The story, and inspiration, behind “Reach for the Stars” – as told by its composers.
Wherever you are on your musical journey, chances are someone older and wiser has offered a hand at just the right moment: A teacher’s passionate instruction, a mentor’s wisdom, or a family member who gave you the courage to believe.
So we sat down with the dynamic composition duo behind the latest song in the “You Can Play” series to discover the people who inspired their musical careers – and what they now do to have the same positive effect on the lives of the next generation.
Music as Play, all Thanks to Pops
For Dave Olson, the path to music was as he puts it,
“Strangely direct while incredibly winding.”
“Somehow I was really passionate about music and involved in it from the earliest ages, but at the same time never actually thought it could be a paying job,” he says.
“My Dad was my earliest musical influence as he was in bands in the Minneapolis, MN area for as long as I could remember. So I grew up around instruments of all types and was allowed to play and experiment and experience all of it from the earliest age. I don’t know if it was consciously encouraged so much as it was just ever-present,” He said.
“Looking back, it’s kind of the ideal childhood for a musician.”
The Woman Who Made the Music Possible
Unlike Dave, Alycia Betz’s musical journey didn’t start until middle school.
“I actually taught myself the basics of piano, and I wanted one of my own.”
That’s where Alycia’s first influence came in. “A woman posted a want ad selling her piano,” Alycia re-counted. “She had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative nervous system disorder. She knew I loved the piano, so she let me take the piano and make payments to her with my babysitting money.”
For Alycia, this was her first brush with the generosity of the music world and that key positive moment of belief in the power of music. She didn’t know it, but her musical path was set.
Doubting Counselor Leads Dave Down His Path
Dave’s journey progressed as well – even if the next steps were inauspicious ones. “So I was actually the last chair trumpet in high school band,” he reported. “I mean, I was just awful at the trumpet,” he says. “But my band teacher was a really cool guy.”
Looking past his trumpet performance, the teacher took Dave and a few of his friends under his wing. “We basically had free access to the band room and the recording equipment to just go explore, try, do, and make whatever music we could.”
That freedom to experiment and explore furthered Dave’s ambitions in music
But for every positive, there’s a negative to balance it out. “I was loving music, but then came the meeting with my high school advisor,” says Dave. “I told him I wanted to work in a recording studio and mix sounds and he said, ‘I don’t think that’s an actual job.’”
Enter Sebastian – Proof of Employment Opportunity
Far from crushing Dave’s dreams, the guidance counselor emboldened him. “I hit the streets and went looking to prove my counselor wrong,” says Dave. “I actually found a recording studio ad in the local paper, made the call, and asked the person who answered if I could spend a day job shadowing. That guy, Sebastian, changed my life.”
Dave only spent a single day in the studio with Sebastian, but it was the quality that counted. “In that one day, he showed me all the fundamental steps of recording, walked me through the business side, and showed me the opportunities for music in commercials, movies, TV, and band recording. He laid out the road map for the rest of my life.”
Dave was inspired.
“I went to college for anthropology and psychology as a backup plan, but everything else went into my passion for creating music in the studio.”
Alycia Finds a Partner in Music – and Life
Meanwhile, Alycia was mastering the piano and finding new inspiration. “I learned about music theory in high school, and started dabbling in songwriting,” she said. But the next person to come into her musical life was someone very special.
“Funny as it was to say, it was the boy I met at the tender age of 18 – who then became my husband,” she says.
“He was the music composition major in college, not me. But he was so encouraging, so honest in his feedback yet constructive. He helped me see this as something I could really do.”
With her husband’s encouragement, Alycia embarked on her full-time musical journey – and, eventually, to a string of collaborations with Dave.
Brought Together to Sharpen Each Other
Like any great team, Alycia and Dave are inspired by each other when they partner up on a project. “We both come at it with years of perspective and experience,” says Alycia.
And the perspective of two capable individuals working together in sync produces even stronger work.
“I learned long ago,” says Dave,
“that if I’m open to another perspective besides my own, the results of what we are creating are always better.”
“It’s so true,” added Alycia.
“I’m a big believer in the idea that if you can’t take feedback from a peer you’re never going to grow in your ability.”
Giving Back and Building the Next Generation
For both Dave and Alycia, reaching this place in their careers also means giving back to the next generation. “I’ve been so blessed by the folks who helped me,” says Dave.
That’s why he’s been involved in the exploration of Compositional Therapy.
“We worked on a very exciting program at the St. Charles Youth and Family Services in Milwaukee helping at-risk youth tell their story through hip hop,” he said.
“It allowed them to open up and process their hurt in a tangible way.”
Alycia, meanwhile, mentors different high school students in songwriting.
“Seeing them develop and watching them improve is incredibly rewarding.”
A Most Meaningful Thank You
And for Dave, there was one more special moment of giving back that he will always remember. “A couple of years ago I got to reflecting on Sebastian, the guy who had had such an influence on me,” he said. “So I jumped on Google and LinkedIn, tracked him down, and just sent him a quick message to say how much that single day influenced my life and where it had led.”
It turned out the investment was not one-sided. “He sent me a note back the next day, thanking ME of all things,” re-counted Dave.
“He told me he had been going through a tough time recently and my note at that very moment – telling me he had made an impact – was exactly what he needed to hear.”
“That’s the great part about the music business,” says Alycia.
“When we band together to support each other, we can all reach for the stars.”