Music… Time to Say Goodbye? How?

Another nervous day.  I’m afraid this post will be boring…

I saw a new therapist today, and he told me that I have to “relax.”  We figured that I’m always ALWAYS thinking, and it makes me exhausted.

My job performance has been less accurate lately.

I took a job at a local music school.  To make some extra money, to get back into it.

Can I do it?  Or should I give up?

I’m trying to listen to music now, to just get back into it.  But maybe, music is my alcohol.  That one drink, and I’m gone.  But then, things like “music therapy” puzzle me.  Music is “so healing.”  And yet for me?  Is it dangerous?  Why?  Why!!!??

I want to be normal.  I want to get to the point where I can live a life, where I can hide my illness, and that it won’t make a difference if I disclose or if I don’t.

Really though, is this the best thing?  I guess.  It gets to a certain point that, when we reach towards recovery, we have to leave “the past” behind.

But can I leave it behind?  Can I?

I have aspirations to maybe become a “music therapist.”  But that could be a death sentence for me.

I wish I could ask other people for advice.  What should I do?  I don’t know what to do… tell me.  Please.  I’m begging you.  But I realize, I can’t.  I’m turning 30 in November.  I don’t have the luxury of being young and inquisitive anymore, at least outside of a classroom.  I can’t ask people anymore, How do you do ___?  How can I do what you do?

I don’t know if I’m reaching a new point of transition, or if I have just reached the pinnacle of what I’m capable of, and that I should just stay where I am.

Maybe I should stay here.  Right here.  I started teaching music classes on Saturdays, at a local music store, to earn some extra cash.  My mother told me that I should keep the job… she’s really disappointed that I squandered my money on that woman who said she was going to heal me of the “demons.”

Gee… she preyed on my need for guidance, didn’t she?  I am afraid to make decisions for myself, so I deferred to her and her “psychic wisdom”… and I piddled the money away.

Should I stop?  I need to… prove to myself that I can keep my job for the long term.  I was thinking of applying to get a masters in music therapy for next year but… I’m not ready.  And I don’t know if I can do it, honestly.  And, if a full year passes, I have the opportunity to apply to get a masters in social work from Hunter, and my job might pay for it.  Maybe that is a better idea.


Music, and its Therapeutic Purpose

Spoke to my brother last night about music.  It’s strange.  I, the “classically trained” one, know far less about practicing diligently than my brother.  He is self-taught on the guitar since high school, and is also considerably younger than me.  He’s a young adult now though.

“When you practice, concentrate on your fingers.  Think about every minute detail.  Your fingers, touching the string at the right spot, the pressure you’re using.”

I had just picked up a guitar lying around in my house when he said this to me.  I took a pick, and was playing a scale.  My fingers fumbled around, making all sorts of mistakes.

“When you play, you’ll make all sorts of mistakes in different places.  Just think about every time you make a mistake, what happened… what you did wrong.  And then focus more to fix the mistakes.”

This was totally alien to me.

“You know… for so long, there has been a disconnect between my mind and my body.  It’s been virtually impossible for me to even have the mental clarity to do what you’re saying.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just lose yourself in the practicing.  Don’t think.  And just play whatever.  If you explore the instrument, you’ll naturally get better.”

Again… alien.  For years, I couldn’t practice in this way.  My practicing was… well… mindless.  I never practiced, actually, except to “cram” before a lesson.  How did I get to where I did?  No idea.  Was I talented?  I guess.  Maybe the beginning music was just easy?  I heard the songs I played way before I started them, with those Suzuki tapes.  And so I just got by.

I remember in college.  I began to find the viola fascinating, in that it had this capacity to “heal.”  Schizophrenia spoke through the notes, and music became a sort of yoga to me.  It made no sense though, and there was no way I could explain it at the time.

Overall, the art of performing music is a lonely, solitary one.  And I’m a terribly social person.  I hate being alone, because… there’s no reason for me to have thoughts in my head when I’m alone!  For example, in my solitude, I enjoy… visual art.  Lately, I’ve been making collages out of postcards.  Some I’ve received from various corners of the world, others are unused, new purchases.  I look at cards, and my intuition says “that one” … and then I take it up, cut out whatever it is that fancies me, and I put it aside into a pile… and then I’ll think, “put that one over onto this card” … and then I’ve created an abstract scene.

