Plan

My mom always told me to start mazes at the end and work backwards. Beginning at the end may be paradoxical but it is also a very useful tool for more than mazes on a cereal box. To make my four year college plan I looked ahead to where I wanted to be at the end of my undergraduate career. I see myself as a music therapist, probably working in a hospital so that I can work with a wide range of clients from people with cancer, those going through bone marrow transplants, dementia, and brain damage. I also will be getting an internship in music therapy who knows where in order to finish my necessary credits after graduation. That leaves four years at good old SMU. As much as I have enjoyed my incredible teachers and classes this first semester, I know that spending my entire undergrad at SMU, in Dallas will get old. I mean honestly, how long can I feign interest in conversations about bar tabs and people getting punched and using their dad’s credit card?? The answer is: not long. Therefore I know that I will travel abroad for my first semester Junior year. I haven’t decided exactly where my study abroad will be but I know that in order to make it happen, I have to make up my practicum. I have to say that I felt set back when my academic counselor told me that I couldn’t study abroad because I would miss a whole semester of practicum which could not be made up anywhere else. Au Contraire, Mon Frere. Dr. Krout, head of the music therapy department had told us about this trip to Jamaica through a program called Jamaica Field Service Project. The slide show in class looked amazing and I was definitely interested in going. But it costs $5,000 to go. The plus side is that you get 3 practicum credits…the equivalent of a whole semester…I found my key to studying abroad. Second semester Junior year I will be in Psychiatric Music Therapy, Practicum, Hand Drumming, and Conducting. As of now, I am into the program for this summer and can’t wait to work with my first “clients”. As for the next semester and following year I will keep trucking through school and join a sorority. To break it down even further, this week is the last before reading days and finals and I will be spending most of my time in the library.

Having a plan that I can work towards gives me something to look forward to and a definite advantage. “You don’t waste time do you?” my voice teacher always says to me, and no ma’am I do not. I know where I will be in 3 weeks, 8 months and 4 years but everything is subject to change and I am ready for whatever will come.

This is our last assigned blog but let me know if there is something else that you are curious and I will do some more! Happy Holidays

 

Your son is very skilled

Skills is such a relative term. Depending on what job or what field one works in, a certain attribute can be either a skill or a detriment. Our prompt this week was to discuss what skills we have, what skills we need and how we plan on obtaining them.

My tool belt is equipped with skills that have gotten me to SMU studying music. I know what I want. This sense of direction is especially important to me because now that I know what path I want to be on for undergraduate studies, I can get organized and work hard. Introspection has also been vital in figuring out what I want to do. I consider my ability to understand what my heart is telling me a skill.

One thing that is both an angel and a devil on my shoulder is impatience. Not wanting to wait for anything makes me push myself to learn very quickly what my teachers want me to do and how to get an A. This attribute is very helpful in that I am efficient in my voice lessons and in studying; but it also means that sometimes I don’t give myself enough room to just process. This devil side of impatience goes hand in hand with my impulsiveness. For example, if I am doing something new in a lesson or in class and I don’t get it right within the first 5 minutes I automatically think that I am bad at it.

I know that it is so important to just let my voice grow. Being more patient with myself is a skill that I will definitely work on throughout these next four years by practicing more often with more breaks in between to let my brain catch up with my spirit.

The Audience

I recently read two blog posts and listened to an in class lecture about “Being a hero”. One thought was that we follow the “Journey of a Hero” or a “quest”: start with a goal, sleigh the dragon, get swallowed by a beast and be reborn into the world. The lecture argued that this whole idea is a metaphor for your own life.

For me, the quest has been following my gut in order to figure out who I am. The second layer is getting to know my dad through people’s stories and a connection in general. Of course there is more than just “The Quest” going on with family, friends and school work, but the underlying theme is still prominent.

The dragon in the story could be anything. For most people it is the ego. Now, my mom and I have spent lots of time in the car together and once listened to Eckart Tolle’s book all about the ego. He describes it as your inner voice that tells you anything and everything about who you are. I completely buy that. I believe that the ego is something that can take over one’s world because I have seen it! (There’s a lot of that goin on in the music world :). That dragon is extremely important to sleigh if you want to get to your real self, the one that listens to others and doesn’t automatically relate it back to themselves, the one that sacrifices for the well being of others. That self is the one that is the most true in my mind.

