Pencil Rubbings

I was doing a page out of my “wreck-this-journal” a few days ago…which simply said, “do some rubbings with a pencil”. So I did. I didn’t have a lot of coins with me, so I was forced to be a little creative (I apologize for the blurry picture).

I ended up pencil-rubbing my life:

From my measuring tape, I got the IKEA logo (and of course, IKEA is a big part of any home); then there’s the ESV logo from my Bible; a Lego piece; an on/off switch belonging to some fairy lights; even my phone and a few random pieces of jewelry (that didn’t come out too well, unfortunately)…oh, and a paper clip that held my currently-unused-sheet-music together.

Yep. IKEA, Bible, fairy lights, phone, jewelry, and paper clips – a summary of my life as a college student.

To be honest, my life in pencil rubbings looks kind of boring. Really? Is this all there is in my life? Maybe it’s just the COVID-19 self-quarantine effect, but sometimes I wake up and I wonder why nothing particularly interesting (and good. Good interesting! Not messy interesting.) happens. I don’t want to be a boring person leading a boring life. I’ve lived in two countries and my life is summarized in one page…with zero words.

But there’s a part of me that really enjoys being a “boring” person. I like that there are no surprises around the corner. I like how simple life can be – God, music, and family. I like that watching my brothers (and myself, at times) is like having a live comedy show of my own. I love that no matter where I live, these things don’t change.

I live a pretty boring life.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Losing Control

Is it just me, or do you ever have that moment where you think you’ve got things under control…and something happens to prove you don’t?

I had such a moment recently. I set out to make a coffee milkshake. A simple enough task, right? Except it wasn’t. I happened to be doing several things in the kitchen that day, simultaneously. My mom suggested that I enlist my little brothers to help. For a while, everything was fine.

And then the coffee milkshake was dripping through the blender because someone forgot to re-attach the bottom – the part that actually blends, no less.

Of course, I totally lost it. Fueled by the discovery of what happened, I began by kicking everyone out of the kitchen, convinced my actual mistake was letting people help. Then I proceeded to clean up the mess, finish making the milkshake, and inform my mother that I did not need “help” when in the kitchen.

My childlike tantrum left behind a brother in tears and a sticky kitchen.

Obviously I apologized when my senses returned, but I was (still kind of am) frustrated that I allowed myself to react that way. So the milkshake seeped through the blender. So what? It wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t even my milkshake.

But that’s the thing about being a control freak, I suppose – you never really stop being one. You don’t get “cured”. You just have to make and re-make the decision to do the right thing every minute of every day – because, and trust me on this, there is always a reason to lose your cool. Sometimes you do make the right choice. And sometimes you don’t (especially if you’re as emotional as I am). The hardest and most important thing to remember is that’s okay, as long as you keep working on it.

“The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid”

As of late, my reading habit has become…well, less of a habit…and more of a (regrettably) rare occurrence. So when my parents and I took a trip to the local library, I decided to pick two works of fiction – one recommended by a friend, and one at random.

I ended up choosing a novel written by Colin Meloy (who also happens to be a musician…lol) called, “The Whiz Mob and Grenadine Kid”. One chapter in, and my curiosity is already piqued (also, it has illustrations! pretty pictures, everybody!). The novel is set in 1961. The star of the story (from what I can tell so far) is a 12-year-old boy – Charlie Fisher. His mom left him when he was 9, and he ends up having to live with a dad he doesn’t know very well. Since his dad’s a diplomat, they travel a lot, and he ends up in Marseilles, where he is fascinated by a band of pickpockets…one of which (which? whom? someone help me out here) steals his fountain pen. That’s where I left off.

Colin Meloy’s writing makes me smile. He actually talks about how Charlie’s voice sounds – how you should read it, or hear it while you’re silently reading, and I really liked that. Nothing is as annoying as imagining the main character, and finding out halfway through the novel that he has red hair, or a wiry physique, or something that isn’t what you’ve been picturing the whole time.

Ahh, books. How I’ve missed you.

Now to find out what happens to Charlie…

Worship

The more I learn about human beings, the more mind-blown I am. Whether it’s from reading psychology, or philosophy, or simply by observing people, I find there’s always something new to learn…something that usually alters my perspective a bit.

