The hard days

Thursday was one of those hard days at work. You know what I mean – those days that you’re just trying to get through for the sake of getting through. I just wasn’t feeling in the mood to teach or be particularly energetic about what I was doing. And it wasn’t the snow, because I love snow. Really!

Anyway it was late already but I was still teaching a private lesson. In the middle of this lesson, my 11-year-old student had encountered octave chords for the first time and kept complaining about how much his hand hurt. Now FYI, I have grown up with tiny hands and was only able to reach an octave for the first time when I was 16 (yes you read that right). So you could only imagine how dismayed I was at him for giving up so easily when I KNEW he could do it. And for the next 30 minutes my ears heard nonstop complaints of “I can’t” and “it hurts.”

But I could not just move on. I would not. Here was a boy who could play octaves, but just believed that he couldn’t. I tried everything I could: talked about how he should not give up, how I want him to trust me and that I would never ask him to do something that would physically hurt him, how I was super jealous of anyone who could play octaves as a kid because I physically couldn’t, how I’m only tough on the students I really care about and I expect only the best, how he CAN do it and not to give up, and so much more. In all this talk though he actually played all the octaves probably close to 50 times. But he didn’t realize this, and instead I kept pushing for him to do it again. I told him I would not give up on him, that I absolutely refused to.

When he finally did play the octaves without stopping in between, I gave him a little praise. But only a little. “I’m proud of you for not giving up and I’m glad you are trusting me. And I’m not saying that this will be easy next time or the time after that, but it will get better over time.” And I think it finally got to him. I hope so.

Moments like these are huge for me. I can’t promise to be excited for what I do all the time (although I must say I usually am pretty excited), but if in my time with children I can show them and have them understand the unlimited potential of willpower, then not only am I am lucky to be the person who gets to do that, but I also feel a deep responsibility to do this to the fullest. If I can do that for even just one child of the hundreds I see each day, then all the hard days are worth the grunt and sweat.

Can I do it for more than one kid? How about for myself? Now the real challenge begins.

(For my classical music enthusiasts and fellow musicians, the piece tackled was Leopold Mozart’s “Minuet in F”)

Silence

I live and breathe my work as a music teacher. It is so important to me, and it is completely okay to me (for now at least) the sheer amount of time I spend planning lessons, tuning instruments and building new ways for my students to access resources. I feel like I’m giving so much of my soul to my job, as most people are at my age, but I want so badly for my kids to be the best that they can be, to develop a love for music as deep as mine.

Never more in my life has silence been more golden at night. So I’m told it’s okay that at the end of a long day, I don’t particularly want to talk to many people. That it’s okay that on my “freer nights” that I just stay in and rest myself out of exhaustion from the work week as opposed to going out to “let loose.” I don’t know when exactly this happened, but a gradual shift to this lifestyle of my own R&R (rest and recovery) brought me to where I am today.
When I do have the energy though, I want to meet up with my friends. I used to think that a friend I could count on was one who I could call up on a Friday night to grab a drink and he/she would be there. Why does it have to always be a drink or a shot? So when instead it’s to grab a cup of tea and chat about life, suddenly where are the friends? Where are the people who enjoy talking about life goals and what their actions are in attempt to achieve them instead of wasting their time frivolously by going to a club to get  “wasted” (pun in the word much)? In fact, why is that how we celebrate birthdays? Why do you want to forget the one day of the year you are mentally ingrained to remember the most? Where are those friends you can count on to talk to when you are feeling frustrated with a job you love so much instead of those who are constantly obsessed with gossiping yet claim not to be talking crap about others? It’s not to say that I’m looking for work-obsessed people who don’t have fun at all, but I want to be spending my time with people whose main focus is not fun but on achieving success in their lives.
On a daily basis I am that anal person who is constantly thinking about my next steps, how to get to point #728264891, and if I’m doing the best I can to get there. I am constantly reevaluating myself and trying to be the best person I can be. But who can I share that with? Insert silence – the lonely kind. I have tried to be there for so many people in the past, but have those people been there for me? Do those people truly know what makes me tick, turn and rejoice? The fact is that most don’t. Instead I feel that I have so many convenient friendships with people who I have just known for a long time, but who I am starting to drift away from because of my own self development and focus on my career and priorities.
So perhaps I should look for some new friends, people who are as driven as I am and who will do everything possible to achieve their dreams. But it’s true what people say about being friends after college; it’s very difficult to meet new people who genuinely want to get to know you, because like a romantic relationship, a friendship takes time, effort and investment, and we want that instant gratification that just doesn’t come. But it also doesn’t mean that I need to just settle for how I feel right now.
I don’t have any particularly clear next steps, except that I will try to make new, true friendships. I want you to think about your own friendships. Are you truly happy with the friends that you have? In the wise words of the honey-loving bear,
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
– Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)

