Starting a new school year at a new school. I find myself thinking about all the lesson plans and units of study I put together over the past decade. Eventually, I get to a place in my thoughts where I think about “change” being the only thing that is constant in life. I think that is a quote or a thought attributed to Heraclius.
Other quotes that come to mind relate to the kind of teacher or musician I’d like to be…or at least the methods. Stravinsky chief among them has helped me with:
- What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.
- Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.
- A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
Finally, I land on my favorite Einstein quote.
There are times when I feel I’m getting too much of something. Lately, it’s been, a lot of Eddie Huang. Everywhere I turn I see or hear him. He’s everywhere and I kinda like it.
Recently I listened to an NPR podcast called What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito. The topics have been broader than I expected, and it’s been refreshing to listen to these guys banter with each other and conduct interviews with their guests. But, for my first listen to What’s Good was with Eddie Huang. He talked about his book “Fresh Off The Boat”, which led to the creation of a TV show of the same title. They discussed his show on Vineland, Huang’s World.
One of the ideas that Eddie Huang communicates, which really resonates with me, is the idea that you can look at a plate of food and learn about the culture of a region. I think about that when ever I cook food I think my mother and grandmother would appreciate. His shows also remind me of another truth about myself, I am first born-first generation American and that come with some built in straddling of cultures.
DCI finals are approaching and I am catching up with videos on Youtube and Facebook. Of course, this starts me down the rabbit hole of reminiscing. I start to think about all the years of drum and bugle corps I marched.
In 1990 I started marching in a drum and bugle corps in the Bronx. Those years were transformative for me. I learned a lot about dealing with people and becoming a participant in a large ensemble.
I went to the Jersey Surf Drum Corps camp with a buddy after we participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade with an Allstar Drum Corps in 1992.
My buddy showed me what it was like to belong. He showed up and settled in and asked to be taught. Later he became one of the leading members of the organization and eventually became an instructor with the drum corps.
I marched the 1993 & 1994 seasons with the Jersey Surf. However, if I’m being honest, I was really marching with my friend.
The summer of 1995, I went to the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Music Festival. That HS orchestra music festival, the summer after my senior year taught me a lot about being a musician and responsibility of making music and being a chamber musician. A humbling experience for me. I felt most of these music students were much better at this music thing than I was. But somehow I felt I still belonged. I’m curious to see where my kid spends summers.
I spent time texting back and forth with a friend about some of my summers in drum and bugle corps. This got me to thinking about my time with the last corp I marched. It was a transformative summer in many ways for me.
Summer of 1996 I marched The Cadets of Bergen County and injured my chops. By the middle of the summer I was really unable to play at the level I was accustom. My confidence was shattered. When I went back to school, I couldn’t play. I tried to hide my performance problems but I was exposed (at least I thought I was).
I had a conversation with my grandfather which kept me a music student. Because I was definitely going to leave school and figure something else out, cause this conservatory thing was not working out. So I took his advice and I learned to listen the rest of that year. I learned to listen to music, listen to myself, and listen to others. Most likely the point in my life where I started to think about the ways in which I could keep music in my life.
I marched one more season with the Cadets, but that marked the end of my drum-corp career as a marching member. I didn’t do my age out season. Instead, I spent the summer of 1998 playing chamber music at the Aspen Music Festival. Where I met up with a trumpeter I marched with in 1996. We were placed into a brass quintet together and I had a great time learning music along side of old and new friends.
I recently celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary. This led me to think about all the things that led up to meeting my wife and some of the humbling experiences along the journey.
I remember sending off many applications thinking one of these school would accept me, because of my playing. Later I was humbled to learn that every city and state has its own versions of motivated musicians who are passionate about performance and happen to be good students too. So luckily I was accepted to a conservatory in New York City called the Manhattan School of Music. My choices at the time were MSM or the Army.
It was my luck to be accepted there because that is where I learned about becoming a student of what I love to do. I also met my first Thought Entrepreneur. He later became best man at my wedding, to the woman who I fell in love with at MSM.
I was not as strong a performer as my colleagues. The result was not being placed into an orchestra (humbled again). However, this gave me the opportunity of play in the Jazz Lab Band, and play with the percussion ensemble/ modern music ensemble and a brass quintet. I found myself again, feeling lucky.
When I was first setting up my Twitter account, I was stumped by my title. At first, I thought, I should just use what’s on my business card… The only problem was which one should I use. At the time I was a freelance trumpeter, with about 498 cards from Vista Print and a music teacher at an independent private school in Lynnwood.
Okay…now for the next problem. I can’t just be a trumpeter, I want to stand out as more than an instrumentalist. I am a musician who plays the trumpet. Right, so don’t use trumpeter go with “musician”. Now for the other business card. I could go with teacher or instructor…time to pull out the thesaurus…EDUCATOR in big bold letters was the first word I saw. So I went with “teacher” for a while (probably because I had a narrow view of what I did at the time) however I recently changed it to Educator. (and I like that decision)
I had another problem…which comes first. Am I, a musician who educates or an educator who is a musician? The answer to this part of my online identity was very similar to my own personal struggle with personal and cultural identity. My parents are from the Dominican Republic, so I am Dominican. When I’m with them, my brother, and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins (lots of cousins) I am Dominican. But I was born in the United States, In the Bronx to be exact. So I’m American! I am both, 100% American and 100% Dominican. So I’m 200%. (I’m not sure that’s how that works, but remember I’m a musician, not a mathematician).
Eventually, I settled with musician first, because I feel that is the seed for all that I do in a professional capacity. I can’t teach music unless I am a musician. I certainly can’t perform music on the trumpet without being a musician first. At least that’s how I feel.
But the truth, (like my personal and cultural identity issue) is that I can do both and am both at the same time. I can’t divorce one from the other because “that’s who I am”.
I can’t say I usually cry at movies, however with the recent loss of my father I’m finding it difficult to sit through certain scenes in movies. This morning I fell victim to one of these moments while scrolling through things on Facebook. It reminded me of my relationship with my dad, and I appreciate him for it.
To say the James Earl Jone and Courtney B. Vance are brilliant actors, would be an understatement. However for some reason this scene from the play version of Fences took me down. Since the movie version of Fences has been such a success, it’s nice to see versions of the stage version as well.