This time, it was about worship. I assumed that worship was something you chose to do…that you could just flick it on and off like a light switch. But it occured to me that maybe it’s more complicated than that. So, as I always do when I’m not sure what I’m dealing with, I did a little bit of digging to find out what “worship” is, what it does, and why we do it. Here’s a summary of what I learned:

What is worship?

According to Pastor Robert Morris, worship can be defined as “love in action”, because every form of worship (exalting God, living a holy life, making music) are all different ways of expressing love. I like and agree with this definition – worshipping God = expressing your love for God. It’s simple and uncomplicated.

The one thing I really appreciate about this definition is that it shows worship is not restricted to singing songs on Sunday. We can express our love in a number of different ways – by standing for what is right, adoring and revering God, and, yes, making music.

Why do we worship?

  1. We were made to; can’t help it. Definitely doesn’t have an on-and-off switch. (Pastor Morris talks about how we were literally made to worship in his series on worship, “Beyond”, if you’d like to know more.*)
  2. God deserves it.
  3. It’s a way to express ourselves.

What does worship do?

Simply put, worship does three things: it exalts God, sets the atmosphere, and changes you!

*You can find my notes on the series here. In the sermon, he says there are 11 hebrew words for praise, but only mentions 7 of them; I found the others and put them in a document you can access here.

Measure by Measure

One of the things that I simultaneously love and hate about practicing my instrument is that I have to go over the score measure by measure, isolating the parts I’m having trouble with and playing them over and over until I’ve got it right. And it’s never just one thing. I have to focus on several different elements at the same time. Is my pedaling right? Articulation? Dynamics? Phrasing? How do I make this sound like a person awakening from an ethereal, nightmarish, dream? (Sometimes the “how do I make it sound like” questions get weird).

It’s frustrating. Life is like that sometimes. You wake up each day (or at least, I do), following the same routine…especially during quarantine; the distinction between today and tomorrow is blurred. You don’t feel like you’re making progress. Or even worse, you did make progress and now you have to start over (/thinks about essays that should’ve auto-saved when Word crashed, but didn’t).

Maybe the real problem is that I keep on thinking life should be easy. “Why should we do hard things?” Maybe it’s time I realized that hard work is a discipline, a skill, to be learned like any other, for my own benefit. Maybe I should learn to be grateful for the things I have right now (oh the things music can teach you! lol). Maybe I should be grateful that I get to work hard at something I love. Grateful that I can take things one day at a time, measure by measure…like my mother tells me whenever I’m overwhelmed: “baby steps.”

For now, I’m going to take baby steps. I’m going to go measure by measure…knowing that one day, I’ll be able to play this piece perfectly. Knowing all this work and frustration will be worth it.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I was doing my devotion (while listening to Switchfoot, of course) a few days ago, and I read this line that kind of stuck with me: “I guess I never realized people were watching…I never knew this was for them…be brave for the onlookers, the ones who will be inspired by you to inspire others.”

The reason this struck a chord with me was because of something my mama said to me, about how my little brother copied me. What was remarkable to me about this comment was that even my older brother (who sometimes forgets I’m alive) noticed this, and said so…and I didn’t observe this, even though I spend a lot of time with my little brother (OK, most of that time is spent playing Assasin’s Creed, but what do you expect us to do?? Talk?!).

This realization is absolutely terrifying. You know why? It’s ‘cause I can see my negativity and uptight-ness tripled in my little brother. HE’S COPYING THE WRONG THINGS. He’s copying me when I say “I’m not good at _____” or when I say…or yell… “QuiET!”. He’s copying me when I stay up late at night, sleeping well into the afternoon (or maybe that’s just a teenage thing, I don’t know). He’s watching me and the things I do, the way I treat others, the way I treat myself, and he’s emulating those things.

That’s when it hit me (and this is a pretty silly moment of enlightenment, so feel free to respond with sarcasm, or laughter, or both). If I want my little brother to be the best person that he can be, if I want him to realize how awesome he is, if I want him to be brave and anxiety-free, I have to change.*

It starts with me. I am my little brother’s keeper (Bible – 1, Me – 0…/sigh). And I have to be careful of the things I say and do, because part of looking after my siblings means being someone they can look up to, someone they can count on. Someone who figures out what the right thing is, and does it, no matter what.

