On Teaching

I don’t often get to talk about my teaching, even though it is arguably the most important thing I do. People usually ask what shows I’m playing next, and how the album recording is coming along, but they don’t really ask me how my 15-year old student is doing on her new composition, or if my 9-year old has learned how to play minor scales yet. I guess teaching piano isn’t as glamorous as getting dressed up and rocking out onstage. But glitz isn’t everything. I think teaching a really inspiring piano lesson to just one student can be as impactful as performing for a big crowd.

When I was 19, I volunteered for a community music school in Montréal to teach free music lessons to kids in underserved boroughs outside of the city. I was fresh out of teaching piano for most of my teen years at Summer Sonatina Piano Camp, plus a couple years of private teaching out of my parents’ house in Vermont, and I was so excited to meet all of my new students. It turned out that we didn’t have enough keyboards for more than one weekly private piano lesson. So I had a single student. Their name (changed here for privacy) was Sam.

The first thing I remember about Sam was their shoulders, which they held slightly slumped forward at all times, as if trying to shrink away from something. From the way they observed me, and the little remarks they made, I could tell they were strong and intelligent, and as soon as we started lessons that intuition was confirmed. We set up our little 76-key keyboard in an empty classroom in their middle school, right in front of the chalkboard by the door. The classroom was messy, and totally ill-suited for a piano lesson, but we jumped right in anyway.

Sam had no musical experience, except for playing around on a little keyboard they had at their house. I showed them how to place their hands on the keyboard, how to keep their fingers strong while they played, and where middle C was. They absorbed everything so quickly, and so completely. I had honestly never taught a student before who could master concepts that fast. It was incredibly fun for me, and Sam was eager to play whatever pieces I brought in for them. We learned chords, scales, arpeggios, and were playing stuff hands together way sooner than I thought someone could. I think one of the last pieces I assigned was Sonatina in C by Clementi, which I usually don’t assign until I’ve been working with a student for at least a couple of years.

I remember one day, we had just sat down at the keyboard, and Sam noticed my earrings. “Why are you wearing mismatched earrings?” they asked me. I felt my earrings, trying to remember which ones I put on that morning, and they were indeed mismatching. It was something I did a lot back then, in defiance of expectations mostly, and partly simply to show people that I was a badass. I smiled. I said, “I’m wearing them because we can do whatever the hell we want. Who says earrings have to match? It’s a silly rule.” They gaped at me, then laughed. I know that message stuck with them.

I know because as the semester progressed, they started sitting down at the piano as if they belonged there. And not just a belonging at the piano. A belonging in the space they inhabited. In the world. Their shoulders weren’t slumped anymore – they sat upright, ready, alert, believing in themselves. In the beginning, they would call themselves stupid or lazy in almost every lesson. And every time, I would tell them that they were smart, hardworking, and capable. Because it was fucking true.

The music was just an avenue for me to help them find confidence in themselves. It was proof that they could excel at something. It was proof that the school system that put them in the “stupid people math classes,” as Sam would call them, was just plain wrong. They slowly realized that they had the power to do whatever the hell they want.

That’s why piano lessons are so fucking awesome.

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Two Truths

Trigger warning: abuse and body image issues.

As I read these two journal entries I wrote 6 years ago, I am reminded of how we can hold so many truths within ourselves at once. How we can be fully in our power, and fully outside of it at the same time. I am especially reminded of the corrosive effect of emotional and physical abuse on a person’s sense of Self and self-worth. How, after consistently being told that one is not hurting enough for the sake of others, even the most vibrant of humans can be diminished to a flickering gloom. When this abuse is paired with sexual violence and constant comparisons to other women in the form of forwarded Victoria Secret ads and pointed remarks, it is very difficult to find a way out of the murk. Add to this the “tortured genius” myth (if a man is an artistic genius, his abuse of others is forgiven – eg Picasso, Woody Allen, James Brown, etc.), and fuck. No wonder I have PTSD, anxiety & depression, and am struggling against dark forces that I wasn’t able to conquer five years ago.

But I can unlearn, relearn, remember, and start sharing my story.

June 21, 2015

In Dosso, Italy. Feel that I have been moody and unpleasant to be around. Feel that I am confining myself in what other people think people should do. Feel that I am literally judging myself for paying attention to these problems because “everyone has them,” which I have translated to “are not important.”

Feel un-stationary and without a purpose, a tumbling rock: not even a floating dandelion seed, because at least he has his mission. Feel deprived of my home, the grass, the lakes, the essence of myself. I am depriving myself of myself. School in the city, travel to Boston, back to school in the city in the fall.

I dislike myself right now.

É molto importante that I regain consciousness: this level of being, this earthy existence, this core of myself.

