In his day job, Gordon Ah-Tye is the director of radiology and radiation oncology at Kaweah Delta Health Care District in Visalia. In his off hours, he's a musician who's been singing and playing piano for more than three decades. He has a regular gig 6:30 p.m. Thursday nights at Piazza Del Pane at Cedar and Nees avenues in Fresno. Ah-Tye talks about the balancing act of playing music while having a family and full-time job.
How did you get started?
I have played the piano for 54 years and have sung for the past 30. I took classical piano lessons for nine years, but over time learned to play by ear. In college, a friend, Ken Kawaguchi, asked me to join his garage band "Ken and the Komets." Ken encouraged me to sing. Until then I had never tried. I owe him a lot, as singing is now my favorite means of expression. I was with the Komets for 27 years, retired for two years, played at Slates Restaurant for five, and at my latest gig for five years.
How would you describe your music?
My style of music really is easy listening. I have blended chords that are influenced by my Motown upbringing and my love for the Bossa Nova sound. Playing by ear has allowed me to interpret songs in my own way. I am proud to say it's my own style. It's mellow, so people can enjoy the songs, but can converse easily. Old standards to current songs, my playlist is more than 300 strong.
So you played in a band for a long time, and have a consistent paying gig. You also have a day job. Do you consider yourself a professional musician? Or are you a hobbyist? Do those labels even matter?
It really doesn't matter. It is, for any musician, what you want it to be. I guess I do think of a professional as one who makes their living from music. But the internal joy I get from making music is an incredible gift. That others appreciate and enjoy what I create is honestly rather mystical. It is extremely humbling.
In a few years, you'll be able to retire and spend more time on your music. Does this mean putting that band back together?
I love playing solo because it is simple, but the lure of creating music together in a group is enticing. There is nothing like creating a sound with others and being on that vibe. It's a language of creativity that is indescribable.
What advice would you give to others who are squeezing music in with their day jobs?
I would advise them to find work they enjoy that allows them to be financially comfortable. Then, you can pursue and develop music in a way that allows you to fulfill the other facets of life outside of music. I'm sorry if I am being a downer to prospective "stars," but as long as you are able to use music as a vehicle that can bring you personal joy and inner peace in expression, that in itself is success. I've seen too many incredibly talented musicians (way better musicians than some "stars") who never make a ripple. The required timing, luck and connections make the odds of hitting it big as tough as hitting the lottery. Having a balanced life is a noble and fulfilling achievement. I have a wonderful wife, great children, a family that I love and a granddaughter on the way. Tell me that life can get more creative or fulfilling than that. The ultimate high.
Know a local band of musician more people should be familiar with? Send details to Joshua Tehee, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Joshuatehee on Twitter