Sharing the Music
Mid June, 2019 I wrote this in my journal; “End of the Year, another school year down. I'm exhausted.
I've been teaching for 12 years now and though my teaching schedule is smaller and smaller each year in proportion to performing and online work, it still seems to occupy SO MUCH of my heart and energy.
Nothing demonstrates this dedication more than the recital season (in May) each year. It just really it takes it out of me. Somehow I can't seem to make myself care less about it; to just be chill and enjoy the process. No! All my neurosis pop to the surface and rear their ugly and rigid heads.”
Reading through this now, I’m reminded how I swore I would never do it again - put on a recital; the pressure, the parent's many questions, my co-dependence – it winds me up like nothing else. And I play whack-a-mole with the worries long after the recital is over.
Many music teachers don't offer recitals. I can see why when so much time and energy is spent towards this one performance. Actual skill building and theory work get sacrificed to the perfecting process for the pieces. Then there is the unavoidable fact that I get too nervous to enjoy the process! I worry about what is totally out of my control- the student's experience on stage. Even though I know it's really up to the student to practice hard enough and make the most of that time on stage. But that's impossible to explain to my anxiety; this level of stress doesn’t respond to logic. Maybe it stems from my own past traumas on stage, and the overbearing rescuer in me just wants to save my students from any painful experience. This is the dark side of recital season that no one knows about unless you are a music teacher because it gets managed in private. I guess it’s why I get so exhausted.
I know, after 10 years of recitals, that even the fails can teach and lead a student in a way that 100 lessons never can. And the truth is, when recital season is finally over, I always think it’s worth the effort. This year, more than ever. I couldn't believe what a magical and wonderful time that 50min was at the famous Jalopy Theater; with all my private students there together. Not only did the students take that moment to shine on stage, but they listened and encouraged each other in way that was just so heart warming. To see such a group of confident musicians who were community focused, not competitive minded… wow! My faith was restored in the future of the music industry as well as humanity itself. It was really that good! You just had to be there.
Then I spent the rest of the summer putting myself out there, on the line the way my students had. Their courage inspired me. That spirit of using music to unite communities took hold in me and I embraced with fervor every opportunity I got to play music on stage this summer. From Rockwood Music Hall, NYC with my band, to solo playing at a Penthouse in Midtown, to A Senior Center in Kentucky, to a Gospel Church on Long Island to name a few – I just didn't hold back. I let my innocent heart lead the way and played with fearless passion. This was a gift my students gave me through their example.
But the summer passed by in a flash and here it is; the start of another school year. And I'm exhausted still. Things never really slowed down this summer. Like many people are experiencing these days, life seems to be going too fast. I've hardly had a moment to catch my breath. So I'm taking that moment now; to reflect. And finally write here about something I’ve thought about all summer; the value of sharing the music.
Being a musician and music teacher is not easy these days AT ALL. There are certainly moments when I consider quitting all together. But I do love this work. Even after all this time. The one thing I know for sure, is that performing facilitates quantum leaps in musicians - from skills to confidence, it can take you to the next level. 100 practice hours can’t do what just 1 hour of performing can. Somehow we just know how to step up intuitively. Or we fall so hard that our pride kicks in, and we work harder afterward. Is it the pressure? Does the stress imprint the music deeper in our synapses? Or is it our desire for approval that drives us to focus harder? Or is it the power of the group mind synergy that is the secret ingredient to nurturing talent?
It doesn’t matter if it’s for 1 other person, or a large group; for a video or recording to be shared later or not; there’s something alchemical that happens to musicians when dare to show the world what we’ve been working on in private. It’s my conjecture that for optimal growth, it’s a balance between practice and performing that brings out the true artist in people. It’s taking that leap of faith. Getting out of our box and and risking something. It takes courage. It’s super hard every time and it requires us to grow as an artist, and as a person.
I myself have always been a very introverted, shy person. And yet, I can not deny the effect that performing has on me as a musician as well as on who I am as a person. I’m still shy, but there’s this whole other side to me that’s been born on stage. She loves music and she’ll do anything when in service to it. It’s a bigger me. And it’s a gift to me to get to experience Her there. I’ve never been motivated by competition nor fame but it’s the spirit of connection I felt in music; it’s motivated me to face my biggest fears, get out of my box completely, and become a performer so that I can connect to something greater. Whatever it is, I can not say for sure. But I can say it’s based in so much much love and joy.
I want to share this story with shy musicians, as so many in the Music Industry are total extroverts who thrive on attention and performing. I want to encourage those who are not craving attention and fame. I understand if you are perfectly happy playing music in the solitude of your own space. You are contributing to the world through those good vibes. (Read the Children’s Book Mole Music for more on this)
But I’d ask you to consider looking for and jumping on chances to play outside your comfort zone. You might experience what I have; that for the magic of music to come forth, it doesn’t have to be played perfectly, or with virtuoso skill. It just has to be sincere. Getting out of your comfort zone can bring all your practicing full circle as well as remind you what everyone knew 100 years ago, for thousands of years before radio - that playing live music creates healthy community and connection in a way that nothing else does. Whether we realize it or not, all of us crave that in this modern, crazy world.
Looks for a little jams, or open mics, or meet ups. And face your own fears. At the very least, you’ll grow. Best case scenario, you connect with this greater love in a real, tangible way.
As I face this new school year, I have questions to answer for myself; Is it possible to continue to do this work I love in a more balanced way? Can I have a quiet life and be a performer? Is this exhaustion just part of pursuing a passion, or am I out of sync with my rhythm? My purpose?
And do I want to face another recital season this year?
After the many successes AND failures this summer, I’m sitting with both the ancient shy girl and the wise musician. I’m giving time and space to a find a new vision. I’m not sure just yet what the next year will bring. Just taking it one day at a time till the musical school year starts again in a few days.
As I ponder, I’m reviewing videos from various performances this summer and feeling grateful for the experiences. I hope everyone I’ve taught, and played with, and play for can feel my sincere love and appreciation for sharing the music with me.
Here’s a video from my trio’s performance at Rockwood Music Hall on NYC’s Historic Pride. “We’ve come too far, to give up who we are….” Very deep lyrics for a fun pop dance hit! You just never know where you’ll find the answers.