Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

New Year, Still Hard to come up with Titles

Happy New Year! I had a wonderful Christmas visiting my family in Phoenix, and then I proceeded to come home and be sick with a terrible cold/flu thing for nearly a week. I suppose I should be glad I was already on vacation because I didn’t have to cancel anything (except a quartet rehearsal) but it wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the week.

That’s okay though. It’s been really cold and being sick gave me an excellent excuse to stay inside, mostly in bed. And it reminded me that we aren’t as in charge as we think, and that health really is the most important thing. I plan to work harder this year on maximizing my health, both physical AND mental. This past year I didn’t eat as well or exercise as much as I could have, and I definitely spent more time being anxious and stressed than was good for me, so I’m going to focus on those things.

I’m getting ready for teaching next week, and doing a few things to prepare for the semester ahead. This spring should be a bit easier than the fall, plus I get to ease in. In the fall I returned from a 2 week vacation and had to work nearly a month straight, with loads of gigs in addition to all my students. This spring semester I don’t have so many gigs right off the bat so I can focus on practicing (lots of fun music to learn!), teaching and scheduling my Wash U students, which is always an adventure. I’m already well into my viola challenge of #100daysofpractice on Instagram, but I’m also hard at work learning some wonderful repertoire for the quartet this semester (we have several fun concerts scheduled) and I’ve found myself involved in piano trio/sonata concert as well, so I’ve got a lot of great performances and chamber music lined up. Orchestrally I’m heading to Illinois for two weeks this spring and playing some things in town, doing an opera, and doing a few broadway shows at the Fox. (Sorry, this post is kind of a brain dump, then again, not sorry, that’s how it always is here!)

So, a few pictures from Christmas:

We did quite a few fun activities in Phoenix. We went to an event at the Desert Botanical Gardens called the Luminarias, where the place was lit up with luminaries and you could wander around listening to various live music groups. I liked the mariachi band best.

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We went to the Museum of Musical Instruments, where I had never been before. It was fascinating, and I’d love to go back with Louie sometime. There was an overwhelming amount of information, but it was really neat to see all the different instruments.

The octobass is VERY large, so I also took a picture of a miniature violin. Nice contrast!

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We had a wonderful time just hanging out, eating good food, opening gifts as well. My niece Athena is in the “stick out your tongue” phase of photo taking, but I thought my parents (especially my dad, who has really perfected that look, as it was present in nearly a dozen photos, where the rest of us ranged from crazed with eyes open too wide/shut to somewhat fairly normal) and sister Leslie looked good in this picture!

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On the last full day of my visit, we took a day trip to Sedona. We hiked a little around Bell Rock, took a tour of the Palatki Heritage Site, and then headed to Jerome for a short visit too. It was a full day, and then afterwards nearly all of us got sick! Traveler’s notes: National Parks passes are useful for visiting Sedona as otherwise you have to pay for a Red Rocks pass for the day. And the Palatki site is only accessible via approximately 7 miles of dirt road, which is fun in a Prius C!

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That’s my aunt Connie on the right, Mom on the left. They are sisters. Oh, and an interesting side effect of wearing a Go St Louis shirt while in Sedona—numerous people from St Louis talked to me. I guess we are a friendly people!

In any case, it was a nice trip, always fun to see my niece especially (she changes the most) and of course great to see family. Louie and I did our separate things with the plan to come back to St Louis and celebrate New Year’s Eve together—we DID do that, but since I was really sick it ended up being lots of tissues, cold medicine, Netflix, and a real struggle to stay up past midnight. I did, but we decided to save the champagne in the fridge until later. (Perhaps today, as Louie is taking the GRE this morning and might want to celebrate after!)

Goals for the new year, just to sort of solidify them. (Then again, saying sort of solidify isn’t very solid.) Be able to roll with the punches. Focus on stress relief and health. Be a good friend, but don’t worry about how many friends I have Smile

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Two more teaching days until vacation!

I am apparently a mean teacher for making my students come until Friday, but that’s the best way I found to then take two whole weeks off. And, hey, everybody agreed! I don’t actually think I’m mean, because violin lessons are pretty fun, and I have chocolate to give out.

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I love this time of year. All the decorations, the anticipation, the candy and baked goods…I also love holiday music, and all that goes with it.

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I have been feeling tired and overwhelmed more often than I’d like this semester. I know I’ve been working a lot, but it’s what I both need and want to do. It’s hard, because other things go by the wayside. Friendships are a bit harder to keep up on, unless it’s friends I also work with, and household tasks are hard as well. This week I’ve been relaxing on the practicing front and finishing up at my colleges (I’m DONE with the semester on both of those jobs) so I have a bit more time for other things. I’ve also been wrapping gifts, finishing my shopping, and getting ready to go out of town next week.