Something about visual art is freeing.  And maybe… it can be a way for me to express my delusions.  Or fears.  And it’s a way for my mind to be entirely blank and silent.

But I also think that I’m becoming more normal.  As my fear of music lessens, I begin to realize that I am, like everyone else, human.

It’s an odd feeling.  Because mental illness makes you feel something else.  Alien?  Unable to understand the basic “language” of emotion.  Someone says, “I’m sad,” and you think “wtf do you know about sadness, you bitch?  I cried till my heart turned purple, and then I slept for 12 hours.”  I remember one time, right before my first psychotic break, I cried bitterly while taking the train.  And then my nose started bleeding.  I thought my heart was crying.  This happened twice.

Psychosis kind of does that.  It fucks with your mind.  Perhaps, though, it’s simply an overactive imagination, ill-used.  For example, during my discussion of music with my brother, we watched a YouTube video of a man with Alzheimer’s, otherwise mute for months, coming alive when therapized with music from an iPod.  The video is here:

My brother and I agreed that music is perhaps a new frontier in mental health, mostly yet unexplored.  But then I had a fear:

“What if they start to discover ways to use music in ways to create biological warfare?”

Panic.  But my bro was unfazed.

“No, that would never happen.”

I suppose he’s right.  Perhaps this is just my anxiety, or my psychosis.  Or is it rather, creativity, misused?  Indeed, it might make a good sci-fi story, to create a scenario of that.

But I’m lazy.  Once the fear is driven from me, I no longer care.  Perhaps I could be hired to be a “think tank.”

But then again… I’m normalizing!  My fears are leaving me!

Still though, there is pain.  Yesterday, I played a song I wrote most recently.  It’s about a woman who is abused by her husband, isolated, and then bears sons who do the same to her.  As I sang the lyrics, I cried, babbling.  The song is so goddamned depressing, I can’t get myself to learn it.  My bro responded thus:

“You know, I don’t like to hear songs that are self-abusive.  I mean, you can write about negative stuff, but lyrics shouldn’t beat you up.”

Really?  I mean… the pain in the song that is expressed, is a very real pain.  One that I saw in my own home, with father reigning terror.  I have a close friend also, who was also terrorized by her former spouse.  My song gives her pain voice, so that she doesn’t feel isolated and alone.  Rare is it, that one can wield language effectively enough to give voice to the blank experience of panic and trauma.  It is a rare gift I have, I’ve discovered.

Regular people choose not to dwell on negative thoughts, because it brings them down, and that feels uncomfortable.  But with mental illness, we have no choice but to feel negativity, or discomfort.  It is as if our brains attack us, and we cower in fear.  Our brains… they attempt to erase our personalities, and substitute our very identities with a warped sense of reality.  Our brains tell us how the world is, and we are unable to discern it for ourselves.

Christians call it demon-possession.  Is it?  Some claim that prayer or energy work can remove this discomfort.  But for me, only Clozapine works.  Many people are disdainful of medications, perhaps because they were coerced into taking them, or perhaps because they have caused debilitating side effects.  And then others are simply ashamed of meds, due to societal stigma.

Honestly, I don’t care anymore.  Me, on Clozapine… I’m living my dreams now.  Nay-sayers can’t cause me to cave into stigma.

I’m considering music therapy, not only as a career, but for myself.  I have to find out… can it help me?  Or is it just a fluff profession?

Music Therapy: Shall I Continue To Enquire?

A quick post today, as I must exercise.

Music therapy?  Is this a profession for me?  Or is music simply a prison for my mind?

Why has my mind reacted so terribly to music in the past?  Is it because of the music itself, or because of the “conditions” it came with?

Me, a highly musical person.  Raised in a home where there was shouting from my father.  His voice made the air tremble.  His shrieking was at a demonic frequency.  I remember hiding myself in a room, by myself.  But I couldn’t hide what I heard.  Banging.  Shouting.

At my grandparents’ house, there was just the radio.  Me, playing with my little Sylvanian dolls, with screaming people like Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh.  I didn’t really know what they were talking about, but they were just screaming.  And also, I was a Suzuki violin student.  Which meant that I listened to the same songs every day, for years.  The Suzuki method is such, that it encourages parents to play tapes of music that the child will eventually learn.  But for me, the tapes were the only music I ever heard.

