Christian Nicely, 14, is a Truckee musician with big dreams. He would like a record deal by the time he is 16 years old like his idol, guitarist Jonny Lang. And he wants to be the best guitarist in the world in 10 years, playing in front of thousands of people like another one of his idols, John Mayer.
Christian laughs when he hears himself say this because he’s humble. “I better keep working,” he said.
Lots of us have dreams to be the best at something: the best skier, dancer, lacrosse player, or student. But Christian is easy to believe because he is taking steps toward his dream daily, not just thinking about it.
I get to see the steps he takes because I play stand-up bass with Christian in our band, Jazz Cider. We busk in downtown Truckee, collecting dollars in his open guitar case (we have made up to $100 an hour!). And we always find time to play for fun. His progress is inspiring. Here are four steps I see Christian taking towards his dream:
1) Christian practices. a lot. He plays jazz, rock, pop, blues, classical, and his own music two to five hours a day, mostly at night. In the home his family just moved into in Prosser, Christian’s practice area is still under construction. But that doesn’t bother him. “It’s just a room,” he said. Music happens there and that’s all that matters to Christian. He has what he needs around him: sheet music, pedals, guitars, and his phone so he can record ideas.
You can also hear him in the Truckee High School Jazz Band next year when he’s a freshman. When he comes to my house for movie night the first thing he’ll do is pull a guitar off the wall. He won’t ever stop playing, even during the movie!
Christian’s fingers might be working, but the music is easy and beautiful and it doesn’t sound like work to us. It’s magnetic. Even his brother Kyle, 16, said, “I would listen to Christian all day if I could.”
2) Christian gets immersed in the music. “When I’m playing, I think about nothing at all except the song and trying to speak my feelings on the guitar,” he said. “I don’t try to show off how fast or how complicated a lick I can play. I try to do something that will add to the whole song.” Kids our age are usually obsessed with what others think of them. We imagine ourselves being watched and it’s hard not to feel judged. But when Christian is playing guitar, he loses himself in what he loves. No judging can break that.
3) Christian learns from his mistakes. My conductor in the Reno Youth Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Jason Altieri, said, “If you’re going to mess up, mean it.” Other musicians I know say mistakes are the things you build on. When I notice Christian make a mistake, I see him smile or laugh at himself. Then I hear him build on the mistake to make it a stronger mistake. He actually tricks his audience into believing the mistake was exactly what he wanted to play. Suddenly it isn’t a mistake anymore. Christian also knows mistakes can motivate him: “When I can’t play a lick it just makes me practice until I can play it,” he said.
4) Christian is committed. A few years ago Christian chose guitar over soccer. His teammates still bug him about quitting, but he said, “I’ve never had any other dream than to play guitar.” About a year ago, Christian even chose to get a guitar instead of a phone. Christian chooses music over most things. Making choices is brave because there is always something you lose when you choose.
When Christian isn’t playing guitar he is outside with his brother, Kyle, and his twin brother, Grant, whose sport is soccer. The three brothers slackline, rock climb, water ski, and wakeboard. Their mom and dad, Beth and Brad, support Christian in his dream, but unlike a lot of parents, they never tell him to practice. They don’t have to. He’s making his dream happen all by himself.