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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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.

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

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

Autograph

At NYCAASC 2014, a conference on Asian American issues and culture, I led a breakout discussion group entitled “Piano Lessons: Why 99% Quit.” I had been thinking about this a lot recently, especially having recently finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (a must-read!) in which Amy Chua talked quite a bit about raising her kids with music lessons (piano and violin, as being the two most popular instruments for Asians to pursue). 

I mentioned that most piano teachers taught us (us being the Asian American community) classical piano, and we were not exposed to other musical genres of jazz, pop, and of course not the forbidden fruits of hip hop or rap. I would venture to say that the beyond overwhelming majority of us did not even think about improvising or connecting our thoughts and emotions to our music. Teachers just didn’t introduce us to it, nor did they initiate a curiosity within us to even explore other ideas in music. And, unfortunately, we didn’t know better.

Anyway, that was just one part of my presentation that I hope resonated with my audience of college students and former piano lesson-takers. At the end, one guy come up to me and asked for my autograph.

This was the first autograph I ever really signed – and for speaking. I was shocked. Had what I said really resonated that my signature suddenly become of “worth”? Did sharing my thoughts suggest that I may be someone of importance? It felt a bit silly, to be honest, signing my name as I do when I am at a restaurant – but it held more weight now… or did it?


The headliner for NYCAASC was MC Jin. In Asian American music, he is a legend – the first Asian American who rapped for OUR culture. The ABC (American Born Chinese) culture that is, with his famous chorus (translated):

ABC that’s me that’s me 
No matter how you look at it, that’s me
That’s right, that’s right
ABC that’s me that’s me
(You know that’s me)

He continues with the constant “struggle” of “not Chinese enough” and “not American enough”:

An ABC has to look carefully in the mirror
They want to know how I speak Chinese so well

 

Don’t worry about where I was born
A birth certificate is only a sheet of paper

I ask you, “What’s so bad about being an ABC?”
Even if I am, don’t take me as an idiot

 

You say I’m not officially Chinese, “Who are you?”
In the eyes of foreigners I am “yellow skinned,” just like you
Even though we come from two different worlds
But it’s pretty much the same, so don’t treat me otherwise (literally translated, “don’t step on me”)

I identify so much with these lyrics. He came onto the stage and prior to performing, things “got real deep” (straight up quoting him). Commenting on Asian American cultural preaching beforehand, MC Jin stated,

“It’s a fine line to walk between [representing] our Asian American culture and breaking out of that same box.”

 

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(From Lost Laowai)

I struggle with this everyday – playing and thinking with cultural sensitivity versus doing “my own thing” and trying to figure out what that even means. We embrace our culture and should be proud of who we are, but we are also  WAY more than just that. It is difficult to have that happy balance of both, and I think everyone can relate to that. But it was incredible to hear someone I listened to as a kid tell me my own thoughts out loud in the spotlight. 

I waited in line for his autograph and overheard so many conversations talking about how amazing MC Jin was in his performance and what he said. When it was finally my turn I told him how I am a pianist and I really identified with what he had to say. He thanked me, and kept telling all of us how inspirational we were. After MC Jin autographed my program, I thought about the autograph I myself signed earlier.

No two people have the same signature – there’s no box for it. So why should we even have a box for culture? 

SEE YA BOX, here’s a swan song for you:

You may not know me, but I know you.”

(P.S. MC Jin, if you’re reading, can we collaborate? Seriously.)

 

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.

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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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