With a Little Help From (a lot of) His Friends, a Music School senior creates an ambitious body of work and finds joy & musical fulfillment during a global pandemic
It’s Spring 2021. You’re a senior in a prestigious music school, and you’re expected to turn in a killer recital before they’re going to hand you a diploma. You haven’t been able to play in front of an audience; rehearsals are challenging to say the least; and you’re faced with the prospect of playing another live-streamed recital that may or may not be viewed by anyone outside the school’s faculty. It’s hardly an encouraging or exciting end to your four years in college.
This is where Sammy Haig found himself. A trumpet player, songwriter, and producer from Cleveland, Sammy had a great college career going pre-pandemic that included gigs with the likes of Bootsy Collins, James Morrison, and Wayne Bergeron- not to mention the countless concerts, recitals, and shows that the students at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University play in a given academic year. When everyone was sent home from campus in March 2020 and the music school went virtual, Sammy started thinking about re-tooling his pending senior recital into something truly unique. Maybe even something that had never been done before at the Jacobs School of Music.
During a long drive between Sammy’s hometown in Cleveland and the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington IN, he began to dream up the project that would become Cucumber (EP & video series, released May 28, 2021). What if, instead of trying to perform a traditional recital concert under heavy health (and, by extension, creative) restrictions, he took a step outside of the traditional model and embraced the online format for everything it stood to give? Live performances were all but gone, and this was a time for recorded music to shine.
Immediately and intoxicatingly inspired by this thought, Sammy realized that if he could make his senior recital in the format of a remotely recorded EP, he wouldn’t have to worry about health restrictions or a size-restricted ensemble that wouldn’t fully express his creative aspirations. He could work with as many musicians from anywhere in the world as he wanted to, take his time to craft something to be proud of- and, he could be creative in an entirely new way: video.
A recorded recital would need some sort of visual accompaniment. But remember those split-screen videos that every musician was releasing during the lockdowns? Those weren’t bad at all, but social media had become saturated with them. If Sammy had all this time to craft visual accompaniment, why not use that as another opportunity to be as creative as possible? The visual side of the project would become closely intertwined with the musical side: some songs were inspired by videos, and in other cases the video ideas came before a single note was recorded.
With this giant dream in his head, Sammy wrote up a 4-page proposal to the Jacobs School of Music’s Jazz Faculty, and surprisingly they took a chance on it, approving it unanimously. Then there was an unforeseen benefit to the creation process: sanity.
It’s well documented at this point that students at all levels suffered (and are suffering) greatly from a lack of social interaction during and beyond the pandemic lockdowns. This can be especially true for music school students, whose entire social lives are often predicated upon what’s happening in the ensembles they’re participating in while obtaining a degree. Not getting the band together for over a year has been devastating for relationships both musical and personal.
Sammy soon found that by opening the Cucumber process to collaborations with his friends, motivation came flowing. He’d get stuck or overwhelmed, and ask a collaborator to hop on the phone. Each and every time, the call ended with a renewed sense of direction and of not being in this alone. Together at a distance, they’d figure out the next steps. Together at a distance, they shifted their collective mindsets and found fulfillment musically and socially.
The triumphant result is Cucumber, a multimedia project including 6 songs, 6 music videos, and 73 remote collaborators that subtly and beautifully integrates jazz, funk, and soul influences into an accessible pop landscape. The project was created in less than a year with no budget.
Each video in Cucumber explores not just different locations and editing styles, but also various types of visual storytelling, leading to a collection that resembles more of a series of short stories rather than an entire novel. You’ll see everything from stop-motion in “Doesn’t Feel Like Summer” to outer-space CGI in “Dasher II”, approaches that required different ways of producing and thinking. Surprisingly, Sammy didn’t start out to make each video differently; like any great session player or producer, he’ll tell you that what comes out is what the art demands. “Doesn’t Feel Like Summer” is about a very personal and specific subject, and the stop-motion holds great significance in that. The video for “Dasher II” wouldn’t have been able to portray the space-influenced aesthetic of the music with an in-camera music video. And so on for the rest of the videos in the project.
Cucumber is an ambitious project from an ambitious mind. A fully realized and mature output, it’s only the first step for Sammy Haig as he travels down the road to a stellar creative career. If a world-stopping pandemic can’t keep this guy down, who knows what amazing music and video remains for Sammy to show us?
Cucumber was released on May 28, 2021, and is available on all streaming platforms.
What They’re Saying about Cucumber–
- Sinusoidal Music, 9/14/21, Sammy Haig, Cucumber
- AFX Radio, 9/15/21, Sammy Haig’s Ambitious EP ‘Cucumber’
- Dark Side of Lights, 9/10/21, Spotify Playlist add, “Cucumber”
- YMX- Our Music Feed, 9/16/21, Spotify Playlist add, “Cucumber”
- Roadie Music, 9/15/21, “Cucumber” é uma obra prima majestosa de Sammy Haig, confira
- New Sounds of North America, 9/15/21, Spotify Playlist add, “Dreaming Of”