Music and wrestling are two of Chase Hayes’ favorite things, but rarely do they ever intertwine.
On the mat, Hayes has been one of southern Mecklenburg’s top performers with a perfect 11-0 record and all his wins coming by way of first-round pin. He won the 152-pound weight class at the Jim Hayes Invitational on Dec. 1 and was named the event’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. On Dec. 8, Hayes swept the field at the Mecklenburg County Championships.
But perhaps even more impressive is the music Hayes has made off the mat.
Hayes also is an accomplished pianist. While balancing his senior year with very realistic goals of winning a Class 3A individual title and eventually wrestling in college, Hayes is preparing for his future, one he hopes includes admission into Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music.
“I have to learn three different styles of songs for my audition,” Hayes said. “So I have to do that, and I have to compose one of my own pieces to let the director of music hear it.”
According to his father, Chason, Hayes’ proclivity toward music was evident at an early age.
“He started when he was 2,” Chason Hayes said. “We found him in the kitchen numerous times making music with pots and pans and wooden spoons. My wife (Annie) put him in (lessons) when he was 3 years old and we started doing piano lessons when he was 5.”
Hayes said he realized he had some actual musical talent a few years later during his first lesson with piano instructor Kay Matthews. Hayes recalls Matthews telling him to close his eyes and repeat the notes she played.
“I found the first note and we worked our way through exactly what she played,” Hayes recalled. “It was pretty simple stuff, but she said, ‘That’s really good. I think you have a real gift for piano.’”
A few years later, Hayes began to write his own music, which was a turning point for him. Suddenly, music had gone from a welcomed distraction at the end of the school day to the career field he wanted to pursue.
“I can make the style of music I really like,” Hayes said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I found a song I like, now I’ve got to find another.’ I make those (songs) because that’s what sounds good to me. I can actually enjoy my own music.”
The highlight of his musical career thus far came last March, when he performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, a world-renowned musical venue. Hayes earned the gig when his honors choir class at Charlotte Catholic performed as part of the National Youth Choir.
“It was really interesting,” Hayes said. “It was my first time in New York. Every song there was a very high level, so you had to be able to move along with the director. The director had a really good feel for our group, and she was able to get the special feeling she wanted to invoke through our music that we were singing.”
In the future, Hayes said he would like to follow the path of Hans Zimmer, the Academy Award-winning composer for films such as “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Gladiator” and “The Lion King.”
“(Zimmer) is actually doing, right now, exactly what I want to do for my career,” Hayes said. “I feel like most of his songs really invoke special emotions.
“(His music) gives you the perfect feel of what the movie is supposed to be. That’s really my major influence for composing – him and his style.”
Hayes, however, was hardly a one-track kid, as his current wrestling success suggests. When he was around 8, his parents signed him up for a wrestling class at Charlotte Latin, where he attended elementary school. From there, he joined a club team in Indian Land, S.C., before competing in AAU and middle-school wrestling at Holy Trinity.
During his sophomore year at Charlotte Catholic, Hayes announced himself as one of the area’s top up-and-comers when he advanced to the 145-pound state finals. Last season, despite a knee injury, Hayes recorded a 50-2 record and advanced to the second round.
While athletes and artists are often exclusive from one another, Hayes’ father said he never worried his son would ignore his musical talents to foster his other abilities.
“I wondered if we could keep him in wrestling, actually,” Chason Hayes said. “He loves music. It’s his first love. If he had to choose, it wouldn’t be a hard choice at all. For him, wrestling is a discipline. He sticks with it because he’s really good at it and it’s a shame to not develop your gifts. He’s going to see how far it takes him. We’re hoping he can carry (wrestling) to the next level. Ultimately, his goal is to get a music degree and earn a living doing that.
“He’s really good at keeping wrestling in perspective. It’s not such a huge part of his identity that the whole world hangs on each match as it goes along. I think that gives him some freedom to have some fun when he’s on the mat.”
Hayes said he sees a correlation between his ability to remember notes and musical sequences and the way he reacts during a wrestling match, though he said there’s less room for creativity in a wrestling match.
“It’s not like I can really create the wrestling match,” Hayes said. “I can do things to influence it, but I have to move according to how my opponent moves. With the piano, I’m completely free. I can unleash all of my creativity and put what I feel sounds best, what melodies and notes go together to get the sound I want to make with the feeling I want you to feel when you hear it.”
Cougars’ wrestling coach Steve Wyniemko readily admits he’s not musically inclined but can see similarities between Hayes’ ability as a musician and his success on the mat.
“In wrestling, there’s not a bunch of set plays; you have to adapt because every kid is going to react differently to a different style,” Wyniemko said. “You have to be aware of where your body is, you just react. I’d definitely say (Hayes) has that natural sense of understanding what his body is capable of doing and how to react: ‘If this happens, then I do this.’”
If nothing else, said Wyniemko, there aren’t a lot of differences between wrestling in a big match and performing on stage.
“(Wrestlers) put themselves out there on an island,” Wyniemko said. “There’s definitely a team aspect, but you’re out there on a mat, one-on-one with nobody to hide behind, totally exposed, win or lose.”
Chason Hayes agreed.
“The confidence you get when going one-on-one in a fight in front of several hundred people, whether you win or lose, knowing you can get through it, really makes playing music in front of a crowd not much of a big deal.”
But again, for Hayes, his music and his wrestling rarely meet, even when he warms up before a match. While many wrestlers choose to listen to music as they get ready to step onto the mat, Hayes said he simply can’t.
“It’ll distract me from thinking about what I want to do in my match,” Hayes said. “I’d be like, ‘This would sound nice if I tweaked that a bit.’ I just can’t do that.”