Minds Deserve Better, Hardships Should Be Harder

A few weeks ago I went to see Aziz Ansari perform live at Madison Square Garden. Opening for Aziz was another comedian whose name I don’t remember. It took roughly 3.25 minutes until this man went for the stereotypical, crude and racist jokes. While the audience laughed at most of the cheap shots he made, I sat there in silent fury. I couldn’t believe that this comedian who was having his “moment” in Madison Square Garden in New York City, was making these jokes for his debut! I was also in shock with the audience who just cracked up at each low blow. I’m no angel and while a few bits did make me smile, I could only feel guilty with my own reflexes at condoning it all. Immediately after his set I turned to my boyfriend and asked very adamantly:

Don’t we deserve better? Don’t our MINDS DESERVE BETTER?!

My peace-loving boyfriend didn’t have much to say in response, though I figure most of the audience would not have a response to my demanding question… So alright then. I had paid hard-earned money for the seat I was in but this comedian surely set Aziz up for failure and I was just have to deal with another 1+ hour of shameful comedy.

Boy/Girl, was I quick to judge! Aziz hit home on so many topics, and in a thoughtful way. My favorite bit was when Aziz talked a lot about his immigrant parents – especially about how they truly worked hard and sacrificed loads for his upbringing, because my parents did too. I’m no comedian, but I’m sure Aziz could have easily defaulted to the “model minority” myth in the form of jokes with his routine. He didn’t though. We should reject humor that jabs negatively at race. It is outdated and offensive, and no one’s skin color alone should be the subject to gain a few laughs. As a society, we need to reverse the norm that racial jokes are okay. They are not.


Aziz kept his standup current and humorously made commentary on our “first world problems” today. “But what hardships would I have to share with my children?” Aziz asked himself. Aziz then went on to imagine telling a story of how his iPad died on an airplane from NYC to LA but luckily there was on-flight entertainment, though he would still have to endure the twenty minutes total of takeoff and landing time when he couldn’t use any electronics. What. A. Problem. We, the audience, were all cracking up so hard – knowing that that is so real and probably will be a pitiful “hardship” of ours to share with the future generation.

Aziz made me ask the same question to myself. Some of my students don’t have homes or enough food to eat or money to spend on extraneous things, but what really do I have to go through? While I supposed I lead a relatively luxurious life when it comes to the things I own, the food I eat and the devices I use, my current generation suffers from selfie obsessive compulsive disorder and definitely misses living in the moment in order to capture it instead, often for the purposes of sharing with others and showing off our lives. That, is our generational hardship. Simply living in the moment.

As for me? Hmm… I’m still trying to define the word hardship in terms of my own life. But isn’t it a bit ridiculous? That I have to think so hard about a hardship in my life? A true hardship should just come to mind immediately, and I almost feel like nothing I’ve endured is a “real” hardship. My hardships should be harder – and maybe that in itself is my hardship.

Recalibrate and Reset

Last week I started my second year of official full-time teaching. After a fun and restful summer, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and especially to see my returning students as well as meet 160+ new students I would be teaching this year.

