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)

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

Turn the Corner

In the classroom (and sometimes just somewhere in the school), my kids will come up to me to tattletale, to complain about another’s actions, to defend their actions – and on occasion I’ll get the “You look pretty Ms. Alice!” Drama, the not so forgiving kind, unleashes in the lunchroom and at recess and can really be set off at any time of the day.

Last week, one of my students was bantering with her classmate across my classroom and speaking unkind words (it is the nicest way I can put it); I spoke to her about my disappointment in what she said, and did not allow her to go to recess that day. Her response?

“I hate you Ms. Alice! I never want to come to your class again!”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t take it a little personally. I tried talking to her during lunch to explain to her why what she said to her classmate was NOT okay, but she continued to tell me her hatred for me. It was definitely a downer and made me think a lot about what I did.

The next day came along and she came up to me on her own accord, and spoke something I found so surprising:

“I’m sorry for my language, Ms. Alice.”

She went on to explain how much she liked music class (and me, really!) and how she would do the right thing next time. Little did she know, she did the right thing – right then and there.

 

I preach and live by teaching my kids to apologize if they did something wrong or something that hurt another person’s feelings (even if it was an accident), to confront any problem without hesitation and using peaceful methods, and to solve any issues that may come between friendships. Teaching these values to my students have made me feel that I am now a better person as I try to follow these guidelines for friendships myself.

But what’s fascinating is how many of us, as grownups, do not do this. I will venture to say that we ALL know tackling a problem straightaway (albeit post initial moments of anger) is a better option than sweeping the issues under the rug, yet we all avoid confrontations. We are too afraid to be judged by both strangers and our friends, and we don’t want to cause discomfort or any awkward moments.

I’ll assume that you are considering the discomfort of yourself as well as the unpleasantness that the other party will feel. Here is a solid high five for that thought! But because we are so unwilling to create tension, that one uneasy moment then leads to more thoughts of how the problem was handled and less ideas for some kind of a solution. You believe that the other person is thinking negatively about the situation as well, but due to our non-confrontational manners, this situation will continue to gather dust. Ultimately, this one issue becomes piled onto accumulating dust bunnies, never truly vacuumed for as long as the problem goes publicly disregarded by both people.

As problems continue to arise and confrontations are still lacking, the pile of dust because greater and more intense… until there is no more room for that newest bit of dust and BAM! Welcome to the full blown argument. That last speck was probably so insignificant – something along the lines of your friend forgetting how to use a cassette player. But it was enough to trigger an argument with name calling, sassy tones of distress and endless sentences of anger. 

Here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes this could be the absolute breaking point at which there is no return. You might never be friends with this person again, and to think it was all because that person did not return your book… or well, you don’t REALLY remember what were all the other tiny pieces to the argument that caused you to be SO livid at first. Maybe you will take a break from your friend, and just semi-apologize when you meet up again after a certain amount of time – but without truly addressing what had happened. 

My idealist solution? Be the bigger person. If you’ve gotten to that ridiculous peak of anger, break down every part of the mountain (assuming you even remember it all) and address all the issues with your friend. Better late than never. I firmly believe that true friends can work it out – or at least would understand where all the tensions had been boiling up.

Unfortunately, most of us let our selfish pride get in our way. We don’t like to admit that we have been wrong, or that we committed any wrong. We don’t want to be in the same sentence as the word “wrong” – not even for a split second. When was the last time you actually talked it out with a friend though? When was the last time that you solved a problem in your friendship by talking about it – not in a passive aggressive tone, but in a “let’s figure this out” way? 

I never thought my student would apologize to me, and it is certainly a testament to the great colleagues I have the privilege of working with instilling the importance of strong minds and kind hearts into their souls. The most surprising part of it for me was my realization that her apologizing to me the next day must have meant that she, on her own, had thought about it – past the moment. And she WANTED to fix things, and keep OUR relationship.

We should learn from her. We all have so much unnecessary drama in our lives that if we just took the time to apologize and work things out, I am certain would not exist. Hardships and vexations will come up, but we need to turn the page – through kindness and words. Imagine what friends we would not have lost, and also think about which relationships we can keep growing and developing in our lives. Turn the corner, and let’s keep going – together.

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Black Corner by Nancy Eckels

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.

Sailing Friendships

Today, my Aim for my kids is

What is a choir?