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I’ve been contemplating growing old and my mortality as well. Not to be THAT guy…my extended family has had a tough time as we lost my uncle Sam in August and my uncle Gordon recently. My heart goes out to my aunts and cousins and everybody, and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about life goals and future goals and aging and all of that. I don’t have answers, but I do have a lot of thoughts, and want to make sure that I’m doing what I want to do with my life and not simply going through the motions and doing what other people think is best. (And I’m sad, it comes in flashes, even if I pretend I’m not.)

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It’s hard, because I haven’t made that a huge priority. I often do what comes up, I do what people want me to do, or what’s expected. And while none of those things are bad, I haven’t asked myself lately, what exactly do I want? I read an article recently where the author was asking musicians to outline their 20 year career plans…and then you work backward from there. I’ve been spending a little time thinking about where I want to be in 20 years, and I haven’t solidified anything. There’s a bit of “being afraid” to dream, but there’s mostly, not being sure where this freelance/teaching thing GOES because I never expected it to turn into my full time career, even though all the decisions I made were heading that way.

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The thing is, I’m quite good at this. I enjoy juggling my schedule, and I like the mild uncertainty—it occasionally stresses me out, but mostly I like the different things I do, I like feeling like I’m spread out so no one thing is that important and I like putting it all together and planning.

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I just need a few more hours in the day. I have students on my waiting list that I need to squeeze in, and there are always more concerts and shows to play! I’m working on getting better at the viola too, and thinking after the holidays I’m going to start a #100daysofpractice with it to really push myself.

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But until then! I’m taking it easy after Christmas Eve, for two weeks. I won’t actually go that whole time without working as I’ll have some scheduling to do, and some practicing, but mostly it will be relaxing downtime, oh, and maybe doing some home projects. I want to declutter the kitchen a bit and clean up some other spaces, and do some planning for spring teaching stuff that got squeezed out (festival, recital?). Perhaps my real 20 year plan is to figure out how to keep this going for 20 years, and then retire. (Here’s a link to the article I mentioned, which actually goes into some good specifics, and makes me think that really I also ought to write me, as that’s another thing I both enjoy and am relatively good at!)

If I don’t talk to you again beforehand, Merry Christmas to you, if you celebrate! If not, Happy Holidays to you, and Happy whatever you celebrate, and Happy New Year, and all of that! And maybe I’ll pop in again soon…

Sunday night is not for relaxing

Well, I’m taking a few minutes to blog, so there is SOME downtime. Today I got to sleep in…I’m going to be honest, I’ve been having a hard time not feeling overwhelmed. I think it’s more than just my overly busy schedule, but I think after my solo performance with the MOSL in early November I’ll be much more relaxed. I hope. Or I’m doing too much, but although that’s possible, my schedule isn’t something I can’t handle. It might be that it’s the additional stress that I’m having trouble with.

Enough complaining though Winking smile What have I been doing? Well, besides teaching my nearly 45 students (something like that, though of course statistically I’m always missing a few each week), I’ve been rehearsing for various concerts and such, practicing, trying to answer emails…oh, do you mean for fun? Well, does going to the symphony concert on Friday night count? No? (It does, a little…)

Not much, which is the other reason I’m having a tough time…(Oh, I said less complaining). I feel like I used to have a more active social life, but gosh, life is just so crazy! I do have fun in rehearsals with my friends and colleagues, but lately by the end of the night I’m just beat and want to lie down and read instead of talk to people. I think that I need to grab this busy-ness while I can though, because I know January/February will be less so and the summer too, and my work is cyclical enough that I really need to take advantage.

Especially since our country’s future is so uncertain, and who knows what retirement will look like, I feel like I need to work and sock away as much as I can. I’m sure social security will be on the chopping block soon. Speaking of, did you know that self-employed people pay a higher percentage into social security that people who have employers? This is ostensibly because people’s employer’s pay on their behalf, but it still boils down to more of my money going out of my pocket, into the social security fund, and then I’m told that it’s an entitlement? HA. I’d be happy to take that cash back, with the growth it would have had while in my IRA though. And then we can call it an entitlement.

