Interview with Brant TaylorCellist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
From pounding the pavement to practicing meditation, cellist Brant Taylor knows what it takes to live a lifestyle that fosters greatness.
A self-proclaimed “late bloomer” in the world of strings, Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Brant Taylor didn’t pick up the instrument until the ripe age of 8. Nor was he confined to practice rooms throughout his school years; he played sports and did all the “normal teenager” things. But, none of that really seemed to affect his natural affinity for music, which he truly discovered while at Interlochen’s summer camp during high school—a “formative experience” for him.
And, the rest is history, as they say.
We recently chatted with Brant, who just returned from a three-week European tour with the CSO, to get his perspective on what it takes to go from good to great. (And, yes, he packed Coregami shirts in his suitcase.)
How do you get ready for a big show?
Brant: You really have to feel good and take care of yourself to perform at an optimum level; it’s about eating right, exercising, getting enough rest—all the things we know we should do, but sometimes let slide. For me, getting ready for the big show is more about doing my best to sustain this healthy lifestyle. Plus, I try to avoid the rigid mentality of ‘rituals.’ For me, it’s more about being adaptable and versatile, whether I’m at home performing a show in Chicago or traveling. It’s my own way of combating performance nerves—to try NOT to overthink it!
" Good performances require complete focus, so it’s all about strengthening the mind-body connection to foster that focus.”
How do you feel about the mind-body connection, as it relates to musical performance?
Brant: So, about a year ago, I took a bit of a sabbatical from the CSO and, during that time, one of the things I did was attend a meditation retreat a couple hours west of Chicago. It’s such a valuable daily discipline for many reasons. But, for me, it’s really a tool to block out the distractions that can sometimes present themselves on stage when those spotlights are on. Good performances require complete focus, so it’s all about strengthening the mind-body connection to foster that focus.
What advice would you give to young musicians?
Well, first of all, there is no substitute for working hard. No matter what innate aptitude you possess, everyone experiences both moments of inspiration along with disappointment and frustration. You just have to keep your nose to the grindstone and keep working—and practicing. Also, speaking of practicing, it’s important to practice well. I see so many young musicians play to their strengths, meaning they don’t focus as much on the weakest—their most challenging—parts of the music. It’s tempting to practice what you play well over and over. But this isn’t really productive.
When you’re not practicing and performing, what are you doing?
Brant: Traveling! A favorite place of mine is New Zealand. I spent 3 weeks there—I even left my cello at home. The country truly is surreal; there’s a little bit of everything—rainforest, mountains, lakes, fjords, and more! I also love cooking simple, healthy meals, especially Indian food for its richness and diversity of flavor. And, then I do try to spend some free time in the fresh air, with outdoor activities and exercising.
What do you always travel with?
Brant: A little portable espresso maker called an Aeropress. And, running shoes—running is a great way to see a city and get in some exercise. Of course, if I’m traveling for a performance, I pack Coregami shirts now, too.
What’s up next for you?
Brant: This month, I’m heading to the Arizona Musicfest; I’ve served as principal cello there since 2006. In March, we have our annual recital at DePaul University. And, then of course, the usual concert schedule with the CSO.
So, how did you find out about Coregami?
Brant: Well, I actually met Kevin [Yu, creator of Coregami] about 10 years ago. But, when I heard about Coregami, I didn’t initially realize it was his company! I was intrigued, though, about this new performance shirt and immediately ordered the Gershwin.”
What’s your favorite quality about the Coregami shirt?
Brant: The first thing I noticed, even just taking the shirt out of the shipping package, was how light and soft the fabric was—that was when I knew it was going to be different than any other dress shirt. It felt almost like my exercise clothes! You barely notice you’re wearing it because it’s so malleable and comfortable. The Bernstein shirt is great, too, as it’s even more versatile because it can be worn alone or with a suit jacket or a tuxedo. I wear Coregami for all my CSO performances, and I just took the shirts on tour through Europe. The ease in washing them is unprecedented; they are so low-maintenance. In fact, now, I really cannot imagine not wearing Coregami. They’ve become just another way to ensure a great performance for me.
" Try NOT to overthink it! "