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I Heard the Bells

My message to my students and friends is to let the holiday season remind you to bring peace in your own way to those around you all year long; those you love, those you’ve just met and those you haven’t met yet.

Be safe, well and happy.

KLC

“The wrong shall fail; the right prevail with peace on Earth, good will to men.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Math and Music, Together After All These Years

“Math just isn’t your thing.”
“It’s okay. You’re ‘artsy’.”
“You’re really good at other things, like writing and foreign language.”

The voices of adults and classmates from my youth ricochet thorough my memory quite prominently when the subject of Mathematics is brought up. I was not a stellar Math student, to say the least. As a matter of fact, until very recently, my association with the subject was terrorizing. Accompaniment to the voices are visions of hopeless tutoring sessions, meaningless rhombi and marathon late-night negotiations with my parental unit. “If you don’t make me take the SAT, I’ll take the ACT instead; the Math is easier.” “If you don’t make me take Pre-Calc, I’ll take an extra Humanities class.” “Music schools don’t care about my grades in Math anyway.” My signature phrase became, “I don’t need to know what x equals to buy groceries. (They still talk about that snarky line to this day.)

In our society, when we realize during our youth that we aren’t-so-good at something, those who love us try to focus on our strengths. Through this comes searching and discovery; “I’m not great at horseback riding, let’s try basket weaving” kind of thing. And on this journey we tend to stumble upon the dangerous territory of pigeonholing. We place our children into two categories: Arts/Humanities or Math/Science. And the two may never intermix! So, what option do the children have? Focus on your strengths and give up on your weaknesses. They maintain their roles into adulthood and never look back. I am living proof of this; not only do I deal with Mathematics as little as possible, I actually have tried to shut it out of my life completely.

Here we are, present day. I have plans to begin a graduate degree in the Fall, an endeavor I’ve researched several times over the last six years. What has been holding me back, you ask? Sure, there is time management and logistics, cost is always a concern. Friends of mine have told me I should coin the phrase, “There is never the right time or the right amount of money to do anything; if you want to do something, do it now.” So, why haven’t I taken my own advice? Well, I’ll give you a hint; it starts with a G and ends with an R-E. And there is a lot of Math on it. Oh no! Now what? Time to put on your big girl pants, Clores.

So, I got a guy. An intellectual, patient, all-knowing Math guy. I was fortunate to have him agree to coach me. I certainly was nervous. Though I trusted his knowledge and guidance implicitly, fear overwhelmed me right from the start. All I could think of was my tumultuous relationship with Math from my youth. On the drive to our first tutoring session, I actually felt nauseous. My teacher and I can laugh about this now, which is a huge relief. And, most importantly, I’ve finally come to the realization that my qualms with Math actually have nothing to do with Math.

Since my reintroduction to Mathematics, I’ve asked myself this question a few times: why do we allow ourselves to be tortured this way regarding aspects of our youth that made us uncomfortable? It doesn’t seem fair that at 16 years old, we close ourselves off to an entire aspect of thinking or learning for the rest of our lives. Sure, go ahead, blame it on a former teacher, a phase you were going through or an executive desicion your parents should or shouldn’t have made. Everyone has used one of these excuses to justify why an aspect of our youth didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Well, as many of my students have heard me say, I don’t believe in excuses. Excuses are a projection of a choice; a choice that perhaps now we feel we shouldn’t have settled on. The reality of it is, we did and the word ‘did’ implies that it’s over and done with; can we do anything about it?

As a musician and educator, the people I meet often share with me their personal past with music. Though everyone’s experience is not exactly the same, we’re all much more similar than we may realize and it applies to more than music or math tutoring. Generally, there was some kind of experience and, regardless of how long it lasted or how heavily invested we were, it ended; maybe it was for the better, maybe not. Now we’re older, wiser, more experienced and confident. We may reflect on this experience and wish we handled it differently but, again, can we do anything about it now? The answer is always ‘no’ in regard to our past and it’s important to understand that, at that exact moment in our life, it was the way things needed to be.

