Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On failing well

Recent political events have really put a serious and gloomy feeling in the air. Many are afraid of losing their health care and benefits and that's not even half of what is going on. Rather than continue to focus on the negatives, I wanted to share with you a story of my favorite failure story.

A few years ago, I took an online jazz improvisation course. I was in way over my head as the course covered material that was new for me and a real stretch. I was excited by the challenge though and did my best with each homework assignment.

However, when I began to get zeros as my grade, (by other students in the class) I was at first very offended. I went on the forum for the class and wrote them a note, "To all of you who gave me a zero..." and I told them how hard I tried. But you know, we are not graded by the effort we make. We aren't graded for getting out of our comfort zone and showing the world our vulnerability. We are only graded by the final results and outcome of our efforts.

Each week, I had to post my recording and analysis of jazz tune. I had never tried to play a solo before on the guitar with a recording and all of the scales and chords and rhythms were pretty challenging even for the advanced player. I was failing the course but I did not know it at the time. Zero after zero, I still believed in what I did. It was hard to read the critical comments on my solos.

Then one day I got silly. We were to record a solo for this interesting Carla Bley song, "Olhos De Gato." I tried so hard to get a good recording but after about 49 takes, I decided to just wing it. I turned on the recording, whooped and hollered and laughed through the whole take. It was the best thing I had done in the class! It was definitely not a very good solo (especially after I lost focus halfway through) but it makes me laugh every time I hear it.

I love it that I got a zero for this. It makes me see that we don't have to do things for the approval of others. We can do it because we enjoy it. If trying something new means I fail to impress or to get a good grade,  it is worth it for the laughs it will always give me!

"Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it. " - Oprah

Here it is for you to laugh as well:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Day and making a difference

Yesterday was election day here in United States. I woke up in a good mood and after breakfast, I drove to cast my vote. Later, I arrived at the school where I teach music and while I waited for my students to arrive, I watched the voters come and go. After waiting for a long time and still no students, it occurred to me there must be some mistake. I went to check at the desk and sure enough, no classes today due to election day.

On my way home with my guitar in the back seat, I got an idea to spontaneously drop in a nursing home I have not been to for a long time. When I arrived, I was greeted by an elderly woman pushing a wheelchair that had plastic containers of cat food on the seat. She was coming from the back porch area when I went to say hello. After seeing the cat food, I asked, "Are there cats living here?"  She turned and pointed to the porch and said, "Yes we have 4 that live here and I just got done feeding them."    I told her I would like to meet them and we walked to the porch as she told me their names were: "Spikey, Sparky, Spunky and Starry. " I always enjoy meeting a fellow animal lover.

Once we were done visiting, I went inside to see who was around and who might want to sing a few songs. I met up with two elderly African American women sitting in the living room. At first, they eyed me suspiciously and asked, "Where are you from?? What is your name? " I told them my name and that I came by to see if anyone wanted to sing. One of them smiled and said, "Sing something. " So I started singing favorite Spiritual of mine:

"Gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside
down by the riverside, Gonna lay down my burden.... "

Immediately the women's faces brightened and they sang along. Next we sang:

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."

We kept going for a long while. I was amazed with how fast I went from being a suspicious stranger to a friend in music. One of them asked, "So, how often are you gonna start coming here? "  When it was time to go, they thanked me for coming and told me to come back again soon. I left feeling happy and that I made a small difference.

This morning I woke up to the news of the election results. Many people are very upset with our new president. I too wanted another outcome and yet my experience yesterday at the nursing home fills me with hope. I can only do what i am given to do and that is music.  Though many are discouraged now, I know that music unites and heals and brings people together.
I will keep on keeping on singing my songs and doing the best I know. Please do  not lose heart. We will get through this!

God Bless America.