I started off teaching this song called “Unlimited,” an absolutely fantastic back to school song. The first verse goes like this:

First day back
Here we go, here we go
I’ve got this new backpack
And this little part of me that wants to know
What am I gonna be?
What am I gonna do?
And will I fit inside this puzzle I’m about to walk into?
Am I gonna be alright?
Can I take a deep breath instead of only listening to the hundred million questions in my head?
First day back
Here we go… here we go…

Aside from literally talking about the first day back (to school, specifically), I thought about how appropriate it is for the month of September for everyone. When the hazy summer days start to drift away and instead comes the crisp autumn air and cool breezes, I feel like I, and many others I know, reset. It’s also an anxious time of starting anew with school, work, family – as marked by the changing season and environment.

With only four months left in the year it’s a great time to recalibrate one’s priorities and reconsider our usage of time. We often complain that we do not have enough time to do all that we want, but let’s take a moment to figure out how we can make time for everything we want to do. (Let’s not forget that time is human-made, malleable and only a marker of the day.) It’s a time to put a halt to all doubts getting in the way of success. It’s a season of “let’s do this” and committing to whatever “this” is. It’s a final push to accomplish anything that will satisfy the questions “Did I do my best this year?” and “Did I make the most of everything on my pathway to achieve?” It’s a chance to concentrate that inner drive and channel it into all that you do for yourself and for others, without any limitations. I taught my kids that being unlimited means that you can do ANYTHING.


I’m reaching up through the top of the sky today
I’m changing things till I finally find my place
Wanna go and get it
I’m gonna be unlimited
Turn up the sun let me see what it’s all about
Light up the stas till they dream away all the doubt
We’re just beginning
I’m gonna be unlimited

My kids will, too. Will you?

Self-fulfillment

Today marks the last day of my “summer vacation” as I head back to work tomorrow for professional development before embarking on my 2nd year of teaching. As I’m reflecting on my summer, I am reminded by my own advice that I gave last night.

Humility
Teaching a full school year has given me a whole new understanding of humility. I am so lucky to have grown up without ever having to worry about food, shelter and love. My parents have worked so hard to make that all of those realities for my brother and I, and for those things alone I have the utmost gratitude for them.

Experiencing education in a high-need, low income school really put things into perspective for me. Some of my students would only be able to eat a guaranteed meal during breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria. Other kids went home to shelters and never brought backpacks to school because they couldn’t afford them.

Finally, most of my students had never seen an instrument in real life before. I realize this is the case for a lot of kids, high-need or not, especially in elementary school. But people I meet often ask me what it is that drives me to host fundraisers and keep getting more and more instruments for my kids. Knowing that I am the first “real” music teacher they have in life is a blessing that holds a lot of responsibility. Those of you readers who know me definitely can attest to my seriousness to my craft of music-making. But what’s even crazier for me to think and realize is the fact that through me, my students will get their first exposures to instruments. It is through me that they know the sound of the piano, violin, trumpet to name a few instruments. I can’t even describe how humbling the experience of being able to share the moment when they first see and hear an instrument and that sparkle in their eyes as well as their excitement in their voices genuinely is, when each of them are anxious to touch what had just produced the magical sound! I would venture to say that, alongside most of my peers, I don’t even remember what it is like to NOT know what an instrument looks or sounds like! This leads me to…

Greed
I am greedy. I am greedy for nothing less than the best. For. Real. Just as greedy as my students are to produce a beautiful sound once they have figured out the basics of something seemingly simple like playing the recorder, as I am to provide those resources for my kids to be able to explore music to the fullest extent possible.

But let me sidestep from my teaching for a moment. More than any summer before, I have realized how greedy and hungry I am for self-fulfillment. I want SO bad to be musically happy – and for me, that means expressing myself through different ways that push creativity in new directions. I am more thankful than ever before for being able to teach at a summer music camp where I am surrounded by young aspiring musicians looking up to me, KNOWING that they want to be musicians for their entire lives. These wonderful teenage musicians were such serious practitioners of their music that they only made me want to do more.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on proposals for many creative projects involving stepping over the boundaries of music to more cross-art collaborations with myself and with others. It’s exciting for me to start embarking on this new journey I have somewhat paved for myself, because for the first time in what seems like a while I feel an incredible creative energy burst that is dying to erupt onto some sort of a stage for an audience.

