My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Learning from musical kids being kids - Just being myself

I am thankful to be living where we are.  After growing up in San Francisco and living in many other culturally busy parts of the country, some folks seem shocked that I can stand living here; that I find myself thriving musically; that I have enough to do to keep my insatiable musical appetite satisfied.  But it's true.  And so much of what feeds me is the inspiration I get from the young musical kids I work with on a daily basis.  As I talked about in my last post, my passion for telling stories through music has been reignited since moving to a more rural community and today I want to share what I've learned about just being myself when I'm performing and when I'm doing anything related to music.

Most of the kids here do not grow up steeped in classical music.  We are surrounded by bluegrass and celtic bands and musical jams of all sorts in the local restaurants and in the smaller communities around us are regular occurrences.  I just discovered that a young cellist friend of mine, a teenager, has recently been invited to stop by and join in with a celtic band that rotates between eateries in the different counties around here.  She's a teen, they're grown adults, but that's just the way it is around here and her willingness to put herself out there, to try something different, has really made an impression on me. And she's not the only one, really.

This weekend I attended a small, intimate performance given by two young cellists.  The younger one is somewhat serious in her cello studies but what she really seems passionate about is singing and poetry.  At this performance she chose to sing a few songs while accompanying herself on her cello.  These were beautiful ballads that I was not surprisingly unfamiliar with but that shocked me with their incredible depth of emotion.  And here was this young girl truly doing something she loved, but that wasn't such an easy thing to do.  In one of the songs she played with her mother who was playing guitar and both sang, with the young girl singing harmony along with accompanying them both.  It was an unbelievable experience to be a part of because hearing her play and sing felt like looking through a window into this girl's heart and soul.  I know that classical music can also sometimes do this, but I don't know how else to explain it - this was different.  Or was it?

I know so many younger people here that are easily able to slide between one genre and another and what I find so important about this is that what they're doing in the end is making a way with music that is entirely their own.  It represents them, their talents, their interests.  They don't seem to worry about whether or not they have enough experience or training.  They try it and it just happens - no feelings of right or wrong, no worries in the end, because what really matters is the experience and the musician's presence, not perfection or success.

Ahem.  I can't say that's happened much thus far in my personal musical life.  But that's not to say that I'm not trying to learn from these open-minded kids.

My dear cowgirl puppet!
I haven't gone out on a limb myself yet and joined a local jam session but what I have started to do is not worry about genres, labels, or expectations.  I feel, I play, I love, without concern for my reputation as a classical musician and all that stereotypically entails.  And what I'm discovering is that although I love music and am very serious about it, I am still largely a kid when I can and want to be.  I don't want to shy away from being lighthearted and silly when the music and the situation allows.  Last year, at a performance given by a local cello studio, I chose to play Lukas Foss' Capriccio on the cello, which to me brings to mind images of cowboys and horses doing their thing on the prairie.  I had recently found a hilarious, spunky cowgirl puppet at our local toy store and decided that she would simply have to join me on stage for the performance, precariously sitting on top of my scroll.  Was I a bit nervous about this?  You bet.  Did I think twice (or three times) about following through?  You bet.  Did it make it slightly challenging to play?  Yep. But in the end I went through with it and I'm so glad I did because it enabled that performance to truly represent me and why I loved the piece as much as I did.  And guess what, people smiled!  People smiled!!  That, my friends, made it worth it because the piece has always made me smile.  

So you heard it here, folks.  I am trying on a daily basis to be more of who I am when I'm at the piano or cello and to be ok with that.  I'm trying to realize that people actually like who I am, both as a person and as a musician, without the stereotypical classical music cape of seriousness and sophistication.  Yes, much of the time I have that cape on, but I'm warning you, I may just toss it all off when you least expect it in honor of what I've learned from all these kids that surround me.  

Anyone want to join me?

To read the first blog post in this series:
Learning from musical kids being kids - Telling a story


  1. Erica - Great post. I love hearing this. I'm impressed by your willingness to share just how deeply these experiences have affected you and led you to reconsider things.

    I'm sure you've heard the famous Picasso quote, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." We can learn a lot from kids. When kids are "being kids," they're at play. They play games, they play dolls, they play sports, they play lots of things. The fact that we PLAY music should remind us that it can be fun, social, and personally expressive. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic with that, but something to aspire to anyway!

  2. Bob,
    I've always loved that Picasso quote. And it is so very true. That's why I'm particularly thankful, I guess, that I'm around kids so much these days.

    I'm hoping to write another blog post in this series about a kids' concert we just did. We got over 80 thank you notes back from them in response to the event and it really is amazing to me what leaves the most impression on these kids. Some are surprising, some are not, but I find them all instructive about how people of all ages respond to music.

    And I love what you have to say about PLAYing music. That word says it all to me, really. May I keep remembering what play is all about :-)

    Thank you for joining me here, Bob, and your comment.

    All the best,

  3. I. Love. This. Post! And I love your cowgirl puppet. :)