Interview conducted by Kadie Sue Martin in the The Crossings’s series on creativity and diversity within Bethel University’s student body. The heart behind this series is to explore creativity in a broader sense and to be encouraged and inspired by the creatives on our campus and the things that they are doing.
Caleb Rosa is a commuter studying Chemical Engineering in Bethel’s 3-2 program with Notre Dame. Although his major requires him to be in the science building quite often, Caleb enjoys working in the library and in the front of Sailor. His hobbies include coin collecting, woodworking, astronomy, and playing music. Being an amateur astronomer, he often helps his younger brother take great pictures of the sky.
How would you define creativity? I would say creativity is an impulse to make a change in your surroundings because you can be creatively chaotic or creatively constructive. You can use the word in both ways. You can wreak havoc and cause chaos and destruction, or you can create something of beauty or intellect, something of that kind. So, to my mind, I would essentially say creativity is an impulse to make a change in your surroundings, to alter its state of stasis. But, to hone more in on the constructive side, to create something of beauty, not necessarily to the eye but also to the ear and to the mind, because something may not be beautiful to the eye, so to speak. For instance, take that oak tree. The bark isn’t all that neat to look at, but when you think about it - how it protects the inside of the tree - it’s a really, very neat concept to think about how there’s each layer, and the outer layer is protecting everything inside. And so, in that case, you have beauty of mind, not so much of the eye.
How do you specifically express your creativity? Primarily, music. I tend to try to adlib on piano, but I’m not so good at that. Mostly, I will do semi-classical pieces on guitar where I can use all aspects of it - dynamics, vibrato, harmonics. The full range of the guitar, especially as well, because, depending on how you tune it, you have very low notes that are real deep and full as opposed to,all way up on the high strings, have clear, resonating notes. So, if you can incorporate all of those things together, you can get a piece that’s really really complete in itself. Then, changing the tempo and all of that - tempo, rhythm, volume - those all add to it as well. I think Spanish music is very much a type that expresses that the most because you have a kind of droning - no, pulsating - rhythm. But, you also have the lows and the highs creating a general - I guess vibe would be a good word, probably not the best word but something like that.
Is there a specific music genre you gravitate towards? Listening is definitely bluegrass country. Playing -it’s whatever. I’ve played everything from classical to heavy metal, with bluegrass country in between. Metal mostly because you can makes as many mistakes, and the distortion covers it.
Are you in a band? Yes, I got in a bluegrass band, I want to say about a month and a half ago. We played our first gig on Saturday, and we’re planning on playing in Battle of the Bands in October. Hopefully, it will go well.
Good luck with Battle of the Bands. Is anyone else at Bethel in your band? Just my younger brother. He is playing rhythm guitar for the songs we are doing in Battle of the Bands. And then we have a lead guitar and one guy who’s a really good instrumentalist. He’s playing banjo and dobro for two of the songs. So, I’ll play mandolin for those.
Do you compose your own music or just play around with notes? Yes, but I typically don’t record it so I lose a lot of it. But there are a couple things I have actually written down. There’s a chord progression that I really like, and a couple different runs on guitar that I have saved up here in my head that I like to play around with. I keep those there because they can branch out into other types of musical interludes, scales, solos, or just an underlying theme behind it - it being the general theme of the music. It could be like a small thread that has a kind of chord to a tapestry, so to speak, that you wouldn't necessarily pick up on unless you knew it was there.
Do you have a routine for practicing your instruments or do you just let the notes flow? When I’m in school, yes. I would typically play in the afternoons, but whenever I’m in school, it’s whenever I get a chance. I will typically pick up either my guitar or my mandolin in the afternoons or evenings, especially when there’s a campfire. I’ll be playing around with those then. I actually need to get back to piano because I haven’t played it in a long time.
Do you have a favorite instrument? I would say mandolin is my favorite. Mandolin or guitar depending on what style I’m playing. If I’m playing a lead, I like mandolin. If I’m playing a full on piece, it would be guitar. Because mandolin, outside of when you’re playing a solo and bluegrass, is very boring. It’s just a simple chop. It’s more percussion than it is actual tone quality. When you do a mandolin chop, you don’t have hardly any tone there. It’s just “ch ch ch” - basically there to keep time. For guitar, if I want to really express a theme for music then I’ll pick that as opposed to a different instrument.
At what age did you start getting into music? I started piano lessons at age nine, but we were messing around long before that. Me and my brother started playing drums at like two on pots and pans. I was pounding on a keyboard, strumming a guitar around four or five. Mom would sing with us for our devotions. The folks at the church that we attended a long, long time ago would let me bring my recorder to the worship, and I’d just be blowing it. I’m sure I annoyed the people around. Oh my gosh. Formal lessons began at nine. I started really playing guitar around fourteen, and then other instruments just came in after that.
