Without a Crowd

I’m often asked wht I don’t perform music publicly. I generally give the shortest answer I can in that moment. Something akin to “I lived out of town for a number of years, and I’m working on getting to know the community again.” Which is true. But it’s not the truth. The truth is more complicated. 

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school graduation. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was very little opportunity for budding musicians to perform with others, especially im the rural Midwest where i was raised.The vast majority of my time as a musician was practicing, and since I had the luxury of time, I was able to practice 3 or more hours a day. Alone. Oh, and i had never heard of jazz besides a lecture in a piano camp when I was 17.

I went to college and almost immediately infiltrated the jazz band. I wasn’t a member; I was in choir, but as it often happens in school, those groups of musicians segregated themselves. After a semester I was asked to join the big band, later a jazz combo. By then, there was only one other female in the big band (killer bari sax player and flautist), and she graduated that semester, leaving me the only female. I was cool with it at first; I only even notice the lack of females in retrospect. But I received virtually no help from professors, and was mostly talked to in a “we’ll, you’re a girl so you can’t play jazz” kind of way. That phrase was spoken directly to me about me on more than one occasion, by more than one professor. The only feedback I ever received was “good job”. I was eager, willing and able to learn and perform, but with no constructive feedback I remained stagnant in my learning and performing of jazz. I continued to study on my own, but until I worked with one specific professor, William Lenihan at Washington University in St. Louis, my jazz education was primarily in my own hands.

My personal life during this time became a giant factor. I was married to a drummer, and almost all my musician contacts were through him. When we divorced, I lost those contacts. I was already wary of making new contacts due to my gross lack of experience doing so, and being an unmarried female made that task immensely difficult. That’s where the sexism shifts. The players I met would be all encouraging and positive and helpful, but their female life partners would get jealous and possessive, and having dealt with enough of that in my life, I wasn’t willing to go through the discrimination of other women towards me. I attempted to be part of a trio comprised of women, but guess what? No one wanted to hire a group of female jazz players. So that fizzled to nothing. And again, I worked alone.

Then the “I live out of town for a while” part of my life happened. I lived in the suburbs, 45 minutes or so from any performance opportunity. No big deal, really. But I was already isolated. I already knew no bass players or drummers to work with. I was working three part-time musician jobs to make ends meet for me and my new (and unemployed) husband. I was more wary of meeting and working with new people. Oh, and the jazz school I went to and quit never bothered to teach me HOW to meet new people and get gigs; they were too busy not teaching me how to improve as a jazz musician.

Then I divorced again and moved back to the city. I’m still teaching, which I love to pieces. I tried for a while to meet new musicians to play with. But my issue now is that I’ve spent 20 years practicing and improving, so my standards are incredibly high, and all the musicians with whom I could potentially ask to perform are excellent players, all with regular gigs and side projects of their own. Beyond that, there’s an additional wariness due to the fact that I’ve NEVER made a habit of performing live, leaving me with no references. So again, I’m alone.

I realize it’s never with negative intention, but when people ask me if I’m playing anywhere, and my answer can only be “at home”, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough. Like there’s something wrong with the way in which I am a musician and artist. Because I practice an art that is best displayed in a group, or at least a duo. And because I received virtually no formal training, I feel like I don’t know enough and that what I taught myself is somehow “wrong”, even though there’s no such thing as wrong in improv. 

Unless my life or personality drastically changes, this will likely be the continuing pattern. It does not make me sad; merely a moderate regret. I like being alone. I like playing alone. Being a musician isn’t for anyone but me. 

But maybe only because it has always been that way.

Kudos

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Coming Out Day

From my earliest memories, I have loved anything that made me different. I was the girl among my siblings at home. I wore skirts or my brother’s hand-me-downs even though people made fun of me. I loved classical music, I played the piano, I loved reading Canadian novels, I loved being homeschooled. And I loved boys. 

I didn’t love them because I was “suppose” to. I simply did. I wanted to be around them, talk to them, be friends with them. I rarely encountered a female I cared to spend any time with, though there were a few. I fell for boys. They made my heart race, made my brain lock into place, made me feel comfortable. 