Not that I didn’t hear other music.  But… I was a “musician.”  I was more “educated” than the average person, and so average music wasn’t for me.  But… looking back on it… me, and all my music education… robbed me of the innocence of simply enjoying music.

Because I always “knew better.”  I “knew better” than Green Day or the Beatles or whatever.  The first non-classical music that I ever loved was Sean Paul.  In the 9th grade.  Because… I broke down, ended up in the hospital, and that’s what the kids were playing in the day room.

That music… represented freedom.  That late 90s Caribbean music, Reggae Gold ’99… it represented everything that I hated, spun to gold.  When I left the hospital, I quit the viola, and listened to Eminem instead.  Again.  Freedom.  And with Eminem, sharp intellect.  I guess.  I identified.

I’m almost 30.  I look back, and I think that, as much of a musician as I am, trained and all… my life was so devoid of musical enjoyment.  Music was a source of misery and hatred.  It was a prison.  It’s sad.  Those who are talented enough to be excellent musicians, are also subject to the most horrible of musical tortures.  “Perfection.”  “Practice makes perfect.”  “Elitism.”

We are not in the 18th century anymore.  We don’t have to repeat a passage 100 times to play it well enough without mistakes.  You just record it, and fine.  I mean… yes, it is important that people continue this tradition.  But that mentality is not required to move someone’s spirit.  Is it?  I play here and there, with my mistakes, and people think it is wonderful just the same.  I have seen people play the most difficult pieces on the violin, and I am not moved a bit.  Or a small child play the simplest tune, and I am affected.

What is going on here?

I am at a crossroads now.  As a mental health worker, do I dare integrate music into my work, or do I veer away completely?  I know that the first step in music therapy work, is to do some work on myself.  Am I exempt from it though?  Am I a person that rejects music, when it helps so many?  Am I “allergic” to music?  Or have I simply been malnourished?

I recently read the book A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer.  The writer retells his childhood, where he was terribly abused by his mother.  As a child, abuse was all he knew.  But his story gives me such hope.  If I, a musician, only knew the sounds of terror and repetition… even I have a hope of a future that is filled with beautiful sound.

I feel somewhat like a feral child.  For example, I couldn’t tell the difference between Billy Joel and the Beatles until I was about 25 years old… I began writing my own music a few years ago, and everyone was so surprised that it sounded like nobody else.  Except maybe Gilbert and Sullivan.

I must exercise now.  But I want to continue fighting.

I like the German word for poison: “Gift.”  Indeed, music is my gift.  And my poison.  Perhaps it is also my cure.

Music: The Final Frontier of My Mental Illness

I have something heavy weighing on my heart… my brain… everything.  And there is no short way to explain what is happening to me… what has happened to me for years.

If it could be one sentence, it would be:

“Music destroys me.”

How can it be, though?  Isn’t music something enjoyed by billions of people?  Isn’t music considered to be soothing, healing, energizing, and overall positive?  I understand how people object to negative lyrics influencing people, but… this is not what I’m talking about.

For me, there is something about music that destroys my brain.  I have no idea what it is exactly.  Maybe it is the experience of how I hear music.  Especially acoustic, unamplified music.  It makes no sense… but I need to make sense of it.  Because, if I investigate my mental illness under a microscope, trying to understand it… THIS is the nucleus of the matter.  THIS is the root.  THIS is the seed of where it all began.  Is it?

My father was abusive before I started playing music.  Granted.  I had a shitty art teacher in kindergarten who demanded that we color in the lines.  Granted.  But… when I started classical violin lessons in the first grade, just before I turned 6… something happened.

I loved music.  So fiercely, that I considered all other music to be evil.  I shunned it from my life, and devoted myself to studying only classical.  I was unable to even comprehend non-classical music.  It felt like baby music.  The chords structures, too simple, had no memorable characteristics for me to grasp.  Melodies too, monotonous, lacking floridity… forgettable.  And lyrics?  Unintelligible.  Nor did I care what anyone had to “say.”  For me, music was MUSIC.  Sound.  Harmony.

