I like storytelling. The narrative is one of humanities most intrinsic abilities. The act of taking an event or an emotion, be it real or fictitious, and delivering it to another person is a powerful event. There are many ways to do this. The oldest, and probably my personal favorite, is by simple word of mouth. Writing too can be very effective. In fact I’m going to try to tell you a story with each post that I do. It may be the post itself or related to it in some way or it may be totally spontaneous. Whichever it is, I’ll enjoy writing them, so I hope you enjoy reading them. Then there is art. I want my art to tell a story. This is hard if I am not technically proficient, which is why I’m so fortunate to be able to attend a school like SMU and Meadows, where I can get some of the best instruction when it comes to not only playing my instrument, but also understanding what the music means. After all, the composer is trying to tell a story as well. If I understand that story, I can use it in my own. I was hesitant to study music in college, because I’m not sure where ultimately that’s where my career lies. But I wanted to play, and this way I know I’ll be able to. This way I can continue to tell my story.
I began taking piano lessons in second grade at the community school for the arts at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. In about fourth grade I learned a beautiful arrangement of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” for the Christmas concert. Once I had learned it, I played it constantly. I played it whenever I saw a keyboard. It is to this day one of my favorite pieces of music. The performance was flawless. I stood up from the piano beaming. I looked out into the darkness of the audience and the brightness of the stage lights and imagined all of the people rising to their feet to congratulate me on what must have been the most moving 40 seconds of music they had ever heard. This is it I thought. I am a musician! I bowed to my gracious fans and left the stage with a swagger unknown to most nine year olds. I didn’t stop smiling until I went to bed that night, and I probably didn’t even stop then.
A little later in my piano career, I froze at a concert. I could not move. This was not supposed to happen. Where was my lauded success of the year before? When I started to here the audience mumbling their “is that it?”s and “oh poor thing”s I got up and hastily walked off stage, completely empty of any pride or confidence. As soon as I passed the side curtain I sprinted upstairs to the bathroom and broke down in tears. I don’t remember the piece, which is interesting. Is it a good thing? They say the best athletes have amnesia because they can forget their failures immediately and move on to the next play. Is it a bad thing? Have I just repressed the bad emotions and from that day? Maybe it’s not important, and it’s just a trivial detail lost through the course of time. The next year I froze again. I was mortified. I had spent so much time trying to prevent this from happening again. But it did happen. I don’t know why. This time though, rather than the return to the stall of yester year I got up, turned, bowed, and returned to my seat. What was different between the two performances? Was it simply the maturity gained from another year of life? Or maybe the experience of my last previous moment guided me through it in a more composed manner. I don’t know what it was. And while I may not remember the name of that piece either I do remember this: I was proud of the second performance.
Those performances are moments that shape who I am as a person and musician. Which do you think is the most important, if any?
If you somehow managed to advance through elementary, middle, and high school without having to conduct a Science Fair experiment you have missed out. Sure, it probably saved you a lot of stress and maybe your school did some other kind of independent research project instead, but the act of answering a question that you ask yourself is very validating. Anyway most of you probably did have to do a science fair project, and in addition to the classics like “Which Paper Towel is REALLY More Absorbent?” and “Which Drink Gives You REALLY the Most Electrolytes?” you probably had the one kid you asked “Does Music REALLY Help You Study?” If I remember correctly, most kids found that it did. Who knows how rigorous there method was or reliable their data was, but they always seemed to reach the conclusion that music did help. If I’m reading or writing, the only music I can listen to is instrumental. Some cool jazz (I always dig some Miles or Arkansas’ own Chet Baker) or piano solos (Chopin or Debussy preludes are very frequent) are perfectly fine. Whether or not it helps me focus on what I’m doing I don’t know, but it keeps me from being to bored. If the words on the page or screen are beginning to swim around in my head in a bad way, I can close my eyes or look up and momentarily immerse myself in something else. Music with words just acts as an interference; it just means there are too many trying to come into or out of my head at the same time.
I don’t practice enough. That is one of my goals for this year: to practice more. Before I read those articles the goal was a little more specific: to develop a regular practice schedule, and while logistically I still think it would be best to find a time to fit my schedule, (which will be so busy with all of my music and engineering classes as well as all the organizations I want to get involved in at SMU) but varying the way I practice makes a lot sense to me. It seems to me that changing the location might be difficult since I don’t think my hall mates would be too keen on listening to me practice altissimo while they are trying to study, so I may be confined to the practice rooms. Integrating my practicing with other studies is something I definitely will try. I’m always listening to music throughout my practicing, trying to hear how I should be sounding, or at least how other people have sounded before me. After all, if I’m going to tell a story, it’s important that I’ve heard it before.
The other day some friends and I were studying. It was dead silent. One of them was studying for a chemistry test; the other was writing a paper for an English class. I was doing math. Then one of them stopped and said, “What motivates you guys?” Then he told a really bad joke and I threw my eraser at him.
I want to be able to do what I want, and not have to worry about what I need. That may seem vague and general, and it is, but that’s really what I’ve got right now. I find myself being interested in so many things that I can’t one way or the other pinpoint what it is that I want to be doing. I like being happy. I love being happy, and I love when the people around me are happy. That motivates me—to be a facilitator of felicity (pretty good phrase huh?) I like to take time off from everything. To just stand in a crowd or by myself and stop. People see me, and they ask me what I’m thinking about, and I honestly answer “nothing,” and it is liberating and meditative. Our lives are filled with so many distractions both externally and internally, and when I stop I can diminish both of them, which allows me to think more clearly.