I was in my teens when I heard the word “homosexual”, and decided to look it up in the encyclopedia. It was so informative! I learned about what it was, what “transgender” was, and even “bisexual”. Being well practiced at over thinking at a young age, I wondered if I would be a lesbian when I grew up. The idea intrigued me. That would be so different! I didn’t know any lesbians at all, so how awesomely unique would that be?! Keep in mind, this was the 1980’s, there was virtually no public information about these things, there was no internet, and I asked exactly zero questions of anyone about the topic. I merely thought it would be cool to be a lesbian when I grew up. Made sense to me.

I promptly forgot about all that. College and work and boys happened. I had one experience with a woman in my 20’s and I wasn’t intrigued, so I assumed I wasn’t gay and moved on. Like raw oysters, I tried it, didn’t care about it – it wasn’t negative, I merely didn’t care – and I moved on. Or so I thought. 

After my second divorce, a couple friends would make lesbian jokes in my direction, and they bothered me. At first, I thought it was because it was untrue, but other untrue jokes never hurt me. It could have been because the jokes weren’t funny, which was true; they were tired and boring as jokes go. But that wasn’t it. 

So why did the gay jokes directed at me hurt so much? I was confident in my sexuality. By the time I was an adult, I had learned that it’s in your DNA, not your level of openmindedness. But it hurt, and more than it should have.

Until I remembered that day with the encyclopedia. I had really thought that I could grow up to be gay. Realizing I wasn’t gay wasn’t enough to erase that idea, apparently. I needed to realize something deeper about my silly brain: I was disappointed in myself for NOT being gay. That I would never realize that youthful desire to be as different as possible. That I WASN’T born that way.

So, dear friends who read my blog, if you’re nervous to come out as gay, please do so. For me. I can never be the lesbian of my dreams. I’ll still fall short of being as abnormal as possible. I still love men, and that’s okay. I was born that way. I’m disappointed in myself. But this annual Coming Out Day, be as gay as possible. For cis little me.

Kudos

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To Believe Or Not To Believe

I’m about as agnostic as it’s possible to be. I will never be the kind of person who eliminates every possibility unless there is definitive proof. Definitive to me means there are zero exceptions. If there is a hole, i will find it. I may keep it to myself. This just means that while I may appear convinced of a thing, my brain is always going, “But what if this other plausible but as totally unprovable thing as your thing is true instead?” I am constantly looking at the other side of the thing I’m being shown.

This has made me very envious of those who definitively believe in the unprovable. I confidently believed in a single g~d when I was younger. Until 2 things happened in my life: 1. I took an astronomy course at a private liberal arts university, and 2. I heard a rabbi, Rabbi Joshua Taub, speak on Genesis 1:1. These seemingly small life moments allowed me to explore in depth what I had been needing, for myself and the way my brain needs to operate, to explore.

In my astronomy course, I was presented with the same evolutionary theory that I had learned was an option. I knew the basics of the theory, and had always found the arguments against it flimsy at best. But the reason this course changed my thinking was due to math. We learned about star types and planet’s and distances and lots more I’ve forgotten since I haven’t spent the past 14 years as an astronomer, and then every day we did the math OURSELVES to show our understanding. I did the math, and my brain acknowledged that it worked. No exceptions, no special understanding, no magic. 

The math worked. Maybe evolution was actually a better way of looking at things. Galileo did his math and so far he’s been right.

But what about God?

Two years later, I was working at a synagogue, playing piano for Friday Shabbat services. The Torah reading was the beginning of Genesis. I know Genesis. Anyone who grew up in my circle of friends knows Genesis. God created the earth and everything else in 6 days and took a break. Rabbi Taub had a perspective I had never heard before. He talked about the different theories, creation/intelligent design and evolution, and asked this question, “If g~d is all powerful, why would 6 days be needed to make everything? G~d has the power to create all of everything in an instant. Saying that it took 6 days actually takes power away from g~d.” Using my favorite thing, reason, he showed that it makes more sense for g~d to have created evolution, to have the power to start in motion the beginnings of existence. A plan. An evolution.

The reasoning stands. If I were truly to believe in a g~d, then why would I waste my time with one who needed 6 whole days to get the job done. Talk about an inefficient god. 

These two things, and the way my brain is wired (or, the way g~d made me), are why I am an agnostic. The math tells my brain there is probably no god. The reason tells me that g~d maybe isn’t what I think g~d is. The result to me is simple: what works for me works for me, and it makes sense to me to never exactly have full belief in any of it.

