May Artist Spotlight: Eclectic Musician, Soli Hughes

What is your art form? Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?

Ever since I can remember, I've always wanted to be a guitar player.  I got my first guitar at age 11, practiced every day, took lessons for a year and turned professional at age 12. So my entrance into the arts as a whole started with being a guitarist during which time I played numerous styles. These include and continue today in the areas of: Jazz, Alternative, Metal, Classical, Spanish, Country, Hip Hop and Rap, Electronic and Experimental music. I've lived and played in areas of the world that are home to these styles including: Perugia, Italy, Chicago, Seattle, Nashville, Atlanta, London and North Dakota, respectively. Through the years I eventually moved away from touring and concerts and into the arena of a teaching artist, which I have been doing with COMPAS since 1993. I am a Music Specialist with expertise in all areas of the music business, i.e. performance, history, business, recording, arranger, composer, mentoring and teaching artist. The residencies I have developed are rooted in my artistic and geographical experiences.

Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring musicians or performers in general?

The best advice I can give to artists who are thinking of a career in any area of the arts would be three things. First, learn and polish your craft to the max, and when you've done this continue to learn and polish it. Every piece of silver needs constant polishing to keep it looking fresh and new. Second, surround yourself with artists/individuals who are better and more experienced than you. Art is not a competition but a lifelong growing process which never stops, so greater, stronger, positive associations will be helpful and beneficial for a lifetime. Finally, one that seems so simple but is absolutely crucial is to keep practicing. Develop your own unique artistic path and absorb and be appreciative of other artists and art forms.

How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?

Teaching and providing artistic avenues for expression in students has challenged me to constantly develop and implement innovative ways not only to teach the art form but to leave a sense of, "Hey I could do something like this.” and have students apply creative thinking to other areas of their lives. Teaching also gives an immediate response from the students as to how my art form relates to them and has meaning in areas outside of the classroom, which in turn helps to keep me pushing the envelope of creativity.

By the end of a week with you, what are a few things you hope most students have learned?

Creatively at the end of about a week, I would like students to become excited for the next day, the next event, what’s going to happen next.  From a teaching perspective I would like the students to have grasped an overview of my art, and start to develop some ideas of their own. I would also like the students to start thinking outside the box and see where my music has made differences or has fallen short in relating outside of the classroom.

What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?

Being a COMPAS artist means that I get to be included and surrounded by other extremely talented artists in all kinds of disciplines. It's like traveling around the world in one organization (COMPAS) and being able to interact with and learn about the many art forms that are represented without buying a plane ticket. COMPAS has a vast history in arts education and is known for excellence from the top down to the newest member and that sets the course for a ship to sail anywhere in the world.

How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?

The way I practice my creativity is to live it, every day, 24-7. I've been doing this since age 12.  I work from home and I work exclusively for myself, so every day is a creative day for me. I typically get up at around 5 am regardless of teaching or not. After a nice cup of coffee, my studio is turned on and stays on till I go to bed so if an idea comes I can develop it quickly. I balance each day with developmental ideas, trying out new technology as the music business is constantly changing in this area. I find time for just relaxing and humor and I keep my working environment clutter to an absolute minimum so I'm not working like I'm stuck in rush hour traffic. Finally, I run my artistic life like a business and that keeps my art on point, my teaching solid and keeps me eating well.

How is your residency with special need students at Edgewood Education Center going? What are the challenges and benefits of working with the students?

Currently I am working with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), DCD (Developmental Coordination Disorder), and many other spectrum students ages 13 to 22. The residency is the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll & Pop Culture. The goal is have the students put on a rock ‘n’ roll show. There are many challenges relative to the specifics of the spectrum, such as communication, prolonged time to teach fundamental parts, days where students are not in the frame of mind to participate. Even something as simple as getting from point A to point B, might be a challenge on certain days, as well as adverse sensitivity/reaction to various instruments.

However, there are some students who have accomplished amazing things within their special abilities. One student has come to class each time to play the piano with the exact same finger placement with no musical knowledge, training or even owning a piano. Another has gone from playing with two fingers to using both hands. This by the way would be like having someone play Mary Had A Little Lamb and then hearing them play a movement by Mozart in the span of two weeks.  This is truly amazing by any standard and has reinforced my belief that creativity can exist in many students on the spectrum and the arts are a powerful force that can't be denied. While the challenges are great, it is infinitely cool to see the happiness and joy on these students’ faces as they come and go from music class.