorable concert) you can’t help but chase after it. Later on it was as if other subject areas would come along and hijack these musical pathways so that, through the lens of music, I could appreciate them more deeply. The first non-music obsession, around five years ago, was specialty coffee. Following coffee, approximately two years later, was the world of craft beer. After some initial skepticism with both of these, I fell into their respective rabbit holes very quickly. I found that the same pathways from which I analyzed music also mapped onto these other worlds quite well. We talked about a similar idea with the comparison between classical music and writing during our previous episode/blog with author Kevin Clouther.

The similarities exist from the perspective of producing work (brewing coffee, brewing beer, performing music) as well as from the perspective of consuming it (drinking coffee, drinking beer, listening to music). Each one provides the opportunity to appreciate the love, dedication, skill, and creativity that go into a human being’s craft. There are interconnected dependencies between craft worlds as well because a performer cannot play a concert and a music lover cannot enjoy a concert without the craft of instrument making. And an instrument maker cannot do their work without someone who specializes in making tools. These kinds of dependencies exist in all craft worlds, and the more knowledge you have about the worlds that are parallel to your craft the better you will understand your main craft.

So I went diving into both specialty coffee and craft beer from the perspective of music. As I did this I found that the language I use for describing music overlapped into the other domains nicely. For example the subset of words that I use most often to describe a beautiful sound on trumpet (colorful, vibrant, exciting, transparent, balanced, resonant etc) are also words/concepts that I find myself using to describe great coffee or beer. Anyone who has shared food or beer with a musician can attest to this. There is actually a neuroscientific explanation behind this overlapping use of language, especially between physical sensations and more abstract concepts. We often use words from the domain of one of our senses (for example the word colorful coming from vision) to apply to another sense (for example a colorful trumpet sound). We will also use physical sensations like warm or sweet to apply to more abstract ideas like describing someone’s personality. In layman’s terms, as we use the same words in different domains, similar parts of the brain are lighting up. This overlap of language has also been shown to engage a stronger emotional response to accompany the physical sensation. You can geek out a bit more on this neuroscience angle here and here.

I personally have only jumped into a few “craft rabbit holes”, but I think that they probably exist in almost any kind of subject area. Craft and creativity are not limited to certain domains because in any subject area a human being can dedicate their life to the details and skill building that are required to become a specialist. So whether that specialty is in brewing beer, making a samurai sword, or tying fly fishing knots, we should always aim to appreciate and be curious about the details and skills that go into a product. All aspects of a great product, from the farming of the raw materials to the engineering of the equipment to the skilled workers using that equipment, are specialized components that the finished product depends on. As Johnny mentioned in this podcast episode (with regards to the ingredients of craft beer), all of these components produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So although a person’s craft might be looked at objectively as simply a set of skills, I think it is really about balancing those skills with the mysterious quality of human creativity. Mix in the concept of kodawari and then you really get a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And learning to appreciate this deeper sense of craft in any one domain will open up your mind to finding it in many other places.

Thanks for reading and listening!

Cheers 🍻 -Luke from Thunk Tank Podcast