And protection.  Music shielded me from the evils of the world.  Music shielded me from social pressures.  Or did it?  Classical music… it always made me feel like a loser.  Beyond normalcy.  I was constantly paranoid.  I feared that everyone around me… all the kids… if they knew I liked classical music, they’d hate me forever.  HATE me.  HATE me.  My fear… no one really knew about how deep it ran in me.  But it did.  Every time I was forced to listen to pop music, I’d turn up my nose and say it was stupid.

Why?   Why was I so … elitist?  Why?

I remember… I always sat in the passenger seat of the car while my mother drove.  Just the 2 of us.  I’d ask her to put on WQXR, the public radio classical music station in New York City.  The strains of violins and orchestras would feel like home.  But it was a SECRET.  For example, sometimes, we’d drive in at Wendy’s and order salads or whatever.  We’d drive up, and I’d frantically say, “Turn it off, turn it off turnitoff!!!”  She did, of course.  I guess it didn’t seem very noticeable to her, my fear.  But I was so afraid that I would be caught listening to classical music.  SO afraid.

Being a musician… was my identity I guess.  Weekly private lessons.  Group music lessons, string orchestra and music theory on the weekends.  It was like this solidly for the first 5 years of my studies.

I guess a part of my musical identity… a BIG part of it… was the presence of my grandfather.  He was a nice enough kind of person.  He himself was a thorough musician.  As a young man, he played clarinet, and had also began studies at Juilliard as a pianist when reaching college age.  Finances during the Depression forced him to drop out though, and so he worked as a bookkeeper and played big band gigs on the weekends.  During World War II, he played clarinet in a band that entertained the troops.  He was a musician through and through.

When I came around, he was retired, but he still played his tenor sax every day.  I remember, when I’d come home from school to my grandma’s, eating my cookies and milk… his strains came from the bedroom.  I remember his rusted music stand that would only extend so far, so stiff it was.  As a kid, this was my musical heritage, as I understood it.  Grandpa, and then his brother and father both, musicians.  My grandmother’s brother, a pianist.  My mother’s brother, a former pianist and oboist.  But he gave it up after high school, because he was a very nervous guy who got stage fright.

For me, music was my identity.  After cookies, I’d sit on the floor and put the Suzuki violin tape in, and sit in front of the little radio, listening to it play.  I’d just stare at the radio I guess.  Maybe I’d read along with the music.  But mostly I’d just stare at the radio.  The sound had shape and form to it I guess.  It resonated in my head as such, that it would occupy my attention 100%.

This was my identity.

My grandfather would urge me to practice a few minutes a day, and I did fine enough.  The tunes were easy, I got by.  I would advance to the next song each week at my lessons, and I felt accomplished.

But I hated his presence at my group lessons.

I remember, on the weekends, me and the other kids in my program at the local community college.  We’d stand at the front of the room, the teacher playing songs with us, the accompanist banging away supportively… and my grandfather in the background, just staring.  He felt like this ghostly shadow that never would go away.  As I got older… 9, 10 years old… he was still there.

And it sucked.  After one class, there was a break, during which the other kids would leave their violin cases with their moms, and then run around outside, playing.  My grandfather never let me play with the kids though.  During lunch hour, we’d find an empty classroom, and then we’d just sit down, silently.  I’d munch on a sandwich.  No conversation.  I never really had any conversations with him.  There was nothing to talk about.  And not once did I ever play with the kids.  As we got older, they’d still chat with one another, friendly-like.  But me?  I didn’t know them at all.  We’d never had any conversations, me as an equal.  I was always a silent bystander.

I guess… now, these days, when I listen to music… this is what I feel.  Fear.  Isolation.  Abuse.  Really… could I call it abusive, if one prevents a child from playing with other children?

I think this is the main reason why I fear music so much.  It represents a BARRIER.  A thick, impenetrable wall between me and the world.  Music, it is that tower in which I, the princess, am stuck.  Forever.

Music, and its place in my mind, has destroyed me over the years.  In my “tween” years, I started experiencing extreme depression when I played music.  Tears, sadness.  ISOLATION.  The violin, I knew, was something that made me different.  Practicing in rooms by myself… I felt like that kid in the classroom with my sandwich… all alone.  Not even allowed to enjoy myself.