But my greed for accomplishment, and accomplishment in my own eyes, cannot be possible without…

Gratefulness
Aside from being grateful for my family, I am so very grateful to be surrounded by loving, caring role models of society. I whole-heartedly mean that. My teacher colleagues and specifically my music educator peers are all doing incredible things for the kids – selflessly. Teaching is not a profession of praise but just thinking about what we each do to make sure the next generation can access what they need to in order to be successful is straight up mind-boggling and out of this world.

I can never say thank you quite enough to my friends, but am pleasantly shocked and reminded by them when I look out to the audience during a performance. Your thumbs up and praise of what I do is plentiful and abundant, and perhaps even excessive, but I hope that I can at least inspire you to be moved by my mission to make a difference. I’d also like you all to know how inspiring it is to be surrounded by such driven friends who speak passionately about their careers, or for those who are in limbo at the moment, are carefully constructing maps to success. I am grateful for all of you sharing your time and thoughts with me.

 

I’m often asked how I juggle everything I do in my life, or reprimanded to take a break for once. Don’t worry, my body often tells me I’m doing just a bit too much when I get sick (which is way too often than I’d like to admit). But I just think to myself about what I am to this world.

I am one of over 7 billion people on this Earth, a pretty small part of the population trying to make their way through the daily trenches of life. But I firmly believe that I am meant to do great things. My piano teacher once told me that I have to believe that my music is important – that amongst all the music there is out their in the world, what I create is important.

Not only is what I create important though. I am important. I think we all are meant to achieve incredible things, and I certainly believe hard work can get you, me, or anyone there. Whatever these “incredible things” may be, they change throughout our lives. But to me, what’s important is making sure that you are making a commitment to self-fulfillment. Personally, that involves practicing humility, greed and gratefulness.

Cheers to making sure that you, whoever you are, are also on your path to self-fulfillment and, ultimately, GREATNESS. I don’t settle for any less. Neither should you.

Privileged Sounds

I started a Keyboard Club at my school in February this year. Earlier this month my kids performed at Steinway Hall. 

I want the world to understand the importance of this.

I had a (pretty intense) goal at the beginning of the school year to create a keyboard lab. Now if you know me, I’m not one to wait for presents or things to fall into my lap. I aggressively make things happen. So I went on a crazy hunt on Craigslist for keyboards and wrote everyday to people who posted keyboards they were selling. For every hundred emails sent I would maybe get one response. I asked these people around New York City to find the kindness in their hearts to donate their keyboards for my students’ use. 

Through this I found so many giving people willing to help me out. Every weekend through December, I would travel by subway to far Queens or Brooklyn to pickup the donor’s keyboard and lug it back on the subway. Sometimes I even dragged friends with me if I was making more than one trip that day. I remember the hardest pickup on the day of wind gusts over 50 mph! But somehow I did not get blown away and on the weekdays I would bring the keyboards back on the subway to the school. Casio found out about me and donated keyboards to the school right before Christmas. And with the help of DonorsChoose I was able to fund ~$1000 in headphones and wires to power up the keyboard lab. It truly felt amazing on the weekend of my birthday when my boyfriend came to work to help me physically setup this lab.

Invitations went out for Keyboard Club to the students of my school, and while my students were filled with such excitement, I was so caught up with managing all the equipment that I often forget these precious moments from my kids when they played their first notes on the keyboards:

“This is the best day of my life!”

“I’ve been waiting to play keyboard since the day I was born!”

Each one of my students received special binders with music I prepared for them to practice. And I made a BIG deal about practicing (cue tiger-parenting tactics). But practicing, for most of my students, meant taking out that sheet of paper with the keyboard printout and moving their fingers on the paper. Most of them could not afford a basic keyboard and practicing meant playing the keyboard paper.

Just think about that for a second. Practicing on a sheet of paper. Isn’t that crazy?! I know my students were happy enough to be able to be in Keyboard Club and be able to practice on keyboards twice a week, but it wasn’t enough – at least not for me. How could I truly make them fall in love with the piano?

