My Skills: Here and there

When I think of skills, I think of certain attributes that make someone stand out from the crowd–abilities that one has that no one else possesses. This semester I have slowly started to realize that although I may have many of these said “skills”, there are many other artists that possess them as well. So I began asking myself–how can I make myself a marketable product with unique skills that give me a personal and creative edge?

The best way to start would be with the skills  I know are already within my grasp. The the most important skill I try to maintain is my ability to stay personable and socially stable. I am a very professional artist to work with and I am always interested in establishing long-lasting relationships with my colleagues. Another one of my skills would have to be my professionalism. I have performed with many high caliber ensembles and I always show up on time and prepared to any performance opportunity. Although it is mostly a given, the most obvious skills set I possess is through talent on my instrument. As a percussionist, I am skilled in a variety of different instruments including melodic keyboards, piano, drums and many more.

That was the easy part… It’s always simple to name the basic attributes of the music school student… but now comes the hard part. How am I unique THROUGH skill? This is something that I plan to build on as I continue my career at SMU and I believe I will be successful if I take the right steps.

First, I need need NEED to make better social connections. As a commuter, it has been increasingly difficult to get to know my colleagues on a personal level. Hopefully within the next semester and the next few years I can make more relationships through organizations and performance opportunities. Next, I must make myself stand out through my unique thought process. This will be accomplished through my dedicate towards art integration. Integrating different fields of the arts has been a topic on my mind for quite some time now and I  hope to initiate a movement at SMU to establish a thriving organization dedicated to mixing art forms in every day life.

As my college years go by, I believe my skill set will also grow immensely with my work outside of the classroom. I plan to do study abroad in music as well as non-musical subjects. I also work around the North Texas area with high school bands as I am constantly meeting new band directors and music educators. This is something I hope to use as a platform through my schooling in music education and as a possible job guarantee upon my graduation. Finally, my skills with be solidified by my continuous dedication to my craft. Many times I find myself distracted by many other things that defer my from my education on my own instrument. If I keep this intact and do not fail to lose my curious drive, I believe I will graduate as a unique product that sustains marketability for a long period of time.

…but what do I WANT?

September 25, 2013

Motivation is a touchy subject because it is something I recently battled in my career as a musician. I’ve never had any trouble finding motivations to perform a task; however, I have come across obstacles when deciding which motivations belong where. For many years I have succeeded in the eyes of others because I have ensured my external motivations were on point, yet my internal motivations lost a lot of momentum in the process. A great way to explain my complicated drive would be to dissect my motivating factors and how they proceed through my mental and eventually emotional process. So here we go…

First of all, I would have to admit to my external characteristics of being a “strategic” learner. Like many of my colleagues in meadows, I was the shining star of my high school class—Valedictorian, Band President, etc. Many of these accomplishments came from my hard work and leadership abilities; however, in reality, many of these honors appeared because I did my best to appease whoever was my “judge” during the application. For example, in order to become the first in my class, I did an immense amount of studying, yet many of that studying consisted of memorizing the instructor’s answers instead of actually learning the material. On the flip side, I feel like there is a tiny bit of “strategic” learner in all of us. This little essence of appeasement helps us accomplish short-term goals in a larger scheme of knowledge.

Now that I have confessed my guilt of imperfect study habits, I can redeem myself by emphasizing my habits as a deep, internal learner. Whether I am in an academic or artistic setting, I am constantly motivated by my ability to learn and understand the world. It may sound very geeky of me to say, but I firmly believe that if college were free I would be here my entire life. My internal motivations arise from my comprehension of the world around me. That being said, I always try to not only learn concepts but also apply them to my daily life. I witness this every time I pick up a new piece of music. Solo literature (especially because it is much more intimate) allows me to not only dive deep into the meaning of the music but also to dig deeper into my emotional expression as an artist. I use these pieces as a motivation to not only become a better performer but also to understand myself on a deeper level.