I tried to divert the pain by switching to the viola.  It required less practicing, so I survived a bit longer.  But by the 9th grade, I collapsed.  I had my first mental breakdown, and upon leaving the hospital, I begged my mother to let me quit music.  “Why would you want to stop something you’re good at?”  She didn’t understand… I didn’t understand.  But she let me.

Later on, I started viola again, and then got into conservatory for college.  I studied.  I practiced as best as I could.  But still, the grief and pain always crept back in in the practice room.  The pain… it was so vast, beyond what I could understand as a young adult.  Eventually, I tried to heal this pain with meditation… spirituality.  I thought that if I found peace in my spirit, this pain would end, and I would be a super star musician as I wanted.  I joined a meditation practice that had a branch in my college, and eventually took a trip to India to meditate with the guru.

But instead of peace, I only got schizophrenia.  Now, instead of sadness in the practice room, I had messages.  Nothing audible that one could call “voices…” but certainly, words, sentences, messages that were not mine.  At the time, I chalked it up to spiritual wisdom, or experience at least, and so I cherished these voices.  The voices… they told me how to practice, as if it were a kind of yoga.  I began to love violin technique… or the “posture” and “physical setup” of playing the violin.

It descended into madness eventually, and I was hospitalized again.  This time, it was schizoaffective disorder, and I had to drop out of a masters program.  Music had destroyed my mind.

That’s what it feels like.  It feels like MUSIC DESTROYS MY MIND.

My uncle often says that my mother “ruined” me with music.  That my mental illness is due to my musical studies.  My mother says this is impossible.  But is it?

Maybe.  After leaving college, I stopped playing for a year.  Then, I started teaching violin lessons, which I enjoyed, so I went back to school to become a public school music teacher.  Halfway through, I took a job teaching music at a private school… and then I had a breakdown where I thought I was the reincarnation of Beethoven.  So I quit.  My life fell to pieces again.  Again… MUSIC was the fault.  Too much music.  Too much sound.  Too MUCH.

I taught privately still, after losing that job and leaving music ed. school.  But that all ended when I descended into further madness, this time thinking I was the Antichrist.  I was hospitalized for 3 months solid, and I lost all my students.  After leaving, I was in rehab programs for the rest of the year, and then in January 2014, I reinvented myself by going to classes to become a peer specialist.

For the first time, music has NOT been the focus of my life.  And for the first time, I’M FUCKING HEALTHY.

I’ve been thinking now… perhaps I can make a few extra bucks as a music teacher.  I went to a local music school, and applied to start giving lessons.  On Saturdays, I go there now… I finished 2 weeks so far.

But I don’t know if I can keep going on.  Symptoms are sort of… returning?  NO ONE UNDERSTANDS.  NO ONE.  No one understands what happens in my head, if I start to define myself as a musician.  I start to feel pressures in my head… my forehead, my sinuses, the top angles of my skull… it feels as if someone is pressing on them.  My ears start to feel clogged.  And I feel a sense of dissociated fear.  It feels like prison.  It feels like madness.

Why?  Why is it that, a gift I have… is USELESS to me?  I am an incredibly talented musician.  I have a passion for violin technique… or I feel like I SHOULD.  But maybe I just don’t.  Maybe I DON’T like music, and this stuff that I experience, the mental illness “backlash” … maybe that’s just my body’s way of telling me that I don’t like music.

Everyone experiences schizophrenia differently.  But for me… I feel like there is the desire in my heart, and basic “common sense” … and then there is the illness.  And the illness says NO.  It tells me…

“No, you can’t play music.  I won’t let you.”

“Why do you want to listen to music?  You’ve heard all the chords and interesting chord changes for years, and there’s nothing left worth hearing.”

“Don’t listen.  It’s noise.  Akin to a bug buzzing.”

Is this voice me?  So many people would tell me that it is not.  This negativity could never be me.  We should always try to “reason” our way into positive thinking, I guess.

But… if music destroys me so much… why?

I’m trying to understand this right now.  Because… I want to make extra money as a musician.  And I want to contribute my gift to help others.

[This entry is long… eek!]