So I organized a special performance trip. I told my students we were going to a very famous place. And they HAD to practice to make sure their pieces were perfect for the show. That week of the show meant no recess and instead, practice time for them. I spent my lunchtime drilling notes and being extremely tough on my young four to seven-year-olds. I had a high bar set for them and I expected no less than for them to reach it.

The day finally came for the big trip. My students fancied up with their parents as we took the train from Crown Heights to Midtown Manhattan (we even did a flash-singing-mob when the train was extremely crowded between Union Square and Grand Central and our audience loved it!) and walked the fancy streets filled with shops where my girls could not help but look at the dresses and shoes in storefronts and my boys were looking at the men walking around in suits.

When we walked into Steinway Hall, my kids could not stop staring at the sheer grandioseness of the landmark. The performance began, and one by one my students brought their music to the piano and climbed atop the bench looking for Middle C. It all went so quickly, but their level of concentration coupled with their happiness once they finished their songs written all across their faces made me speechless. My Pre-K student even memorized her song! In two months of practicing on mainly papers and only keyboards, my students were playing on an $86,000 Steinway grand. They were so proud during the certificate and rose ceremony after playing. They were so happy to have played the grand piano. They hugged and thanked me, and one of my kids even started hysterically crying that she wouldn’t see me until Monday (it was a Friday afternoon).

I tell the world this story because the week after, I got a drawing from one of my Keyboard Club students with him playing at a piano on stage with tons of chairs for the audience because he told another teacher that he wanted to be a pianist and that it was his dream.

That was and is still my dream – and I get to live it.

But how are kids supposed to discover their dreams without these experiences? It’s not fair that kids around the world don’t have equal access to music. It’s not fair that my kids have to practice on papers because they cannot afford keyboards. While some people think that playing the piano is just for the privileged, particularly a piano like a Steinway, it certainly should not be. Every child deserves to fall in love with music making. There is no such thing as sounds for the privileged. 

Music education is not a privilege; it’s a birthright. And through music, I hope to inspire dreams. Not just dreams relating to music – dreams of all kinds. I hope that in full immersion of whatever crafts, something might click inside them that allows them to say “Hey, I want to do that when I grow up!” I want to create experiences my students remember forever. 

Tomorrow night is my school’s Spring Arts Festival. Here’s to another out of this world experience as I celebrate my own 20 years of piano playing!

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The $86,000 piano my kids performed on. Photo Credit: Brittany Wilson

Little You

Rainbows and dinosaurs. Snowstorms and recess and ice cream parties. Saturday morning cartoons and pizza for lunch and staying up late and no homework. Hide and seek and playing chutes and ladders and swinging until the sunset and walking on the fall leaves just to hear those crunchy sounds.

Little things. All of these were little things you used to love, search for, crave, and absolutely wait for to happen. These were the things that you loved – all the things that brought you anywhere from one smile of satisfaction to tons of laughter for your tummy, sometimes even more.

Little You was so simple. Little You just wanted to be happy, and happiness was evoked in the simplicity of these things.

Fast forward twenty or so years. Here you are, an “adult” who has finally come of age to bypass any rule of a curfew and can spend money to buy ice cream whenever desired. You can google a picture of a rainbow in a split second and pizza for lunch is just the cheap option close to work. You dread staying up late because you are always so tired, and homework is just work that you take home – or the home you create at work because you never leave work. Chutes and ladders is now in the form of figuring out which staircases have faster moving people in the subway, and snowstorms mean your commute will take twice as long. The last time you saw a dinosaur was on a meme, recess means going to the gym to work on your body. Unswept leaves are in your way as you shuffle on in the streets, and the sunset? Well, what sunset? You didn’t see it today, yesterday, or the last year.

Suddenly, Big You can do all the things that Little You loved to do, at any moment. But instead, every moment of those once desired things is much more depressing than you would like for any of them to be.

Now, why is that? Why is it that as we grow older, the things we loved as kids suddenly become ordinary things that we take for granted?

