Positivity and Progress

Here it is, just twenty minutes to six in the morning. I’ve been awake for a few hours now because of the things circling around my head— from random musical ideas to unnecessarily self-conscious worries. So, I’ve decided to write a little about both of these subjects. As to whether or not I’ll actually manage it—what with my ever-changing thought patterns that tend to come out all over the page when I post things like this—remains to be seen. Hmm, did that sentence make sense? Ah well, it doesn’t really matter all that much. If you look at it, read it aloud, it’ll come to you. I don’t really feel like rewording it in order to explain a fairly simple concept which probably could’ve been explained in fewer words. Have you figured out I talk too much yet? That doesn’t matter either… I just felt like asking that because that’s how my brain is going. I think the words, my fingers type them out. I spell check it and don’t even bother looking at it after that because I’ll spend another age and a half trying to figure out better ways to word things and end up screwing the whole post over. In short, you can ask questions if something isn’t clear.

Speaking of… not the previously mentioned stuff in that ridiculously long opening paragraph, I thought I would start out by saying that I really need to learn to relax when it comes to the whole self-conscious bit. In certain circumstances, worrying is a good thing. Worry, or caution if you’d rather think of it that way—I tend to do this more often than not—is what keeps us from doing stupid things like jumping out of airplanes without parachutes. They are a necessity of life that keeps us… well… alive! Without them, we’d be screwed.

Now that I think on it, there is quite a difference between caution-related feelings and worry. Ah well, my current subject matter is still relevant. The point is that I’ve come to the conclusion—and sadly not for the first time—that I should probably learn to not worry so much about certain things. Particularly things which are logically sound all around except for maybe a few people who think badly of me for making whatever choice I decided to make. There’s a saying that is used a lot in my family because of certain personality traits that have made their way to multiple members: “You can’t save all the puppies.” Well, you can’t please all of them either, and so if I end up making a decision on something and the majority of my circle thinks it’s perfectly logical, there are going to be some people, whether inside my circle or out of it, that are going to say otherwise.

Reasons as to the opposition are, of course, numerous and dependent on the decision made, but the concept is the same. I will post a couple of experiences that I have gone through in just the past couple of weeks that have really made me wonder why I have been so silly for as long as I have.

Let’s start out with something relatively small. Keep in mind, constant readers, that this is small compared to the rest of my life. Something huge to me could be tiny to you, so take all of this with a bit of a grain of salt. Actually, a grain of salt is rather small… so maybe taking only a bit of a grain would be kinda difficult. Why not take the below examples with a whole grain of salt instead? Erm, right… there goes my thoughts again. So, on with what I was about to say.

In 2009, I bought a powerful piece of music production software called Sonar, published by a company called Cakewalk. Along with Sonar, I bought a set of scripts called CakeTalking, which allows me to have access to the more visual elements of the program through my screen reader. I installed Sonar so that Dad, who is also a musician, could learn to use it at his leisure and perhaps get a few tracks down. I didn’t install CakeTalking until just a few days ago. More on that later.

Anyway, in order to properly optimize the computer to work correctly with my screen reader and CakeTalking, it is necessary to make a minor change in the display resolution. I had read up on just what I needed to do and I felt confident that I could do everything, no problem. The difficulty was that I wasn’t certain if I would be changing settings for both user accounts on the computer by making changes from my account. I called Da to tell him what I’d intended and asked him if he wanted me to wait, in case he ended up wanting to see how the changes affected his visual experience. I didn’t want to end up changing something that would make his use of the computer unpleasant or impossible.

While certainly considerate and—in my opinion—courteous, it was kind of an unnecessary worry. If I didn’t make the changes, I wouldn’t be able to use the program properly. Since Da is going to be relying on me to assist him with mastering his tracks and things of that nature, I need to be able to use the software with efficiency—not just for editing my own music. Why worry if his experience was going to be unpleasant if I was going to have to make the changes anyway? In order to use the software, I needed to make the minor changes and so it doesn’t matter if Da’s experience wasn’t just so. Besides, even if it ended up that he couldn’t see some things, it is certainly not impossible to work around.

Da and I talked about this very thing a few hours after I’d called him to talk about my fears. It wasn’t until after he told me what I just told you that something inside my brain clicked. A light bulb went off in my head, and I felt rather silly after being presented with what now seems to be the simplest logic around. I worried for no reason. No display changes meant no working communication between screen reader and music software… why waste the energy on worrying about if the screen looks a little bit more blurry or something? Why waste the energy worrying about something that can’t be helped? It only holds you back from what you truly want.

If you remember right, I said I had a couple of examples for you. Remember when I said that I didn’t install CakeTalking until a couple of days ago, despite the fact that I’d bought it in 2009? Well, here’s what stemmed that whole thing.

