Teaching in Thailand – American Music Abroad Academy

Headed back to the USA – Thank you, Thailand!

I’m 39,000 feet in the air on my way to Hong Kong, then Dallas, then onto Nashville by Monday night. My trusty earbuds are playing my favorite travel playlist, and I’m thinking about the week I just had teaching in Thailand: new friendships, the impact that was made on me (and that I trust that I was able to have on others), and overwhelmed with thankfulness for the opportunity to teach in the first American Music Abroad Academy this week. 

I arrived in Thailand last Saturday afternoon, and immediately got back into the swing of learning my way around a new place, a new currency, and a new language. I had an hour to pick up a few supplies before my first meetup with teachers and program participants at the welcome gathering party. 

AMA Academy

American Music Abroad Academy is a brand new program. The goal is to invite U.S. embassies and consulates from around the region to nominate outstanding musicians to come work together with American musicians, teachers, and entrepreneurs. 

32 musicians, 13 countries, all meeting in Bangkok for an intensive entrepreneurial musical summit! Each participant has been involved with or touched by a previous AMA program, and this week was an opportunity to build on those friendships and collaborations with more time and depth. 

AMA Academy selfie!

I had the joy of teaching nine of those students in my singers-and-songwriters class. This eager group made me so excited to wake up each morning, and meet them at our classroom where we unpacked what makes a great song a great song, the importance of being as strong a businessperson as you are a musician, and the process of creating brand new music ourselves. We wrote five new songs in five days. Prolific! 

My students and me!

I use the term teacher/student with humility and care. I learned so much this week! My phone and notebook are packed with new information to take back to the States with me… 

Singers and Songwriters

What a group! One of my singers has millions of YouTube views and is a huge star in his home country of Kyrgstan, another is a Forbes top 30 under 30 in Asia, another is beginning a solo career and launching her first album soon, one sings like a bird and could be the next Mariah Carey, another spoke very little English, yet played guitar so well that he accompanied almost every songwriting collaboration during the entire week, another is navigating the music business in a particularly competitive, uphill battle with trying to change the system that she works within in her country; I met folk-pop ukulele players, commercial music makers, and musical theater composers and performers whose talent, questions, and work ethic blew me away… That is probably a run-on sentence, but come on! The room was stacked with fascinating people that I have to tell you about. 

Exploring Bangkok

I was particularly excited to connect with people I’ve worked with on previous tours. 

Though personalities, styles, and backgrounds were all different, I was especially struck by the amount of hunger to learn and the generosity of thought and ideasharing that took place between members of our core group. 

With a markerboard, a guitar, and a pocket-sized Bluetooth speaker as my tools, I was able to fascilitate discussions, help try to clear creative log jams, and offer and insight and wisdom I possibly could. I love teaching, Problem-solving, playing and talking music and business. 

My most sincere hope and takeaway is that all participants return to their home countries ready to meet challenges they encounter with resilience, optimism, AND creativity. 

My flight just touched down in Hong Kong and my layover is quite tight, so I have to run for now. More to come soon…

AMA Academy in Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

AMA Academy is in full swing, and I’m already so impressed by these students! Musicians from all across Asia, coming together to learn about music, business, and entrepreneurship, to work on collaborations, and to build friendships… such an honor to be teaching here in Bangkok this week!

Singapore x2

Singapore Skyline

Looking out my airplane window at the vast blackness of the sea below, glowing cargo ships began to appear. First a few, then many, then… the land. 

Even at 12:30am the airport was jumpin’. I waited through the customs line, and was eventually admitted entry to Singapore for the second time in two years. 

A quick 30 minute cab ride took me halfway across the country to the downtown area where my hotel is. I checked in, called Lesleigh and Theo, and ordered a late night meal. By 3am, I was asleep to prepare for day 1!

Thankful for FaceTime!

Day 1:

My friend, Allyson, from the US Embassy greeted me at the hotel lobby with a smile and a hug. We worked together extensively on our band’s previous program, and she was eager to program me again while I was in the region. 

My first visit was to a place called Cheshire Home – we were greeted by Kenny, a high-energy overseer of the facility. He gave us a tour, showed us a slideshow, and told us about the residents there: it’s a home for people with cognitive and physical differences and disabilities. They learn life skills and build community, and also enjoy musical guests from time to time. 

I learned one song in Chinese that I was told they liked, and they joined me for many songs on their tambourines, shakers, and soda-cans-turned-percussion instruments. 

