I get by with a little help from my friends

The other day I had my very first surprise party. My friend Jessica picked me up and told me we were going to Laura’s house, but we had to stop to pick up pizza on the way. I had a strong inclination something was up when she came out of the pizza parlour with three boxes of pizza and a box of breadsticks. “Laura’s a picky eater,” she joked, and changed the subject. I had never been to Laura’s house before, but besides my wide-eyed reaction to her huge property, I noticed her driveway was full of our friends’ vehicles. Inside the house, Jessica led me to the basement where the lights were turned off. She practically pushed me into the room where, after a moment of confusion, my friends jumped out and yelled, “Surprise!” It was a party for my send-off to graduate school, complete with a banner, chips, cake, ice cream, party hats, presents, and games. My friends did all of this… For me. They have been by my side since they took me under their wings 7 years ago. Sometimes, when I was really busy last year, I didn’t get a lot of chances to see them, but I felt their presence in my heart. I lost some focus preparing for my exam when my best friend Angela went into labour. But, seeing the smiling mother and sleeping baby at the hospital, then holding the little one in my own arms, I experienced true happiness. There is something so powerful and inspiring about babies. I felt more motivated to work hard after that day.

I like to open posts with stories because I feel that they are more effective in conveying my point. This post is all about support and having a support system. Without a doubt, my 365 day project would not have been feasible without my support system, and I think as a teacher (albeit a very new one), I need to tell students and parents that learning is optimal when everyone works together. There will always be independent learners as well as those who need more of a push, but by and large, for the average student like me, a support system is crucial.  This is true for both students young and not so young. I think there is a lot of material out there already proving that young students work better with parental/guardian support. I haven’t been researching enough yet to know if there is a significant difference in progress of adults or mature students as far as support is concerned. In my personal journey, I needed to rely heavily on my support system to get me through the first obstacles I faced, including practising when stressed, and dealing with performance anxieties.

It is challenging to write about my support system without sounding either very sentimental or very fortunate. Both feelings are so true, though, as I write this I am feeling sentimental, thankful, and lucky. Waiting for my new school semester to begin, I have this special opportunity to reflect upon this past year and be thankful for everyone who was a part of it. I have very loving parents, a piano teacher who inspires me beyond words, and the best friends possible (both human and animal- that way I can include my dog 🙂 ).  These support systems have helped me realize that a life full of music is so much more fulfilling when I have people to whom I can dedicate each pleasure my craft brings to me. This is like a circle of strength and happiness. Having music in my life every day through piano practise and listening opportunities has made me a happier person, and having the support systems surrounding me with unconditional love has made all of my musical endeavours possible.

Thank you. ❤

 

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On perseverance

It was 1996 and I was about to undergo my second eye operation at McMaster Children’s hospital. I was four years old at the time, just old enough to have retained some memories from the experience. The waiting room TV was playing the children’s show, “Bananas in Pajamas.” I cried, wanting my parents to stay by me. I don’t remember anything after that. In recovery, there was an elderly man on a nearby bed with a radio. I had to wear an eye patch for a few days and my poor dad had to deal with my protests as he tried to coax me into letting him take it off. The following years were full of insecurities about my eyes. Even now, with my pricey new frames, I wonder who sees the unevenness between my eyes because of my ptosis. These glasses, though, help me see and read. My life is so enriched because of the doctors who fixed my eyes.

An odd tie in to the eye story is the one where the last day I ever had an appointment with my ophthalmologist was the same day I had my first kiss. I was 16 and incredibly mature and naive. As these stories tend to go, the relationship ended before it really started. Thank God. Back then, though, it was the end of the world. To all parents out there, including mine, I am sorry on behalf of all teenagers. I cried myself sick for years over this guy. He wasn’t special, but he was the first guy to not treat me like a baby sister or someone to bug for homework help. I let go of my passions for school and music while I grieved over it. Part of me feels like slapping my young self- imagine how much further I’d be in music now if I wasn’t too busy crying or talking to him “as friends.” Oh well. The friends who have since blessed my life have filled the need for companionship I had once mistaken for love. 

