On this first day of fall convocation, Don Wright Faculty of Music graduate Charlie Kramers is looking forward to his future and reflecting on his time as a student in the music recording arts (MRA) program.
The combined program, offered jointly through Western and Fanshawe College, saw the classical upright bass player deepen his long-held love for recording music and form a fondness for jazz.
It also allowed him to earn his bachelor’s degree in music, as well as a diploma in music industry arts, which he received today during the first of six ceremonies celebrating Western’s 320th convocation.
Looking back, “MRA was the perfect program for me,” Kramers said. After all, he’s been serious about recording music since the eighth grade, when he saved money to buy a laptop and sound recording software. By high school, he was the go-to guy for recording vocal tracks and strings for his music program entries into CBC music competitions.
Yet, when he arrived at Western five years ago, he planned to pursue a degree in musical performance, playing bass as his orchestral instrument. But that was before he met Brian Marshall, BMusA’20, a then upper-year MRA student, during his first days on campus, living at Delaware Hall. Marshall was excited to see Kramers recording music with the same software he was using in the program.
“We ended up recording a song together right off the bat,” Kramers said. “He told me about MRA and how it would be a good fit for me.” The exchange led Kramers to apply to the competitive program at the end of his second year.
He passed the audition and the interview, claiming one of only 10 available spots.
Kramers dove into the experience, embracing new knowledge and opportunities.
“It’s so amazing to learn about the history of how people used to record music, which I’m so interested in now. I kind of went in reverse, starting on my laptop, working in (the software program) Logic and then going back to using big mixers and analog compressors.”
The faculty also impressed and inspired him.
“I never had a bad prof at Western or at Fanshawe. Everyone pushed me to do something I wasn’t really prepared to do and it always ended up being something that was beneficial.”~Charlie Kramers, BMus’22
One challenge came in a group project where students were to write a song, make a music video and work as a team.
“I’m awful at video editing, and I volunteered to edit the music video,” Kramers said. He also co-wrote and helped produce and mix the song, called Gameboy, sung by classmates Nick Souza and Rebecca Whitford (Miufly).
Earlier this year, Kramers won an instrumental award from Fanshawe for his work on a cover of These Eyes by The Guess Who. “We slowed the song down to half speed, but we did the chorus really fast,” Kramers said. “It just seemed to work out and I guess they saw I was putting a lot of effort into it.”
The same tenacity drove Kramers to stretch himself in 2020, when Marshall and other friends persuaded him to submit a virtual audition for Western’s Jazz Ensemble, directed by professor and music education chair Kevin Watson.
“I knew nothing about jazz going into it,” Kramers said. “I always admired it, but I barely listened to it. It’s all chord charts. After reading sheet music and playing classical all my life, I had no idea what to do.”
But with persistence and the help of his friends, he got in. And under Watson’s direction, he got better.
“I found Charlie to be a very creative, curious and generous person. I also recognized quickly that he had very good musical instincts, but that he lacked some of the theoretical knowledge and instrumental technique required to perform the jazz repertoire,” Watson said. “As the year progressed, his work ethic became quite evident, as he was one of the students whose musical skills improved the most over that time.”
Watson also encouraged Kramers to join a jazz combo, a small group of performers who learn and perform jazz standards in a live recital.
But by then, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, bringing Kramers a challenge he embraced.
“Because we couldn’t do a live recital, we had to record ourselves instead,” Kramers said. “It was right up my alley. I got to do jazz, and I got to record.”
The result was an entire album of the group’s pieces.
“Charlie’s knowledge of music production really bailed us out during the lockdown,” Watson said. “We all relied on his music production expertise to help craft those recordings. I was quite pleased with the results and I’m excited to see how Charlie’s career develops in the future.”
Kramers is currently exploring opportunities in sound design and post-production – another interest he discovered through the program.
He’s also busy singing and playing guitar in Suzie Jacuzzi, a band he formed with friends he met throughout his time studying in the Faculty of Music: Nathan Nykor, MMus’21, Roisin Miland, BMus’21, and Eran Foster, BMus’22.
In a genre they describe as “funky synth indie-pop,” the band has written six original songs, which they play at live gigs and hope to one day record ─ utilizing talents Kramers honed in a program he loved.
“Even with the ups and downs of COVID, everything worked out exactly how it should have,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”