Simply put, we discover other things. Somewhere along our life paths, whether it is through education, the media, or the people we are surrounded with, we become limited by the scope of “important” reality without any room for imagination. We discover the “importance” of money, status, practicality and adhering to the status quo. Suddenly, happiness is measured by these new terms, and we give no regard to the simple things that we grew up loving. All adults are guilty of this. ALL.

So then I ask, would Little You be proud of Big You? Big You knows that it is practically impossible to live without working, without thinking about the bills, without making important connections, without making the bosses happy. Big You knows that supporting yourself, let alone your family, is much more difficult than previously imagined, and Big You is doing everything you can to make it happen and still have a social life. Big You is also willing to sacrifice a lot for that social life.

Little You WANTS to be proud of Big You. Big You reasons that everything you do in life is so that you can survive. But Little You survived too – without thinking about all these things. What kept Little You going?

DREAMS. Little You had dreams of growing up and being the best YOU possible. Little You could not wait to be Big You to achieve all these childhood goals, and also to tiptoe onto the rascal side every once in a while. Little You wanted to help the world, to change it for the better, to give your friends clouds in the skies that looked like them so you could all be cloud friends. Little You wrote handwritten apology letters when things went wrong. Little You got mad when you weren’t picked by the teacher, but Little You was told that sharing was important and became the bigger person by sharing the toy with your classmate – or your little brother. Little You loved birthday balloons, and Little You loved getting older because each plus one meant one year closer to making your dreams real.

Think about your childhood dreams. Are you living them? Are you being the best Big You possible? If Little You met Big You today, would both of them rejoice in the success of your life as it continues?

Don’t dismiss those “silly thoughts” Little You may have had. Little You was innocent and may have believed that the raindrops were always racing down the car window, but these were the thoughts that Little You had that made you happy. Little You believed in You – both Little You and Big You. 

Little Me wrote some life advice for future me in the autograph book I rediscovered tonight. She reminded me to “never give up, never” and that “u can do it!” (because using “u” instead of “you” was/is the coolest thing).

Little Me had dreams and knew what was best for future me. She still does today.

Childhood

An Open Letter

Dearest You,

Last week we celebrated our 3-year anniversary and you were hoping that I would blog about it. I told you I would, but I am now reconsidering that promise. No, I don’t think I could just blog about you like I blog about other things in my life.

Where would I begin? Would I start with all your perfect imperfections? How you always wear the most compelling of outfits pieced together with a dimpled smile I can never resist, but take much longer than me to get ready, even for our anniversary? Or should I start with how you relish in my anxiety of being late as you take your sweet time because you are amused by hysterically anal me, something that hasn’t changed since day one of us being together?

Would I continue with our travels in the past year to 5 new cities where we explored new sights and shared new moments in the great big (and small) world? Maybe I will tell the fact that you planned every last detail of the trips and how much I appreciated and continue to appreciate your initiative to plan? Should I mention that you looked at each destination’s restaurant menus to make sure there were more options on the dessert menu because of my allergies even if that meant you didn’t get to try your desserts of choice? Could I say that you took snapshots of me when I wasn’t looking and thought I didn’t know even though I did and I thought it was the sweetest – maybe even as sweet as those desserts you didn’t try?

Should I actually reveal how relieved I felt once the long distance was over and how hard it was for me sometimes to know you were chasing your career and doing your thing, but so far away from me? Can I talk about how happy I was to tell you what trivial happenings occurred in New York while you were 6 hours ahead in time because I loved, and continue to love, to tell you every single thought that crossed my mind? Would it be silly if I personally attested to the idea that whatever I did during the day didn’t seem important until I told you? Could I even add to that and say that it really didn’t ever matter what we did but more so that we did it together and shared both wonderful wanderlust experiences and terrific typical Tuesdays watching TV?