This next bit is hard to talk about. I only do so at all because of how the person in question was open about it on social media after the fact. I will set the scene. October 2013, it was my reading break from school. I was successfully journaling about my music progress but the stress was definitely climbing. I realized it was time to tell my friends about it and let them help me out a bit. One of my best friends hadn’t responded to my messages in a long time. I knew instantly what it was all about. They had told me in strict confidence earlier about personal troubles, and for the first time in my life I was truly scared. I became an adult with adult problems. During my reading break, my friend sent me a message at last, saying, come see me at —–. I debated it. Thought long and hard. I did though, I made up my mind, and I stand by my decision. My mom came with me, and I held onto her tightly. My friend definitely remembers seeing me that day, and sometimes talks about how I was there. Anyway, I was a wreck for weeks after that. I sought refuge in my music and told myself I would succeed and be perfect and work past the trauma I experienced. After yet another lesson about my inability to communicate, I felt very upset. I wanted to tell my teacher, I wanted to tell everyone how hurt I was. A friend who was so wise and so helpful and who brought me so much light now needed me to just be me. But who was I?  As I was preparing for my first performance in years, in the piano class recital, I knew who I was playing for. The second movement from Beethoven’s sonata n.5 in c minor… A piece of strength, courage, hope. Performing again was such a powerful experience. I was finally able to tell everyone how I was feeling, in that moment. Goal of performing accomplished, yet I gained so much more than a check on a list of things to do. 

My mom and I were on our way to town this Saturday for some afternoon tea at our favourite cafė followed by grocery shopping. When I stepped out of the car, I felt the worst pain imaginable up my spine. My lower back no longer held my weight. By a miracle, with my mom’s support, I was able to shuffle my way to the cafė where I struggled to sit myself down. Being from such a small town, my dear mom was able to purchase a belt for me which allowed me to straighten up and get home. I have been basically confined to a chair this weekend. Playing for church on Sunday nearly had me falling over in pain. I found encouragement in the woman who gave to me flowers from the altar and to a friend who was able to cover for me during the communion. At home, I cried again, but, as in all those other times, I grew up. I felt so weak and powerless and not in control over my body. Will this be my adulthood? Always waiting for my back to fall apart? Today, I am feeling much stronger and have renewed hope for myself. I have sat at the piano a little every day when my back allows me to do so. Music is not about pain. Music is about expressing oneself and about having something to say. Today, I am saying that I am stronger than all of this and in due time, will regain the physical strength that I need to practice to my heart’s content. 🙂

 

 

A balancing act

For many years now, I have been fascinated by professional dancers, namely the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Every summer I look forward to tuning in every week, and I eagerly put work aside to watch the dancers glide across the stage. I don’t know anything about dancing myself, and all my attempts have been… I get an A for effort. Music is by and large my most confident means of expression.  Yet, how dancers move their bodies captures my attention. They are so aware of every single thing they do. They are the very picture of balance. Watching them makes me desire balance in my life.

In hindsight, my fourth of university year was a less than ideal time to start setting lofty goals for myself and keeping my life so structured. To make my goals happen, I knew I had to practice for at least a few hours every day.  It is fair enough to ask for that, but once one piles on a full course load and graduate school applications, the situation becomes a lot more intense. To make things work, I set up for myself a very structured life. I had it planned out everyday, times I would practice, times for homework, times for just having a morning coffee with my mom before I left for school. Practice times weren’t always ideal; some days I would practice late into the evening when I was tired from commitments all day. I would practice during nearly all of my breaks between classes, even when I felt disoriented from learning course material. Like any new routine, it was a challenge at first. I thought my dreams were unattainable. Deep inside though, my determination was unrelenting. I am the first to admit that this plan wasn’t perfect. I put all my fears behind me and like any dancer would do, jumped right into the deep world of music. Over time, practising became less of an obligation and more of a longing. It is good to stand back and be objective sometimes, though. I was very independent for most of the school year. I think even for introverts, it is important to stay around people, so I compromised my lack of social time for working on essays in the school market. That way, people could run into me and it wouldn’t be my fault if I was distracted, right? Sometimes I really, really wanted people to come and distract me. This was around the point where I realized I was working too hard. I don’t regret anything, but I wouldn’t recommend that type of lifestyle to anyone. I was being overtaken by my dreams. This is clear to me now, as I sit here with an aching back. During my studies, I put my own health aside. I thought I was being healthy then, I kept a food journal as well as as my piano journal, and I was proud to tell my friends about my weight loss success. However, my lifestyle still wasn’t balanced. I wasn’t adequately stretching, my running routine lost consistency, and I probably could have spent more time away from the piano and my school books.

