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”)

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Potential Energy

Listen to “anteMeridiem,” my latest release of the Experimentalice Series representing a stream of consciousness in the A.M. hours, as you read “Potential Energy.”

Do you ever feel that you are bursting with potential? That you have so much within you that has yet to be uncovered or put to good use as far as ideas, intentions and projects go?

That’s how I feel right now. And I mean this in the humblest of ways because I don’t think I am by any means an incredible person. I always just tell people I have a lot to do, and I intend to do it, whatever “it” may be at the time or in the context. But I just have so many ideas at this moment in time, and I want to accomplish them all. Not because I want fame or recognition, but because I feel it is the best way to be who I want to be. The best way to put myself forward in the way I want to in order to change the world. 

You may think that is quite a bold endeavor. I completely agree. It is. But I’ve finally had some time to myself to debrief on my life and what it is I currently spend my time on. While I think I do this more often than not, I feel like I’ve reached a new sense of clarity; it’s refreshing to say the least. I’m not particularly sure how to explain it, but I feel that I have all this creativity waiting to be cultivated, defined and precisely carved now. At the same time, I have to remember it is okay – COMPLETELY okay – to take a mental breather once in a while, or even scheduled into my life. I am obsessed with being kinetic, but only through moments of slow and careful consideration do I find myself facing still waters and looking intently at the reflections within my mind and body. Deep in those reflections I find that potential energy, waiting for me to do something about it.

My latest discoveries? I want so badly to change the world for the better through creation and education. I want my footprints not to be my own but for children of future generations to walk in as well as my peers to step into in order to understand who I am and who they are. I want to make things that people can relate to yet be physically, mentally and emotionally intrigued by and challenged by. I want to be the very best at being me I can be.

Like many others around the world, tonight I mourn the loss of Robin Williams, a creative soul who put his energy and care into all the different projects he embarked on and shared with us. To me, each portrayal of himself was raw, honest and refined simultaneously – a true depiction of the trials and tribulations of the human soul. Since finding out about his death, I have been watching interviews, standup segments, his Oscar award acceptance, and even his Sesame Street gigs.

With this recent renewal of mine to keep on working creatively, I look to him for inspiration and willpower and remember to keep at it – whatever it is that I am doing. The pursuit of the arts is something I will continue in perpetuity through all the changes in life I have. Similarly, I learn that the mistakes we make are to be embraced and not shunned, and to continue on with life understanding what they may mean for us. Or maybe even not to take them to seriously. But everything we experience builds who we are and adds to each new experience we find ourselves in.

I want to end with two quotes of his I will live by and I hope you can live by:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You musn’t lose it.”

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

– Robin Williams

Jolt

(For an immersive experience, listen to Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto, 2nd movement played by Shostakovich himself while reading) A few months ago I found out that my first piano teacher, who is over 90 years old, was losing her memory. … Continue reading

A Notion’s Drawer of Ideas

On a typical day, I think about 926,836,017,827,523 things. Yesterday, for example, I thought about how I haven’t been practicing and need to get back into it, planning for my next big DonorsChoose project for my kids, what I would be playing for my upcoming gigs at the NY Memory Center and DYNAMICSS, what next video I should edit and upload on my YouTube, how I can get more involved in the Asian American community, what I would write for this blog, how I should plan a recital for my private piano students, starting a newsletter of classical piano tips and events, planning get togethers for my friends I haven’t seen in a while, what haikus I want to write since it’s Poetry Month, my summer plans to perform, becoming more involved in making children’s music with other musicians, what ditty (just recently learned this funky word) I should teach the grown ups at the “Arts Night – All Grown Up” later this week, what lines to work on for diction in the songs for the Spring Arts Festival, how to acquire more donations for my music program, the program of the Keyboard Club performance, what next date to plan with my boyfriend, submitting a song for the OneReasonRecordings album, what kind of breakout group I should lead at NYCAASC, what kind of recital or piano salon I would personally like to give later this Spring/Summer, where I should travel to next, my plans for productivity during Spring Break next week (at long last), what next Yelp reviews to pen, how I feel about the How I Met Your Mother Series Finale… to name a few.