When I bought the software three years ago, I had intended on using it primarily to compose midi instrumentals over which I could play my flute and add vocals. I had done research on a few solutions ranging from the midi controller which produces no sounds but those stored in your computer and music software, to fully-fledge production keyboard synthesizers which were computers in and of themselves. I had decided on both an economical solution and a dream solution that I could buy later f I grew out of the first choice.

I told Da about my intentions to buy a midi controller and sound module, and he reminded me about the fact that he still had his Yamaha DX 7-II, which did everything I had originally planned in the first place. At first, I thought it would be exciting to try. As time passed, however, the more I felt myself drifting away from it.

The thing that knocked over the line of dominos was the fact that, while the DX 7 does certainly have a lot of capabilities and is a good instrument—excellent for its time—I wasn’t fond of the sounds it produced. Granted, there are sounds on the DX 7 that I like, and would use, but the sounds I would primarily use—orchestral things and stuff that would fit my writing style—were out of date, and very, very unrealistic to my ears. I could use a sound module, you say? Well, the next domino happened to be that I wasn’t sure it would be able to handle controlling music software like Sonar, because it had been manufactured in the 1980’s. Next came the fact that I didn’t know where to find screen reader friendly versions of the DX manual, which meant that the next domino involved asking Da to teach me, which meant he’d have to spend hours working with me on learning with me, while relearning the instrument himself because he’d not played it in years…

And so the dominos fell, until I felt certain that the Yamaha DX 7-II, as good as it was, was not going to work out like I had first thought. Being who I am, I ended up feeling badly about thinking this way. I didn’t want Da feeling like his very good instrument was just going to sit and collect more dust. It was there… why couldn’t I just use it and be satisfied? With that in mind, I got stuck between telling Da my feelings and telling myself that I could at least try it out. But the dominos had fallen, and I didn’t know how to put them back up again and re-convinced myself that the DX was something I really wanted to work with.

Time passed. I did more research on Midi controllers and various sound modules, learning terminology as I went, dreaming of what it would be like to have a working solution that I could be satisfied with. Probably a year later after I had bought the software, I began telling Da about some of the various solutions I’d researched and had found intriguing, hoping that it would help me figure out how I was going to break it to him that I didn’t like the thought of working with the DX as my primary instrument. Of course, avoiding the elephant in the room doesn’t make the elephant go away.

Some more time passed. I did more research on solutions. I had decided that, if I was going to buy a midi keyboard, I might as well go for everything I was hoping for and find it in one box. In all honesty, I didn’t want to deal with sound modules and midi controllers… I wanted a feature-packed bundle that gave me several options for producing and editing music, as well as decent instrument sounds. I wasn’t saying no to software synthesizers, I just wanted to have every option I could, along with updated technology and an easy-to-learn interface. I wanted something that gave me room to grow. I decided that my dream keyboard was going to be the Yamaha Motif XF.

Time passed, during which I did even more research, in case something better than what I had found would pop out at me. The elephant was still in the room, and the room was now beginning to stink. Elephants are big ass animals, and they shit, and their shit stinks. In short, I really shouldn’t have avoided it. I needed to get it out of the way, but somehow I went and let myself get all tanged up. It was getting to the point where I was getting snappy, and that’s a rarity for me. I had lost all desire to go down to the studio computer and even learn the software, or install the scripts. All because I was worried about what somebody was going to think.

More time passed. I did more research on the Motif XF. I dreamed, planned, thought, asked questions, got excited, asked for opinions, argued with people who opposed the idea of me buying one for various reasons. Eventually, Da and I sat down and got rid of the elephant and its big ass piles of shit. This leads me to my third and final example of how I worry too much about what people think.

In my last example, my worrying unnecessarily ended up holding me back for three whole years! I normally would have put this last, because it’s the biggest; but because it wasn’t the most recent, I feel more right talking about the most recent experience last, even though it’s not exactly the worst example.

After Da and I had managed to rid the house of all traces of elephant, I had come to the conclusion that I definitely worry too much, and this last example is just a confirmation. I just need to figure out how I’m going to rid myself of this silly flaw, or at least tone it down.

So, no more than a month ago, I had decided that I was going to buy the Motif XF and use it as my primary means of composition. I had spoken about it over twitter before I got the elephant out of my house, as a way of asking for opinions. I researched the offered solutions, and found myself going back to the XF every time.

As time passed, I began to feel that some people were thinking badly about my personality because I’d made the decision to buy the XF. The overall feeling from everything that was being said was that I was unintelligent for making the choice I made. But remember, I was letting my weakness get in the way again! So that was my bad, not anyone else’s.

