Recent adjustments to the timeline of operation “Leave-Michigan-Move-to-Oklahoma” has pushed back the blog post. I am now writing, not from Kalamazoo, but from Petoskey, Michigan. I had previously planned to have the next two weeks to pack my worldly possessions little by little but alas, opportunity did not knock. Instead, it just kicked the door down while singing in the voice of Pavarotti since I was asked to play in the pit for the Bay View Music Festival’s production of La Boheme. So, in four days, everything got boxed up and packed into the van so that I am ready to drive over a thousand miles to Oklahoma on Saturday/Sunday.
News flash: Between the expedited packing/moving and the rehearsals, I failed to realize something… The blog turned 2-years old this summer. That’s over 24 months of publishing my personal take on my professional activities online. Sometimes I feel like the description that was made by an existential philosophy professor about the human condition. Man, standing on the edge of a cliff, shouting into the void but hearing nothing in reply. Here I am, sitting at my laptop, sending my thoughts into the abyss of cyberspace with no way to know who is reading… Whatever the case, I’m still here. And if you’re reading this, so are you.
I’ve been reflecting on my time in Kalamazoo. None of this transition to Oklahoma felt “real” until I was driving away from the house I have lived in for two years and I said to myself, “that’s no longer my house.” Then it hit me all at once like a train of Choo-Choo-All-Aboard-To-Oklahoma. But then I ate some fried catfish and I felt much better (shout-out to anyone who has been to Fish Express on the Eastside). Even before the whirlwind moving-out process, the end of summer has been productive. In the last three weeks, I have played with the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra, finished a year of teaching for Marshall Music of Portage, played with Southwest Symphony, said goodbye to the twenty students I taught this summer, and have been neck-deep in La Boheme pit. The struggle has been trying to figure out how all these pieces of the puzzle connect.
If there is one thing that I have learned since finishing the M.M. at Western Michigan University, it is that two is always better than one. As musicians, there is a tremendous pressure to develop our technique, musicianship, and professional position in the world of the performing arts. And while this is our own responsibility as artists, it is nearly impossible to do alone. Or, to propose a positive thesis, while there is personal satisfaction in improving yourself, your playing, or your career, the greatest joy is what can be accomplished as a team.
I feel that many of the seeds that were planted in grad school are now coming to bear fruit. University Symphony Orchestra, the Graduate String Quartet, Birds on a Wire, Cellicatessen… I didn’t fully realize what my purpose in these groups was. I think being neurotic about “am I doing this right” blinded me from the guiding principal that so many teachers have taught over the years. It’s about the music. Their words fell upon slightly deaf ears, not because of lack of experience or willful ignorance, but because of lack of perspective. It was when I was alternating between playing in and conducting the cello ensemble at Interlochen that the spark met the tinder. If you haven’t heard one before, a group of cellists produces one of the most full, rich, and resonant sounds imaginable. Yet, when each person dedicates themselves to making a group pianissimo sound, it is truly awe-inspiring. It is an effect that could never be created by just one cellist. Like the stars that form the night sky, one star on its own can be beautiful, but the constellations in their multitudes, inspire something magnificent.
Thus, the highest order was what individuals could produce together. What I experienced upon this awakening from my anxious little brain was a wave of tremendous relief, a feeling of liberation that great art, beauty, or expression didn’t depend on an individual’s talents but on the individual’s dedication to a higher calling… the music. And the more I put that first, over the hours, the pay, the politics, or the personalities, the more simple practicing, rehearsing, and performing became. I knew what to focus on. I knew my function and purpose. Most of all, I was happy with what I was doing.
I realize how little I myself have achieved, but how much I have accomplished with the help of others. I know that I am not the man in the bleak picture of existential angst, alone and uncertain, but that I am part of a vast network of family, teachers, colleagues, and friends. On that note, I am looking forward to expanding the network and forming new bonds in the coming year in Oklahoma and online.