The Season’s Greetings Guitarist Part 2
Interview with Trans-Siberian Orchestra Guitarist Chris Caffery
By NAfME Member Thomas Amoriello Jr., Past Chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) has been entertaining holiday audiences for a quarter of a century and consistently appear on the top grossing tours of the year even though concerts are presented only in November and December. A few years ago I had the good fortune to interview TSO Music Director Al Pitrelli to discuss the inner workings of the holiday spectacular. Now, learn about the 2022 extravaganza and about being a guitarist in the group from Chris Caffery.
Thank you, Chris, for speaking with the NAfME membership regarding your position as a member of the highly successful TSO. As rehearsals for this two-month tour begin beforehand, please take us through the prep that is involved with you personally before you head to the Midwest for stage rehearsals.
Thanks for the interview! I will answer this one in a few parts.
I play my guitar all year long. Live shows and studio and just making music. Once I get the outline for the TSO new tour, as far as a possible set list, I start with rehearsing anything that is new or anything we have never played live before. Then I slowly add in the ones we have played a lot until I leave for rehearsals. I am incredibly busy with other things all year (and especially before I leave to tour), so I do know the music, but I enjoy the two weeks of solid rehearsal to solidify it for the live shows.
I live on a large piece of property, so I winterize everything and have a huge to-do list for my house. This always gives me a ton of exercise, but I try to make it to the gym every day if possible. The worst thing you can do is spend the first few weeks of the tour getting your body stage-ready. It’s best to arrive that way to the stage for the first show!
Then, I get together the guitars I chose to share the stage with for the new tour. I pack together my stage clothes and a couple months of what I’d like to have with me in my home on the road. I drop them off at TSO headquarters to be transported out to rehearsals.
The final step is actually taking down Halloween decorations and decorating my house for Christmas! It would be kinda bizarre if I left my house decorated for Halloween until January! This is all part of the final week.
I don’t rest much before the tour! I actually get a lot more rest on the tour!
Though you are a talented musician, your willingness to pay dues (performing offstage with Savatage) eventually led to being at the right place at the right time. Please discuss the networking aspect of the music business and how it led you to become a part of one of the biggest performing groups in history.
I always say this business has a three-part plan to be successful . . .
Talent, dedication and luck!
The talent comes in many ways. Some have lots of musical education and others are self-taught. I find that is always set by your own goals. The dedication means you need to accept the good and the bad and press on. It’s not a guaranteed or an easy business! There’s a lot of fun and rewards if you work hard, but you need to dedicate your life to it. Sometimes they may even mean taking personal sacrifices to give the time to the band.
The luck I feel has to do with being in the right place at the right time. It was a big part of how my cards all fell into place. You can’t get discovered sitting at home! The internet helps now, but in the end you need to get out and network. It’s important to socialize in person and at live performance as well as through the ‘net!
When you are not involved with TSO, what do you do as a musician for the rest of the year?
There are a few things I have done several years after the tour. I record my own solo records. I am the lead singer on those, and I write my songs. So there’s a ton of work when I put those records together. I do live shows with that as well.
I also play shows as a special guest for the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. Jimmy has won 18 GRAMMYs, and I play rock songs with his award winning orchestra whenever I can fit it in my schedule.
I have a side project with Frontiers Records called Spirits of Fire that has two records out.
I will fill in and play on tours that may need a guitarist if I like the music. I won’t do things like that if I don’t enjoy the band. The bands have included Metal Church and Doro and a variety of others.
I do a lot of writing for other bands and special guest recording appearances as well. Next year I want to get back to teaching. I haven’t done that in a few years, and I have a lot of requests for it, so I’m hoping to have the time to add that in as well!
Playing the part of a musician goes beyond your actual musician skills, what advice could you lend for being the right person for the right job?
Hmm, good question. I say do your homework. Try to fit in to what they would like. You can be yourself, but don’t be too different. That can make them look for someone else who is closer to whom they want!
Be prepared musically and physically.
Also be a good listener and try to keep your ego in check!
Also remember 1 plus 1 is three sometimes in this business—meaning someone may be wrong about something, but you may have to accept that and look beyond it and move on.
No one is perfect—that includes me—so I try to give others leeway and never expect everything to go perfectly!
Let’s talk about the fans and the holiday joy TSO has brought to millions. Do you have any memorable audience member interaction before or after a show that left an impression?
Every show is special. Most every audience is different but the same! That may not make sense, but they are all music fans. I look for the show to climax. For the fans to start watching the excited and happy and then to leave the show more excited and happier.
For me that makes every show memorable. Some audiences may have incredible energy levels at times. That is always exciting. Especially with TSO when we get closer to the actual Christmas week. There seems to be a special spark in the crowds then. Which is to be expected. People celebrate that week with us at our shows. They celebrate the entire season. But sometimes that particular week may have a special spark.
Being a member of a known heavy metal band called Savatage by coincidence led you to TSO, are there any more plans to continue working with the Florida-based group?
I would be so happy to see a new Savatage record and for us to do some live shows again. I miss that band and the fans. Especially the fans at the big festivals all over the world. There is something incredibly special about a festival crowd in the summer in Europe or South America or America. I’d love to see Savatage be a part of that scene again. We have talked about things and have music written. Only time will tell what will happen exactly.
In the meantime, we have had an incredible amount of fun and success with the re-release of the entire Savatage catalog on vinyl. Special new releases. I’ve enjoyed seeing them come together and holding each one in my hands when they were done!
The power of music has brought you all around the world. Do you have any advice for a younger musician or music educator who is really contemplating abandoning the dream?
If it’s what you really want. Don’t give up, stay focused and try to have fun. If the fun ever leaves, perhaps that is a time to think otherwise. But if it is what you love to do, keep pushing on. Keep it as a part of your life and do whatever you can to make it become your full-time job.
However, even if it can just be part-time, remember there are millions of musicians who never even get to that level. So pick goals. Go in steps and remember what I said: 1+1=3.
All the best to any musician who reads this, and may all of your dreams come true as well!
About the author:
NAfME member Thomas Amoriello Jr. is the Past Chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Guitar Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Educators Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and also teaches at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. Currently he is pursuing a Doctor of Music Education degree from Liberty University. Tom is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand. He recently released his third neoclassical heavy metal recording entitled Phantom Sounds which is available from Shredguy Records. Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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November 9, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)
November 9, 2022
November 9, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)