But honestly, I don’t like the idea that I fit into this formula that is “The Quest”, so I’m just going to keep singing for whoever will listen and hope y’all will like it.

Right now music therapy is my main study and I am so moved by everything that it can do. With this major I will serve those who need a connection. Lots of people with disabilities cannot communicate verbally and need music to portray their feelings. My audience will not only be made up of people with serious handicaps, but of those simply wanting a meaningful connection. Because my father died before I was born, I have been on this search, this “quest” to find a connection to him. The most potent one I have found is through singing and being myself, sans ego.

With love,

Maggie

Fire

Sitting in the opera tent in July at Interlochen Arts Camp listening to my fellow campers whom have been trained since they left the womb, been in professional operas before, and are studying to be coloraturas. And then there was me… about 10 voice lessons later, singing the equivalent to “Fur Elise” in the opera world. I was a little emberassed. I was not upset at my parents for not being stage parents, I was not upset that I spent most of my time in my 3 years of high school playing sports, working and hanging out with friends. I was motivated. I knew that I could be just as good as these kids if I took the time. I could not imagine going back to a regular high school for the next year. Interlochen Arts Academy was the most perfect way to spend my senior year and I took this plunge because I realized that I could do better than what I was doing before I went to camp and school.

Seeing anyone “better” than me lights a fire under me more than anything. Just like almost every human being I compare myself to others. If I hear someone my age singing with more technique or skill than I do, I will practice 10 times harder than if I hadn’t heard him/her. This competitiveness is what drives me to take chances. For artists, I feel that it is very important to never be content with your current level of excellence. We surround ourselves with talented people to be challenged. If you are the biggest fish in the pond, you have no where to go!

Money will never be my only motivation. Dan Pink summarized that if you are faced with a challenge that involves any sort of cognitive or creative task, money will not make you do better. Employees want to direct heir own lives and master a task. Studies mentioned in Pink’s presentation proved that if business people are let to do whatever they want for a whole day, they come up with better material, ideas than if they were doing the same rudimentary work all day. My take on this new information is that people enjoy being challenged without the idea that they are doing it for a certain amount of money. I chose to do music therapy as my major at SMU not to make a million dollars before I am thirty, but because helping people makes me feel so fulfilled and like I am contributing to society.

What makes you want to work hard? Respond and let’s compare.

From the legs

Support seems to be the most valuable thing in my life. Without it I would not have been able to take chances, have faith in myself, or be able to sing.

Breath is the most important part of support;and support is the most important part of singing. Without a big breath that engages your diaphragm and inflates your lungs, singing would be nearly impossible. Last year at Interlochen Mr. Norris taught me to “support the support” which comes from your legs and booty. This tactic made high notes incredibly free and much easier. I took Mr. Norris’ advice and thought about how it applies my childhood.

My family makes me feel so privileged. When I was growing up I rarely felt as though I had lost my dad. They filled me with love and confidence. Seeing my family in the audience of almost every performance made me smile on stage. After hearing “you are so talented, we are so proud of you, etc” you really begin to believe that you are talented! This idea that I have something special has propelled me through the hardest times. I have been able to take chances in auditions, big decisions and just life in general because of the support around me.

I so appreciate everyone that has been there for me (friends and family alike)!

Work Ethic

September 3, 2012

Cater to your senses. I think that it is important to figure out what you are most sensitive to and manipulate that factor. Supposedly I am an auditory learner, but taste and smell also have a great effect on my memory.

Music, as we very well know is powerful. In my last post I toyed with the idea of connections and how singing makes me feel closer to my dad. Sound can also help me focus, and free my mind.

The only way that I can force myself to run my 2.5 miles a day is to blast highly womanizing, explicit music. 50 cent, Eminem and Snoop Dogg usually do the trick. I don’t know if it is that I want to run away from the degrading lyrics or what! But it works. The only way that I can study is, inversely, listening to Maria Callas’ 100 Best. There is really no in between for me.