Could I write about how smitten I always am when you come over and spend time with my family, and even though there’s a language barrier you still treat them with such respect it makes me feel so loved? Would it be too daring of me to say that you inspire me to be the best person I can ever be and that you always push me to achieve greater things? Should I share how grateful I am of the millions of talks regarding my career, family, and friends and how you always tell me that we are a team? Can I say that you have the best comebacks without you having the comeback “what can I say” that you haven’t said in the longest time because I always fill in your blanks now when you speak?

May I explain how endearing you are to the best of my abilities? How you look me deep in my eyes and reach into my soul like no one else does? How you support and comfort me every night before it is time to dream? How you joke with me just as much as you are serious about making our relationship work? How amazing it is when you surprise me because I like to believe I’m difficult to surprise? How loving you are to me no matter what? How even after 3 years you still make my heart skip beats and feel its heartstrings tugged at?

You see, I could never just blog about you. I could never describe you, or our relationship, perfectly. Instead, here’s a letter of everything I would have written about. By the way, there’s no ending.

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No Beginning / No Ending 2011

Whim in Creativity

I am obsessed with working hard and planning. I think I literally spend most of my time either thinking about one of the two, or doing both simultaneously. I just always want to be prepared – perhaps as a form of self defense against the harsh realities of the world.

Last time I wrote why one should focus on what they want to do. I’m about to tell you why I also believe the complete opposite.

While I know that piano playing is my absolute number one love in life, I have been struggling with the notion that it is okay to give myself a break and not always do work to focus on this passion. I want every moment to be productive, and any moment not spent working towards my “dream” is something I have always considered a waste. We all know life is short; I should not waste my time on frivolous things. And I don’t just mean Facebook and watching TV – I also mean taking a long time to eat, showering for longer than I should just because it feels good, going for a walk on a sunny day, showering for longer just because it feels good. Even writing this post instead of practicing makes me wonder if I’m making the right choice right now.

I did an interview for friend and fantastic photographer Ben Dumond‘s “Of The Hour” series where he asked me where I find inspiration. My instant answer was “everything around me” – the people, New York City, and just the environment I am in. Ironically, something I often forget in my determination in becoming a better pianist every day is that the journey is not only about effort but also about creativity. Music is an art – simple, I know, but forgettable because I sometimes focus way too much on the technical.

Many times in my piano career and just overall in life, I was offered the advice to just Let It Go (#Frozen sorry couldn’t resist) and stop thinking about all the notes and phrases and technique I have trained my fingers to be able to do. MUSIC IS MUSIC: meant to be created literally from my fingertips through a physical connection, mental application and emotional understanding of what’s within. But really who cares about the physical or the mental? “You need to move your audience,” my piano teacher would tell me, then point to his heart and say “right here.”

What good is focus on the physical and mental if I can’t make my audience react to my music? Especially as a classical pianist, I feel such an incredible amount of responsibility of bringing the classical music to 2014, somehow make it my own, and then hope that my listeners feel something upon the performances. Well first things first: how do I feel something from what I play?

I recently learned that I am a very visual player – meaning I rely heavily on my sight when I play because when I see what notes I play I can control what’s going on and I know what is the right note versus what is the wrong note. I need to be blind. A musician is a listener, and a performer listens to the music that he or she will create before it’s created in order to produce sounds in such a way that what I imagine is translated to my audience. To imagine, is to be free of restrictions then. There are no boundaries. To imagine is make something out of nothing, and to create is to bring imagination into existence.

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I think what we all forget to do is be children more often than we think we should now as adults. When I was a child I truly believed the moon was following me any time I was in a car ride. I would swear there was a chimney in my apartment where Santa Claus would come in to bring my presents even though I could not see the chimney, and I also firmly believed I would be a famous piano player one day. While I have some different views on fame and Santa Claus today, I want that kind of belief I had back then. That undying, would get into arguments just to say that I was positively sure kind of belief that children have when they are so steadfast on what is inside their minds. Somewhere in their minds, they created their own truths by imagining them.

