Friday, March 25, 2011

Patience Through Transition

This past week was an interesting one for me. I'm going through many transitions, like so many people in the world right now. My music lessons are great for noticing metaphors, especially about transition. I honestly did not feel like "teaching" this week. I did not have the energy to think of something witty to say or something inventive to teach. Honestly, there were some moments when I just wanted to leave the room and cry. But when you are dealing with kids, it is so important to stay strong and composed and "in the moment." It is always about the kids. Always.

I just wanted to play music. So I did. Every single lesson basically became a jam session. A band practice, if you will. The kids like it. I was surprised, because, my intentions were really quite selfish. I swear, after every session, each student complained that it went by too fast. That made me happy. They seemed to really enjoy the "band practice" style of it all. One student, last night, got to take over some of her Dad's time slot because he had a meeting at work, so our session really was like a band practice. About 2 hours long, complete with a tea break in the middle! She had fun, and honestly, so did I. We talked about making a music video next week. That's what bands do.....

In music, one of the challenges is transitioning from one section to another. A student may individually master sections A and sections B of a song, but when it comes time to put the whole song together, frustration always reins. I understand this irritation. Like life, music is never easy. It is always challenging, and as soon as you think you are a master, it is time to re-evaluate how much you really think you know. Music will humble you.

Musical practice is very similar to meditation. It requires an intense amount of focus in order to really get it right. If your mind is somewhere else in that moment when you are transitioning from part A to part B, even if the audience thinks it sounds great, being aware and focused would have guaranteed a more perfect performance. So is life...

As I go through these big changes, trying to get settled into a new place (which I hate doing), I'm trying to just stay focused and aware. Music and meditation have brought me to a place where I can handle the stress of transitions. It is far from enjoyable, but then again, neither is forcing myself to plough through a difficult piano piece after making the same mistake 20 times. The truth is, if I just keep doing it, and maintain a calm awareness all (or just most) of the time, success is ALWAYS the result. Always.

In my daily jam sessions with the kids this week, I was reminded why I chose music as a career. Music is fun. Sometimes, teachers and other adults try to take the fun away and just turn it into work. I'm guilty of this, too. I was telling a mom the other day that sometimes I hear my classical teachers in the back of my head scolding me for not having better sight-readers as students. It's true that I attract a lot of students who have a very difficult time reading music. Most of my kids are artsy, right-brain learning types... terrible at Math, excellent at English.... Maybe because I always had a hard time with Math and Sight-Reading? I was always much better at improv and songwriting. The truth is that so many professional musicians don't know how to read music, and even though I agree it is an important skill to know, most of my students are amazing MUSICIANS, regardless of their reading skills. This is where I have to tell myself to be flexible and patient.

Changes and challenges are inevitable in life and also in musical practice. We cannot avoid pain and we cannot avoid tranisitions. But just like a great performance, we can handle the stress of it all with grace and calm focus. I have my moments where I snap at my dogs for walking too slow, and I have moments when I feel like I will be stuck in the sadness forever, but then I quickly remind myself that life is all about transition. Just like music. It never stays the same. There are times when I think, I am the worst musician ever. Who am I kidding? I think the trick is that you always have to be focused on the present moment, observing and breathing, learning from it and moving on to the next moment. Everything changes. Even the exciting moments. They all go away eventually. Why not just deal with it gracefully? I'm trying. I promise I am. 

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Blues

It seems there is a lot of change happening in the world. Japan may have become a third world country overnight, revolutions are springing up everywhere, and even in my personal world, things are changing. I spoke with my friend Kusala, a Buddhist monk, this morning about the decision he and his community had to make about ending the life of their much beloved dog, Mitch. In Buddhism, there are only a few basic rules, and one of them is to not take life. The other main tennet in Buddhism is to not cause suffering. So what do you do when you have an old dog who cannot take in food anymore, and is suffering in his waking life? Which precept do you choose to disobey? I can't imagine being in that position. After what I imagine was a long series of discussions, the community decided to put Mitch down, to end his suffering.

I am going through a lot of personal changes too. My trip to Italy got me thinking about what I really want out of this life. It's a cliche to say that life is short, but it's true.  Whenever tragedies happen in the world, I start to think deeply about what matters in life. Tragedies in the world also make me sad.

