Singing President

Recently I listened to another installment of the New York Times Popcast and became even more impressed with the level of discussion about America and in particular it’s relationship with President Obama. This is as close as I ever hope to get in communicating anything political in this forum, however there were a lot of good things mentioned about Obama in this podcast and I feel the need to share.

In my opinion, his most powerful moment was his performance of Amazing Grace at the funeral for victims of the Charleston church shooting. I still get chills when ever I hear or watch this moment unfold.

Talking

This time of year has traditionally been a time of reflection on the year which had just passed. Sometimes I even look through some old journals just to see what I was on my mind previous years. Recently I had opportunity to participate, prepared and give a TEDx talk. The process of putting it all together offered a level of self-reflection which I was not really ready for. However by the end of this undertaking I felt the message in the talk represented some of my journey as an artist. The self-doubt, the persistence, the tension, and the development.

In the end, I would not have done this with out the help and encouragement of the TEDx coaches, my wife, my family, the other TEDx participants and ultimately the my friends.

Color and Classical Music In December

theatre-audience_3133209b-800x305Sometimes I look out into the audience when I perform music. I don’t mean to take an subconscious pole of the demographics of the audience, but it’s hard not to notice. The picture above isn’t what I usually see, in fact the picture below is more of the reality of I tend to notice. Often I am the only person of color in the room, and after 20 years of holiday performances I started to wonder about those numbers.

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I didn’t grow up going to classical music concerts, especially not during the holidays. So why and how I came to the place where I love classical music and am a performer of this music is a mystery to me. Either way this is the common ground under which the audience and I share community.

Small Neighborhood Music School

The Bloomingdale School Of Music is the place whimg_2092ere I took private trumpet lessons, started loving chamber music and starting learning about music composition. It was one of the most important paths set before me.

hall4I had my first moments of personal success at this small neighborhood community music school. Perhaps this is the place that has given me my first opportunities to succeed and fail in a safe place.

Picking a high school in New York City

Many of my middle school students already know where they will be attending high school. When I was their age I had no ideas where I’d be spending the bulk of my teen age years.

There were only 3 real choices for me at the time. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, mainly because it’s one of 5 specialized public high school in New York City. LaGuardia was the only one of those schools who featured the performing arts as it’s identity. The others were all about science, engineering or math.

Stevenson High School was an obvious choice for me, hqdefaultpartly because a lot of the people that march in the drum and bugle corps I was a member of went there. I knew they had a marching band and that was a big factor in my appreciation of that school.

Finally my other choice was Julia Richman – Talent Unlimited High School. They have a great performing arts department and were competitive with LaGuardia. I also knew a few of the students from my drum and bugle corps went there as well

The main reason for picking any of these schools was because they had music programs and members of the New York Lancers went to those schools. I guess the arts and like minded people to attend school with was important to me. In many ways that is still true today.

fiorello-470x240I was accepted to LaGuardia and I was very relieved to be going to a specialized HS in NYC. The movie FAME was about that school, so I was secretly humming that tune to myself when I got the news.

I was not a very good student, but I devoted myself to all my music performance classes. Music history and theory seemed like math, science and humanities. Not a good fit for me at the time. I had trouble putting into context why they weren’t as stimulating at the time, they were more of a hurdle I had to jump to graduate.

Eventually I got my act together as a student, and now I’m a teacher!

Safe places for me

My kid has anxiety, and I had anxiety as a kid until I started doing music. 4th and 5th Grade I was in Mr. Osborn’s boys choir. I took a few ass kicking those years. In the 6th grade I did my best (with a great deal of success) to not be seen at all. I was robbed a few times that year. During my 7th grade year I was transferred into a class that did music, then I joined the marching band. That’s when things started to change.

jhs_22_jordan_l_mott_157_st_morris_av_jehMost people who we recognize as important, carve their own path. Me, well… I’m just lucky the path set before me was the right path for me. If not for one thing in my life, I would be a totally different person. What is that thing you ask? Fear…yes fear has shaped me and molded me into the man you see today.

I’m not going to advocate living your life full of fear and hesitation, however my case it worked for me. Fear and safe places to practice being a person. Where ever I played music felt like a safe place.

From Marching Bands To Thought Entrepreneurs

I think I was in shock. The day had come and I was standing in line in my cap and gown ready to go through a security check point to enter the commencements for our graduation from graduate school. My friend was next to me and he was acting like everything was normal, singing songs we both had a mutual love for like “Scenario and Scenario Remix” by a Tribe Called Quest, dancing…just have the time of his life. But that’s who he is and this is who I am. He was one of my first Thought Entrepreneur, at least I recognize now that he fit this role in my life.

There are some of us who take opportunities when they come at us, and then there are those who make their own opportunities, these folks are “Thought Entrepreneur’s”. I am in awe of these folks, they seem to have a great idea for a project all the time, or at least they have a way of making something unique or exciting.

7cfb5935403eb75cdbd4fef504b989d6Sometimes it’s an idea for a book they want to write, or a recital they need to put on. A project with visual art, music, dance and poetry, a pep band with of only turntables… you get the point. The ideas seem endless.

However, there are those rare occasions when the grand idea becomes real, your are forced to reckon with your own jealousy. After a moment of self reflection, you can only applaud the effort and vision made by those risk takers. True Artist….

51rvafkzotlGoing back to standing in line with my friend, I don’t think either of us had a plan, but he was like the Pangloss to my Candide. Always the optimist and the keeper of “good vibes” in any situation. I on the other hand was and am still lucky to be where I am. Somehow a path seems to land in front of me and all I have to do is choose to follow it. I learned to be comfortable with my previous travels (try not to second guess myself) and enjoy the path right in front of me.

Part of the reason I have pick my particular path, is because of my personal struggle with fear and anxiety. I see it in my daughter and I recognize that I am almost powerless to do anything about it.

But then I remember that at one point it all changed. For me it was joining my Junior High School Marching Band.

It may seems odd that picking an instrument in the 7th grade would change things for me, but the safety of being part of the marching band gave me a huge boost of confidence. Yes safety! As a result of join the marching band, I would now had 3 place which were safe havens for me. Home, The Class Room and now being with the marching band. Later, that school year I joined a drum and bugle corp. which was an extension of the safety I felt in the band room.

I often wonder if I am creating safe places for my daughter and for my students. As a teacher I try my best to imitate the feel of the places and environments that felt like safe places for me, because those places helped me get past some of my anxiety. When I got past that wall, I could be comfortable with the idea of being an artist.