"Talent is no substitute for preparation." - 10 Questions with Musician and Arts Educator, Rashon Medlock
Rashon Medlock is an unassuming individual. Quiet and reserved, his demeanor doesn't boast the wealth of talent, knowledge, or musical dexterity he possesses. That is, until he picks up his guitar and microphone or takes a seat at his piano. It's then that the magic happens and the shy, gentle giant opens up and lets you into his world.
A musician to his core, Rashon writes, composes, and produces music - when he's not teaching music to exceptional and at risk students all around Jacksonville. He understands the value of giving back, why the arts are not only important but integral to our lives and the development of our youth, and why support in and for the community is the cornerstone of our artistic evolution in Jacksonville and beyond.
We're so pleased to introduce you to our readers! Tell them a little about yourself...
My name is Rashon Medlock and I am a musician. I started out like a lot of musicians here in Jacksonville singing in church, and later in the choir throughout high school. That led me to pursue music at the collegiate level. I attended the University of Florida where I was able to cultivate a musical personality. It was there that I started to learn to create, perform, and eventually record music in classical and non-classical arenas.
After college I began teaching and still made time for my art. I earned a Master’s in Education online, and through my career I have had a chance to teach music at every level. Currently, I teach online and make time for writing, production, and performance.
My first release in 2009 was an EP called 'Stand and Deliver', followed by an album in 2012 called 'Light, Love, and Life'. 'More than music', my most recent release follows 'The Fray', released in 2014. These and other originals will be featured on 'Hims' due in 2019. I’ve had some cool opportunities where I’ve been able to work with artists here in the city, and abroad. I perform as solo artist, and with a band. For more info please check www.RashonMedlock.com
What are the main projects or programs you're working on or involved with in Jacksonville?
Since coming to Jacksonville, I have had many opportunities to be an arts instructor. I worked at Alden Road Exceptional Student Center where I worked with young adults with varying exceptionalities and I helped to expand the music program at Team Up - an after school programs in the area. I started a band exchange program where I took middle school students from Arlington Middle over to Terry Parker where they got a chance to work with the high school band a few times a week, and I was the educational director for The Black Commission, a community political action group aimed at finding workable solutions for issues in the black community. For the last few years, I've had the pleasure of working with The Performer’s Academy as a performer for their ‘Truth and Proof’ series where they give teens a chance to perform on a stage in a safe environment. I’ve had the opportunity to be songwriting instructor for ‘Just Like Me’, which is a summer camp that works with young people who are working through the Juvenile Justice system. The team of instructors and I help the students to create and perform an original show in three weeks’ time.
Outside of that, the main project or program I'm involved in is the local art scene. My job is a little crazy, so I don't have as much time or money (mostly money) to get to everything, but I try to get out to as many things as I can. I think it’s important to support the community in whatever capacity you're capable.
I have been spending time educating myself on the business of music. When I started, there were few people who understood the inner workings of the machine we call the music business. You kinda just got in where you could, and if you ran into people who had knowledge to give, you accepted it and kept it pushing. Music as an industry has become easier to belong to, but harder to understand, especially because so many things can be done independently. I spend time working to understand it better and helping others to grow their understanding as well. At this point I do it independently, but I’m working with a few other artists to develop a curriculum that would hopefully help bridge that gap in understanding.
How did you get started teaching music online for Florida Virtual School? Had you been an instructor prior to teaching online? If so, for whom did you teach and for how long?
I started in 2006 teaching elementary school in Tampa. We moved to Georgia for a year, moved back to Florida and spent a few years in Gainesville, my second home town. We moved to Jacksonville in 2012 and after subbing for a bit, I started at Arlington Middle School. After teaching all levels, I left the classroom for the online education in 2014. It started as a part time gig, and at the end of that first summer I was asked to start full time. Honestly, it was a challenge to leave Arlington. I had really begun to get to know the students.
Aside from teaching music, you are a musician yourself. Tell us about the music you create, perform, and produce.
My music is like if Aloe Blacc and Lupe Fiasco had a baby in Audra McDonald’s bathtub...
I have a ton of influences that range from classical, to trap music, with jazz, rock, R&B, and soul in between. I call it alternative soul music. I like writing music that captures real feelings and moods. The songs I write are observational and inspirational. I like telling stories. It helps me to process the world around me. Writing music for me is as much about the lyrics as it is about the music. I like for the music to aid in conveying the inflection in the lyrics and for the lyrics to give greater context to the music. For me, writing music is catharsis, and I hope it has the same effect for those who listen.
You participate with several community organizations that support and promote the arts and arts education. How important do you feel these programs are to our community? What positive outcomes have you witnessed directly as a result of the work these organizations do? How and in what areas do you feel there can be improvement?
I think these programs and organizations in our community are incredibly important. First and foremost because we are losing arts programs in schools everywhere. In my generation, arts programs have always been the first budget item to go when a school is feeling a financial crunch. One of the first things I learned in my studies was how to prove to an administrator that there were educational benefits to having and/or keeping a music program. With arts programs losing funding and diminishing all around, how do we train the next generation of creatives? These young people need somewhere they can go. We have a society of young people who are seeking positive ways to channel their energies and express themselves. They also need to have contact with a community of creators at large that can motivate and inspire them to reach beyond the situations in which they find themselves. I feel these community organizations provide this. One great benefit is a good number of the instructors and advocates of these organizations are people who found themselves in similar situations and are much better suited to mentor, and guide people down a pathway they themselves are currently on. There are more paths to success than academics and sports. They can be a way, but they are not the way.