Kusala and I talked this morning about staying present during times of difficult change. In mindfulness meditation, you sit for 20 minutes (average) and you pay close attention to every feeling that comes up. In music, the same kind of awareness is needed in order to play a piece well. The reason people practice mindfulness meditation is so they will be prepared for the difficult times. I notice that as sad feelings come up for me, during my own time of change, what I have learned in meditation and music practice is to stay centered and simply observe, and most importantly, to not attach myself to the feelings. They always pass, and attachment is what causes more suffering to occur.

Kusala is an avid music lover. This morning we talked about how music like the Blues has a way of taking a sad emotion and literally changing the chemistry in our brains. It elevates our mood. I am listening to Jazz and Blues constantly these days. Kusala is doing the same, also playing his new Tenor guitar, which in my opinion, is an even better way to reap the benefits of mood-elevating music.

We also contemplated the actual birth of the blues. The Blues was created by African slaves and freed slaves. I can't think of any other group in American history that suffered more than they did. And to think that they came up with one of the most therapeutic music forms of all time is amazing. Kusala said that we should feel very grateful to them. I agree.

Isn't it amazing how suffering can sometimes bring up new ideas for creating joy and peace? Right now we are living during one of those times.  A lot of change is happening. A lot of chaos and sadness is running throughout the world. Are you feeling it in your own life?

There is always opportunity in every difficult time. Chaos gives us a chance to think about what we really want out of life. Is another iPod really that important? Or would you rather spend your money taking all of your closest friends out to dinner to spend time with them? For me, I feel like music and friendship are the most important things. And also learning how to feel compassion for myself. Peace can only come when we feel love for ourselves, patience for others, and awareness of what makes us really happy. ***after publishing, I realized that there has indeed been another group who has suffered greatly in our history: the American Indians. My mistake.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

What Pi Sounds Like

Today is Pi Day. I love Math. Did you know that music is a mathematical science? It's true. Watch this video to see what I mean.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Los Angeles, I'm Yours

After three plane rides, about 16 hours of travel time, one missed flight, and one short stay at a Comfort Inn in Atlanta, GA, I am finally home in Los Angeles. It is officially Spring here. The flowers in my yard are all blooming, it's sunny with clear skies and a perfect 68 degrees, and the scent of jasmine is filling the air. Ahhhhhh, Los Angeles.  It's good to be back. I've spent the last two days catching up on sleep and figuring out how to fix my too-much-time-in-the-sky damaged hair. 
It's so frizzy... I'm sure a box of light brown Natural Instincts hair color will solve the problem. It usually does. 
My trip to Italy was one of those life-changing experiences. When I went to Sundance Film Festival in January, a friend of mine said that there is the you that existed before Sundance, and there is you after Sundance. I definitely felt some of that, but my trip to Italy was the trip that really changed me. 

It was my first time really traveling in a foreign country. I've cruised to Mexico, but on a trip like that, you only stay in the country for a few hours. I know what you're thinking. Most people travel to other countries in college or immediately after high school. I'm a late bloomer in this department. In college I had to work a lot, and all of my time and money went to school. There wasn't anything left for travel. Now that I am finally established, it's nice to finally get this experience. 

I see why foreign travel is such a valued experience. The struggle to communicate taught me compassion for new immigrants in the U.S. You've got to really wanna live somewhere to work that hard to communicate... It took a lot of energy out of me just to speak! When I got home, I felt relieved to not have to work so hard to get the words out...
On my trip, there were six different personalities. My husband, my in-laws, my mother, my brother in law and his partner, and me. For two weeks we were together, and you can imagine the struggle that can come up when you have a soldier, a peacenik, a tea-party republican, and a quiet artist among several other personality traits traveling from Florida to Europe... There were a few struggles, but I learned how to hone in on my conflict resolution skills learned from three years of working in a Domestic Violence shelter, as well as the calm focus I have developed from yoga, martial arts, and meditation. It was truly a spiritual experience learning how to stay cool when someone said something about how certain races should stop producing... I wasn't always successful, but by the end of the trip, I looked back and thought I did alright. 
There was beauty everywhere in Italy. From Lavello to Rome. Everywhere. On the people, the buildings, the trees, the streets, the clothing, the simple food... If I spent too much time thinking about it, I got sad thinking about how America compares... But then I think about California, and how I fell in love with it's beauty seven years ago when I came here for the first time.  