Another great way to evaluate my method of motivation would be through the observations of Dan Pink. I often get a little defensive when it comes to subjects that are personally derived, but I can honestly say that these points are right on the money. The first two traits of better performance include autonomy and mastery—both of which keep someone focused and motivated. After the Cambridge study, it was concluded that people of different societies and different standards of living ALL responded poorer to a challenge when they were offered more monetary incentives. This all comes down to the last trait of a successful performer—purpose. When a performer’s purpose is undefined or true, how can they succeed? Personally, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the first two traits mentioned, but the purpose factor is one that I still continue to battle.

For a long time, my purpose was not clearly defined. In both academics and music, I excelled because I practiced, I studied and I cared. I never truly asked myself the question, “but what do I WANT?” It all seemed to have a purpose because awards and recognition always followed…but where was the purpose behind any of my actions?

Today, I try to find a purpose behind every action. Many times it is hard to define a smaller mission (like homework) in terms of a larger goal (like a degree); however, I try more than anything to keep moving forward. These days, I have also adopted an “enjoy what you have while you can” type of mantra. The things that I love to do are what I do. No, I don’t plan on being a professional musician in an orchestra—but I love music so I refuse to leave it. No, I do NOT by any means want to be an economist—but I know the subject is essential to my perspective as a businessman. All in all, I try to keep locating my internal motivations and using them as a primary driving force. At times my external motivations try to interrupt, but it’s better to be externally motivated than not motivated at all.

Where the musician ends and the Artist begins…

September18, 2013

I will never forget the last few weeks of my freshman year of college because they were the last few weeks of my first life. No…I’m not really a big believer in the whole reincarnation stuff…but what I DO believe is that by transferring institutions I made the biggest choice of my life thus far. In those last few weeks, I went through so many mental battles by the minute. Leaving a new home and an old dream seemed so difficult; yet, in one moment that all changed. As I was leaving a great private lesson, my instructor (as well as advisor) pulled me aside wanting to know why—why had I decided to leave. Sadly, all I could give him were confused murmurs like “I don’t know” and “It just doesn’t feel right”. If I could flash back to that very moment, I would inform him that the reason I left such a great conservatory was because I needed so much more than music. My art is and will forever be my life, but without my other values, my art is no longer mine.

These types of transfer difficulties are the first things that come to mind when I think of my personal drive. To put it simply, I am driven by success. Within that realm of success lies one pertinent factor—happiness. This will mean something different to every artist. Personally, I used to think my state of content was solely dependent on my success as a performer. Not until I reached my first year of a conservatory lifestyle did I realize that so many other aspects (like academics) were personally necessary for me to construct a perfect model of my success. All my friends used to laugh at me during my first year when I would post Facebook statuses that read, “I miss homework!” It was true! I will forever love the study of my art, but what drives me is a sense of accomplishment in many other subjects—especially the ones where I find more challenges.

Another aspect of life I have retired in the past few years is the need to always be the best. In the past I used to have a kind of unspoken obsession with first place; however, after transitioning into college I have realized that every individual is on their own path that they personally pave. In this sense, I am much more in competition with myself than my peers or classmates. On the other hand, success is about fighting for your placement and standing out from the crowd.  I believe I don’t necessarily need the first place medal, but if I don’t get it, I will do whatever I can to find a medal that shines just as bright if not brighter than gold.

What I value more than anything would have to be my education. Whether it is in the arts or any other field, I treasure my ability to learn new things. I also value many personal aspects of my life such as my family and friends. As much as I try to be completely independent, at the end of the day, these people are the extra push that inspires me to achieve so many of my goals. The last value on the list would have to be my opportunity as a performer. Getting to communicate with an audience on a deep, emotional level through music is something that I will forever cherish. Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons I transferred schools was so I could better integrate these values. I went from being an isolated performance major to being an open, driven music and business double major at SMU. While many people still call it crazy how I left that school, I call it logic. An institution like Southern Methodist allows me to better integrate these values and bring out many of my strengths, many of which are not in the field of music.