I have been able to circumvent my disgust for classical music by becoming a songwriter.  After the breakdown where I thought I was Beethoven, and after quitting my school teaching aspirations, I tried my hand at songwriting, and attended dozens and dozens and dozens of open mic nights.  Four years later, I’m now a mature songwriter, and am able to now facilitate a music/songwriting class with my clients at work.

It’s funny, I love brainstorming songs with clients.  I feel like… music actually serves a purpose.  One time, we were writing a song about bullying.  As we brainstormed the lyrics, we got into discussions on what bullying was about.  Other times, I’ve been just encouraging clients to come up with ideas.  They might sing a bar or 2, and then I turn it into something that we can build further on.

Someone suggested to me that I become a “music therapist.”  But then that would require a fucking masters degree and school and debt and shit that I just… don’t need.  Not that I don’t need a masters.  But I don’t need the formal shit to tell me how I’m going to use music therapeutically.  Because I have MY way, that works.  I know it works, because I try things with clients, and then I improve my methods.  My personal style, now developing, is one that is being developed in the ACTUAL FIELD.

I don’t know what’s happening to me at the moment.  Always, there are ups and downs, triumphs and slumps.  I just had an eating slump, and a house cleaning triumph.  Now I’m trying to initiate an eating triumph, and now I have a fucking music slump.  My mind feels INFECTED again.

Is this the beginning of my demise?  Will music destroy me again?  Or maybe… maybe I’m approaching this evil demon, but now I’m strong enough.  Because now, I’m a mental health professional.  I’ve learned about the peer specialist movement.  I’ve learned about wellness and recovery, and how to use tools like the Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  (WRAP)  And I’ve surrounded myself with mental health professionals, and clients, and everyone of these people serves to educate me, and make my life meaningful.

Whatever pain music has caused me… it is useful to me now.  It is not “tragedy” or “waste,” because now, all my shit now makes me armed and ready to help others in mental crisis.

Maybe… maybe now, I’m approaching the queen bee of my illness.  The hive.  The mother ship.  Will the illness fight back?  Will I have to cower in fear of my illness, avoiding music because it is outside of my control?  Or will I prove triumphant?

Am I Finally “Normal?”

For the first time in my life, dare I say… I am starting to feel “normal.”  Not mentally ill anymore, or rather… I don’t feel “different” anymore.

So often, people say that being “normal” is not a good thing.  That it’s boring and mundane.  But for my entire life, that was what I long for, more than anything else.  To be freaking NORMAL.

It’s normal, to bond with people that you go to school with.  It’s not normal to look at all your classmates as enemies who ignore you because you like classical music.

It’s normal, to find things to laugh about during your day.  It’s not normal, to feel hatred and bitterness whenever you see people around you smiling.

It’s normal, to be able to do whatever you put your mind to.  It’s not normal, to be attacked by your hateful brain whenever you try to achieve something.

I remember, especially during college, when I studied viola performance… the practice room was a torture chamber.  When I started playing music, my brain would short-circuit.  The music would cause me pain.  I would start crying bitterly.  Why?  No idea… I only thought to myself: “I suck.  I suck.  IsuckIsuckisuckisukisukfds…”  Emptiness.  Despair.  Music hated me.

Near the end of college, the tears turned into delusions.  Viola technique became a type of discombobulated yoga.  The goal of music was Enlightenment.  I created energy when I practiced, and the energy talked to me.

It sucks, going to a conservatory, where music has a profound meaning to everyone’s lives there.  Music: a form of art.  A way of expression.  A thing of beauty.  When for me… music was never this for me, at least not past my early childhood.  For me, music was a rite of passage, that I kept failing.

For years, I’ve hated musicians.  Because I feel like I have nothing in common with them.  I suppose now, I realize that I dislike “classical” musicians in general.  They’re not terribly creative.  They play pieces well enough, but they can’t compose.  And even those who are “composers” … they’re too “educated” to compose a pleasant melody.  It’s all this atonal garbage now. “Gestures,” conveyed by fists banging on a piano.

I rebelled against this classical culture once I left college, and started writing my own songs and lyrics.  It’s funny: my songs have pleasant melodies and traditional-yet-innovative chord structures, which sound more like the classical period than these “progressive” composers with their atonal garbage.

But whatever.  I don’t have to worry about these people anymore.  I’m out of that hole.

Let’s return to being “normal.”