My message to my students and friends is this: open your mind to the idea that people don’t and shouldn’t fit into a mold. Everyone has layers and is complicted; that is what makes all of us fascinating. Try to avoid creating labels for others and more specifically, yourself: “jock”, “artsy”, “fashionista”, “hipster”. People are just that: people. Yes, they have their interests, strenghths and certain style, but that doesn’t define who they are. It certainly doesn’t mean they can’t explore endeavors they never have or have been afraid to. We build our own limits; we also have the ability to dismantle them. The subject of Mathematics rendered arguments, tears and anxiety in my youth. As an adult, I just completed two months of weekly tutoring and took an exam for 4 1/2 hours after not having been in traditional schooling for ten years. First thing I thought when it was over? “I can’t believe I got through that.” Why couldn’t I believe it? Oh, right, because I’m a musician and musicians aren’t good with math or any other sort of academia…

Oh, but they can be! Just like football players can do pottery, chemists can be salsa dancers and a baroque guitarist can have a career as a firefighter. I’ve even met one!

“A mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work if it is not open.”

– Frank Zappa

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Now That You’ve Thawed, Start Living

Passover
Songkran
Holi
Easter
Las Fallas

Many of you may take part in one of these celebrations each year.  Or, perhaps, all Spring represents for you is that exciting time of year you now have an excuse to buy new sneakers or finally take your bike out of storage. Either way, there is reason to celebrate.

After my first trip to the Southwest, my love affair with nature began. Little by little, I traded in embarrassingly over-priced handbags for hiking boots, a Nalgene water bottle and Back country rewards points. I even have a favorite Clif Bar flavor (Cool Mint Chocolate). Call me what you will: granola cruncher? Sure, I welcome it! Because being outdoors makes me feel alive. Before I really knew what “feeling alive” actually felt like, I think I was just going through the motions of our calendar year. You know, it goes a bit like this:
“It’s October now. Soon it will be cold.”
“It’s so cold. I can’t wait ’til Spring.”
“It’s May now. Soon it will be hot.”
“It’s so hot. I can’t wait ’til Fall.”
Essentially wishing our lives away, right? We all have done it, usually without realizing.

Around the time of my first trip to Arizona was my first experience at a Holi Hai Festival. Holi is a Hindu celebration of Spring; often called the Festival of Colors. Though primarily held in Eastern countries, these festivals are becoming popular in the US as well. The first one I attended was in NYC. It was great fun! Dancing, singing, awesome food and everyone was throwing different colored paint on each other. All in celebration of Spring. What I learned at this festival from Hinduism, very similar to cultures that celebrate Spring in other ways (water fights, hunts for colored eggs), is that really what we celebrate at this time of year is life. Certainly new life is coming to be in nature bit by bit. However, old life is being restored; the old life inside all of us that we shoved in a closet a few months ago after digging out the flannel blankets, fuzzy socks and humidifiers.

I ran into many old friends several months back at a music function. We spoke about music, teaching, good times from 10 years ago. Then we spoke about getting a little older and how the big 3-0 and the “next phase” of life was rapidly approaching for many of us. The emotions that overwhelmed me after this meeting were a concoction of nostalgia, questioning and fear. Have I made the right choices? Will I make the right choices? How will I know? The next month or so became a hazy reflection of the last 30 years and how I’ve spent them (read more about that here). Then it happened; I turned 30 and lived to tell the tale. I had a big celebration with many wonderful and fascinating people, all representing different periods of my life. One of the dearest of those people to me gave me a framed photo of myself from that day at Holi in the city a few years ago. Included in the frame was a quote from one of my favorite writers, Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Buddhist monk, peacemaker and all-around good guy. The quote read: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

This photo, quote and time of life are all in the forefront of my mind these days now that it is Spring. It makes me think about how lucky we are to have this life and, if we aren’t careful, we could be alive without really living.

My wish for my students and friends this Spring is for you to rediscover a part of yourself that you miss or discover something new. Is there an old friend you’d like to reconnect with? Or perhaps a new friend you’d like to get to know better? Did you play the trumpet for a few years when you were a kid? Oh, you were pretty good, huh? But now, at 42, you’re way too old to pick it up again…

Listen here: you are not too old, nor will you ever be too old. So go and do it, try it, say it, take a chance, have some fun.

Live your life!

Happy Spring and be well.

KLC

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“Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Messages from KLC