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!

Twitter Profile

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”.

The things students do

The past four weeks have been quite difficult for me. I had to take a significant amount of time away from my day job as a middle school music teacher to care for my father. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that as I continue to cope with losing him. However with all that has happened, my students remind me (yet again) why I am a teacher, by creating this message for me.

They did manage to include music we have been studying and a song I made them research earlier in the school year. Great way of connecting our curriculum. Nice job Soundview Class of 2017.

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.