Musician by choice, succesful by working hard

Staff reporter

For Hillsboro resident Shane Marler, his music career has come full circle.

A born musician, Marler received his first guitar when he turned 16 — "a guitar from a Sears catalog," he said.

A self-taught musician, the Winfield native found himself as a teen playing his guitar for commercials.

And now, in 2007, going into 2008, he's a session musician for another promotion — the downtown Wichita organization.

The career musician received a phone call from fellow Nouveau Quintette band member, Ken White, to play for the session.

"I showed up and played for an hour," Marler said. He also arranged two rhythm guitar parts for the commercial. White played lead and another professional musician, Fran Curtis, played bass.

The commercial will air on Wichita and other area television stations for about six months, Marler said.

The talented musician recently received kudos in an editorial article in the Wichita Eagle for the promotional music.

Nouveau Quintette plays gypsy swing music — 1930s and 40s tunes — in European style with three guitars, a violin, and a stand-up bass.

The 30-something entrepreneur keeps plenty busy. He performs with the band on somewhat of a regular basis, is a partner in the corporation that owns La Cabana Mexican restaurant, and is a member of the Hillsboro City Council.

But music is his first and primary focus.

"I did the rock band thing for 10 years," Marler said, touring in bars, clubs, and larger venues where the band, Ophil, performed with groups such as Loverboy, Night Ranger, and other acts from the 1980s.

Like all young musicians, Marler hoped to make it big some day but on his own terms.

The articulate, intelligent musician explained that there are two paths musicians can take — the "Britney Spears" path of strictly entertainment or the path he has taken where he plays the music he wants to play.

"I don't play just for the people who come to hear me," Marler said. "I play first for me. If people show up to hear me, that's good. If they like what they hear, that's great."

It's clear that Marler is a musician's musician — striving for perfection and seldom achieving it.

Back during his touring days, it was tiring for Marler, being on the road five or six days a week, being home only one day, and then back on the road again.

"I wasn't into the partying scene," he said, or the other trappings that come with the gigs.

Marler's personal life kept him grounded. Wife Morgan was with Marler through the touring and hype that comes with being a musician.

And there comes a point in most people's lives when being on the road all the time isn't what they want to do.

"I decided 10 years ago to stop touring and it was the best thing I could have done," Marler said. After life in the fast lane, he returned to his musical roots, seriously studying the art of guitar playing.

He was asked to join the gypsy swing music group and has been performing with them for about three years.

"We primarily do private parties and corporate gigs," Marler said.

One gig he particularly remembers is playing at a Koch function in the home of one of the Koch brothers.

"There was this buffet table that was huge and in the middle was a 12-foot tall ice sculpture," Marler said. "It was unbelievable."

As a professional musician playing these types of venues has allowed him to be home every night.

"Generally, we play in Wichita," Marler said, "so I'm home in time to watch the 10 o'clock news."

For Marler, being a musician isn't a sometimes deal. It's not a hobby or a pastime. It is in his blood, his mind, his heart, and his soul. He was born to be a musician.

"I was fortunate enough to be born with the ability to play," he said.

Marler can't and really doesn't want to read music. He plays strictly by ear.

It always hasn't been guitars and roses for the self-made professional. He recalled receiving a full music scholarship to a community college.

"The (community college) jazz band director called my high school band director and asked for the name of his best guitar player," Marler said. "My high school band director gave him my name and I received notice of the scholarship in the mail."

When he showed up at the college and the band director discovered Marler could not read music, the scholarship was pulled.

"My college career was over in about a week," Marler said.

But having no regrets, Marler moved forward and began touring with the rock band.

"Life's experiences have made me the musician I am today," Marler said, and he wouldn't trade those times for a college education.

Another memorable milestone Marler recently accomplished was being able to visit Europe this past summer and experience the international language of music.

Marler had a jam session with musicians from other countries — not speaking anything of their languages.

Among the musicians was a true European gypsy guitar player, Marler said. The stocky man was decked out in gold jewelry around his neck and on his fingers.

"He would begin a song and I would join in or I would begin a song and he would join in," Marler said. "We'd nod and smile at each other in appreciation."

Afterward, Marler came to find out that the gypsy musician was a world-renowned guitarist.

"I'm glad I didn't know ahead of time. I would've been nervous," Marler said.

Even though the musicians couldn't communicate with words, they were able to communicate through their music.

"That was the coolest thing," Marler said.

And now, here he is. In Hillsboro, Kansas. Not exactly the hub of the music industry. But he doesn't care.

"There are great musicians in Kansas," Marler said, and they seem to congregate together — knowing each other's talents and abilities.

"A 9-5 job doesn't work for me," he said. "God gave me a gift and I'm supposed to share it with other people."

Don't let the laid-back, casual demeanor fool you. Marler takes his music seriously, works hard at it, and has earned his success.

A professional musician through and through, Marler spends as much time as possible playing rifts or arranging songs.

So what's ahead?

"I'd like to start a swing quartet with two guitars, a bass, and a clarinet," Marler said. "And I'm always looking for other musicians to play with."

This life-long profession is more of a calling for Marler, one that he constantly answers.

"Music is a journey, not a destination," he said. "I'll never be done. I'll never be satisfied."