As suggested in the article below, physical exercise can help make your “hippocampus” bigger…that sounds good to me! Running also helps me relieve the stresses of the day and release my creative side. Letting my mind wander for 30 minutes is sort of like “free time” in fifth grade. Then I could ignore my teacher telling me that I was too young to have a boyfriend, that my social studies skills were not up to snuff and the rumor that I snuck out of my house to visit this boyfriend (I’m still bothered by that!); and now I can forget about whether there is a schwa or an open “e” in my aria, that I have to write paper on WWII, and the fact that I have strep throat. It is simply a time to explore.  My exercise time and right before I fall asleep are my most productive, creative times because that is when I am most relaxed. I have found that writing down tidbits of what is bouncing through my brain leads to some solid material.

Study breaks and deferred gratification are also a big part of my work ethic. I have a typical case of mother-diagnosed ADD, and because of that I have to give myself little goals for 2 hour periods. I am also highly food driven. Making up little games for myself is usually the best way to get a paper or homework done. Example “If you get the first page of the music theory homework done in twenty minutes or less you can have two fig newtons”. (this is the sad truth of what I talk to myself about). Although I usually go for a third fig newton, I am sure that I finish my homework much more quickly than I would if I had been eating fig newtons the whole time I was attempting to study. The second article says that those who have the ability to delay a reward have more success in personal, artistic and academic realms. Who knew that making myself wait to eat fig newtons would make me more successful!

Crazy Theories of Mine:

I sleep with a noise maker every night and am convinced that I can’t sleep without it. Some call me a baby, I call me comfortable.

My junior year of high school was particularly difficult. I knew that I had to work the hardest this year because I had a much larger course load and had APs to study for as well as finals. I had noticed that I am very sensitive to smell and taste. When I have a memory (fond or unpleasant) it is usually triggered by a smell or a taste and not any sort of visual. For example, whenever I taste a devil’s food cookie I think of my Grandma Harper and whenever I smell something like moth balls and dust I think of riding on my Grandma Strahm’s rocking horse. I decided that I could use this quark to my advantage. As there are no cookies allowed during final exams I thought of using flavored gum to trigger my memory during the test. About two months before my exams started I laid out five different flavors of gum and assigned them to each class. I then chewed this flavor of gum in my five classes, at home studying, and during tests/quizzes leading up to the big exam. note: make sure not to mix up the flavors! That year I got the best grades on my finals ever and received Headmaster’s recognition as well as High Honors. Yippee! If you try it let me know how it works out for you!

I am curious to know what works best for other people! Please write back and tell me how you study best and if you also enjoy the serenades of D-O-double G.

Ps. the referenced articles are in the comment box

My Story

August 27, 2012

Maggie C Harper

Music comes from a place so deep within that we can only access it through breath. Breathe in and feel those around you. I feel my dad, whom I never met and never will meet after the accident. I feel my family’s nurturing gaze and I feel the path that my dad has lain for me.

Growing up with my grieving mother and sister is a blur. I remember running to my grandparent’s house which was perfectly placed behind ours and eating devil’s food cookies. Grandma would say “don’t get crumbs on your britches”and I would giggle as my sister would brush my pants and scarf down a few more cookies. We fed the fish with my Grandpa’s shaking, sickly hands around ours. I heard his song about the Blackbirds and her song about the trapeze artist as we swung on the monkey bars. These tunes soothed me. My mom sang too and gave me every children’s movie with a song to watch and listen to. Cookies=grandma’s house. Cookie monster=grandma’s house.

My mother’s grandparents adopted my mom and 2 other children and also lived close to us in Kansas City. Now that I think about it, I am not really related to most of my “family”. Maybe that is why I feel so warm when I am with the Harpers eating devil’s food cookies. My mother’s side of the family is also quite religious.  We would go to their church almost every Sunday, which was hard to sit through as a toddler. My cousin reminded me the other day of when I started belting out the “C is for cookie and cookie is for me” song during a service at that lutheran church. I simply wanted to be eating cookies instead of sitting in the hard pews of a very lutheran church…I wanted to feel warm.

Music can take me to a different place, as I realized when I was two years old in church. It made me feel closer to the family that used to include my dad. They were the equivalent to my dad in my mind. The fact that my dad had passed away and would never truly see me started to hit me at points that I didn’t understand at the time.

After almost every musical performance that I did from 5th grade as Cinderella to my junior year as Marion the Librarian, I would sink into this very bitter and depressed state. Everyone in my family, from the Harpers, to my mom’s parents to my step dad’s family, would come to my performances and give me hugs and kisses and flowers. They thought that I was crying tears of joy after a great performance, but they were really tears of grief. I selfishly wished that my dad could have been the only one in that theater.