Now my students sing every time they are in music with me, and they sang together on stage, and it may be a bit late in the year to explain the word “choir,” but my main reason for teaching the word choir NOW? I’m trying to reestablish the importance of teamwork and how it starts with someone as the individual first. Maybe what a lot of people don’t know is that aside from explaining, teaching and preaching music, I try to instill real-life applicable, core values: sharing, working together as a team, supporting one another, helping your friend, and the list goes on – but it all starts with YOU.

I think about my own friends and I wonder sometimes: do we actually work as a team? Friendships are two-sided (or more) but I feel that we all take friendships for granted. We all have the friends we reach out to first when we have some free time to hang out, and then we have the second layer and then the third layer of friends. We have so many Facebook friend lists: “Close Friends,” “College friends,”  “High School Friends,” the “Family friends we don’t really know,” the “Friends who went AWOL,” the “Far Away” friends.

I’ll stick to “Close Friends” list though. I, for example, am always the planner. Yes, I may pride myself on how excellent my plans are (no shame)… but I have literally played the planner role since elementary school birthday parties. For the most part, I would say my close friends just go along with the plan and show up. I almost never get appreciation for planning; I don’t necessarily seek appreciation, but saying a simple “thank you for planning” never hurt anyone.

Going back to my students, I currently MAKE them say “thank you,” apologize to each other when they have done something wrong, communicate with each other and confront any problems which may arise, and listen to as well as explain their own feelings. Hold on, why don’t we do this as adults? So much of “friendship drama” occur from lack of appreciation or apologies, miscommunication, and the unwillingness to compromise or directly problem solve. Here the problem is that I don’t always communicate to my friends my annoyance or frustration. There have been phases where I have refused to plan and therefore my friends either did not meet up, or met up in small groups themselves. So did I always have to plan? DO I always still have to plan?

Perhaps it is partially a refusal to let go of control on my part, but why do we not share responsibilities in making our friendships work? Just like in a romantic relationship, friendships are about the little things too – the “hey I want to plan something this time for our friends,” the “I really appreciate the fact that you always plan,” the “thank you for being my friend.” We should each take responsibilities for making our friendships work, and I think in an ideal world, everyone would take turns playing the different roles of planner, follower, bill calculator, reminder, to name a few. I also know it’s not in everyone’s comfort zone to plan something and have flakers or those nonresponders, but why should we be okay with taking on our roles of comfort in our society? No, it’s not okay to let someone’s energies go wasted and unnoticed. No, it’s not okay to keep ASSUMING someone will just plan and just “oh well” if you don’t see that friend until he or she reaches out to you. I’m speaking on behalf of planners everywhere when I say that I’d like for YOU, my friend, to plan, to initiate, to create, to make something from the simplest cup of tea together to the most extravagant trip abroad. Sure, you may get rejections and not everyone will respond all at once (in fact please let me know if everyone actually DOES respond immediately) and you will have to nag a lot of people, but it’s a process. We, as planners, definitely do not feel supported or cared for when we put so much work into one group brunch and no one cares to show appreciation, let alone if the friends show up late and disregards the time we spent creating that get-together.

I’m asking you to ask yourself:

When did I last plan an event for my friends to hang out? Even if it was just planning a simple dinner?

When did I last truly thank someone for organizing?

When did I last reach out to that friend who has been trying to hang out with me for the longest time but I never make time for?

When did I last show true appreciation for someone?

When did I last make an effort to step up and help a friend?

When did I last consider the time that friend spent looking up activities, figuring out timelines, mapping out itineraries and alerting us of subway problems just to make sure I COULD literally just show up?

When did I last play a different role on my team – my friends?

Something from How I Met Your Mother that really hit me this week:

“You will be shocked, kids, how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.” – Ted Mosby

I know I talked rather specifically about planning, showing appreciation, and being a part of a team – in this case, your group of friends. But just think about time. The time that it takes someone to plan something, is THEIR time. Their time spent to create shared time. Shared time is precious, and if you want that shared time, you would think like Ted Mosby – and then DO SOMETHING about it. Trust me, your friends – from the planners to the other followers in your group, will appreciate it.

Choir and Chorus are synonyms. Choir has an I, and Chorus has US – and only together, as synonyms, will the Choir/Chorus sing beautifully. The same goes for friendships. Make sure the ships keep sailing by giving your captain a break. Aye Aye?

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The Power of Music

Some “amazing” (I like to think they’re amazing anyway) things happened in my music classroom this week. During the Adele Dazeem climb in Let It Go, one of my quiet, sweet Kindergarteners broke out into full Idina mode and sang the solo “the past is in the past” in the most empowering voice ever. Twice. My Pre-Kindergarteners managed to make their classroom teacher cry happy tears when they sang for her.

