An artist’s work can transcend time along with the lasting inspiration and message that it conveys. George Orlando’s music transcends beyond not only himself, but those who experience it. Long before he began formal training at age 14, music has been a part of Orlando’s life.
“When we were around 7 or 8 years old, my friends and I would put on records and lip-sync the vocals while pretending to play instruments. I found a curved stick and played it like a saxophone. We’d ask our parents and neighbors to come over and pay a dime to watch us perform. Playing music was just something I always wanted to do,” Orlando said.
Though he was eventually able to carve out a path for himself as a professional musician, George laments not having any musical influences or mentors from his family. “I was told that some of my uncles and aunts sang and played instruments long before I was born, but only as a hobby. For one reason or another, they stopped playing altogether. By the time I picked up my first instrument, I was the only musician in the entire family.”
Many artists in today's music scene have family members that are heavily involved in the industry and have fully cemented their familial roots into it just so their younger generation can get an advantage. George may have lost out on the guidance that having family formally involved in the industry could of given him, but he can say that they had legitimate fears of him being taken advantage of when he finally reached his music peak.
"Some people have had an advantage, more of a head start when music was in their family. If music is in your family, there's a sort of guidance there. One of the guys of Boyz II Men has like 6 children and they're all crazy musically inclined. That's just one example."
The advice given stayed with him even as he went independent.
"Most of the people in my family, especially in my immediate family who didn't do music were nervous about somebody trying to cut a path for their life, for their music," Orlando said. "They said you need to have something to fall back on or music is a hobby. They were not looking at music as a career."
Given that George’s family were a part of an older, post-war generation, choosing a career path in music was not well understood or received. Having no exposure to the professional music scene, his parents and relatives were unfamiliar with the potential opportunities, and often encouraged him to find a “security blanket” in non-artistic industries.
“Growing up under that mentality put me at a disadvantage because it divided my focus between developing my musical skills and trying to find some other “safe” career path that I really had no interest in. It was a hinderance that I still have to fight to overcome, because I lost a lot of time….almost 20 years going in all the wrong directions."
Teen years are the years of discovery and growth. George used this time to grow into his artistic craft. Taking lessons was just the start, and he eventually found his groove and turned a hobby into a lasting career.
“After trying everything from sports, to art, to karate, I asked for guitar lessons. She cleaned people’s homes for a living, and it was back-breaking work, so she wasn’t about to just throw money away. I remember her telling me that if she had to make me practice, she’d pull me right out of music classes.”
He found his niche in the guitar, and just couldn’t stop playing. Practicing hours at a time day or night, he was jamming to his own rhythm.
“For the first time, my mother would have to call me down to dinner like 2 or 3 times, because I just wouldn’t stop playing guitar. Eventually, someone would have to come pull me away. It look me a lot longer than most of my peers; many of them started long before they were 10 years old. But eventually, I found that thing…my own place in music."
Lives have been changed forever due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19. Artists are dealing with their own unique struggles, having to put a pause on live performances or even give up the music business altogether. George had to endure his own personal battle, having contracted the virus in March, 2020. And while it was touch-and-go, he was able to pull through without letting his artistic light be permanently dimmed. Orlando discusses his history with a particular composition.
“I was working on an original arrangement of a song for piano and voice only. Then the pandemic hit and I got very sick…in fact, it almost killed me,” Orlando says. “My breathing was so constricted, I didn’t have the capacity to speak, let alone sing. But after over two months of tediously slow recovery, I had to start stretching my legs, so to speak, and start testing my limits…to see what I could still do.”
He then covered and produced the music video for the single, “Who Wants To Live Forever”. Originally written by Brian May, guitarist for British rock band QUEEN, George felt a strong personal connection with the lyrics; a feeling of rebirth, and a new chance to live life to the fullest.
“I eventually worked up my endurance and got those muscles moving again. And the fact that i could sing something that was originally sung by the great Freddy Mercury….to me, that was a huge win over the virus that tried to take me out,” Orlando said.
His experience seems to have given a new voice to the 1986 single, speaking volumes of stories of survival. After enduring a virus that at the time of this publication has claimed the lives of 2.41 million people worldwide, George feels extremely blessed to have lived to tell the tale. In his words, “The show must go on.”