After all the mess I went through transferring to SMU, it feels reassuring to know that people support my efforts at reaching every part of my personal “package”. I could not agree with Mr. Jamal Story more when he states that, “you are the sum of all of your parts”. As I observe the artistic world these days, I see how so many artists are expressing themselves in more than just their known craft. For example, how many singers these days are JUST singers? I look at a celebrity like Katy Perry and see much more than a singer. Katy embraces her talent as a singer, an actor, a businesswoman, a dancer and her marketability as a role model. True, there will be the exception of singers that take up acting JUST for the extra money; however, it is obvious how successful artistry involves every one of the artist’s strengths. Personally, I pride myself on my many talents and achievements in various fields. I could never give up my success in academics for an isolated path in music (and vice versa). As I progress through school, I hope to use all of my values to construct a unique marketability that helps me stand out in the world of countless artists.

Hard Work… I think

September 11, 2013

Before reading these articles, I thought I could have possibly been one of the most productive and efficient artists out there. It’s safe to say that I may have been a little off the mark…No, I won’t be locking myself in the library any time soon, but I WILL be rethinking my daily work habits and how I can get the best out of my time.

I guess a great way to start would be to briefly describe my work habits. Whether it is through practicing or studying, my workday can be defined by one sad truth—caffeine. I use it as both a wake-up call and a motivator throughout the day. The more work I get done the less guilty I feel about my multiple Starbucks runs! Besides the necessary meals, I get through the day without a To-Do list. Funny enough, I am almost against making task lists because I try to accomplish smaller goals as quickly as possible from the time they are introduced or assigned. Other than that, I’m pretty simple when it comes to my work tendencies. As long as the job gets done on time and up to my high expectations, I’m content!

Now for the good stuff—how in the world can I learn from any of these habitual suggestions?? I think an approach with examples from my daily life would work best. One of the first topics I really appreciate is the benefit of repetition. Throughout my academic career, I have personally experienced how “cramming” or constant exposure to the material is unsuccessful. One tactic I adopted a few years ago is called my mandatory note-taking rule (original, I know). Basically, every time I take notes in a lecture I force myself to use a loose-leaf sheet of notebook paper—NOT one in a spiral. I then treat my notes as a homework assignment. Just like I would complete a worksheet for a grade, I transfer my notes into an “official” spiral for that subject. So… what does this really do? Well, not only do I get a second look at the material by copying it from one page to another but this also gives me a chance to pay better attention to the professor during the lecture. Since I am not worried as much about the perfection of my bullet points, I can focus a lot more on the material at hand.

I also enjoyed the perspective on one’s work location. Personally, I can’t stand to study or practice my instrument in the same place more than about five times… ever. Even when I go to Starbucks almost every day to finish homework, I sit at a different table with a different drink and make sure I am using a different pencil. Well… the pencil thing was overkill BUT I am a firm believer in mixing things up. Unfortunately, my necessity to study or play in different locations also worsens my biggest weakness in the work realm—multitasking. I am the biggest culprit for the worst practice method in musician history—practicing while texting. Even though it sucks up a lot of my focus and energy to reply to every ding that goes off, I still keep my phone near the marimba whenever I open a new piece. This is one of those tendencies that I work on as the days go by; however, I hope that one day my phone will end up turned off, hiding in the other room.

Obviously there are many more ways to improve my work habits, but as the article says, it all comes down to self-regulation and impulse control. I would say my strong points lie in my ability to control and ease personal stress as well as allocate my time efficiently. My weaknesses in this area would definitely root from outside distractions and the ability to set goals. While I manage short-term goals very well, I could definitely use more inspiration with my long-term goals and making sure they are completed. While I was reading the article, I kept thinking about the crazy kids in the marshmallow experiment. What amazed me more than anything was how every single child showed signs of anticipation. Even those that earned the second treat still thought about shoving the first marshmallow in their mouth at one point or another. This is how I see my presence in the work field as an artist. I am always so eager to jump to the next project that I often don’t work hard enough on the first. Instead of staying strong in one artistic area, I often move to the next out of simple distraction and lack of focus. Although these can be negatives in an artistic career, I am working to turn these downfalls into a positive experience. These articles helped truly dissect my work habits and I will definitely be using them for all they are worth.