The creative process will always take time. Just as much time is spent on hard technical practicing, there needs to be that kind of time spent on creativity. Except, it’s even trickier with the creative process. I can’t always sit down and say “okay, Alice, now you’re going to create. You have x amount of time. Go.” Whatever x is, this is a foolish plan because the creative process is not a timed test. Creativity comes from imagination, and that comes from experiencing all kinds of things in life – including the “frivolous.” Long showers are where great thoughts happen and maybe the Jingle Bells songs I used to love singing would provide the same chord structures I find in Chopin and lead me to a greater understanding of what the music I play now is all about. There is no reason I should not take that walk outside right now (except it’s dark and too cold at the moment). I, for one, believe the creative process will come when it will. Sure, I can write as many comparison charts and make random links between the things in my daily life as I want. But we all somehow know the best ideas hit when we least expect them to (among other things). So this is really just a letter to me telling myself that it’s okay not to always be focused because that time spent not focusing will let me focus even more later on. When I’m on the verge of creativity and then I finally hit it, I’ll need it to sink in – just like I need a good night’s sleep for what I practiced during the day to sink in. Then, maybe I’ll come out tomorrow a better person, better interpreter of classical music, and better performer. Through creativity, my audience will listen to my music and think of their own stories. Now THAT, is my hope.

Please lose yourself in the whim of creativity. It’s murky, or maybe opaque. It was only then that I believed in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. But through it you’ll find clarity and focus. For me, the moon will always follow me.

“The moon in the sky is no paper moon.”

– 1Q84

The OFFICIAL Finding to Focus

For a long time, I have wanted to start an “official” blog. I have always loved writing and I’m not sure what I necessarily mean by “official” other than the fact that it is a public commitment to writing that I’m making. Something about the word official makes things sound… important. Capitalize the word official and you get OFFICIAL. Now. It’s. Real.

So rather than talk about what I’ll be writing, I’ll just start.

I’m happy right now. I am. (Cue “Happy” by Pharrell!) But this is quite the loaded statement I’m making, because what does it really mean to be happy? I won’t get into that right now, but I’ll tell you this much. If you asked me right now if I am 100% happy right now, my response would be no.

For the past few months, my full-time job has been going great, my social life is not too shabby, and I have amazing friends and a great relationship to keep me running and even skipping along. But I kept wondering what exactly it was that I was missing in my life… and it drove me insane. I finally broke through months of looking by honing in on what I love. I love to play piano. A simple five word sentence that, suddenly, I no longer had an “official” commitment with. While I play piano when I teach and I play piano to demonstrate passages in private lessons and I play covers here and there, suddenly I was no longer taking lessons. Except, it wasn’t actually so sudden since I didn’t take piano lessons after May of last year. Why did it (supposedly) suddenly hit me that I loved to play piano?

“Life came in the way” is my lame excuse. But really, I had just taken my official commitment to piano playing for granted while I was in school. Upon earning my Master’s degree I had completely entered the real world with responsibilities and did not commit to making time for my one true passion in life.

Piano is my one true passion in life. I KNOW IT. In all the different things I do in my day, there is nothing that makes my heart beat and my internal clock tick in any form even CLOSE to when I play. And I mean really play. Really play the challenging (classical) repertoire that makes my brain spin and think the way it does when I try to figure out how to connect one note to another in the score. There is nothing that makes my soul more gluttonously satisfied, even though the satisfaction is insatiable, than interpreting and creating music that the composing giants have written for me hundreds of years ago. YES, they wrote the music for me is what I tell myself. It’s for ME to play, perform, and share with the world.

This past week was the first time I had taken a piano lesson in what had seemed to be forever, and it genuinely renewed my energy and re-commitment to practicing and playing. I have a long way to go, but we all do.

So why am I telling you this story about my recommitment to piano playing? I’m still not 100% happy, but my many months apart from my craft just allowed me to better understand what I knew all along – and that understanding alone makes me have a higher happiness % than I did before.

I always tell everyone to find what it is that they love to do, and do it. It’s not simple and it never will be. But I truly believe that deep down there is something inside every person that makes him or her tick. Find what it is that you crave, what it is that makes your heart literally feel that tingle that is so unique to YOU. Find it. And then focus on it. It matters and I’m going to capitalize it because it’s important. IT MATTERS.

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