I admit that I am not a very self-motivated. I am a terrible (or terrific) procrastinator. Part of that arises from my lack of organization, but part of it comes from the simple fact that I’m unmotivated to do it. I love learning; I don’t love school. I have a lot of interests, and I feel that academia does a poor job of enabling students to pursue such interests. To me the liberal arts are important; I want to have a breadth of skills and smarts. To other people, they are stupid. They want to know everything about a certain thing, and that’s totally fine too, but the problem is that school, doesn’t allow either.
…why did I start talking about that?
Here’s a rough version of my Elevator Pitch…what do ya think?
“Howdy my name is Neil Cameron Matson. I’m a student at SMU studying Engineering and Music. I play the saxophone, and I’m a music major because I love to play. Yes, I am extremely busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My music is a way for me to invest myself into a different kind of storytelling than the traditional word via mouth or pen. The creativity and collaborative skills that I cultivate being a musician will definitely help me in whatever career I decide to go into. Do you have a card? I’d love to invite you to one of my upcoming performances or get together just to talk. Here’s my card, check out my blog!”
I went to my advising appointment today to pick my classes for the next semester. I told my adviser (who is in the Engineering school) that I wanted to add a math major to my double major of Engineering (which I’ve now decided will be electrical) and Music. I’ll be taking the maximum number of hours possible next semester. As I was leaving I turned around and asked her if it could be done, and she said, “Absolutely, it’s been done before. You can do it too.”
A man wasn’t feeling very well. He went to a doctor to see if he could help him with his perceived ailment. The doctor walks in to the exam room and asks, “What seems to be the problem?”
The man promptly responds, “Doc, I don’t know. It’s really very strange: one minute I think I’m a teepee. The next thing I know I think I’m a wigwam! Back and forth it goes like that. I don’t know what to do!”
The doctor nods his head, and after a few moments of pensive looks he looks up and says, “I’ve got it.”
“What is it doc?!”
“You’re too tense.”
Whether you thought that was funny or not, I like to think that humor is one of my skills. I’ve mentioned how I much I like storytelling. The best kinds are funny ones. Everyone wants to be happy. To laugh. I think I’m pretty good at doing that.
I get a long with everyone. I feel really comfortable with myself and who I am, and that allows me to be very flexible with my register in an attempt to make other people feel comfortable with me. This doesn’t mean that I’m being a totally different person when I’m around one person or another. It just means that I take my audience into consideration. This is something that I need to as a performer as well. Playing Christmas tunes to a group of elementary school kids is very different from playing in a tux at 8 o’clock on a Saturday.
I’m not a big risk taker. I’ve always been afraid of conflict and saying no to someone. I also hate to quit. That’s not always a bad thing though I guess. I realize though that I’m in the perfect place to not only address these skill deficiencies but also improve the ones I have: college. I’ll never have another opportunity to try new things and fail. I need to take advantage of it. I used to be a pretty shy guy. My dad always told me I needed to get outside of my comfort zone. Can I do it? Absolutely, its been done before. I can do it too.
I don’t know what I want to do with my life. There are just too many options out there, and I just have too many interests to pin down exactly what it is I want to be or want to do. You might say it is indecision on my part, but I don’t think so. I find a certain degree of freedom of not having my future determined before it happens. I generally take things as they come, and I try to do things that I want (#YOLO right?) This is pretty evident in my choice of major here at SMU—or rather majors (Music, Electrical Engineering, and Mathematics just in case you forgot.)
I’m not saying that I do everything by the seat of my pants though. Just that there’s nothing set in stone.
There are some things that I know I need to do. First and foremost is to take care of the grades. Personally I don’t believe that grades matter. In many cases they in no way reflect true understanding and learning, but unfortunately a lot of other institutions do place a value on them (including the ones that help pay my bills here), so that makes them important. While it may not be the best indicator of accumulation of knowledge and the effort that one has put in to gain that knowledge, it may be the best that we have. Because of my decision to study as much that interests me as I can, I have a lot of requirements that need to be met in order to graduate, and graduating with the best grades possible grants me the best opportunity.
Other things that grant me the best opportunity are creating connections. Just as a general rule: if you know more people, you know more people that you can ask for help from. Networking has to be a part of my plan, and classes like FACE and Pathways in Meadows certainly help, but it’s also necessary to extend it to other classes and outside of the classroom as well. Hanukkah was about a week ago, and one of the presents my dad gave me was a pack of 12 Christmas cards that a local artist in my former Boy Scout troop produces for the troop to sell and send out. At first I was like, “Wow thanks, Dad! This is EXACTLY what I wanted for Hanukkah—to do more writing than I already do at college.” But I know what he’s trying to get me to do, and I appreciate it. Yes these cards are to send to family members and friends and the like to wish piece and joy and all that good stuff upon, but they’re also about keeping up connections. That’s important.
Musically, obviously my plan for the next four years is to continue to play and get better as a saxophonist and musician in general. The more I play and the more I learn about the music, the more success I will have. To me that success is playing, and being happy. If I’m not good I’m not going to be happy which is the first reason I do it. And if I’m not good people aren’t going to be happy when they hear me—which is the second reason I do it. So I’m going to take advantage of as many playing opportunities as I can manage and continue to practice my “craft.”
I realize it’s a pretty general plan: Get good grades, Meet lots of people, Study and Practice. But what am I going to do? I don’t know. I’m waiting to see where life takes me.