An Artist’s Past

September 4, 2013-

Every day I can’t help but ask myself the same question—what type of artist am I? Most times I conclude that I’m simply a musician and a scholar. These activities take up most of my daily life so they must define my personal expression…right? On the other hand, I find much more interesting artistic possibilities when I dive into the diverse nature of my past. What I thought were simple childhood experiences may have actually been expressions that constructed my perspective as an artist today.

Rather than bore anyone with the year-by-year breakdown of my childhood, I can easily divide my past years into a series of artistic eras. My first time period would range from age 1 to 6—a “Medieval” eraof sorts in which I was constructing simple ideas through intensive listening. That being said, I accredit a major part of my early childhood development to my father, James. As a pianist who loved to practice from home, my Dad fed me artistic references through Mozart and Beethoven—simple yet mature musical statements that helped lay a foundation to my understanding of art. Through him, I learned to appreciate music and understand how it makes its own statement.

From age 6 to 8, I delayed my musical career and began exploring other forms of expression such as dance. With my two older sisters by my side, I learned various styles including jazz, tap and some aspects of ballet. These classes were my first exposure to true performance and placed emphasis on the discipline of a rehearsal schedule. Around the same time I began venturing into the realm of sports. Funny enough, many people refuse to associate “sports” and “the arts” in the same category; however, I truly believe that learning a sport, just like learning an instrument, is a valuable form of expression. For me, the sport of choice was basketball. I spent countless weekdays learning the technicalities of shooting, dribbling and passing. On the weekends, I spent my days travelling from one tournament to the next. Many children enjoy the social aspect of sports and fighting for a first place title: however, I was much more interested in understanding and perfecting the details of a new craft.

I am a firm believer in the universal balance of all elements—without darkness, there could not exist such light. My personal period of dimness occurred between age 8 and 9 at the height of my parents’ divorce. These few months would be described as my personal “Dark Age”. On an emotional level, this time period was fragile, yet from an artistic standpoint, this moment in time was pivotal. At the time I didn’t seem to understand the meaning of love, of life or of the world. Looking back now, I see how that confusion constructed from parental separation forced me to start seeing like an artist—seeing the light that exists within the darkness. Although these few months lacked an intense drive or productivity, in the grand scheme of my perspective, they were essential to my growth as an individual.

Unfortunately, many suffering artists let the fires of negativity consume their life and dim their expression. In my case, I decided to rise from the ashes and rebuild any lost thoughts. From age 10 until the present, I experienced an era that could best be descried as my personal “Renaissance”. In essence, this word means “rebirth” and I was reborn through the art of music. The beautiful works of Mozart and Beethoven that my Dad always played began making even more sense as I joined junior high band. I began playing percussion, understanding rhythm, appreciating melody and even experimenting with the tambour of all of the different instruments. In a sense, this rediscovery of music truly saved me from an artistic downfall. Not only did I feel a sense of belonging in an organization but I also found an activity through which I could understand myself a little better. The more I played music, the more I seemed to form a connection with the artist within me.

Today, I am thankful to be able to express myself through music on a daily basis. Still, however, I find myself retracting to my original question—who am I as an artist? How would one define my existence as an expressive being? Not until I examine my life story thus far do I realize that the beauty of an artist is how he or she cannot actually be defined. Many people don’t know that I also enjoy classic novels, explore modern dance in my free time and that I also have a fascination with how DJs mix modern pop music. True, every artist will have different interests, but these varying interests and unique backgrounds also give each artist their own, individual existence in the world. In a sense, asking “what type” or “what kind” in reference to an artist is pointless. There is no other type of artist than the artist himself because the complexities and unique past lives of each gives them their true identity.

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