Politics is definitely tough lately. People want to yell at each other rather than listen. I had a few interesting facebook experiences lately, actually, nothing to do with politics, but it made me think. The first was when my coffee maker broke the other week. Oh, this was a sad time! I have a little tiny coffee maker than fits under a shelf in my kitchen. I don’t have a ton of counter space, so being able to fit the coffee maker under this shelf is important to me. However, I went to look online and there were sparse options for small (under 10 inches!) coffee makers, so I thought I’d try a bit of crowd sourcing. Most of the responses I got weren’t about coffee makers; they were people telling me to get a french press. Now, I love my friends and I appreciate them responding, but I already have a french press. I have a stovetop espresso maker too, a pour over thingy, and an espresso maker. I wanted a coffee maker, something I can use to make coffee, something you fill up with water, coffee, hit a button, go do something else (this is key for me, as you know) and then you return when you have a minute to pour the coffee.

My next experience was when I was changing my strings the other night. I was trying to change the G and the string kept slipping out of the peg hole (violinists know what I mean, the rest of you are going to be confused, and for that I’m sorry). What was supposed to take 5 minutes ended up taking over 20! Every time I’d get the G up past an F it would slip, making this horrible sound and making me stressed and frazzled! I finally got it to stay by using a different hole in the peg than before, making sure to wrap the string around the end a few times, and then I went and laid on the couch. But not before posting a little blurb on facebook because I was curious if this was an experience others had had. And I got numerous responses (again, if you are reading, thanks, and I love you guys!) about how to keep my pegs from slipping. Which is not the issue I had!! (I still don’t know why this was such an issue, and I will be asking my luthier next time I see him). In any case, my new strings sound great.

But what I thought was: how often does this happen? We don’t read what the person wrote, or we don’t write precisely enough, and we end up having a huge misunderstanding, or end up feeling that nobody cares or understands us, when it is simply a communication issue. Maybe social media really isn’t the best way to interact. And yet, I love seeing vacation photos, I love keeping up on my friends who live out of town and seeing what everybody is up to. So social media is wonderful for some things, and it’s just hard to figure out what’s good and what isn’t. And honestly, crowdsourcing can be really helpful! But not in the above mentioned cases.

Oh, and I did get to have lunch with a friend last week and we tried a fun new Chinese crepe place in the Loop called Bing Bing. So I’m not totally without social engagement, though it might feel like it at times. You know I tend to get overly emotional and am prone to dramatics. I’m having a GREAT time preparing for a large variety of concerts; it’s just the stress. And I’m trying to do my best for my students too, and this weekend there’s an event several are participating in, and I’m hoping that I’m giving them what they need to succeed. I’m loving teaching college students, I’m loving all the chamber music I get to play, and I’m looking forward to playing in a full orchestra concert this month…I’ve dearly missed doing that, and too much time has passed. I hope I remember how!

I’m still plugging away at the #100daysofpractice challenge on Instagram. It’s been a great motivation and a really interesting experience. It’s possible the challenge adds to my stress levels, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

And as I said to a colleague on the phone the other day (probably sounding a little insane at the end of the week!), the trick to being busy is finding somebody else MORE busy and then you don’t feel like you are taking on too much. There’s always somebody working more, there’s always a bit more room in the schedule (especially for random gigs!) and there’s always more to learn, to experience, and to play!

And there you have it. My tired Sunday night ramblings and diatribe. But one of my personal goals is to continue to blog, at least shoot for weekly, because as I always say, I enjoy it. It helps organize my thoughts as well, and I enjoy making the record. Even if blogging is “dead.”

Do you hate classical music?

I’ve played a few concerts at various retirement homes recently. I’ll tell you what, the elderly don’t hold back punches. At least some of them.

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The Perseid Quartet played a great program of Beethoven and Brahms at Ladue Chapel, and then we repeated the program for a concert at a retirement home. After the third movement of the C minor Brahms quartets, one of the audience members piped up “are you going to play anything we know?” and then when we said, well, I guess not, one of her friends said “well, you tried.”

It made me sad on so many levels. One because if I were in a home this is the concert I would love to hear. We worked our butts off and played them a really good concert, instead of sight reading some schlock. But then it also made me sad for this woman, that was stuck in a place with concerts she didn’t enjoy and probably doesn’t have too much going on to look forward to.

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Another time I was playing with a flute/violin/piano trio. I’d gotten there first and was setting up and an elderly woman asked what we were playing. As I was telling her, her face fell, and she said “I don’t like Classical Music.” I suggested it was a fun program and she might enjoy it anyway, but she told me she must have gotten her nights mixed up and then left in a huff…well, as much of a huff as she could.