There came a time where I started to enjoy when the subject came up within my circle. My family was, naturally all for it, so talking with them about the XF was fun and exciting. I eventually grew to like talking about it with the people who were questioning my decision, as well, because the more I told them why I was getting the XF, the more I was confirming to myself that it was what I truly wanted to do. The funny thing, though, is the end of my example. Just today, after I already placed the order for the XF and am currently waiting for it to arrive at my local music shop, I saw a comment on Twitter that made me worry. It was only for a few minutes, but that’s why I decided to write this blog post.

Why am I worrying? I’ve already placed the order and the thing is coming in next week. There’s no point in asking myself “What if” because the bridge is already crossed. Yes, I’m spending $2500.00, but that’s because it has all the capabilities I’d like and more, which means room for progress. Yes, some of the sounds are very distinct… but so what? So what if it identifies Yamaha with a particularly Yamaha-sounding patch? If it works with what I’m writing, isn’t that the point? I got a hands-on feel for the instrument before I went and took the leap, and I personally feel that there are more patches that I like and will use than patches that I don’t like.

Anyway, so I don’t have to repeat myself yet again, those I’ve spoken with already know the reasons why I went the XF route. The point of this was to say that I am still thinking “Oh this person thinks less of me because of thus and so.” As soon as I thought that about the remark I’d seen and then asked “What if,” I went “duh, what are you doing?” There is a motto that one of my Twitter friends posted earlier: “Live life the way you want to live it.” And I thought, why not?

Am I so bad of a person because I can’t please all the puppies? I think not. I certainly don’t dislike anyone for having their opinions, and I certainly have no reason to let those opinions make me feel dumb or silly or inadequate or inferior. Again, that was my bad. So, I think I will start working on that. Exercise caution to a certain degree certainly, but don’t think quite so much of how people will think. After all, I can’t please all the puppies.

So, next week, when the XF gets here, I am going to begin the process of learning the thing. I have manuals and audio presentation and other sources I can go to if I have questions. Honestly, I’m very excited. I really think it’s going to work out very nicely. There is plenty of room for me to grow, too. Someone asked me what I’d say if they wanted to be a flutist and ad their eyes set on a gold flute, despite the fact they’ve never played before. I told them I’d say that they should get it if their budget can afford and if they are willing to take the time to learn. My budget, with proper financing, can afford it, and I am willing to take the time to learn what I need to learn.

This doesn’t mean that my flute skills are going to go by the wayside, either, for those of you who are worried about such things. I am currently not in college for a reason, and that is so I can devote my time to music. I am at a level where I can take small respites from the flute and often times gain from those respites. Ever had a time where you put something down, come back to it and found it better even than you had before? It’s that way with my flute as well. I certainly do not intend on putting my flute aside. My next step is perhaps the Kobe international flute competition, as a matter of fact. That will involve a leap into contemporary music which could be quite scary, but I feel it will be an interesting experience, even if I don’t end up applying for whatever reason.

Hmm, it’s taken me two and a half hours to write and spellcheck this. Oh well! In short, you could say that life is still treating me very kindly! I’m really very excited about what’s to come, and I have no reason to worry about what anyone else thinks about it. The door has opened, the bridge has been crossed, and I am going to live life how I want it lived. Progress FTW!

Looking Forward,

Me

General Update

As per usual, it’s been a while since I’ve made a point to write something longer than the routine and somewhat mundane things over Twitter. I often end up thinking about writing, but something ends up distracting me. There’s not a huge lot to say, but enough has happened that I feel it’s only right to write a little about it.

In general, I’d say that this past year has gone rather well. Yes, there were some hardships. Yes, there were some lows. There were highs to make up for each and every one of the lows, though, which is why I say that this year could not have gone any better. That’s about as much as you’re going to get regarding an end of year review.

I wanted to talk briefly about my last performance, which took place on the fourth of November. It was the kind of performance that left me thinking; not just about if it had gone well or not, but about some interesting things that I could perhaps teach.

Despite the near train wreck that happened due to my sad lack of focus during the duet with my good friend Susan Goodfellow, the whole performance went really well. Afterward, people were lined up to speak with me, my accompanists, and of course Susan, the other flutist with whom I chose to play the duo. There were two comments that I have been thinking about off and on as of late for the past little while.

One lady came up to me and spoke in a rather soft, almost demure way. While I don’t remember the words she said, I remember the meaning. Basically, she told me that she could see the spirits which had come to hear me play. I must admit, I almost laughed outright because I was not certain I had heard her right. Then, I was taken with a feeling of “yeah right,” and I am really hoping it didn’t show on my face. She continued a bit longer and the meaning finally took hold.