How do you think you’ve grown as a musician since then? I would say that I’ve learned to build up my own area of the music as well as learning to assimilate with the others playing around me because I typically play alone. However, I’ve learned by playing in worship teams or in bands or just jamming, to play with the consideration of others around me. For guitar, that means not going into the bass notes too much because then you’re infringing on the bass’s territory as opposed to piano, where you have everything - bass, mids, highs. If I’m playing piano, I have to be very careful when I’m playing in the bass to not step on what the actual bass player is doing. So, I think it would be learning to play with others and keeping from migrating into their territory too much. That would be the most I’ve learned because you do that, and you have one person overpowering the entire band.
Where do you draw inspiration from? I would say it has to be God because I don’t sit down with a plan - I just start playing. For lyrics, there’s been times when it’s midnight, and I’ll wake up, and it’s like,” I’ve got to write this down.” One time I was driving back from school and went, “oh, that’s nice.” So, I’m driving with one hand and writing lyrics with the other. There were no cops around so I didn’t get pulled over. But, I didn’t write down one time when I got home, and then I couldn’t remember it. Then I’m like, “dang it, that was a good lyric!” Typically, for music, I don’t really - actually, for music and lyrics - I don’t sit down with a plan so I’ll just start playing. Then I’ll find something that I like in that.
Do you pursue your music in any ways on campus other than Battle of the Bands? The length of drive nixes the worship team. I mean, it’s forty-five minutes one way so, if I were to be on chapel band, I would get up at five-thirty, five-fifteen in order to make it two seven-thirty practice. That’s a forty-five minute drive with about an hour to get ready. So, no. Then Vespers is the same thing. It’s nine o’clock at night, and I’m not leaving campus at ten. Around here, it’s not the safest outside of campus. I mean, I did attend the Worship Arts open house, but I left before it got dark so I didn’t actually get to do too much with that. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll be recording with the band in the studio.
Could you please elaborate more on bluegrass? What exactly is it?
Well, it was formally started in the 1940s-1950s by Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, but it originally comes from the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. Before that, it came from the Scottish Celts. It’s roots are in Scottish and Irish music. From there, you have it branching into folk music and mountain music. It morphed into bluegrass and country, which country became the old style and new style of more pop than it is anything. I can’t stand that new music. Bluegrass essentially takes a driving bass rhythm and, typically, you won’t have a steel guitar - that’s more of country’s theme, but you’ll have mandolin, bass, guitar, banjo, and fiddle. A lot of the fiddle is very piercing, which gives it the high, clear tone that is quite characteristic of bluegrass. Mandolin is the same way, but because the playing style is different from fiddle - you’re picking at it instead of using a bow - you get the same notes but with a more metallic, punchy tone than with the fiddle. Bass is deceptively difficult because you would think that it’s just doing two notes. However, you also have two different walks. First I tried playing bluegrass bass I was like, “geez! That’s a lot harder than it looks.” I mean, it’s like Mexican mariachi bass, but there’s walk in bluegrass bass that the mariachi bass doesn’t have. I mean, when I play bluegrass bass, it’s sounds a lot like mariachi bass because I haven’t mastered all the walks and stuff. When you actually see someone who is a real master of bluegrass in general, it’s incredible. The skill level that it takes to play that is just very, very high and a hard skill to master. For instance, I saw Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder in concert, I think, two Saturdays ago? Anyways, Ricky Skaggs has been playing professionally for about fifty-five years. Just the skill that he showed - I mean, he’s sixty-eight years old, but he still flies all over the neck of the mandolin. The structure of bluegrass is very simple. There’s usually two to three chords, but the solos are what makes is very complex and difficult to master. I would say that’s about it for a description of bluegrass.
Do you prefer hymns or more modern worship music? Hymns absolutely. I find that a lot of modern music has been hijacked by record labels because it sells, whereas you have the hymns that were written out of heartbreak so there’s very deep, not emotional but empathetic, lyrics. Well, take “It is Well with My Soul” when it says, “peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll.” The man that wrote that had just lost his wife and three daughters in a shipwreck. Then, like a month later, he died in a trainwreck. But, he could sing “it is well with my soul” because he knew that Jesus was there, taking him by the hand and comforting him all through the pain and sorrow that he was experiencing. Typically, newer stuff tends to be way more vague than the old lyrics. For instance, the hymn “Just As I Am” sings about what He has done. I find that the old hymns are very much more centered on what He’s done and how the Lord has just totally and completely paid for what we’ve ever done. They’re always - when in that context - they’re always grateful. You just don’t see that kind anymore. I mean, when you can have three songs sound exactly the same and the lyrics are barely changed, it’s like, “was it written to be a song or because you had to meet a quota?” I understand and feel sorry for musicians that have to do that because, frankly, it would irritate me to no end. If I was in their place, I would be like, “I am not putting this out because I didn’t write it, so how could I sing it if it doesn’t apply to me?” Sure, you could sing it for fun but as a worship song? No. Typically, the musicality has also gone down because you can have something that is simple, easy to sing to, but there’s a strong melody there that evokes a sense of knowing how music works, whereas now most songs are written by chord. So, I don’t like modern music as much. My brother loves modern music, but it’s neoclassical, which is very complex. He’ll listen to the Piano Guys for hours. While they do mostly covers, they’re so skilled at what they do that they take it and add something new. They combined Bach and Michael Jackson - how do you do that? There’s so much skill there.