In summary, balance is something we can all strive for at any stage of life. I am only 22, but this will be a constant challenge for me. I willingly accept this challenge. Like those dancers, I will use every ounce of my body and spirit to make the most of this dance called life.

🙂

At the beginning…

I have mixed feelings about blogging. One moment I am excited about sharing my ideas with the world, and the next, I suddenly feel vulnerable, not wanting others to know about thoughts so personal to me. This is why I love my piano journal; no one reads it other than myself, and over this last year, it has become a true friend to me. Even though I didn’t write about my feelings every single day, I still wrote often enough to document every possible sentiment. I think the journal shows my humanness and personal growth. Yeah, I had been forced to write down mechanical things as a kid, like what tempo my technique was at or if I practiced a passage 10 times a day with my left-hand, but this was the first time all of it meant something. (*I still keep track of those things, for all musicians and teachers who follow me.) Being aware of my state has helped me with developing better technique, musicality… Practically everything. Why? Thoughts and feelings can take control of psychological decisions and physical movements, in other words both the subconscious and conscious parts of the brain. I am far from being a psychologist, coach, or even a specialized teacher, but my own experience has taught me that I play at my best when all of me is well, body, mind, and spirit. For example, if my lower back is sore, it is a logical explanation for why I struggle with arm weight on a particular day. If I am feeling stressed out about something in my life, I feel it in my shoulders and (almost ironically), the musicality I strive for doesn’t come through. If I am distracted by external factors, my brain won’t focus on the finer details of the musical score that make a huge difference in learning a piece. These are all observations I had noted before I started practising yoga a couple of months ago. I love yoga because it addresses ways in which I can handle all of these challenges and turn them into strengths. As a perfectionist, I hope I can impart this piece of advice to others like me who read this: it is okay to be human. At my own lessons, I found that I struggled the most to communicate musically when I felt personal pressure to be perfect. My old goal of being a perfect student actually made me a more challenging person to work with. Remember how I said musical relationships are tricky? This is true, but this is also why I want to be a piano teacher. I want to guide and watch others find themselves through music. My weakness are my strengths. That which makes us different also makes us special. 🙂

Okay, so these observations took a year to form. Let’s back track to August 2013. My first goal I set and completed was an audition back into applied lessons, and this was only three weeks into my new regime. My audition consisted of two of my favourite pieces so I loved working on them every day. I had recently crossed a hurdle with one of them, Brahms’s Romanze in F Major from op. 118. My musicality focus at the time had a lot to do with voicing and singing. These are concepts that trended over the year, but this is when they started. Journaling helped me realize how much attention is needed to make these concepts actually work in a day to day practice routine. My audition itself went well. I got into the class I wanted. I recognized that this meant more would be expected of me at my lessons, but I was determined and ready to not disappoint myself or my teacher. As I wrote earlier, I later learned that perfectionism is unhealthy past a certain point. I am so thankful that my teacher recognized this and gave me room to breathe when I needed to.

I had two goals in the back of my mind as soon I successfully passed my audition. First, to do a solo performance of a classical piece in front of an audience, and finally complete my grade ten piano exam after a long period of injury and inconsistency.

That’s all for now folks. Maybe there will be more later if both you and I are patient. 🙂

365 (and counting) days of piano

What if it is possible to stick to something, every single day for an entire year. No excuses. No giving up. Seems demanding and wildly unreasonable, right?

I thought I’d try it.

Let me be clear: I may have just come across as a tad extreme, but in reality I am a (mostly) logical person. I look both ways before I cross the street, I missed one lecture in undergrad and I regret it to this very day, I go to bed before midnight and like clockwork I am awake by 7:30a.m., the very thought of climbing steep cliffs or skydiving makes my stomach turn… yeah I am your typical straight-laced twenty-something wrapped up in a neat little box with a bow — at least, that is if you believe in stereotypes. I, as all of you readers, are a lot deeper than your surface characteristics. If you happen to be into personality tests like I am, I am an INFJ (for your information), and I already think that is a bit too much information about me. As my “type” describes, you have to know me for quite some time before you really know me (and that’s if you’re lucky).