For the past few days, I’ve returned to practicing my violin.  I’m working on some etudes by Dont, and I might go over some intermediate repertoire.  Stuff I never learned, having switched to viola at around this stage, when I was 11 years old.  I’ve started teaching violin again at a local music school, so I want to start living the life again.

But it’s not about socializing with other musicians.  It’s not about performing music even.  For me… it’s about the journey.  The independent pursuit of bettering myself.  My character.

For years, I never understood the phrase: “You can do anything you put your mind to.”  But now… I might have a chance at it!  I have many interests, and I’m pursuing them all, little by little.  I’m teaching myself Dutch.  I’m practicing violin.  I prepare lesson plans for a children’s music theory class.  I write my pen pal letters in German.  I decorate my room at times, with photos and also collages, made from postcards I got from around the world.  I exercise… although I had stopped for a bit due to a bum elbow with tendonitis.

Many things.  At times, I’m afraid.  Afraid that I can’t keep up with the momentum that I’ve created for myself, finally.  I don’t want to fall again.  Because I’m higher up than I ever have been before.  And if you fall from higher up… it hurts more when you hit rock bottom, I assume.

But maybe, if I fall again, maybe I won’t fall all the way.  Maybe this time, I’m stronger.  I hope so.

The Teaching of Classical Music is an Endangered Art…

These days, I have not felt compelled to write.  I am striving to remain more anonymous.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to publicly acknowledge that I have mental illness, and I want to share my stories with others in order to help the cause at large.

But… recently, I have decided to revive my career as a music teacher.  I was lucky enough to be hired by a local music school in my area, and I’ve already been assigned a few students.  I’m teaching violin lessons, a voice lesson and a music theory lesson.  All of which, I’m quite qualified to teach.  I’ve played violin since age five, and studied pedagogy intensively at the college level, more than anyone knows.  I live for violin technique and posture, even more than the music itself.   Regarding voice, I’ve sung my whole life, and learned to sing with freedom and relaxed technique from an expert singer, educated in the bel canto style.  And theory?  A snap.  I will likely inherit some piano students as well.  I am well off enough to teach beginners in this instrument.

But as I teach… I realize that I have lost many many years.  At my age, 29, there are scores of conservatory-trained musicians who have impressive performance credentials, and are maintaining respectable private studios where students pay $50 an hour or more.  And yet, I know that I teach better than most of these people.  In that… I just know.  Everything I teach has a pedagogical purpose.  Much of it is preparatory even for concepts introduced years later.  Whereas other teachers say, “Do what I do.”

Another term for “Do what I do…”  is this:  “I don’t know how to do it, but I know that what I do works.  So just copy me.”

News flash:  THAT’S NOT TEACHING.  And yet… people who teach at this inferior level are employed at our nation’s top conservatories.  They are winners of competitions, and then they get cushy professorships.  Many lack even a Bachelors degree.  And we wonder why classical music is a dying art.

As a teacher, I set the bar high for myself.  Not only do I want to teach my students to play with expert technique… but I want them to also understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  So that it’s not just about “copying,” but it is about self-awareness too.  And also about developing a vocabulary.  I talk about bones in the body, using their proper names.  Scapula, jaw, clavicle (or perhaps “collar bone” for ease of understanding).  I talk about bouncing the knees to encourage a natural spine.  To children!  When they understand their own anatomy, they can then take ownership of their technique.  That results in greater confidence, and satisfies curiosities as well.

Many students don’t follow a teacher’s orders to improve technique, because they don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re being instructed to do.  Usually, this is the result of the teacher not giving enough of an explanation to the student.  The idea is to SATURATE the student with enough information, that the student no longer has a question about why ____ is done the way it is.  Once the student understands, the only task that remains is to simply practice the concept to perfection.  It is cumulative.

This confidence… it can be developed from the very beginning.  At the first lesson, a student is potentially set up for life.

A lot of conservatory professors figure that they are too advanced to teach beginner students.  Yet they fail to realize that everyone once started as a beginner.  Their lack of “patience” with beginners, is simply another way of realizing that they don’t know how to teach technique.