I think the reason this was all so…surprising…was because I always thought boys look up to boys, and girls look up to girls. Obviously my little brother would look up to his older brother, right? Wrong.

Damn. Why is it that when I think I can evade all my responsibilities, I discover one that I can’t ignore?

*you’d think I would’ve learned this after reading “Caps for Sale” so many times…(if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a kid’s book, but it’s pretty cool, if you’re not reading it for the 100th time.)

The Weight of Living

I’ve been really irritated lately.

One of my guilty pleasures* when I’m irritated is to listen to Bastille. One of their songs describes the way I feel right now quite perfectly… “The Weight of Living pt. 1”.  The first verse is probably my favorite – “There’s an albatross around your neck – all the things you’ve said and the things you’ve done. Can you carry it with no regrets? Can you stand the person you’ve become?”

And the thing is, sometimes, I can’t. I can’t stand the person I was, or the person I am now. I can’t shake the weight of living. I’m still kept awake by things I did or did not do in the past.

I say I want to be better. I say I want to do better. Yet, my perfectionism still gets the best of me. I focus on one piece because I can’t get it “right”, ignoring other pieces that I should’ve finished learning by now. I still get pointlessly and extremely stressed out, which leads to wasting time by scrolling through Instagram or playing Assassin’s Creed instead of dealing with whatever silly problem that, thanks to procrastination, now looks like an overwhelming giant ready to kill me in a fight to the death.

My birthday was last month, and I hate that I’m older. I hate that nothing changes. I hate that there’s always one more thing to regret. One more thing to obsess over. One more thing to stress about. Sometimes life can get as depressing as watching music prodigies, decades younger than you, playing better than you (/sigh).

More than anything, though, I hate that I don’t know what comes next. Will I graduate this year? What happens if I flunk out of college? On the flip side, if I successfully pull through college, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY LIFE? Will I ever overcome my anxiety? Will I ever be able to trust people?

Some of these questions (that, I might add, play on repeat in the back of my mind [annoying me very, very, much]) are less profound. WILL I EVER GET A DOGGY? How the **** do people walk on stilettos? Why do animals (except for dogs, of course) creep me out? Why is a flock of crows called a murder? (Really, who comes up with these things? A “pandemonium of parrots”? A “gaggle of geese”? Really? Gaggle. GAGGLE. That doesn’t even sound like a real word. Oh, and my personal favorite, an “asylum of loons”. [You read that right. And I am purposefully putting brackets in parentheses to make everything weird and unnecessarily complicated, because that’s just what I feel like doing right now]).

…Wait a minute…How did I get from depressed life thingamajigs to flocks of birds??? Oh, well, never mind. I think my point is: life is confusing and correct terms for flocks of birds are both annoying and amusing.

*(Because deep down I feel guilty for listening to anything not classical. Especially pop music. CCM even more. Don’t ask why; I don’t know.)

Room Rules

If you ever walk into my room, you’ll notice papers and notes, like…everywhere. Some of those papers are random notes: the circle of fifths (because even though I have most of it memorized, I second-guess myself), some chord progressions, some quotes. On one of those papers, you’ll find my “room rules” – a bunch of rules for all those who dare enter my domain. And since I’m totally running out of blog ideas, I thought I’d share my room rules here, in no particular order.

  • You are not under any compulsion to talk/be “nice”. We can sit in silence and enjoy it.
  • You don’t need to understand me; I don’t need to understand you – just getting to know each other is fine.
  • You are handsome/beautiful. Some people will recognize it. Others won’t.
  • You are entitled to have your own opinion. You are not entitled to be rude about it (this includes acting like a know-it-all).
  • We can agree to disagree. No hard feelings.
  • Apologize when you need to, if you mean it; apologizing for your existence, on the other hand, is unacceptable.
  • Music/reading/binge-watching/eating/sleeping/running = valid forms of escape.
  • Sometimes, things SUCK. That’s okay, though, ‘cause it always gets better.
  • There’s plenty of love and friendship to go around.
  • Profanity’s okay as long as 1) others are fine with it and 2) no kids in the room. Drugs, smoking, and getting drunk are not.
  • Lukewarm is no good – in beverages and life.
  • Sometimes I will hate you. I’ll get over it. You should, too. (Tip: ice-cream makes for a great peace offering)
  • Want me to like you? Exhibit honesty, loyalty, bravery, and communication skills.
  • Don’t like C.S. Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien/Robert Louis Stevenson/Music/My family? You know where the door is.
  • If you do not know me: touch me and you die.
  • We’re all a work in progress.

