The elusive freshman glow

Last year, I watched a stranger try to get ketchup out of a near-empty container. Being me, I couldn't resist saying "aww..." and quietly cheering him on. We introduced ourselves to each other by first name, and then he smiled at me.

"You're a freshman, aren't you?"

I was. How did he know?

"You have the 'freshman glow.' Don't ever lose that."

And he left. I'd heard that from several people by then - that I had the "freshman glow." No one I asked was ever able to tell me exactly what it was, so I shrugged and continued with my freshman life.

I'm a sophomore now and I finally understand.

It's the excitement that people show before they begin college. It's those Facebook posts that say "So blessed to announce that I'll be attending -insert school-! Can't wait to see where these next four years take me!"

It's the Instagram post a few weeks into school captioned: "I love this campus! Love my friends here already. So blessed."

Blessed. Yes. I am. But when did I go from "so excited to be here!" to "I'm so tired all the time and every week is so long?" Somehow, I look at these posts and immediately think, "That person is going to stop saying this soon. That's where I used to be."

I look at a freshman with so much hope and energy in their eyes and listen to them talk about all of the organizations they want to join and all the good grades they hope to get.

And then I think... I wish that never went away. And lately, I'm starting to get it: freshmen come in here and they don't have to see the underlying issues of (American, at least) campus life yet. We were here when racist posts started circulating; we were here for the pro-life/pro-choice arguments; we are still here, frustrated with rape culture, frustrated with so many things that we can't change that we now understand represent a national and worldwide issue.

It's also a personal issue. Somewhere, we forgot that we can't keep running on energy if we aren't recharging it. When did it become okay to lose our sleep, our eating schedules, and every second of "free time" to pursue the perfect grades and all of the organizations we wanted to join?

Yes, the freshman glow is a thing, but I don't ever want to see anyone else lose it. Can we start talking about self-care and actually doing it? Can we keep seeing the good in people and hoping for the best, knowing that great things lie ahead in the unknown, even if we think we have a good idea of what to expect?

This life is ours to live and ours to look forward to. There's a certain glow that we can always look toward, and it's still there - we can't give up on it just yet.

They will never silence us.

I am shocked, angered, saddened, frustrated, fatigued, fearful, yearning.

I am all of these things, and more. So are many others.

We should never have lost black lives, nor police lives.

We should never have lost the lives of those in the Pulse nightclub.

We should never have lost Christina Grimmie.

We should never have lost any of these people, and more, of all the massacres, the killings, the bullying, the lynching... and still more.

Yet instead of uniting and building community, instead of supporting and loving the people around us who feel the same grief and frustration and desire for peace, we do anything but. Instead of love, hatred is spread. Instead of support, blame is given.

I have been discouraged, disheartened, sickened and tired. I have thought countless times that this is enough. I have shouted and screamed and tried to get the voices of suffering communities heard, and people who do not listen will not listen. Human nature is loathe to change, to admit wrongdoings and misconceptions. I have had thoughts of hopelessness, of despair, of giving up because this fight is long and tiring and seemingly endless.

I let myself feel it, and then I push on. I know the pain of my friends, of the people in my community. I know I am not alone. I know that once upon a time, the world was very different, and we pushed it to where it is today, for better and for worse in many respects. Change is coming. We can't afford to give up now; the cost that we suffer is, as much as it hurts, less than what we suffer if we stand by and stay silent during injustice. I am willing to take that backlash. I thank God for everyone willing to be part of it. For every act of hatred, we will replace it with acts of love and love and love and love.

They can hate us, accuse us, defame us, kill us. But they will never silence us. People die, but ideas and revolutions live on.

We will keep fighting the good fight.

Reflections from the SWAMTA 2016 Conference

This week, I attended the Southwestern Region of the American Music Therapy Association (SWAMTA) conference in Austin, TX for the first time! Some thoughts:

There is more to music therapy than just "music" and "therapy."
It's also about understanding our clients and learning both about them and with them. Many of our clients experience the world in a different way than we do, and we have to understand how they do and meet them there. There is no "one size fits all" sort of treatment or approach even if they have the same diagnosis, because everyone is different. As much as I think I can improve my musical and therapeutical skills, I must also learn how to understand, to love, and to really get to know each client through sessions and not through textbooks or case studies.

Everyone has something to teach and to offer. 
About 36 sessions were presented at conference; many were led by practicing music therapists and professors in the music therapy field, but a lot of them were also presented by students! Some students from our school also participated, describing their experiences and what they've learned or different possible interventions. Most of the attendees at this conference have been out of school for many years, but they came to student-led sessions, asked questions and paid close attention anyway. Since everyone's exposure and background is different, everyone has something to learn from each person - and vice versa.

I have a long, long way to go and I'll never reach the end.
At first, I was just excited, and then I was overwhelmed, and now I'm grateful and looking forward to the road ahead. Every time I learn more about music therapy, whether it's through books, classes or this conference, I realize how much more there is to learn and how many challenges I'll have to go through. I hear from nervous students in practicum but at this conference, I also heard from a professional with many years of experience who talked about her challenges with maintaining boundaries and continuing a healthy therapeutic relationship with her client. It will never stop being a learning journey and I will always have something more to improve, and that's okay. In fact, that's part of why I love music, therapy, and music therapy so much.

Even though there are things I can't talk about, I never have to do this alone.
Client confidentiality is one of the biggest things emphasized in music therapy and I will often be restricted from talking about my experiences with people or on the Internet, but it doesn't mean I'm isolated. I have colleagues and supervisors. I can talk to other music therapists. I can talk about my own feelings without ever needing to go into details. And I have family and friends who will be there and continue supporting me - no explanations needed.

How important are the arts?