I find often, that musicians are inarticulate people.  Verbally.  They are not eloquent, but rather the frustrating silent type.  They listen to music and feel happy, or they feel ____ feeling while they play their music.  For me?  It’s just technique.  That “emotion” you’re feeling when Brahms writes a pretty strain… that’s a simple matter of chord progressions and melody intertwining, with a structure of notes.  It’s a freaking science.  People think if you do vibrato on a certain note, that it has greater feeling.  WRONG.  The feeling is written into the music by the composer.  Your job is to just play what s/he wrote.

You might wonder… where is the creativity in playing the violin?  If I am decrying the role of a musician as a non-creative discipline, then perhaps it is unappealing.  Where is the motivation?

I answer this thus: a musician’s role, is to have perfect mastery of technique, in the sense that the layman audience can appreciate the posture of the musician visually.  This then piques their curiosity to then pay attention to the music.  This is not due to the squints and hunches and “acting” that a musician does when playing the violin.  Wrong.  This is burlesque.  Observe Heifetz and Oistrakh and the other former greats.  They don’t act while playing the violin.  They simply play it.

When music is excellently executed… you can even hear the posture.  You can hear the way the person is holding the instrument.  Perhaps this is my schizophrenic imagination running wild here.  But… is this not the blur of the line, between music and dance?

We classical musicians should be ashamed of ourselves.  We fail to reproduce.  We fail to share our craft with the future generation, because we’re too busy accumulating credentials on our resumes, of having performed with ____ at _____ concert hall, having won _____ competition, now teaching at _____.

Who cares?  Do you have social skills?  Are you a nice person that gives your gift freely?  That is what matters more.  Because the more snotty you are, the less people are going to care about your music.  And that is not only a disservice to you, but it is EVIL.  Centuries of effort of musicians has gone into the discipline you now cherish.  Yet your arrogance endangers this art into extinction.  Professors and the like should be ashamed of themselves.

Afraid of the Police. I asked for help, and was stigmatized

Something has recently happened to me, and I want to share my story with people at large. Both to reach out for help, and also just to heal myself from this pain.

Beginning in the end of February of this year, I ran into a woman in the street, who told me that I had an “amazing presence,” but there was something she had to tell me. I paid her $120, and she told me that I had demonic presences around me that she needed to get rid of. I continued to see her for about 6 months. During this time, I paid her over $9000 for items that I largely never received. I paid $1200 for a crystal that probably cost $100 at most, probably $75.

I felt so compelled to go, because she played into my exact weakness. I have a long long history of having religious ideations regarding my illness. When I am unwell, I believe I am the Anti-Christ, and that I am personally responsible for the suffering of every living thing that has ever existed on Earth. During this time of seeing her, I of course confided in this woman. She told me that, if I stopped seeing her, I would end up back in the hospital. She told me that the demons had my afterlife, that I’d go to hell, and that I needed to see her to stop this from happening. I was paying her $300 each time I saw her, but she said it was not fast enough, so I sold a possession of mine for $900 when it was worth $3000, so I could get the cash fast. I neglected paying my bills. I was so scared.

About 3 weeks ago, I finally told all my friends, and they told me to break away. I was scared. I went to my local precinct, they said I had no case, and that it was a civil court matter. Went there, they said I need to hire a process server. The process server, unfortunately, needs a name and a photo of the woman, neither of which I have. She called herself “Sister ____”. Went back to the precinct…

I was trying to tell this cop what happened. The entire time, he was looking down and writing in some book. No eye contact, no “face” contact even. I was getting teary. I was trying to say that she exploited my illness for the scam. All I said was, “I have a mental illness,” and then he said, hostilely, “I can tell.” Then I tried to continue, and he said “Did you take your meds this morning?” I tried to say that I have a sterling reputation at Zucker Hillside Hospital for compliance, but he cut me off and said “Do you want me to call the hospital?” I shut up and left. I was so scared. If I had said one more word, I might have been pinned down and handcuffed.

I need to go to the DA, hopefully next Friday, and request to be connected to the precinct’s detective. But I’m so stressed and scared, and I feel like none of it is my fault. I’m telling my story, because I’m in pain emotionally, and I don’t know who to turn to. I just want justice to be served. I don’t even care about the money, although I know that I’m ruined financially. What happened to me? I am trying to live my life, and people exploit me. Something has to be done.

Thanks for reading.