Feel anxious on each street because I look at other women and only compare myself to them: every inch of skin, each stitch in their clothing, the tightness of their jeans around their thighs. “God, I wish I had bought that style of pant instead of these.” The drape of her wet bikini over her butt: “I should have gotten the string kind instead of the style I have.”

The length of her shirt, the fabric the color her skin her lipstick her hair her knees I wonder how they compare to my knees I am beautiful so hot but look at what I could do with myself. Look how much more beautiful I could look if I just bought her shirt and those shoes and her jacket. Why can’t I wear a blazer over jeans and look clean and pretty and simple like all of them. Why. Why not.

I hate myself.

I hate myself for thinking this way. But I am always thinking this way. How can I improve. How can I look FOR HIM. For him.

He wants a preppy, classy girl.”

He likes workout clothing.”

He wants someone who does not look like me.

Then again. I don’t give a fuck what he wants. I know, rationally, that I am SO INCREDIBLY ATTRACTIVE. I am ideal for many, many people, men and women. I know damn well that there is no man or woman who is “too good” for me, but I am worried that he does not want my look.

I am sick of seeing the gap between the women he admires and lusts after, and me. Thin, clean women. Women who spend hours and hours on their makeup and hair each day. Women that really care about what they look like, and market themselves so that they will be liked, loved, and fought for.

I am not naturally like that.

I am trying so hard, and it sucks. I don’t like the anxiety, never feeling like I am living up to his standards. Non è possible.

I feel horrible. Maybe it’s not that I don’t love him right now, it’s just that I don’t love myself. I need to get back to the music, Vermont, and away from all these FUCKING CITIES.




June 23. 2015
A stream of consciousness:

commitment

determination

passion

necessity

survival

love

passion

creativity

pain

pain

frustration

challenge

success

passion

dedication

form

happiness

truth

truth

relationships

strength

personality

talent

loss

loss

channeling

alone

growth

messed up

improvement

necessity

honesty

truth

difficulty

pain

tight

creativity

I am escaping fragility. I have been actively avoiding the truth – that I cannot thrive without passion, waves of frustration that I can skillfully overcome. I cannot thrive without improving, working on something tangible, mobile, crazy, almost uncontrollable.

I have not lost that from myself. I have just been ignoring it in order to test out other options. I can see now that those options are not going to satisfy me. They will not allow me to carefully balance myself out. I must be creating.

I must be creating.

This is something that everyone around me has known or recognized when they saw me play piano, or write, but which I had to realize for myself when the time came. There is no other time or moment apart from now. They were all right.

I have greatness in me from past lives, and from this life. I have the ability to command, to move people gracefully, to inspire deep hope. I must not deny myself these qualities by hiding them away because they are more intense, and make less sense, than other machine-symbolic-manageable qualities I see in other people.

Mine are not manageable, and that is exactly-precisely-extensively why I need to bring them to the forefront. So that I can contribute something to the world.

I will resolve every day to never lose sight of them again. I resolve to forget how I have pushed them aside these past five years. I will focus only on what the pushing-away has taught me, and how it is the most important thing I’ve ever had to learn. I will, every day, come to know anew why I am doing the things I am doing, and what is the “right” and challenging path.

I will come to know anew why I am great inside, and how I can be more great.

Greatness ≠ control

Greatness = the ability to know yourself well enough to manifest your understanding into a positive contribution to the world


I have always known this. I forgot through high school. I forgot through intimacy with people who did not understand this truth, who did not grasp the power of my talent, understanding, and healing abilities. I may have lost touch with my healing power, but it is not lost. It will never be lost now.

Nothing is going to fall into place easily. Nothing will ever fit together, and if something does, it is only for a fleeting moment. My purpose in this life is not to fit everything together in order to be happy, but to allow chaos to give me peace, relief, power, knowledge, and focus. To allow passion to be my stability.

This is the truth and I will do it.

I must not settle for anything less.

All this time, I have been settling for the easier road, the least resistance, the social status, the smooth normalcy. That will never be enough for me. Home is a state of mind. A state of being. I will never feel at home if I settle for no passion. I can’t.

As soon as I get home I will start playing a Beethoven sonata, and will bring back the Bartok and the Liszt. I will begin a Brahms intermezzo, and maybe a Chopin prelude. And I will learn a Schumann or Debussy.

I have two months still until school. I once learned a piece in two months, then won third place in a competition. I can get to that place again if I watch my posture, do exercises, use passion, and remember that pain and exhaustion will only make me stronger.

Now I understand why he does not need physical touch and love like I do. His passion is invested in his music and writing, and that is how it needs to be for him to make his contribution. People will not be touched because he held his girlfriend in college when she was sad. People will be moved by his music, his words, his ability to capture a thousand feelings into one moment.

They will need him for that. He must not be needed in any other way, just how I cannot be needed in any other way until the right time.

It’s going to be hard, but I’ll choose the right path, not the result. The auditions are in March. I’m not giving up on myself.