As the title of this post suggests, I practised piano for 365 consecutive days. Conveniently for me, I was (and still am) a piano student, so this idea did not jump out at me out of the blue.  In 2013, I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life. It was the summer before my fourth year of undergrad, and I felt very lost, and not the kind of lost that one gets over with a good cry and a hug. I was a music major and felt uncertain about my future. Piano had been a part of my life for 14 years, but I wasn’t super talented like those prodigies who travel Europe concertizing or make it to the Ellen show. What words of comfort can you give to a student who loves to perform and play music but who doesn’t stand a chance in the “real-world”, whose spirit would be broken faster than one could say, “failure”?  None. When a kindergarten child tells you they want to be a ballerina or astronaut, you smile as say, “Of course you can.” But, when a university student tells you the same thing, you either do one of the following: say “Oh that’s nice,” without meaning it, and you change the subject, or you bluntly tell them that it’s a hopeless dream. No one has told me personally to give up, but like I said, I am a logical person, so I read into things. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “So you’re not going to Teacher’s College, then? My [cousin/acquaintance/friend/in-law/ex] studied French like you and got a job right away! So jealous.” This is not comforting! Society felt so oppressive that I was already scouting out Teacher’s College programs. I have nothing against school teachers. In fact, my school teachers occupy a special place in my heart. They are among the few that were neither cynical nor discouraging about my dreams. For example:

My kindergarten teacher, she wrote letters to each of her students expressing how they were special.

My grade 2 teacher, who inspired me to be a teacher of some kind, who called me “friend” when we met a few years ago.

My grade 8 teacher, who wrote a note by my diploma, “With great gifts, we are called to give back in great ways.”

My high school math teacher, who never gave up on me even when I cried during a math test and referred to myself as stupid on multiple occasions.

My high school music teacher, who seemed to understand secretly what I loved most about music without me ever saying it.

My high school French teacher, who encouraged me to live in the moment when my dreams were taking the reigns on my present.

To be a school teacher is a precious opportunity. To all the teachers I know and teachers to be, YOU are special. YOU can make a difference in many lives. It is not the calling for me as my passion is the piano.

I love everything about the piano. How it feels so stroke each key, how the colours can change so easily with the smallest change in attack, how feelings are sent through the brain, through the fingers… I want as many people as possible to know and love everything about it, too. I want to make music, teach music, be music. How does one ever express that to passers-by, the ladies at church, the hairstylist who talks to you for half-an-hour every six weeks, extended family that forget what your major is because it isn’t even a performance degree.

Back to July 2013. I was confused. I wasn’t practising piano much anymore. I loved my lessons but felt so guilty whenever I had a lesson but couldn’t show my teacher anything. She knew and I knew that something was up, but it went unspoken. Teacher-student relationships are tricky. At what point can they stop being your “learn your notes” teacher and be allowed to be more than that? With the school link getting in the way, it was difficult to share how I was feeling. Sometimes, I felt so self-conscious that I couldn’t look her in the eyes. I didn’t want to tell her about my ambitions, especially when I felt so conflicted myself. One day, not sure when, I was telling my mom about my sadness and she said, “Remember how you used to write journals as a kid? That might help you practise more.” These words resonated. I knew journals were useful- I had kept food diaries to lose weight in the past was successful. Would it work with piano? Maybe if I wrote something down it would inspire me again.

On Monday, July 29th, 2013, my life changed and I was unaware of it. Day 1 of my journal. I only practised scales for 25 minutes, but those 25 minutes were the foundation of what was to become my experiment and passion for not only the next 364 days, but the rest of my life.

I think I will split up this story over the course of multiple posts… like a good book, it is best enjoyed a little at a time.

Good night 🙂

May I have your attention, please?