Photo courtesy of Cheshire Home Singapore

I then had an extensive interview with a journalist named Kannan from Storm Media. He was a friendly, curious reporter with many questions about my music, influences, and especially my mission. Check out the full piece here: https://storm-asia.com/tony-memmel-guitarist/

My third stop of the day was a 19th century mansion turned local venue called Kult Kafe. The crowd was great, and we enjoyed some singalongs and good company on a warm Singapore night.

The Journey Begins (Part Two)

Singapore-bound!

I’m in the air now on my first flight of three in the next thirty hours or so: 

Nashville to Chicago to Tokyo to Singapore! The first of two countries I’ll visit on this journey. 

If you’ve followed me for any length of time since November 2017, at some point you have probably seen this video: 

American Music Abroad Tour highlight video (2017)

These highlights, songs, and smiles capture with such amazing clarity and depth who we are and why we do what we do. This will be my second time working with the U.S. Embassy there, and I can’t wait to build upon the amazing work we had the opportunity to do together previously. 

The descent to Chicago is beginning now. Time to put my tray table up, and my seat back in its upright and locked position. 

This first flight was delayed 40 minutes which means a tighter connection for Tokyo, so I’m going to get packed up, say a prayer, settle into my seat, look out the window and prepare for the days ahead. 

Here we go…

The Journey Begins (Part One)

FaceTime with Theo and Lesleigh as I boarded my flight to Tokyo

The sliding doors open to the terminal, and I turn around to wave goodbye to Lesleigh and Theo who are standing by our car in the passenger drop off lane at the Nashville airport. This sight has been a familiar one this year, and it isn’t easy… but we do know it’s purposeful and important.

On one hand, we miss each other so greatly that it feels like I’m separated from a part of my own self; on the other, we know who we are and what our mission is, which brings clarity to any situation.

Last night, Theo got up for a middle-of-the-night feeding. I went to get him from his crib and quietly walked him through the hallway in my arms to hand him to Lesleigh. We were all up together as a family at 3am.

Lesleigh just whispered to me, “I can’t wait to tell him how you moved heaven and earth and sacrificed time with us, to do what you do and to care for us.” The sweetest thing I’ve ever heard at 3am.

I’m really looking forward to one day soon when we’ll park our car, and all walk in together for a flight bound for an international mission as a family. Soon!

People sometimes ask me, “aren’t these tours hard?” Do you have to do them!?” My response is “I GET to do them!! I get to represent the U.S. people overseas, I get to share music AND a message, bring encouragement, and be encouraged in return.” I was born for this.

Remember: Just because things are hard does not mean you shouldn’t do them. Challenging conversations, missions, jobs, and even people are in our lives to grow us, shape character, and show our purpose more clearly.

With that in mind, I’m so eager to serve in Southeast Asia over the next two weeks. What a joy!

The Invitation

Post guitar lesson photo at Lucky Fin Project Weekend!

THE INVITATION: one of my favorite moments from my work with kids is when I invite them to try my guitar after a concert. 

It’s ESPECIALLY AWESOME at Lucky Fin Project weekend, because I get to help #LuckyFin friends from around the world to make their first sounds on the instrument… 

One of the greatest moments as a teacher is when a student plays his or her first chord, and looks up with the biggest, “HECK yeah, I can do this” Smile. 

I always remind students, “Remember that EVERY SINGLE PERSON at the top of his or her field of discipline (from farmers to astronauts to guitarists) started with one step like this in their craft.” Where can you make a first step today?

Deep in the Heart of Texas…

Headed out! – at Nashville International Airport

Here we go! Nashville Airport, bound for New Orleans, then on to Houston, TX, where I’ll be leading music and worship at a Christian Summer camp for kids with differences and disabilities (one of the only ones of its kind around the country).

This is the last big trip of this spring/early summer season. Though I am a little tired and missing my family, I know that this opportunity to serve is going to be so important and meaningful… For me it helps to look not inward, but to look upward. Stamina and the ability to encourage come from being filled-up then sent out… from being the messenger, not the message.

Can’t wait to make music with all of these wonderful people, in the heart of Texas!

Best Week Ever!

SPECIAL STORY and BRAND NEW SONG!

This month, I had the joy of being a guest at Muscular Dystrophy Association Camp in Burlington, WI. During our time together, the campers and I worked on writing a song about our time at MDA Camp. I recorded the students’ voices (heard here), then brought those tracks to my studio in TN, where I recorded the rest of the arrangement.

Thank you for liking, and sharing!