So how have I changed? I had a lot of time to think about what is really important to me. The Italians seem to already know. Love, art, music, philosophy, family (whatever that means to you), good weather, simple food. For a few years, I have tried to figure out what direction I will take. After finally starting to feel like I really live in Los Angeles, and no longer feeling like I am simply adjusting, it has felt like a new chapter is emerging in my life.  

I have never been a materialistic person. Going from upper class to broke at a young age taught me how to value the free things in life. In L.A. it is easy to get caught up in wanting more, more, more. It's a competition to see who can drive the coolest car, own the biggest house, have the most sophisticated haircut, wear the most expensive clothing labels. I want nothing to do with it. I only want to live a life dedicated to music, learning, philosophy, friendship, and love. Luckily, it is a well kept secret that Los Angeles is actually home to a large population of sophisticated thinkers and artists. Most of the world sees this place as a plastic wasteland of materialism, but that is simply not true. 
In Rome, it rained a lot, and I spent many days dreaming of the running I would do in the sunny hills of my neighborhood and the slow driving I would do, which is more than accepted here. On my first day back, I was welcomed by my students who are so supportive of me. We spent every lesson freely creating music, and nothing music theory related was said. The parents all smiled and said it was good to have me back. That laid back attitude is classic here. Even though I am in love with Italy, and I will definitely be going back, and it taught me so much, the truth is I love Southern California and Los Angeles. I am so glad to be back. Los Angeles, I am yours!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Finding Beauty in Rome

As a musician, I am in it to win it, and that means learning how to be in front of a camera. I'm very shy for a musician. For many years I have been quite comfortable playing music for myself in my little studio, venturing out just a few times a month to share. But now, I am working towards the next big step. That means I have to market myself. The idea of being photographed makes me nervous. My jaw gets a little too tight, and my smile can feel unnatural... and what to wear? I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, so this always poses a problem, no pun intended. 

Drinking tea before the shoot.
Calming the nerves.

Being in Italy has opened my eyes to beauty. Everyone here is so elegant, even in their jeans and sneakers. I'm used to living in a high fashion city, but Italy is different... It seems to be part of their DNA... All the women and men are beautiful. Effortlessly beautiful with their wavy hair, high cheekbones, and smooth skin. I figured if I was ever going to feel comfortable posing in front of a camera, Rome would be the place to do it.

I giggled as observers formed behind me.

So, I recruited my talented photographer husband to ride the train to the area where the Pantheon is located. When we were there last week, I noticed some really neat alleyways. I love alleyways in photos. 

Rome Has Alley's A-Plenty

We took 500 photos, and by the end, 50 were chosen. Not bad, according to Chad. The photos will be used for various marketing reasons... website, CD, poster, press releases. Considering it was really my second professional photo shoot, I thought I did ok. I look at the whole modeling thing as a practice like anything else. I have to learn to be comfortable being looked at through the eye of a camera.

We Loved the Graffiti

If you had to pick one for a CD cover, which would you choose?

Love in Lavello

The Original Middle Ages Entrance to Lavello 

My journey through Italy has been life changing. Two days ago, I met my Italian relatives for the first time in the beautiful village of Lavello, located in the southeastern region.  My American family and I are not particularly close. Not like you would expect of an Italian-Amercan family. The truth is, I often felt like a "spiritual orphan," wandering around looking for my home and family. In California, I have close friends who I love like family, but in Lavello, I found my home. My roots.

Roberta and Ananita

After meeting my cousin, Mario, and his beautiful family, I was touched by their total excitement to meet their American relative. In broken Italian and English, we spent 4 hours together catching up, eating pizza and drinking locally made wine. I felt close to them instantly. I wasn't sure at first, but I thought I felt some love from them... I tried not to attach myself to this idea, because we had just met...

