On a new year

Throughout the holidays, new year’s celebrations and through my birthday three days ago, I’ve reflected a lot on who I have been, what I’ve accomplished thus far and the unknown of what’s to come. While I’m someone who can get trapped or lost in my thoughts for hours on end, I really do believe that taking the time to think about yourself is important for self growth.

With that said, here are some New Year’s/Birthday Resolutions I have for this year:

Be more fearless. I have some pretty irrational fears (heights, roller coasters, and any sort of thrill really) that I feel only developed as I got older and just more “scared” of things I don’t have control over. But why should I be? That’s not to say that I am suddenly going to want to ride Kingda Ka (though for the record I did ride it once), but to be more open to adventure. I recently took my first aerial yoga class where my instructor ended by asking all of us to reflect on how we felt when we were trying some of the new things today, and if that feeling we had is how we want to navigate the world. I won’t be absolutely fearless right now, but I’ll be more fearless than before.

Commit to calmness. In our busy lifestyles, we really do need to set aside time for calm and inwards soul-searching. For some people that may be daily reflection (I know I can think endlessly), and for others it may just be at the end of each month. Regardless, I believe that it is essential to set aside time specifically for purposeful reflection and calming ourselves down with deep breaths. It sounds simple – so we should simply do it!

Have serious fun. I’m stealing this one from a workshop I attended, where I had fun engaging with the material but also knew that it was serious work. I try to embed this into my teaching in my students, but I also need to remind myself this as well. Life is hard… but it is also FUN! The pursuit of my passion shouldn’t always be so serious and uptight, but a fun and enjoyable journey as well. I want to celebrate more of the little wins, in both my teaching and my playing, and in all the other things I want to do as well. I will have serious fun!

Be youthful. I’m not sure why people my age are always saying “I’m getting old” and whining about it. Being in our mid-twenties is such an exciting time! We are no longer bound by college; we are working and earning money or continuing to pursue or studies (or both), and we are able to explore the world. While we have the responsibilities of bills as all adults do, we are still such YOUNG adults with so much uncharted territory – for us to waste or to make the most of. We are the present and the future, and we need to step out of the routine and climb that mountain as fast as we can. The kid in me is still here – time to bring her out to play!

Treasure loved ones. Last but not least. It goes without saying you think, but I really need to appreciate everyone more than I do right now. A few years ago I experienced a moment where I felt like I was on the top of the world, but the people I wished were there to share that with me were not. If I ever experience such a moment again, I want to be surrounded by the people I love – but that requires me to first give so much more. I give a lot to my students everyday, but I need to give my love to my friends and family even more. And that’s not to say I want to give to get, but I want to give – to give only. Teaching has made me understand humility at a level I would have never otherwise, and in being humble and giving I hope that I can help the loved ones in my life understand how much they mean to me. Always.

Fearlessness. Calmness. Serious Fun. Youth. Love.

NOW.

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