But on March 6, 2014, the power of music managed to make my entire class of 2nd graders cry. Together.

I know, I know. Everyone’s initial reaction is “Oh my goodness Alice what the heck did you do to them?!” Trust me, that’s what all my fellow teachers asked me, too. So here’s what happened (I’m also totally gearing up for the How I Met Your Mother finale):

I decided that for the school’s Spring Arts Festival, all my students (aka the whole school) should sing “I Believe I Can Fly” as the final number. Empowering, all about dreaming big, and just a great song and message for everyone. On the board was Aim: What does believe mean? – and I was excited to engage my students in a discussion about what it means to believe something and what it takes to go from believe to ACHIEVE in life.

Kindergarteners and 1st Graders received the song really well, and some of them had heard it before – even better! I was extremely excited to welcome my 2nd Graders into class to really delve deep into the topic of the day. I told them I was about to play a song that some of them may have heard before, and I wanted them to close their eyes and really think about what it meant when R. Kelly sang the word believe.

The song started playing and I closed my eyes as well. But as I took peeks throughout various moments in the song to make sure my kids’ eyes were closed, I started seeing one or two my students cry. When we reached the end of the song, I opened my eyes to see four of my students crying. Immediately I thought, wow, it must have really moved them! I asked in a gentle voice, “would you like to share what this song is making you feel?” I could hardly believe what I was about to hear.

One by one, each of the four students told me stories about how they last heard this song at a relative’s funeral. For one it was a close uncle. For the others, their grandparents. I immediately responded, “it is completely okay to feel this way and let your emotions out like this,” and we started talking about what it meant to lose someone. The room was so quiet but the cries so deafening as I heard my students truly cry out for those they have lost in life. I then started to talk about how music can help us let these emotions out and allow us to express ourselves. I personally shared that I had not met three of my grandparents and how I feel loss and resonate with them. I even said that those who are no longer with us want to see us happy and doing the right thing and enjoying school and life.

But the more I talked about the situation, the more students started crying. I can only imagine that more and more students started identifying with their friends and/or with me and envisioned those they missed in their lives or family members they had never met. In a matter of minutes, my entire class of 2nd graders were crying – some hysterically and some quietly with the kids they sat next to.

I didn’t know what to do. First, I had us all take deep breaths. It didn’t work. Then I had us sing Let It Go to literally try to let go of our burdens and sadness that now weighed so heavily upon all their little shoulders. But my kids were literally inconsolable. I don’t even know if you can really imagine this. A room full of melancholy sobs and sorrowful cries so loud that the classroom down the hall could hear them. It was time for lunch and my kids were in two lines, crying and crying and crying.

But I didn’t stop it. I let it continue. We walked down the stairs and at each landing I would look back at my heavy-hearted, grief-stricken students. We walked into the lunch room with stares from all the other kids in the school wondering what the heck I had just done to this class. They continued to sob on the lunch line, and even after they sat back down with their lunch.

One of the initial 2nd graders who started crying asked me,

“Why did you HAVE to play that song, Miss Alice? Why?!”

“Well, do you think I would have played that song if I knew it was played at your Uncle’s funeral?”

“No…”

“I’m really sorry, A. I never meant to make you upset, just know that it’s okay to feel this way.”

I really didn’t mean to unleash all these emotions. After all, I had no idea this was a popular funeral song!

I took a few moments for myself after I left the lunchroom just walking through the hallways and reflecting on what I had just experienced. In Her, one of the most powerful quotes that really struck me was,

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

It’s an interesting idea, what this quote says, especially since I often feel that I have already experienced a lot of what music has to offer me personally. But what I experienced proves this quote wrong at an extraordinary level. Never could I imagine that one song could elicit such a reaction from ALL of my students.

What a powerful experience that was. In those moments together with my students, we all felt loss, pain, hurt, so low-spirited. We mourned together, and as crazy the hysterical cries must have been – it brought us closer. We shared those moments together. And it’s because the power of music allowed us to

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I mean, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I did manage to make a fellow teacher cry happy tears because her Pre-K students sang so beautifully for her. But there’s something about the other end of the spectrum of somber crying that is so deep and indescribable when we confront it. The kind that happens at funerals when you’re missing the one who had passed. But this happened in my music classroom. Because we listened to one song. And that one song made us each think of people we missed. People, nonetheless – but different people.

It was much more than just a music lesson. But it was the most powerful kind of music lesson I could have ever imagined. It’s certainly something I will never forget for the rest of my life.

I wonder if my kids will remember it when they grow up.