I still don’t really know how to start listening when people say “he was watching over you during that performance”. But maybe this logic explains why I feel sort of possessed when I am on stage doing a big show. Is it that my hours of practice have become my body and or is my dad really “watching over me”?

Believing that he and I have a connection through music has made my outlook on his death much more positive. I looked for ways to strengthen that bond with him and went to Michigan. It was all by chance that I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for a summer and then my senior year of high school.

I was in a voice lesson (one of about 12 before I was a senior) and my teacher suggested that I go to a camp for the summer. I decided that spending another 3 months on the lifeguard stand might be a little redundant and agreed. She had gone to Interlochen for 8 summers as a youth, which was fairly convincing. We put together 2 classical songs and my step dad filmed me singing them in October of my junior year to be submitted as an audition. Here they are: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P244A-rCjPM and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_hEkzQXoFQ
Flashbacks!!

So I ended up getting into the Vocal Soloist program at Interlochen summer camp and had no idea what that meant. I bought the camp uniform off of ebay and hoped for the best. My mom’s parents sweetly agreed to drive me all the way up to Interlochen, Michigan, on the way to a Lutheran convention, of course.

As we drove up the very rural roads of Michigan I thought of my dad and how he lived here with my mom and sister. I pictured my mom getting the phone call that her husband had died in a plane accident as she sat just a few miles away from where her unborn child would go to camp and, eventually, school. I had been to his grave in Kansas annually but nothing made me feel as close to my dad than being near my parent’s old house in Michigan.

I realized how powerful this sense of bond with my dad was when I was able to ignore all of the pitfalls that happened at camp and have the best summer of my life.

My summer camp voice teacher and I did not get off to a great start. She had me start singing the song that I had prepared the least for and, immediately after my first lesson, changed my part from Susana in the Figaro scenes to Dorabella in a much shorter Cosi fan tutte scene. It took me a long phone conversation with my mom to realize that it was okay to be discouraged. But I knew that I was just as good as everyone else at the camp, I had just been distracted by sports, family and friends at home and did not get enough practice singing. This was the motivation that I needed. I knew that I had to get focused quickly if I wanted to go to college for music. The head of the summer program, who became my amazing voice teacher at school, mentioned that there was an Academy and if we wanted to hear more about it we should come to the meeting. I went to the meeting and called my mom immediately after to tell her that I was going to audition for the Academy and she would need to go to a meeting with the admissions department when she came to pick me up in 2 weeks. She was supportive but had never ever thought that I would leave home a whole year earlier for school.

After my mom came to our final performance and saw me in this new and invigorating environment, she was sold. I came home and told my best friend in the world that I wasn’t going to finish high school in Kansas City, that as long as I got a bit of money from Interlochen, I was going there for my senior year. She cried and I cried.  I ended up writing one of my college essays about this experience and drafted a title “the summer of tears”. Deciding to leave everyone was horrible but to tell you the truth, I had never envisioned myself graduating from Pembroke. When I pictured myself as an older student, it was never there. I had squeezed every drop of artistic opportunity from Pembroke and it was simply time to take a leap of faith. I knew that my dad would have supported me and my mom was so proud of me for following my heart.

My time at Interlochen was filled with practicing, meeting people, improvement and auditions. I could never have gotten into 6/8 music schools if it wasn’t for my teacher, Mr. Norris. Being that concentrated on music was the best thing for me at that time. I cannot imagine going for more than one year, it was extremely isolated and lonely at times, but I also cannot imagine not going!

When I was hearing back from schools I made at least 10 pros and cons lists. I ended up visiting 4 final schools and found that SMU was extremely nurturing, in a great city, and incredibly fun. I said yes to a scholarship that I couldn’t do without.

note:during this process my whole entire family was unbelievably supportive, as always!

I really appreciated Liz Lerman’s motives to get back to the free and emotional side of one’s art. For me, singing gives me an incredible feeling of accomplishment and a connection to my dad. Because of all the ups and downs in my life I believe that I am a much stronger and more mature person. I still have a lot to learn about music and cannot wait for the next 4 years! Please write back if you have any sort of urge to!