I have to admit – after writing all of that down it is kind of scary how many things are on my mind and how quickly I shuffle through these thoughts. But is it crazy to believe that I am more productive when I have more than a full plate (of things to do, never food)?!  Most people I know talk about how they need “me” time, and quite a bit of it, to get through daily life. But I feel that I don’t need more than just a little me time during the week because I am just so much happier thinking about all these things and striving towards achieving ALL of them. People tell me that I do too much, and that I’m stretching myself too thin. But I’m not. I frankly believe that I am not. I truly feel strongly about ALL the things I think about. Is it a crime to have that many interests and “too many” goals in life?

Perhaps I don’t fit the stereotype of the usual musician who practices eight hours a day with the black monster (whom I love). But I find that the happiest and most creative pianists do not actually practice that long and usually have a multitude of other projects they are pursuing – both related and not related to music. In other words, they LIVE. Fruitfully. Likewise, I want to draw inspiration from everything to feed into the creation of my profession and my music, but most importantly, the continued development of myself.

Here is a spiraling transcript of my streaming thoughts as I visited an incredible exhibit, Doug Wheeler’s “rotational horizontal work” at the David Zwirner Gallery:

I am in infinite space. Where is that glow coming from? How is that I cannot see the ceiling, or the walls, or the ends? Am I standing on the edge of the Earth? Is this what the horizon truly looks like? I feel like I am in a boundless place where time does not matter… Time is completely man-made and this lack thereof is calming, peaceful. There is tranquility in the light. I only hear my footsteps and those of the others inside this space with me. The rests, absence of pitches in sound… what if this is real? The experience, in itself, IS real. (Moments of silence taking the atmosphere in).

No transcendental etude like Liszt’s will be produced, but I now want to compose or improvise drawing inspiration from this artistic experience. Can I? Nothing is stopping me. Maybe all my thoughts are ludicrous and my creative process is, well, out there. Had I not been insistent on going though, I would never have this idea. And I want to keep funneling ideas into my soul, through music, and reflect it back into the world’s soundscapes. Everything experienced has musical potential and merit. want to be the one who realizes that for the audience of listeners.

Is that a good idea? I guess I won’t know until such a project comes to fruition. I also may think it’s a good idea now and won’t think so an hour after I post this entry. Regardless, it is important to me that this idea matters at this moment in time and I am growing from it. We all brainstorm ways to put things together from not following the directions booklet for assembling a bed frame to arranging our thoughts into different compartments in the various parts of our brain without us consciously monitoring that activity. In fact, there can never be too many goals, interests, or IDEAS. It does not matter if we classify them as “good” or not. And we should not fear ideas that may fail in the future nor those which have failed us in the past nor those which did not have an appropriate category to belong to.  And not everything HAS to relate directly to our “ONE” passion; after all, randomness is amazing in itself as we never know what can come of it.  

There is no such thing as doing too much. We are all trying to find that “perfect mixture” of daily activities sprinkled with momentary feats that allow us to feel truly satisfied and fulfilled in our lives. It may work today and it might not work anymore tomorrow, or vice versa, but there should never be any fear or dismay in having too many thoughts. It is only a crime to have a lack of thoughts, a lack of pursuit, a lack of passion. Instead, keep thinking of ideas and IDEA ON.


A week ago, I had the privilege of listening to the composers of “Frozen,” Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez, talk about the movie, their creative process, and their history together as a couple and as artists. Robert Lopez said that for each new project, the two of them come up with a “notion’s drawer of ideas,” and then figure out which combination of ideas works well together.

Ideas in Images

“Ideas in Images” by Paulo Zerbato

I’ll end with my first haiku in a long time inspired by this cloudy Monday:

Earl grey tea, gray skies
Find the right combination
Stir and let’s begin.

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.

Image

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