Here is an article I wrote - an open letter to people who look down on the arts and/or those who start to wonder if they're right - and I want to take a moment to talk about why this matters to me. Too often, we hear people saying things like "Oh you're taking the easy path" or "Wow... so what do you actually intend to DO with your life?" We hear constant jokes about the "starving artist" stereotype.

Apart from getting upset, I think it makes us doubt ourselves, too. Or at least, it makes me do so, anyway. I start to wonder if I really am taking a self-destructive path, if I'll have no income, no credit, no stability, no way to maintain whatever else I want to do, etc. I hear about how only the best succeed and, knowing that I'm nowhere near the best, I spend many nights wondering if my practicing takes me nowhere and if I'm the only one who thinks my passions are worth following. But it's nights like those where I remind myself why things like music therapy exist now and why I love so many things in life but still love music and fine arts connection so much more than I do anything else. I think it's easy to know why we love what we love, but to never doubt is hard - and if even one person sees this and remembers why they love art, once loved art, or will love art, then I'll be content.


I just can't seem to say goodbye.

I'm an affectionate person: easily attached and never really able to un-care.

In my last year of high school, I thought I was so ready to leave. I wanted to leave what had become my comfort zone, to expand into the world and all the opportunities laid out there for me. And in a way, I have. I've left comfort zones I didn't even know I dwelled in, grasped opportunities I never dreamed would exist anywhere within my world. I'm in love with the people I see every day, my professors, my friends, my classes, all the different perspectives I hear and take in.

And yet. I always walk around with a little bit of wistfulness, some part of me longing for people and moments that were just magical. 

Almost everyone who talks to me hears, at some point, about John Carmichael's concerto that I played in 2014 with the SLHS orchestras. I don't think anyone ever quite believes me when I talk about it, because words are so insufficient - how can I ever begin to talk about why I cried the last time I performed it? It certainly wasn't just because it was the last time. There's just a certain magic in that particular piece, in looking out not at the audience, but at my conductor painting the air with her hands, at my friends making it happen, at the piano keyboard in front of me and marveling how this all ever came together to form this moment.

It was one of those moments that I can spend my whole life chasing a career just to try to feel one more time.

But I've learned how, in being so in love with that moment, I have to let it go to continue with my other Magical Snippets of Time. It's a lot like saying goodbye to my best friends, now moving on in college and living their dreams, now in high school and about to embark on their self-created paths, now here, tomorrow somewhere far away. You won't always be able to replace their part in your life; you just learn to live without. And a lot of it is about acceptance of the bittersweetness of it all. I keep thinking that I'll never have that moment again - I may or may not ever play another concerto with an orchestra, and it could be "bigger," but it won't be the same. And now I'm learning that it's okay. There's something different to enjoy in everything. I just need to be able to say to these moments and to my best friends of now, of the past, of the future... thank you for stopping by.

Music in opening pathways for connection

Three years ago, my youth group worked with Burmese refugees, or Sun Youth with their adjustment to America by teaching them about the English language and American customs. We did a lot of activities together to learn about culture and tutor them to get them ready for exams or job applications.

One instance in particular stands out to me: during our first time meeting them, a man in a corner of the room caught my attention. He refused to talk to other people, but he was cradling a guitar and I just wanted to listen to him, so I sat next to him. He glanced at me, but ignored me and continued. Suppressing the nagging fear that my presence might worsen his unease, I remained, listening to his singing and to the beautiful melody with foreign syllables. All I knew from the way he sang was that the song was incredibly special to him. 

I expected that listening remotely would be the closest interaction that this man would allow, but when he finished, he looked at me - paused - and handed his guitar to me. Uh oh. I returned his gaze with widening eyes, trying to indicate that I was just an amateur (who literally knew nothing but the simplest chords from Taylor Swift songs), but he insisted. It struck me then, that this was a crucial moment; instead of the other way around, he was reaching out to me... So I played. I played the few songs I knew and as I sang, I looked up at him and found that he was listening. His eyes darted between me and the instrument, but the curves of his mouth held a hint of a smile, prompting me to continue. I wanted to grasp this moment of connection for just a little longer, and by that point, I had forgotten everyone else. When I looked around the room, what beheld me was a small group composed of both Sun Youth and youth group volunteer members sitting in front of us, watching me curiously, at which point I both marveled at how quickly they'd gotten to know each other and became too shy to continue.

When I returned the guitar to the man, I thought he would continue ignoring me, but he just smiled, and, in broken English, haltingly spoke of his village and his past. The foreign song, he said, had been popular there. He revealed his name and we talked until the session was over.

From then on, we conversed easily at every meeting, but I view music differently now; it's not just a studiously practiced form of entertainment, but also a language in itself. As a writer, I used to think words were everything, but music, I've recognized, transcends that. Truly, "when words fail, music speaks."

(Fun fact: this is the experience that made me interested in music therapy. Still deciding between Piano Performance and that...)

Interpersonal connection, memories, and music

In our Music Pathways class this week, we talked about residencies, and one of the things we focused on is what makes people connect with what we perform. 

Why does music make people happier? What strikes a chord in the hearts of those who can’t speak? What connects us as performers to those in the audience who have lived decades longer than us?

Several students spoke up and offered ideas and experiences from performances we’ve done in care centers and community areas. Some of us play classical music with explanations of musical jargon. Some of us play movie music. Others perform Christmas carols, while others play simple art songs.

We focus so much on evoking emotion from our audiences that sometimes, we forget where the root of these emotions is: memories. 

Isn’t it? 

Why do people love Christmas carols? Music from old movies? Why are so many songs from the past so enjoyable to people of all ages now? What makes something timeless?

Not all of us can come together to love certain genres of music. Not all of us will even LIKE music. But even in the angriest of people, a fond memory just touches something that we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.