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Carthage’s Performing Arts Series, in support by the Racine Community Foundation, continues its 25th anniversary with a concert by musicians and comedians Bridge and Wolak. Bridge and Wolak are a dynamic duo that teach and perform to audiences around the world. Musical education is a difficult but rewarding field that pushes you to become your own motivator while also giving you the opportunity to receive inspiration from artists and coworkers. I spoke with Kornel Wolak about his journey in the music industry, an average day on tour, and what inspires him to perform.

What drew you to the music industry?

I was born to two classical musicians so music was a part of my household for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t shown much interest in anything other than music (lucky for me and my parents). I started on the piano at a very young age. At that point, it had nothing to do with industry. It was purely where my interest lied and due to what I was exposed to. For each artist, there is a particular point where you decide to turn your passion into your job. In our cases, we both entered the music industry because we were already musicians!

Who (or what) are you inspired by?

As you work on your music education, you encounter quite a few people that inspire you as they assist you in defining your skills. In my case, there are two people who continue to inspire me: my parents. As they constantly took me to orchestra concerts, rehearsals, opera shows, and chamber music performances, my love for music never dissipated. However, I was also inspired by people who worked side by side with me along with the famous musicians of today.

How did the two of you meet in this industry?

I used to play many concerts with Michael’s professor. He was an extremely gifted elderly gentleman and was very passionate about his music. However, as our tour schedule grew, my partner decided to step down, saying that his touring days were over and that he had a family to retire with. He introduced me to his hot headed student Michael and, ten years later, we still tour and play music to this day!

What is an average day on tour for you?

First, you wake up and aren’t sure where you are because almost every hotel room looks the same! You grab breakfast, visit a coffee shop (if that’s what keeps you going), and you travel to the airport to fly to your next venue. You arrive at your destination and run through sound checks with the tech crew at 4 p.m. After a short dinner break, the concert begins at roughly 7:30 p.m. If everything goes well, the concert ends and you are back at your hotel room by 11 p.m. Rinse and repeat. However, due to the changes that shut down has delivered us, flexibility is crucial as you don’t know when something can go awry.

What is your favorite/least favorite part about this line of work?

My favorite part of my line of work is our audiences. Their reactions and energy inspire us to perform our repertoires in a different way. Of course, this depends on the audience, as how they react to our pieces changes depending on location. They make our concerts unique and I will remember every new experience. The least favorite part of my line of work is the uncertainty when it comes to possible food options. Food is the second most important thing for us during our tours (audience being the most important) because it gives you the energy to perform. Michael and I are vegan, which is difficult depending on the location of the venue. Many cities do not have many vegan options, meaning that we’re forced to pack our meals which adds more tasks on our already busy schedule.

The past two years have been a stressful time for everyone. How did social distancing affect your performances?

On one hand, we worried that it would be difficult to perform after a two-year break. However, concerts seemed to be easier to us because of how we craved performance. We were finally able to return to what we loved to do. Our audiences were also craving and all of their energy was focused on our performances.

On the other hand, travel is currently extremely difficult due to shut down. Travel alone gets so complicated that it causes us to be stressed out before we arrive at the venue. This adds to the complications but it is something that we are trying to get used to. Overall, the resting period was good and our audience continues to inspire us with their high energy and craving for performances.

Are there any songs you’d like to adapt in the future?

We have a long list of personal favorites but it isn’t that simple, unfortunately. The process of adapting songs is unique (especially for an accordionist/clarinetist duo) because the songs we like may not fit well with our instruments or classically trained backgrounds. A few of our favorite pieces are from the Baroque period and we hope to adapt more works in the future!

What is your creative process for song adaptations?

Michael and I take two weeks off every summer (no tours, classes, or meetings) where we spend day in and day out working on adapting pieces for future tours. We try to limit any form of technology while we work so that we don’t distract ourselves from creativity. A quiet environment is a requirement as creativity isn’t something that you can switch on and off at will. Once we have rough drafts of our pieces, we spend travel time on tours polishing and perfecting our drafts until they are prepared for our performances.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

It is very important that you ask yourself why? After years of pushing for success, you may find yourself feeling frustrated or exhausted about your current predicament. If you don’t have an explanation to why you are putting so much effort into this, you may feel the need to quit! Before setting out to complete your goals, be honest with yourself and make sure that you are achieving these goals because you want to, not because you were told to. Know yourself and know why you want to be an artistic individual while also becoming your own motivator.

 

See Bridge and Wolak perform at Carthage College on Thursday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the A. F. Siebert Chapel. Adults $10, Seniors 55+ $8, and under 18 $5. Get tickets 24/7 at www.carthage.edu/tickets or contact the Fine Arts Box Office Tuesday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. at 262-551-6661.