Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Craft Beer and the Craft of Composing- Joey Crane, Composer and Beer Guy

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins 
and Ivana Truong

In the constantly expanding world of craft beer, it's hard to know what to try, what to avoid, and what is not to your taste. To help guide you, wine has sommeliers, beer has cicerones. A cicerone is a "beer person"  that actually knows what they're talking about. For me (Andy, Ivana's too young to drink), that person is Joey Crane. I first met him at The Ale Jail on St. Clair Ave. in St. Paul. I was perusing the many craft beers and Joey introduced himself as the beer person there. I went away from that first encounter with several beers to try. Now, several years later, I can proclaim without any hint of beer snobbery that "I really like Belgian Ales with secondary in bottle fermentation." And for most cicerones, that's about as far as I'd get to know the person.
Composer Joey Crane

One day, I was chatting with Joey about beers and breweries in St. Paul and I mentioned that I liked to go to the (now closed) Glockenspiel Bar on W. 7th St. and feel the presence of Dvorak. Dvorak had visited that building in 1898. From there, Joey slowly let it roll out that he too was a composer with a PhD in Composition from the University of Minnesota. What??? My beer guy is really Dr. Joey Crane, eminent composer?????

Shortly after that conversation Joey moved down St. Clair Ave. to Scott's Liquor Store. So far, that seems to be a good fit. You can often find Joey there (his official title- beer buyer), making incredibly knowledgeable recommendations on beer in his very friendly and informal way. And Scotts seem to give Joey the leeway he needs to compose and travel for performances. What a good gig!

Is it unusual for a composer to have a side job? Not at all! Several composers, including Guiseppe Verdi and William Herschel had very successful side jobs. Verdi, an Italian opera composer, also served as a politician and farmer. He was only briefly a politician, serving 5 years in the National Parliament after Italy's unification. Though he was a proponent of Italy's unification, as you can see some signs of in his patriotic opera 'I Lombari alla prima crociata', he was very private. After his term, he moved to a village close to his birthplace, renovating a manor and acquiring about 2,500 acres of farmland. According to Verdi's great-grandson who currently lives in the house, "He liked to describe himself as a farmer who occasionally wrote music".

William Herschel, another composer, was actually an incredibly successful astronomer. He discovered Uranus (Thus providing 10 year olds amusement for years to come) and worked with infrared radiation. These discoveries, plus originally naming Uranus as the 'Georgian Star', got him appointed as George III's court astronomer. It's not weird at all for a composer to have a side job. So, Joey Crane, composer and beer expert.

Verdi's house as it would have looked in 1859

Callegari from Verdi's 'I Lombari' performed in Parma

William Herschel and his sister/assistant Coraline polishing a telescope lens
  Herschel's Symphony No. 14 in D Major

Joey first got into music when he was 10 by taking some guitar lessons. He began with electric guitar in lessons that were half classical, half pop. Even back then, he found himself more drawn to playing his own chords and music than the pieces he was taught. In high school, he started learning cello and after taking his high school's AP Music Theory class (several times over), he began to write sheet music. In college, he originally wanted to study guitar performance, but again found himself more drawn to composition. He studied at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Louisville, eventually coming to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities for his Ph.D.

'Misprision or Quod' for the Marimba, in another interview Joey describes it as "choreography for the hands on the instrument..., [making] just the slightest sound

'DrĂ¼ben III' by Joey Crane

During his time at the University of Minnesota, he helped establish the 113 Composer Collective, which is still very active. The collective has presented over 50 world premieres and works with composers like Anthony Cheung, Chaya Czernowin, James Dillon, and Julio Estrada. 113 seeks to curate concerts and master classes, as they state on their website, "unfettered by university politics, market pressures, or established conventions". They have several events in October 2018 which you can see on their website.

The Gregorian Singers perform 'Face to Face with the Beautiful One' by Sam Krahn

Artemis Vocal Ensemble performing Joshua Musikantow's 'Gespensterfelder'

Strains New Music Ensemble performing Micheal Duffy's '36 Differences'

 Regardless of 113 or other work, composing holds a special place in Joey's life. He said "composing for me is how I contextualize my experiences in the world. It's a tool for self reflection, kind of a link to my subconscious." He told us about a particular piece, YOM, which helped him recognize this. When he was almost done composing it, he realized the piece was about his mouth, which was affected by a rare bone cancer while he was in high school. "It was through music that I realized I hadn't quite...dealt with it. More than a decade later, I was starting to come to terms with that." 

                                                                                 YOM by Joey Crane 

On a more surface level, beer tasting and music can be similar experiences for Joey. "When you drink a beer, you get flashes of memories of other things you've tasted, and you can be transported somewhere else. Oh, this reminds me of...this aroma from my Grandmother's house, or you can't quite pin down what that flavor is. It's a little like listening to music for me, a similar kind of exploring memories" Which is a fascinating, and resonant, sentiment to me and I'm sure our readers.

But how did he get into beer? Growing up in a family that drank exclusively Michelob Ultra (and not very much of that), he became interested in craft beers from a friend in college. Then, when he was home during winter break, his father, Michael Crane, bought a Mr. Beer Home brewing kit for $15 on clearance, thinking it would be fun to experiment with.

They made a batch, and though it was nothing exceptional, it inspired Joey and his father to continue. Back at school, he began learning more about beer and sending recipes and ideas to his father. By the time he came back home for spring break, his father had set up a fully functional basement brewery from scratch and was brewing every week. With Joey thinking of recipes and his father brewing, they began to enter and win home brewing competitions. They were known particularly for their magenta-colored Beet Weiss, a sour German wheat beer infused with beets. Urged by the home brewing community and aided by a team of fellow enthusiasts, Michael went on to establish Crane Brewing in Raytown, Missiouri. Joey, now with considerable knowledge and a brewery in the family, got a job at North Loop Wine and Spirits, eventually moving to  the Ale Jail and then to Scotts Liquor Store. If you live in the area and happen to see him there, make sure to ask about his compositions while getting a recommendation! As for cicerone training? Joey's gone through the first certification level.

Our thanks to Joey! Joey stopped into the shop so that we could do an hour long interview with him for this blog.

Need to know a bit more about Joey? TCJewfolk interviewed him too- Who the Folk?

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