A Lavello Troubadour

To thank them for their hospitality, I sang them a song. Mario's wife, Nananita, called relatives on the phone so they could listen to their new American cousin sing in English:

The next morning, Mario picked us up at his family's hotel, and brought us to my great-aunt Tina's house. She was standing outside, in pearls, a beautiful cashmere sweater, and a long matching skirt. She had her hand on her heart, and when I walked up, she embraced me with the most intense amount of love I have ever felt from a "stranger." She kept shouting "Bellisima! Belissima!" as she squeezed my cheeks and looked into my eyes. I was so touched. I felt instantly at home, like I had known her my whole life. She brought us inside, and as the phone continued to ring, more and more relatives walked into the door excited to see us.  I met aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was kissed and hugged more than ever in my life. Everyone was so excited, and they continuously brought us more and more drinks and candy. 

Mom, Tina, Me and Mario

We decided to eat, so they brought us to a local restaurant where we had a traditional Italian lunch. 3 courses, plus desert, about 3 hours long... It was beautiful. Like something out of a movie. Everyone shouted when they spoke, laughed louder than a timpani, waved their arms around, and continued to hug and kiss all of us. At the end, I played my guitar and everyone danced. When I was finished, they sang traditional Italian songs from Lavello.  It was beautiful! 

Lavello is surrounded by beautiful countryside,
rolling hills with olive trees and vineyards.

My cousin, Pia, who is only 4 years older than I am, made us promise to come to her wedding in July. We had an instant connection. Using the iPad's translator application in order to communicate, we discovered that we are both activists, both interested in politics, and our birthdays are only 4 days apart from each other.  The similarities in other relatives were fascinating. I discovered a poet, a journalist, and a musician named, get this, Michele. After lunch, I sang some American folk songs for them, as well as the traditional Italian song "Caro Mio Ben." I admit I was very nervous singing in Italian in front of real Italians, but they were very complimentary, and when I finished, my other great-aunt Sabina came up and planted a giant kiss on my cheek.

Song is a nice way to say "Grazi."
All the excitement and energy it took to understand and speak Italian, as well as the forte (strong) wine, made me feel not so molto buono... so I had to go back to the hotel to sleep it off.  Inside my heart, I was beaming, but my stomach needed me to take a break...

As we approached this group of men,
Mario informed me that one is my cousin.
Big surprise! 

Later that night, Sabina insisted on coming to the hotel with Pia and they brought gifts. A history book of Lavello from Pia and a beautiful Italian purse from Sabina. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. The next morning, before leaving for Rome, Tina came to the hotel to say good bye, and she had more gifts! I couldn't believe how kind everyone was after meeting them for only the first time. When I mentioned this to Mario, he said to me, family is very, very important and you are family. In the car as we left, I kept thinking about that and felt like I might cry...

A local woman. I did not ask if we were related...

When I was preparing for this trip to Italy, I thought it might bring up thoughts of love, because Italy is famous for that. Every trip I take teaches me a profound life lesson, and as I anticipated this one, I considered that the subject might be love. But unlike the version in the book/film  "Eat, Pray, Love," this international trip brought me a different kind of love. An unconditional, familial kind of love. I felt a strong connection to my relatives in Lavello. A connection I haven't felt before in the states. It was pretty amazing. 

The family eats & eats & eats...

In this blog, I talk about peace and love, two things that I believe are necessary to cultivate in order to change the world. I began my meditation practice long ago in order to attain true inner peace, but love has always been shaky for me. When you move around a lot, you learn how to guard yourself from deep, unconditional love, perhaps allowing only a few people inside.  My relatives in Lavello had absolutely no problem showing me love the instant they met me. I was so struck by this. What if I could show that kind of love to everyone I meet? What if we all could do that? 

The old men on bicycles were so authentic...

In America, it is sometimes hard to show love. We don't touch each other or reveal deep feelings until we have "proven" we are worthy of such intimacy. But in Italy, I discovered that there are many people who grow up with a deep and instant sense of love for others. Lavello showed me what it could be like to instantly share love with someone, and to be vulnerable without any fear whatsoever.  

Happy in Lavello

I hope I take some of Lavello's love home with me to the States. My country could use some serious unconditional love at this point in time.