ISM’s in me

The problem with being someone who likes to fix things is, you may end up causing more problems. Unintended problems which may put into question the very reason you chose to help. In my case, a bad mixture of paternalism, guilt, narcism, and hero’ism gone too far.

Recently I caught myself trying to help too much, though my intentions were good, the consequences of my action put some of my colleges in very tense conversations about how to help a particular situation. My flaw was thinking that if I were to get involved with that situation, the problem would somehow be remedied and it would all work itself out like some made for TV movie.

As teachers, I believe we try to fix things and find solutions to what needs to be addressed right now. The truth is, what fixes the particular problem I am reckoning with is having a balance of people that look like me and can speak to the multitude of experiences of people that look like me. Unfortunately, I can’t fix this with just sheer will of strength…in fact, I can’t affect the issue of lack of representation at independent schools. (At least not yet.)

I still have a lot of personal work I need to do to address the “ism’s” I deal with and the negative impacts of them on the people around me.

It’s Been A While…

It’s been a long time since my last post, so I feel the need to add something new. However, the something new feels like it will be a combination to things that have been on my mind since November. There are personal thing and other ideas and feeling related to music or teaching. I guess this is when the identity of this particular blog are at odds. Or at least with the music, thoughts and random things smash into one another.

Here are several things that have been on my mind over the past few months and in no particular order. First the book “Why The Cock Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola” by Michele Wucker. The People of Color Conference, held in Nashville in November, followed by some trumpet playing problems I’ve been experiencing. The music of Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, and the albums by the Now Ensemble. And finally, capping off the whirl wind of thoughts and experiences from November to now…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Along with all of those thoughts, feeling and experiences, there is family taking up space within all of these topics in my head. I think about my kid and wife, my parents, grandparents and my brother, when I think to what I read about the island of Hispaniola, PoCC and MLK. I worry about my ability to be creative when I wonder about my chops and whether I can participate or teach effectively the music I enjoy listening to.

Perhaps I just need more time to process, think and feel these thing out….. then I can share my thoughts.

The Composition Game

I was recently asked to participate in a pilot program connecting me with an artist of the same discipline to work with me and coach me achieve an important next step in my career. My peer mentor and I talked about using music composition as a way of stretching out to meet some artistic goals. The other goal was to get me to work around my writer’s block.

The game was to set aside an hour every day for the month of July to compose and explore ideas. There is no restriction about what I need to write, nor barriers to whom I was writing music for. The only stipulation was to set aside time to write music. By the end of the month, I would share with my coach about my process and some of the work created.

There was no stipulation that I would share any of this work publically, but I guess I need to put something out into the world. In any case here is one of the drafts I came up with. (forgive the MIDI sounds) This piece could still be orchestrated for any number of ensembles.

All of the pieces I started during this game used a 12 tone matrix. I gave myself this obstacle as a structure to help foster ideas.

 

Identity and Representation

Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone.  These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.

The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale?  Oh, for music.”  I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland.  Not quite what one typically would expect.  Okay, maybe the rap music.

My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient.  More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal.  That’s how we learn.

Playing Games

I’m sitting here watching my kid play with her friend and I start to reflect on what winter breaks of the past.

Winter break has always been tricky for me, like my kid I need a structured day. Work tends to give me the grounding I need, a task list or a deadline gives my day order. Whether I get it all done or not depends on the amount of time allowed over the course of my day.

Last year at this time and in this vacuum, I was totally lost. However, my kid seemed to have a plan. With no hesitation to my question “What should we do today?” my kid answers “Let’s play a game. Let’s play the lava game!”

We then proceeded to build an obstacle course from the playroom through the living room and into the dining room. Which in truth is all one big space anyways, but our furniture makes it feel like three separate spaces.

Knowing this my kid makes a course which requires us to climb up, in and over stuff. Stepping on, crawling through and stretching over stuff like pillows, shoes, pots and pans blankets and trampolines.

Needless to say after doing this for about 30 minutes as fast as we could go I was sufficiently sweaty. Sucks being old and out of shape…still fun though!