What I Learned From Music Composers About “Belonging”

Composers astound me.

One of my favorite things about music history is learning about composers. They’re interesting people, who’ve led interesting lives…some are outright eccentric. Some actually went mad. But my favorite thing about them is how they never really follow the rules.

In my first semester of college, I was taught music theory – and I hated it. I know music theory is really useful, and some of it is fascinating; but for the most part, I saw music theory as a bunch of rules – the “right” way to do things. In music theory, I learned about counterpoint, about elements that a good composition should have, about part-writing (which I think was my least favorite thing ever), about harmonic progression dos and don’ts.

Then I took a composition class, where I realized: composers are always breaking the rules. Music theory suddenly seemed like getting to know the rules just so you could break them. Some of the most innovative composers in history are phenomenal rule-breakers. People like Schoenberg, who introduced musicians to the world of atonality, or people like Xenakis and Cage, who challenged the accepted definition of “music”. What is music? The possibilities are endless. Music is math, and just like math, it is infinite.

And it’s asking that question, letting your creative juices flow, not caring about what others think or what is accepted as “music” by everyone else, that leads to developing amazing works of art (like Caroline Shaw’s “Partita for 8 Voices”, for example).

It’s the refusal to let traditions and conventions define the art…to define us, and the way we express ourselves through music…that gives us so many different styles, genres, movements, and even eras, in music. What the world would be like today without the audacity of Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or Wagner! I couldn’t imagine; I don’t want to.

This is important to me. This matters, because one thing I’ve always wanted, even as a kid, is to “belong”. To be accepted by those around me. To find my “tribe”, as it were. But the thing is, we don’t always get people who understand us, or think like us (hell, if you’re not a classical music nerd, you probably don’t even know Xenakis or Cage or Shaw). Sometimes we have to make a choice – whether we want to be accepted, or whether we want to be ourselves. Being who we are isn’t always easy, but it’s significantly better than the alternative, because in being who we are, we change the world in a million unseen ways (or definitely seen, in the case of the above mentioned composers). It’s hard to believe, but you and I do have something to share with this world – something that sets the stage for people who come after us. Something that makes the world better, sweeter, more hopeful – but we can’t do that by forcing ourselves to “belong”.

Practice Guidelines

I took a pedagogy class earlier this year. One of the class assignments was to create a list of “practice guidelines” for students. I actually enjoyed this assignment (surprising, because I really dislike teaching) because it allowed me to share some of those things I learned from 10+ years of piano lessons. So, without further ado, here they are my “practice guidelines”:

Consistency

  1. Set a goal for yourself and stick to it: “I’m going to practice for _______ everyday for _______” (It can be as simple as five minutes everyday for a week or as challenging as four hours everyday for a month – but remember to set realistic goals.)

Quality

  1. Practice tough parts first*
  2. 1:10 rule (for every time you play quickly, play slowly 10 times)
  3. Record & listen to your playing
  4. Critique (but do not criticize) yourself

Quantity

  1. Gradually increase your practice time

Too Hard?

  1. Take a break
  2. Try something new (learn an easier piece for fun; try improvising; learn a blues scale; transcribe something by ear, etc.)
  3. Break the piece into manageable chunks (first four bars today, next four bars tomorrow; right hand today, left hand tomorrow, etc.)
  4. Tailor it to suit your temperament/needs (Are you a morning or a night person? Do you prefer structured or spontaneous practice?)
  5. Take time to remember why you play

*How to Practice Tough Parts

  1. S l o w l y
  2. Practice hands separately first, then together
  3. Practice backwards (start from the last measure, then work your way back to the first)
  4. Trills/runs? Practice scales/Hanon
  5. Interpretation/sound? Listen to others’ playing; do your research
  6. …Ask for help when you need it!
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