Then Vs. Now

I do not feel more inclined to become a producer, given my experience using the tools in my communications course.  I do not feel like I have the time to keep up with all the latest technologies and tools. I have started a blog at least twice before I took this course, and both times I quit posting after a week because I got so tired of having to actually think of stuff to post.  It’s not that thinking is a bad thing. As a kid, I kept diaries and journals, some of these have semi-frequent entries spanning from the time I learned how to write in penmanship to around the beginning of high school.  Writing is a very therapeutic outlet.  However, there is a thing called: people-anywhere-can-read-your-online-blog. I’d rather have my parents stumble upon my cute childhood diary than people I go to school with, colleagues, teachers, students, extended family I only see twice a year, and anyone else for that matter, read my blog entries.

I gave Storify a really good chance, and I “storfified” (I can invent words in this blog!) over 50 pages for the last assignment.  However, I purposefully added stories, not just added them because I felt like it.  I searched anything I could think of into Google for ideas.  It turned out to be a lot of effort for the assignment.  I asked some school friends if they had heard of Storify, and all the responses were, “no.” This is a media tool that has a lot of potential, but clearly it hasn’t branched out to my generation yet.  Is it worth having an account with Storify if no one I know follows my stories?

I will continue to produce material using YouTube; it has many useful features and in a way, posting material brings me closer to family and close friends, who, for example, would otherwise never get to see/hear me play piano.  However, I still don’t consider posting a video every six months or so to put me in the category of “active online producer.”

I admit I have fun using Twitter.  I made my account for the purpose of this course, but I have recently been “following” a whole bunch of pages.  I would rather read celebrity and news updates than post my own.  Once again, I feel my stories are insignificant and are not worth posting in cyberspace.  I do not intend to use social media for anything else unless my future employment necessitates it.

Sterne writes about how production and consumption coexist, and how those in power know how to manipulate the system for profit.  That point brings the word “advertisement” to my mind.  Gone are the days of big, flashy billboard signs (unless you’re in Las Vegas or New York).  Advertisements target people like me: consumers who spend a lot of time taking in information.  I may not post a lot of my own information, but I spend enough time on my smart phone to know I am surrounded by marketing activities.

I have maintained my opinion since the beginning of this communications course that my problem with our growing dependence on the consumer-producer relationship is that our quality of life decreases.  Yes, that is a really lofty statement, but here’s where I am going with this: Wouldn’t you want, for a day, to go back in time about ten years, and not have to rely on consumption-production? Would you like to experience how it feels hearing the news from the local paper, or taking minutes at a business meeting with shorthand, instead of having to post all work related updates on Twitter to promote the company?  Would you rather play Temple Run and Angry Birds on your phones all day, or go outside and see people? Perhaps I would have less anxiety about making friends if I couldn’t use the virtual world as an escape.

I really enjoyed Rheingold’s article about attention in our media-driven culture, because I felt he accurately portrayed the typical university classroom today.  It makes me wonder how people in our parents’ time dealt with classroom boredom.  I have a personal opinion that technology should not be allowed to interfere with the learning process.  It is very easy to get distracted by cell phones and laptops.  It is very unfair to the professors if you come to lecture and don’t listen at all.  In my first year at Brock, I was notorious for texting during class, because the university experience was new. I’d text my friends from home silly little messages about funny quotes from lecture, where I went that day, etc.  I don’t feel the same way now, though.  I only use my phone for calendar dates.  Treat others the way you want to be treated- I want to be a teacher with respectful students, so I do the same for my professors now.

Most of all, the term “cultural diabetes” as said by Lunenfeld, stands out to me. Most of us are aware that diabetes is about an imbalance of sugar and insulin in the body.  In the context of the Internet world, we must try to balance consumption and production.  In reality, this is an impossible goal, but it’s good to reach for it, nonetheless.  Too much power, from too much production, in my mind, translates to how big corporations can infiltrate our lives via social media.  Too much consumption, and you, me, and the rest of the world have to consciously sort through it all, likely becoming lost in the process.

You don’t have to be a producer to be socially aware of technology and tools as they emerge. I ask you, my readers, do you think our transmedia culture is encouraging us to take part in social action? Or, are you like me and prefer to watch things happen?

Comment and let me know.

Thank for you for reading my course blog.  From now on, I’ll be posting entries relevant to issues in music education.

This entry was posted on March 20, 2013. 4 Comments