Which is why I’m jealous of those who do. Monotheists, atheists, all have definitive belief in a thing that cannot be proved, and to me that’s amazing. It sounds so comforting to be able to look at the sky and thinking how beautifully the stars and planet’s make sense and do what they’re supposed to do. The peace of mind knowing that no matter how lonely you might feel, there’s a God up there who loves you specifically because He made you specifically.

I want that feeling of comfort and peace of mind. But I doubt I will ever believe them fully. I’m okay with that. It actually doesn’t matter what I believe. The planet will keep spinning, if g~d is there then my lack of belief doesn’t have the power to change that as long as g~d isn’t a fairie. 

*clapping just in case*

Kudos

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Show. Me. The Propaganda.

I’m a questioning type of person. If a lot of people are making a claim, I automatically look for ways they could be wrong. Especially if I want them to be right. So whenever possible, I check up on stories I read.

Not everything is researchable, though. I could read scientific journals until my brain melted, but without the higher education necessary to understand the chemistry, I can’t reach my own conclusions. If I read about a shooting or a robbery or evil politicians, but I have no power their, either. And I wasn’t there, so how do I know whose story is the truth?

At that point, I have to take a different tactic. Rather than trying to assess merely the reliability of the storyteller, I look for who benefits. As many a television legal professional will attest, follow the money.

For instance, who benefits from telling the public to abstain from vaccinations? I have difficulty believing that there’s a global conspiracy from the health food community trying to up the sales of echinacea. The beneficiaries are more direct than that: the pharmaceutical industry. 

It’s simple. Vaccines are one of the cheapest aspects of medical care these days. But antibiotics and hospital stays for the measles raise way more revenue. Make people believe that the cheap thing that will prevent sickness is actually hurting them and bingo-bango suddenly you’re making money you wouldn’t have if people weren’t prone to acts of fear-induced stupidity. 

Make people doubt the reliability of science by consistently reinventing God to serve your need to be one of the most importantest people on the most importantest planet because God only made the Earth for you so you have not only the right but the obligation to use all available resources at will. Who benefits from repairing the environment? Not many people. Self-sustaining energy is quickly becoming more affordable, and will need less upkeep because it’s not like sunlight is going to cause corrosion or run out or poison major tributaries. Companies like Tesla are making certain clean energy engine plans public domain; that’s not a financially motivated choice. But if we stop burning the fossil fuels that are damaging our atmosphere, a lot of people are going to be out of jobs. A lot of very wealthy people. People who don’t care if everyone can breathe. 

As long as they’re buying their oxygen tanks and anti radiation medicine, who cares if the planet won’t be able to sustain life? 

Kudos

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Gone Looking

I guess it started with the shooting of Michael Brown. Maybe before then. But some time over the past 4 years, I lost America. It’s like I had a lover, then discovered a bunch of dark secrets and needed to process. I had to figure out if I was still in love. And if that love was worth sticking it out.

I have a friend who said he had the same problem. I think there’s a lot of white people in this country who feel like the America they were told existed wasn’t real. And now we’re “woke”, we don’t know how to feel any more. We were lied to, cheated on, and now we’re lost.

Ever since our conversation, I’ve thought a lot about this country, but not abut our written history. Not about the white people who made it a country. I’ve thought about the land. It’s beautiful. The few places humans haven’t ravaged are still inspiringly beautiful. Breathtakingly so. 

I’m currently on a solo vacation to Maine, where I had never before traveled. I drove the entire way from St. Louis, MO. And there were places that moved me to exclamations of wonder as I drove past. Unerring, random beauty. 

As I was driving, Simon & Garfunkel sang “They’ve all gone to look for America”. And I felt I had found it. Not in the documents and buildings. Not in the monuments and borders. Not in the pioneers or the native peoples. Not even in the changing leaves of New England.

I found America in my heart. Where it’s always been. 

Kudos

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Random Imaginary ConversationĀ 

I found out today that I didn’t get a job for which I had a very good interview a few days ago. Before that, I was thinking what I would do with the extra income: buy a new couch; purchase some much-needed (really wanted) audio gear; donate to charity; pay regular bills without stress; buy fancy groceries like kale and fish and citrus. 

