Letter to My 5-Year-Old Self

Dear 5-Year-Old Me,

What is it that I really want to tell you right now?

Right about now in your young life, you love to do a few things. You love riding your bike, playing with your friends, jumping on the trampoline, singing, and making up songs. You are so excited learning to read and almost all you can think about is learning to play the piano like your big brother. Life is pretty good, huh?

Well, I want you to keep that excitement for learning and to try to learn something new every day. I want you to find the joy in this journey you are just beginning. You are going to do some really cool things throughout the years. You are going to play the piano and sing for and with some really great and influential people. You are going to learn to play other instruments too. Enjoy the process – don’t murmur your way through the learning. It will be worth every frustration and pain. I promise.

I want you to always remember that you are loved. It may be hard to see it sometimes but you are surrounded by great people that care about you. These people will test and try you and you may not feel so fondly toward some of them. They are in your life to help make you better and to help you grow toward that person that you (and I) are truly meant to become. Some will be a blessing to you from the very beginning. They will motivate you to be the best you possible. Embrace each of these people and know that they are all there for a reason. Please do not ever forget to tell your family and those especially close to you how much you love and appreciate them. You don’t have to find a reason to express your appreciation – sometimes it is because someone just exists. That is okay. Do not be afraid to show your emotions.

Your life is not going to be as easy as you expect it should be. At times it will be smooth sailing and not so at others. This is normal. Do not get too discouraged. Life is also not going to go exactly how you think it should. Learn to go with the flow and embrace the life that is gifted to you. You have talents and will be given so many opportunities to share them. Do not hide your light under a bushel. Let yourself shine.

I know that you want to be known. You want to have an impact on the world. That will not change. I feel the same way these many years later. This may not come in exactly the way you anticipate but your mark will be made. You have a lot to offer this world. Help the world see that. You will be surrounded with much greatness both musically and personally. Acknowledge all the beauty and greatness that will be bestowed upon you.

You will never regret the things that you dare to do. Break out of your comfort zone. Move far away from everyone you know. Choose a career that you love and understand even when everyone thinks you have gone mad for that decision. Choose love and listen to your heart every time. You will not regret those decisions. They will be the most honest ones you will ever make. Always believe in yourself and your abilities even when it seems that no one else does. You are the only one that can make that choice and it is the most important choice that you can ever make.

You are unique. You are special. You are talented. You are loved. No one can take any of those away from you. You are who you choose to be. Make that decision now and do not let anyone sway you. Be strong. Be immovable. Pray often. Be the you now that you always dream of being. You can do it. You have it in you. Maybe if you stay strong now, that will help me be strong in my now. Together we can do anything. If you feel discouraged, think of me and what you are helping me to become.

Lastly, remember to call your parents. Talk to your brothers and sisters often. They will help you stay strong. Choose your mentors wisely. Respect your elders. Practice your scales.

You will be just fine. See you in 25 years.

Peace and love,
The Mad Pianist

Why Do We Collaborate?

I am a podcast listener. I admit that fact freely. The other day I was listening to a podcast by the TED Radio Hour. I recommend that podcast highly. The topic for this podcast was collaboration. They talked with people that have been influential with inspiring collaboration through technology. For example, they talked with one of the founders of Wikipedia and the guy that invented the Captcha.

As a musician, this idea of collaboration is not foreign. I have been involved in collaboration from the time I was in a children’s performing group at age 4 and more especially as a pianist. My involvement in bands and choirs scream collaboration. So, why do we collaborate? Why is collaboration not more consciously pushed with our music students? Do we view it as an inherent part of music study – something that students will just know how to do? I vote no. Collaboration needs to be actively taught to our students and we need to be active participants in collaborative activities.

I admit that some of my favorite collaborative activities include piano duos and quartets. It can be a lot of work at times to make sure that the timing and balance is just right. That is one of the points of collaboration though, right? I have also enjoyed my time working as a collaborative pianist with both instrumentalists and vocalists.

The collaborative arts and how to work with collaborative partners need to be taught to both the “accompanist” and the “soloist.” I am not a fan of those terms because each person brings a significant amount of musicianship and technique to the collaboration. It is not about solo and accompaniment but about the work as a whole.

What are the benefits of collaboration? Maybe a better question would be what is not a benefit of collaboration? Collaboration teaches teamwork, dedication, punctuality, responsibility. The list could go on indefinitely.

So, go find a collaborative partner and get practicing. I have a collaborative rehearsal tomorrow night and could not be more excited for this project. Fun is abundantly available, regardless of the level of technique and knowledge. An elementary student can have just as much of a good time in a collaborative setting as can a professional musician.

Go forth and make music!

Peace and Best Wishes,
The Mad Pianist

Great Expectations?

Can we talk for a minute about expectations?

I have a friend that said to me the other day that she expected to be in a certain set of circumstances by the time she was this age. Now that she’s this age, she’s more than a little disappointed with the outcome. This has caused me to do more thinking than is perhaps wise. What kind of expectations do we put on ourselves? How do we treat each other when things do not work out quite the way we planned?

The issues with myself are not necessarily the expectations that I put upon myself. Sure, it can be a little disheartening at times when I fail to live up to what I deem appropriate for myself but it is not something that gets me exceptionally down. I tend to place more importance on the expectations that others have for me. This makes me scream and want to rail against everyone expecting anything from me. Perhaps this is why I am a passive rebeller. That, in case you are wondering, is similar to being passive aggressive.

I abhor the idea that I am expected to act, think, and behave in a specific way. I am who I am. I will be who I will be. I can enforce expectations upon myself to the moon and back. That is fine. I can live with disappointments that I heap upon myself. I cannot, however, stomach the disappointments that are heaped upon me from failing to live up to the desires of others. This is a specific trial that I have to deal with and am working to overcome.

So, expectations. What is truly expected of you? What can you reasonably expect from yourself? I think the answer lies in the level of consequence that you are willing and able with which to deal. So, good luck everyone.

Peace and best wishes.
The Mad Pianist

A Mad Pianist?

A mad pianist? I am sure you are thinking that mad equals angry, right? Wrong. I am glad to finally prove you wrong. The “mad” that you will want to equate is that of, perhaps, the Mad Hatter. Kind of.

Truthfully, the term “mad pianist” came upon reflection of a section of one of my favorite poems by Theodore Roethke. There is a stanza that has always stayed with me and I could probably recite from memory (had you asked). Is that where all the problems and “madness began? High School AP English? The root of my problems? Eh. Probably not. We would have to go much deeper and engage in some real therapy for that one.

So, these are my journeys, my trying to make sense of the unsensable. This mad pianist just trying to find her way to, well, anywhere.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have…
–Theodore Roethke– “In a Dark Time” —