“For some reason, this song resonated with me in a way that gave me a new appreciation for life. The pandemic hit me pretty hard, as it did with so many, and being able to recover from it was a real come-back story.”
Anyone that may have suffered through loss or pain may connect with this song…or as George puts it, “…have your own come-back story.”
Being a working musician not only means having talent. When you’re an independent artist, everything is on you. When the pandemic hit, artists had to adjust to not seeing crowds in person, and that meant taking their tunes to social media such as Instagram and Facebook Live.
“There’s a risk to live performances, but there’s also this undefinable energy that can’t be replicated any other way…a resonance that tends to smooth out the things that aren’t perfect with your performance.”
Human connection has now changed, and George has made the best of it. He knows that everyone has to do the best they can, and acknowledges the difference in playing for limited audiences. The music industry is a risky business, no matter the circumstance.
"There’s no doubt I’d rather see 4,000 people than 40, but the positive comments that come in from a small audience is still nice. I did one actual Facebook Live, and it wasn’t a great performance, but I did it just to start performing for some kind of live audience again.”
George has always operated without a record label. The pandemic changed everything about art, but Orlando continues to have a passion for music, and is determined to be the best independent artist he can be through thick and thin.
“With all of the restrictions and limited capacities, live performances are a challenge. But beggars can’t be choosers; if we are in fact performances and are given the chance to play, then that’s the way it is.”
Music today has perhaps lost pieces of itself. There isn’t much storytelling as there used to be; it’s mainly about popularity and the latest Tik-Tok viral dance video. Orlando, as a more seasoned musician has his own opinion on how the music industry and indeed changed over the years.
“As far as intelligent lyrics, rhythm, and creativity, Pop music has diminished in its quality tremendously."
Not putting himself into a technical music genre-based box, Orlando tends to experiment in all sides of music, having produced musical arrangements that vary in style from non-mainstream to Pop.
"The Blade: Streets of London” is a George Orlando original. “Its style is meant to be palatable,” Orlando said. “It’s not really off the charts as far as thinking outside the box, musically speaking. The lyrics are where I took more creative liberty.”
Forming connections through music and telling a specific story is all an artist hopes for, and George is no different.
"The lyrics explore the character of Jack the Ripper, who was of course a serial killer who preyed upon women. I started to think about the game of love, and how there are a lot of real players out there. In my lyrics, Jack finally messes with the wrong woman, who turns the tables on him. The parallel speaks to all those players who finally end up getting played in the end. So the musical style of the song is Pop, but the lyrics aren’t just about a**."
“Pop has definitely lost some of its creative edge,” Orlando said. “There are exceptions, but when I was growing up and listening to Pop music, many more of those artists were thinking outside the box a lot more.”
Of course, one can’t knock an artist for wanted to stream, make money and get popular. But in Orlando’s case, he simply wanted to keep perfecting his craft as a solo artist.
“Everything depends on you; the buck starts and stops with you as a solo artist. You can be independent and not go into debt with a label. Staying independent is often the best option for you.”
Everyone who is struggling during this time can turn to music to help them cope with worry and pain. Orlando’s cover single, “Who Wants To Live Forever” is a treat for listeners, and a song of return for those who were almost lost in these troubling times.
“We wouldn’t be able to communicate or connect as well unless we had music. It comes to you and moves through you. I would encourage musicians to take the time to dig deep into themselves and find their own voice.”
We’re living in a time where quarantining has made us rediscover who we are as people; and for musicians, who they are as artists. Creativity had to take on a newer outlook, and music had to evolve in a different space.
George encourages artists to take some time to rediscover their artistry because it is worth much more than they think.
"You have the opportunity to create something that’s unlike anything that’s ever been created. The world is unfortunately full of music that’s basically candy; it’s got a ton of sweetness and pleasurable flavor, but no nourishment or real substance. But there’s also music out there…even Pop music, that goes beyond the overused, recycled chord progressions and sophomoric lyrics. And we all have the opportunity to let our own unique voices be heard through the vehicle of music..not just any music, but the best music we can write.”
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