Stoney Creek teen Zac Tiessen plans CD release party on Friday
Zac Tiessen believes blessings sometimes come in disguise.
The 17-year-old Stoney Creek native discovered a focus, passion and talent for music at age 13, after he suffered a concussion.
Tiessen attempted to jump over a box during a youth group session at his church and landed headfirst on the concrete floor.
“I’d sustained about probably eight concussions before – I was just very active – but that concussion was definitely the worst one,” he said, adding he hit the left side of his head. “It was very serious. But I’d say that experience changed my life.”
Tiessen said he had a hard time focusing on anything before he suffered the concussion, but all that changed when he was given an acoustic guitar about two weeks later.
“I focused in on it. I just really was attached to it,” Tiessen said. “It was quite neat how I was able to zone in on this new passion of mine. It was the perfect timing, how God worked it out for me to discover this passion and I wanted to learn everything I could about it.”
Tiessen began taking out books on music theory and spent hours a day plucking out melodies on the guitar.
“I worked through different books with my mom, who actually had played when she was younger,” he said. “By the second book, I started to pass what she could help me with. Then I just took it from there.”
The “mainly self-taught” artist is now an accomplished musician, composer and producer.
Tiessen has been deemed an “acquired music prodigy” by global child prodigy expert Joanne Ruthsatz.
He plays six and eight-string electric guitars, the balalaika and ukulele.
Tiessen also has composed 19 full-length compositions and is working towards a bachelor’s degree in guitar and music composition through Boston’s Berklee College of Music distance education program.
Tiessen said his primary instrument is the eight-string electric guitar.
“It’s a newer type of guitar. It’s like a bass and a guitar in one instrument, so it’s really neat to scope out all the possibilities that you can discover on it,” he said. “I compose for instruments that I play and instruments that I don’t play – that involves electronic programming, recording and producing. My overall style falls under the umbrella of progressive and is a mix of metal, fusion and jazz.”
Tiessen’s gifts earned him a full scholarship from the Kiwanis Club of Stoney Creek to attend a master musicians seminar earlier this year in Big Indian, N.Y.
He participated in a week of classes and workshops, while studying under guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes from Animals as Leaders, as well as bassist Evan Brewer of The Faceless.
“They’re at the forefront of this new genre of progressive music and mixing different styles with the eight-string guitar,” Tiessen said. “I’d been playing the eight-string guitar for two months by then. It really helped develop my skill and understanding.”
Tiessen’s talents also scored him scholarships from Guitar Workshop Plus and the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton to attend another seminar this past summer in Oakville.
He took part in a week of classes, workshops and studied under guitarist and Berklee College of Music professor Jon Finn, as well as Abasi.
Tiessen said the experience was “very encouraging.”
“He (Finn) told me I had ‘serious chops.’ He could tell I knew a lot of (music) theory,” he said. “I have a really deep love for theory. I wasn’t really into reading before having the concussion, but after it happened I started reading and studying music theory a lot…it’s funny how things work out.”
For Tiessen, being able to study under different master musicians has been a “big highlight.”
“The experiences have helped me in so many ways,” he said. “I’d say my highlight now is releasing my first CD, which is entitled Courage. I think that’s my first milestone as a guitarist and as a composer, so it’s quite exciting.”
Tiessen is holding a CD release party on Friday, Dec. 13 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Green Smoothie Bar at 236 James St. N., as part of Hamilton’s Art Crawl.
His instrumental CD is going to be played publicly for the first time and will be on sale for $10.
Part of the proceeds from sales will go toward the Arts for a Change Foundation, which benefits individuals and organizations making a difference in the lives of people, wildlife and the environment. The charitable foundation was established by Tiessen’s brother, Josh, a local fine artist.
Tiessen said Courage features a “mixture of multiple styles.”
“There’s djent (metal), fusion and jazz. I’ve also recently got into Japenese music theory, so there’s also that element on it as well,” he said, adding the CD is available online on Bandcamp and iTunes. ”It’s very varied. It resembles all the different elements I’ve explored musically.”
For Tiessen, composing is the best part of the process.
“I love composing the most,” he said. “The composing and theory route is more of what I gravitate to. I want to, eventually, study to become a professor in guitar theory at Berklee – that’s what my goal is.”
Tiessen is already busy preparing for the next step toward that goal.
He said he’s auditioning for a full-tuition scholarship to Berklee in the new year in Toronto.
“Right now, I just take the online studies at Berklee College of Music, so I’m really preparing for the audition in hopes of getting the scholarship, which would make it possible to study there. That would be amazing,” Tiessen said, adding tuition is $67,000 a year. “When you’re young, why not shoot for the stars and go for the gusto? What happened to me when I was 13 was a blessing in disguise because it really helped put me on my path, so I want to keep honouring that as much as I can.”
For more information on this rising talent, visit www.zactiessen.com.