Some of the positive outcomes I’ve witnessed have a lot to do with personal growth. I have had the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. Some have experienced unspeakable things. I’ve seen them learn to heal themselves with art, so they can cope with an unforgiving world. In some cases, these are people who have been given up on. Its inspiring to be around people who have every reason to give up but choose not to.
Another outcome is that these organizations become a vehicle for teaching life skills. You can talk about professional artistry from the perspective of one who is doing it. I think it’s empowering to know that you can feed yourself and pay bills from your own creations and abilities. When the instructor works in the field, they can give realistic insight on things like money management, time management, and entrepreneurship simply by way of teaching students to create. We teach the students that not only can they be sustained emotionally by having an outlet for expression, but that outlet can become the revenue stream that leads them to their version of the American dream.
I know that these organizations are already saddled with red tape, crazy schedules, shoe string budgets, and a host of other obstacles. In a perfect world, I would love to see the more support from the local government with a more generalized level of scrutiny. I would like for these organizations to be looked at like investments instead of expenditures.
You're also involved with programs that encourage artistic expression as a means of therapy. What sort of results have you seen over the time you've been working with these programs and do you feel this sort of therapy is effective?
As I stated before, I’ve worked with people from all walks of life. I have seen students on the Autism spectrum who are usually non-verbal become more expressive and cooperative through music and movement. I’ve seen art class and step class after school become a motivation for good behavior during school. I’ve seen a family get closer because they could play music together. Do I feel it's effective? I completely do. The world is great at telling you what you can’t do and who you can’t be. I think it is because it gives a person who only hears what they aren’t good at a chance to be good at something. It gives pride. Working together on a mural or a dance routine encourages team building. When everyone is working to get better together there is a sense of support. It is community at its highest standard. It is everyone striving to be the best version of themselves while holding each other accountable.
There seems to be a general consensus that the arts environment is changing in Jacksonville. How do you view the evolution of the arts since you first put down roots in this city?
I like that there are spaces for visual art to be displayed. I think it gives the city life to have these incredibly creative murals all over. They enhance the city like well-placed tattoos.
There is a strong but fractured music scene in the city. I don’t know that this can be helped as the city is just really big. I can say without a shadow of a doubt there is a strong presence of music creators. I can only speak from my perspective, but I see the scene evolving to be more inclusive and supportive.
I’ve gone to dance performances and art exhibitions where the audience is primarily musicians. I’m seeing interdisciplinary shows where a band with a DJ accompanies a rapper while a painter is depicting the scene and its beautiful. I find myself in conversations in person and online about growing that connection and finding ways to work together. From where I sit, I see the evolution moving toward supporting entrepreneurship. I think the art scene has to evolve because the artists within it are evolving. Some artists have lives that are evolving. Some are looking to support themselves and their families with their art. As they carve out these pathways, my hope is that those younger creators will find their footsteps, so they can push even farther without having to make the same mistakes.
What are the greatest challenges you face as an arts professional living and working in Northeast Florida?
Rehearsal time, lol…
One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced in Northeast Florida has been getting venues to understand that no artist needs a venue anymore. When I first got back, I was looking to book a show and I was asked “How many people can you bring out?” Which used to be a relevant question because the number of people would equate to people who will presumably eat or drink at the establishment, thereby making them money. Today, there are so many ways to “go to” a performance, and those ways are expanding. I have done shows where there were more people watching online than actually in the building. I think my main issue is that no one has to go anywhere anymore, which means that while you could draw a lot of people, a venue shouldn’t make you solely responsible for filling their venue. Especially at a time where there are many, many platforms that will allow you to stream your concert from your house to the world, you can receive money from people watching from all over the world, and they can buy your merch all online from all over the world. All. Over. The. World. You can do it from your living room. You could also look into performing private concerts, which have netted some musicians upward of $60,000 in one season.
On second thought, I don’t have any challenges.
What have you learned about yourself through your giving and your work?
If I’m being honest I’m still learning all the time. There’s never enough time or money so you do the best you can do with what you have, and you make improvements where you can. I’ve learned that talent is no substitute for preparation. To be talented is to be a vessel that is ready to receive, but to be prepared is to be a vessel that is ready to give. And finally the rule of Kung Fu. The way I learned it, you may know Kung Fu, but there’s always someone that knows more Kung Fu. That is to say, you don’t know everything.
How do you define success in what you do?
Good question... I suppose it would depend on your perspective.
If we’re thinking monetarily, I define success by being able to survive as a working musician. If we were to look at the people considered to be the greatest composers of all time, you would see that they reached a point of sustenance with their art no matter what they had to do. Be it writing music, teaching private lessons, or touring. These people had lives and families. Success in this context is one’s ability to support themselves and sustain their families with what they do.
If were speaking more intrinsically, I would say success is when you can do what you love for, and at such a capacity that it defines you. When that’s the thing that people know about you. Like, Jihan is a writer. At that point, whether anyone thinks you’re good or bad is irrelevant. They have to respect the fact that even if they don’t think you’re good enough, someone does.
We'd like to thank Rashon for his participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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