I have no idea if she had actually seen the spirits of other musicians that had come to hear me play. I do know, however, that I had accomplished one of my goals. I had hoped to be able to portray a particular feeling with each piece. I believe that this young lady was telling me in her own way that I was able to bring positive energy into the room, that my performance was something that would’ve lifted the dispirited, the depressed, etc. It is somewhat difficult to put into words… but I believe you understand. You can always comment on these posts if you don’t understand something, you know. *chuckles*

The second comment was more concrete, but held no less meaning. This young lady spoke confidently, but I detected a slight tremor in her tone, as if she were on the verge of tears. She was able to collect herself as she spoke, and I couldn’t help smiling as my second biggest worry was put to rest.

She told me that she was able to hear a difference in every single note, a difference which made even the repeated notes have a spirit—a personality—of their own. Now, I have heard so many musicians try to teach their students this. It’s so easy to turn to someone and say to them, “”Make every note have its own emotion. Make every note sing,” etc. The problem is that no matter how you say it, you really won’t be able to get the point across with words. You can certainly play a passage and have your student copy you, but he won’t actually feel it and so the copied nuances in each phrase sound hallow, not quite right to the ear… It’s sort of like showing someone how to smile and then asking them to smile on demand and make it look sincere. I don’t know of anyone who has smiled for a picture and actually liked the way they looked… because their smile seemed canned, or hollow. The emotion in pictures with posed smiles just isn’t there because everybody’s nervous, or doesn’t really like having their pictures taken. The only way to really get a good, sincere smile in a photograph is to catch a person unaware. Catch them laugh before you click the camera.

When I was younger, between ages fourteen and sixteen, I would play and think I was putting plenty of emotion into my music. I’d follow the dynamics, but the music still sounded flat to those who heard it, particularly my father, who was the one to help me visualize how to make more subtle nuances. We worked on it for two years at least, before something inside me clicked. In other words, you can show a student all you want on how to play with feeling and emotion. In fact, I recommend that you do, because it will give them a spring board for whenever that “something” decides to click with them as well.

I was not able to play with proper emotion, however, until I allowed myself to truly feel whatever it was that the music was portraying, if not my own simple emotions from whatever was on my mind. “Playing with emotion” isn’t just following the dynamics on the page. It’s letting yourself fall into your own emotions and letting those emotions come out in every note. An actor cannot properly play a part unless he is feeling the emotions of the character. A bad actor is simply “following the dynamics on the page” and so his words and actions are flat, or they just don’t seem to have a natural cadence to them. The actors that people label as outstanding will allow themselves to laugh, cry, and even tremble in anger along with their characters. How else would they be able to play the part without seeming unnatural or flat??

The concert last November was a confirmation that I am right where I need to be with my emotional technique. Instead of regretting my inability to act and properly portray emotion with the opera singers, I have found that I can show every bit of emotion through playing my flute. The portal to emotions is most likely different for every person. Some visualize stories to each piece they play, others focus on something in the room before they can let go, while still others may simply visualize colors with their music. I usually end up imagining communication between two people. Sometimes it’s spoken, others it’s more physical. Either way, the communication is usually between me and my fantasy lover. I know that sounds kind of dramatic, but that’s what always ends up happening.

I remember reading in a book somewhere. There was one scene that stuck in my head. I don’t even remember what the book was about, and I don’t remember what words were said—at least, not exactly. I remember reading that someone was listening to somebody else play the violin from a distance. The writer spoke of silver threads, gold, diamonds, and moonbeams when referring to the sound of the instrument itself. Regarding the style of the person’s playing, the writer used phrases like “…each note like a lover’s caress…” Words like “tremulous” and “shimmering” were used, as well as words that—to me—described the steps to a ballet: “light,” “airy,” “delicate.”

Somehow reading those words made me think of how I would feel in each situation those words were referring to, and I asked myself if I had the ability to make my listeners feel that very same way, just by playing my flute, like the person in the book had been playing his violin. The answer is yes, I do have the ability. Last November confirmed it. I was able to keep my audience away, despite the fact that I had been playing classical music, which puts people to sleep most of the time. When the young lady came up to me and told me that “every note had its own personality,” it made me think not just of how emotionally powerful music can be, but also how much emotion you need to actually let yourself feel in order to invoke those emotional responses in your audience.

Well, so much for being brief, eh? I realize that I may have repeated myself a lot, and that my words tend to run away with me sometimes, but you can always comment and ask me to clarify things if you don’t understand something. I know I could probably be a bit more concise with the way I word things, but until somebody tells me they are completely unclear on what I’ve written, I’ll keep writing as I have been. I usually don’t plan ahead on what I’m going to write about, and the words in my head just sort of tumble out onto the printed page. It’s not like I’m writing to my professional contacts, right? This blog here is to show some of my thought patterns and odd personality quirks, while giving people things to either think over or laugh at. In other words, I am much better at portraying emotions through my flute than through the written word… ah well, here it is anyway! With that said, constant readers, I shall close here, and hope this post has found you well. Here’s to individuality, and the New Year.

Forever Contemplating,

Me