And then I thought, “Hey! I could consider dating! Someone besides myself! A man person!” My brother was confused at this statement. It’s the guy who does all the paying and whatever. But here’s the thing. I have always firmly believed that when it comes to dating, the person who asks does all the “traditional male” date things. So I haven’t considered asking anyone out because I feel like I should be able to comfortabley purchase toilet paper for myself before considering buying dinner and a movie for some hypothetical guy.

I can’t help but feel that, given the likely age range of my dating pool, I would need to explain this point of view to Man. So I had an imaginary conversation.

Me: Hello, Man. Would you perhaps be free this weekend for a date with yours truly?

Man: Sure! I have wanted nothing else my whole life!

Me: Thank you, kind sir. I feel I should offer some brief explanation of my intentions. As I am asking for the pleasure of your company, I will pick you up in my car, take you to an eating establishment of my choice, but with consideration to your taste/health/food lifestyle in mind, and pay the tab. If you are cold, I will offer my sweater. If we encounter a puddle, I will offer my coat as dry option for your dainty feet. I fully expect you to partake in my fries and half of my dessert when you’re too shy to order your own. Then I will return you to your home and walk you to the door. 

Man: So…will I be expected to put out?

Me: Only if you want a phone call the next day.

I think it’s a good thing I didn’t get the job. I would definitely ruin any potential anything with my overt formality, awkwardness, and bluntness. And all the fucking swearing. 

There Will Be Swearing.

Kudos

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30 Percent

I read a quote by Herbie Hancock once: you only perform 30% as well as you practice. It’s an insight into share with all my students, especially when they’re preparing for a performance. Somehow, though, I never really owned the statement for myself. I always performed exactly as well as I practiced. My playing never decreased in performance. I should have realized years ago that I wasn’t practicing correctly. Not to my best. I wasn’t being my best even when I was alone and in the perfect setting.

But over the past year I’ve really pushed my practicing. I’ve played better than I considered possible. I opened doors in my mind, and it’s lead me to some wonderful results. To myself, in my own mind, I was in a state of understanding of my own performing that I never thought I would achieve. So I decided I needed to play for other people, and I scheduled a mini concert in my home – and on Facebook live – so I could do so. 

For too many years, I haven’t had any musicians in my life that I didn’t train. I had only ever performed my own music for friends, family, and students. I’ve always enjoyed sharing my music, but because of the way my life – and my life choices – has gone, the only feedback I ever received was positive. “That was cool!” and “I love it!” were the basic gist of it. 

Compliments are nice. Some people think they’re enough, that sending positive words of encouragement and affirmations are all that’s warranted. But I needed more. I needed people who listen like me, who understand music like me (or better) to be 100% honest about the 30% I could offer. I needed musicians.

Over the past year I’ve finally done what I should have done in college and since: I’ve worked towards creating and growing my relationships with more members of the music community in my town. I invited many of those lovely people to my concert thing, hoping that some would show up – or watch online – and listen to what I had to share. And more than anything, I hoped I would get critique. Something, anything, that would tell me how I could be better.

I’ve insisted to everyone, my whole musical life, as often as possible, that I needed criticism. It’s fine to have people tell me what is good. I need more. I need to be told where I’m not good enough. And ideally, ideas on how to improve. My exact phrase, when I try to get this point across, is, “I thrive on criticism.” It’s more true than most people I’ve known have seemed to understand. 

Tonight, that changed. A dear friend, whose musicianship I greatly admire, attended my concert this past Sunday. And this evening he gave me ACTUAL FEEDBACK. That criticism I’ve desperately needed to hear ever since college ended and I had no professors nor peers to give opinions. Someone finally understood. 

Now I have direction. Goals. Aspirations. A realistic path to take. I’ve always suspected I could get here. Over the past year, I’ve learned to see that it’s possible.

And tonight, because of a friend who gets me, I have an idea of how to find my way to the path to getting there. A way to get my practicing to the place where 30% is pretty damn good. I don’t care that it’ll take time. I don’t care that I’m not there yet. I don’t even care that I may not get there. I only care about the path. The journey.

And the friend who cares enough to help me find it. I wish there were words to express how important this is to me. I guess a silly blog post will have to do.

Kudos

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