Jonathan Craft | Associate Conductor of Cats Musical
Jonathan Craft’s Cats run may have been cut short, but this musical talent is still landing on his feet.
When we first spoke with Jonathan Craft, it was right before the coronavirus pandemic had really taken hold. The pianist and hornist was having the time of his life in a “dream-come-true role” as associate music director on tour with Cats The Musical. In fact, he’d been on the road since last October, on an intense, eight-performance-a-week schedule that was planned through June 2020.
While touring was challenging — keeping each and every performance new and unique while conquering the hardest keyboard book he’d ever taken on — it was also hugely rewarding. But, now, like so many other musicians, Jonathan is facing another kind of challenge with this season of uncertainty — not only for himself, but for his entire industry.
Given the impact of COVID-19 on Broadway and touring productions, we wanted to check back in to see what current life looks like for him. [Spoiler alert: He’s taking it all in stride despite the crushing disappointment of see Cats end early.]
How has the pandemic impacted you and your performance schedule?
I wish I had better news, but the pandemic forced Cats to cancel the rest of its run. We initially flew home just expecting a three-week suspension; that quickly turned into five weeks, then eight weeks, and then (as of Wednesday last week) a full-on cancellation of our show. I’ve been told that the behind-the-scenes efforts were valiant and tireless, but in the end things just didn’t unfold in our favor.
I was absolutely devastated; this tour was an experience I loved every minute of, and hanging onto the hope (however naïve it was) that we’d all eventually go back was keeping my spirit afloat. The news still hasn’t fully sunk in yet, if I’m being honest; I still feel like I’ll be getting on a plane to rejoin my friends and colleagues in just a few weeks.
How are you staying busy and/or staying on top of your craft?
Fortunately, I’m safe and healthy in my hometown of Houston. Since I’ve been home, I’ve alternated between under-functioning (spending entire days video gaming and watching TV) and over-functioning (doing projects I’ve spent years avoiding, getting prequalified to buy a house, practicing piano for four-plus hours a day).
Musically, I’ve been working on my raw piano technique in a way I've never had a chance to before (remember I went to school for horn, not piano!). It’s been invigorating and a welcome distraction; getting my butt kicked by Brahms’ 51 Exercises has kept me from going crazy worrying about everything — and watching myself steadily improve has only made me hungrier to keep at it.
All that to say, I’m taking care of myself and doing everything in my power to make sure I’m worthy of an opportunity like Cats if it comes my way again.
" I’m taking care of myself and doing everything in my power to make sure I’m worthy of an opportunity like Cats if it comes my way again. "
Have you been involved with any "virtual" performances?
No virtual performances, but I’ve taken an online conducting class with the music director of Jagged Little Pill on Broadway, produced several accompaniment tracks for singers, and am planning to collaborate with some of my favorite Houston colleagues as soon as it’s safe for us to get together. In particular, I’m looking forward to playing the Brahms Horn Trio (on piano, that is!) and Steve Reich’s two-piano arrangement of “Finishing The Hat.”
If you weren’t a musician today, Jonathan would be…
Well, the short answer is “nothing.” I am convinced that this is what I was born to do and created to do. That’s not to say that I didn’t quit momentarily and look into a couple of other career paths, but that led to a very depressing chapter for me and nothing really connected — except when I went back to music. Absolutely nothing else has called to me at this visceral level; it’s how I feel alive. At the end of day, this is what gets me out of bed in morning.
Do you have any tips or words of encouragement for young musicians on getting to the next level?
Speaking as someone who has really struggled with perfectionism, I wish I could go back and give myself some grace. You have to learn how to be kind to yourself — and you have to learn how to appreciate your craft from an intrinsic standpoint rather than an extrinsic value proposition. What made me question and quit music for awhile was because I felt I wasn’t good enough. So I had to re-center my “why” to the internal rather than concerning myself with the external and what people might think. It's about how good you can get for yourself, not for others.
" It's about how good you can get for yourself, not for others. "
How did you find out about Coregami?
Well, welcome to 2020 — because targeted advertising on Instagram is how I learned about the brand! It got my attention because, with Cats, we never actually performed in traditional orchestra pits. [Composer] Andrew Lloyd Webber never wanted any humans visible, so that the audience would feel as if they were stepping into a totally feline world. So, we played in green rooms, on loading docks, in adjoining buildings, trap rooms, and other really bizarre places — the pit was always completely and totally remote and we’d have audio monitors and video monitor to see the stage. So, as you can imagine, all of those places could get quite hot — and Coregami just looked really good, but also breathable and comfortable for those conditions. I absolutely love love love wearing these shirts, and I wish I would have discovered them years ago.
" I absolutely love love love wearing these shirts, and I wish I would have discovered them years ago. "