I know you can’t please everybody all the time. And that night several audiences members came up to us afterwards and said how much they enjoyed it. The negative comments are kind of funny, but they also reflect how we classical musicians feel in society sometimes. The thing is, I absolutely love the music I play. It means the world to me, and I try to show my audiences that, and my biggest hope and dream would be that everybody finds music that moves them in the same way. My music covers every detail and depth of human emotion and the human experience. I suppose it’s easy to hate on that! FEELINGS. Plus, then when I say that, some people hear “I think I’m superior”. Winking smile

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This is a nice weekend. Tonight we are going to see a show at Jazz at the Bistro. Tomorrow we are either going to the Pet Parade or just for a hike, and then tomorrow night I have the first opera performance of Carmen with Winter Opera. I spent the morning sleeping in, sending faxes to my Senators and Congressman (I use an online service called Faxzero, which is free for up to 5 faxes a day– I hope they are getting my thoughtfully written letters), and taking the dogs for a walk (dog-sitting for Banjo.). The week was hectic and busy, and the next one will be too, but for once I get a fairly relaxing weekend. My to do list isn’t getting shorter, but it’s not getting much longer right now either, so that’s good. Life, for right now, is manageable and interesting, so that’s good enough!

We’re Still Fighting

I know some people think that people should keep their political thoughts out of the public sphere.

Especially someone like me. I’m self-employed. I should keep my thoughts to myself. But I believe that part of my job as a musician is to make the world a better place. My biggest hope for all of my students is that through their violin lessons, they become more compassionate people, better able to communicate their thoughts and feelings, better able to accept their failures and successes, and better able to work with other people to achieve a goal. I have always wanted to make the world a better place through music.

Through my life as an artist, I have been fortunate to travel the world. I have been fortunate to meet people from all walks of life.

I do live in a bubble here, I live in a city, I mostly hang out with other similarly educated people, because most of my friends I have met through work. I have many gay friends, but less non-white friends than I should. I live next door to a family of immigrants and I don’t know them very well and I should. I don’t speak up enough against injustice, but I am now. I haven’t done enough in the past, but I want to change that.

I know many people say we should wait and see, that we shouldn’t worry, than this isn’t the end of the world. I agree that they have the right to say that. But we are in unprecedented times, and whether or not you agree with me on that, I hope you understand where I am coming from.

I will protest. I will call my representatives to complain. I will do what I can.

The other day I posted on facebook after calling my Senators and two of my friends commented that I inspired them to all. Me! That’s all I really want, to encourage others to do what is good, what is right. I’m not perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be. But if we all work together, in our imperfections, doing our best, we can make our nation, our world, into a better place for everyone.

I’m not afraid. I am, of course, but not of immigrants. I’m not afraid of terrorists, or refugees, or people who are different than me. I’m afraid of losing our right to free speech and free press, of losing our autonomy as women, of losing the fight against climate change, of losing our nation to people who want to close our borders and only let white people, mostly men, be in charge.

I will never understand, and I won’t accept it. I know we lost the election, but we didn’t lose our country. We didn’t lose our values forever.

Maybe this is part of why I’m here, maybe this is one of my purposes.

Let’s work together to truly make the world better. I don’t know exactly how, but if we all take small steps we will. This is not a time to hide our heads under the sand. We have been for too long.

From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. 649 in my edition:

Luna said, encouragingly…“That’s right, Harry…come on, think of something happy…”

“Something happy?” he said, his voice cracked.

We’re all still here,” she whispered, “we’re still fighting.”

That’s one of my favorite Harry Potter quotes. It gets me through rough times. And of course, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

House of Cards

No, not the show. The show that we now look at and say, gosh, I wish Frank Underwood were our president.

But the schedule. OH the lesson schedule! It’s a delicate house of cards, and then just when you figure it out, someone says, but wait, can I move to such and such day and time since this other activity changed…and first you think “NO YOU CAN’T” but then you think about how much you like that student and then you say, sure, let me email 17 other students and see if anybody can switch. And then you wait.

I woke up feeling really stressed. Some of that, but that’s not a big deal. Worst case, I can’t fix it, I lose that student, I gain another. I’ve lost a few students in the last few weeks and when that happens I tend to 1) panic 2) post on facebook that I have a few openings 3) start thinking about ways to advertise 4) get a lot of potential new students before I do much else.  Career wise things are just fine.

It’s all this country stuff. I’m worried, I’m scared, I am terrified for our future. I worry about everything—I started to make a list, but it was too long. Basically I can’t believe that our country is now headed in the direction it is headed. I work with immigrants EVERY DAY and my life is considerably richer because of it.

I will march again. I called my senators yesterday and I will keep doing so. I will write them. I will call. I will keep donating money to causes that are important to me. You should too.

And now I will retreat. I will practice. I will read a mystery novel. I will teach my students (and wait for emails). I will play an opera tonight. I will come home and relax. I will make the best of life while I can, while it is still here for us to enjoy. You should too.