Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Today, although I am feeling content knowing that I will see my family very soon, I am reminded that the holidays can be a very stressful time for a lot of people and thought it might be a good time to remember some of the tricks I have used throughout the years to change my perspective when times are hard and I need to find more peace and calm.

1. I imagine that I am slowly zooming out over my physical location and place myself, as if I am on a map, in the room I'm in, the building, the street, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the region, the country, the continent, etc. until I am just a speck in the universe.

2. I close my eyes and imagine myself hugging and exchanging good will with everyone I can think of who I am not feeling completely at peace with.

3. I think back in time to what I was doing yesterday at this time and then last week, last month, last year, five years ago, ten years ago, etc.  It helps me remember that troubling things are transient and that the themes of what is important to me remain pretty much constant.

4. I imagine myself as a ninety year old woman talking about my life -- the things I am most proud of and the things I regret -- to help put into perspective specific things I am currently worried about.

5. While walking around town, I imagine that everyone I walk by is my brother, sister, or close friend.  Or, something else that works in a similar way for me is to imagine that all the people I am walking by are exactly equal to me in every way and in no way better or worse.  

6.  Additionally, I have found Metta helpful and also simple breathing meditations.

What tricks do you have?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Experiment

This morning I learned second hand about an intriguing study.  I was told that two separate control groups were established and that one group was exposed to a big poster board with the word "Yes" all over it and the other group was exposed to a big poster board with the word "No" all over it.  After seeing the poster board, each person was given an MRI to record brain activity.  And, interestingly, there was considerably greater brain activity in the control group who had seen "Yes" than those who had seen "No".  Also, a follow up phone call one week later revealed that the control group who had seen "Yes" felt considerably more satisfied with their lives than those who had seen "No".

It seems reasonable to me that a person who is told "No" over and over again could become discouraged and that continual rejection might lead someone to feel less satisfied with life, whereas hearing "Yes" and being accepted could have a more positive effect.  And, perhaps just seeing the word "Yes" is enough to provide results.  The brain is certainly complex and mysterious enough to me that I am willing to consider this possibility.  

I wonder if you will join me in an experiment.  Find a piece of paper and write the word "Yes" on it multiple times - in big letters and small letters -  so that it covers the whole page.  Hang up this piece of paper on the wall of your house/apartment somewhere where you can see it (by the piano, by your desk, in the kitchen or bathroom, etc.) and leave it there for a week or two at some time when you will be around (and not on vacation somewhere else).  Don't try to judge the effects it has on you.  Just let it be there.  I'm going to ask you about it later. :-)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Violin

I started playing violin around the age of four (and grew up the daughter of a professional violinist).  I played throughout school with varying degrees of interest, the height of which was in high school while preparing Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro for the state solo competition.  When I chose to major in voice performance in college, it didn't occur to me that keeping up my violin chops would have been a smart thing to do.  I did take a few professional gigs playing in a wedding string quartet group after college, but since I was playing with others who were much better at their instruments than I was, I assumed that I really should just stick to voice.  I should say, though, in retrospect, that I didn't really practice much or give myself a chance.  I just assumed violin was something I wasn't that good at.  Years later, I have picked up my violin again, and have written a set of five songs for singing violinist (or violin playing singer) that I will be performing in front of people.  What is unique about this situation is that I wrote the piece, so I purposefully wrote music that I can actually play.  I do have to practice every day, though, because my muscles are still not really used to playing on a regular basis for any length of time.  I know I have a lot of room for improvement in the quality of my playing, but I don't feel as discouraged as I have in the past when trying to play violin.  The main reason for this is because I am noticing that I feel considerably happier after I have been playing the violin.  It makes sense to me now that returning to something I did for the entirety of my childhood would make me feel more grounded and at peace.  And, I am really glad to have finally come back to it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Museum Trip

Last evening I went with a friend to the modern art museum here in town.  There were a good number of interesting works, but my favorite pieces of all were a collection of watercolor paintings done by African children from Southern Rhodesia.  Two of them can be seen here, but honestly, it doesn't do them any justice, because the vibrancy of the colors was really the best thing about them.  They were incredible and very inspiring.  It was very hard to believe they were done by children, because they looked like they must have taken a lot of time to create, and when I think of children in our American culture, I don't think of them having a lot of time to devote to any one activity, especially not artistic ones.  We live in such a busy world.  It really made me think.  Also, re: the vivid colors, I had to wonder how the watercolors were made.  I have never seen watercolors in such beautiful colors.

I haven't been to an art museum in quite a while, but while I was a student at New England Conservatory, I was in the habit of going to the Museum of Fine Arts almost every Saturday.  As a student, we could go free, which was so cool.  I have to admit that the first time I went to an art museum here, I was a little disappointed, because I was used to seeing much bigger collections.  But, what I realized when I went last night is that I love to look at art and there is a lot of art here in town that I haven't seen yet.  Also, museums frequently change their exhibits, so it's always cool to go back even if you think you've seen everything.  Which reminds me, there is a cool impressionist exhibit at another SF museum that is only here until January.  I'd better get on that!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting Into The Spirit

Today I bought a fiberoptic tree and some egg nog.  
My kitty cat is not sure what to make of the tree.  
Luckily it is much too small for her to climb.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Empty glass :-(

Oh no, Nashira!  My glass is empty!


"NOOOOOO!!!!!! Say it isn't so!!!!!!" says Nashira.


"Yeah.  Here.  Check it out." says Pam.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Friday!

Today my office is having our holiday party, so we all get to eat a delicious meal, drink wine, exchange secret snowflake gifts, and then go home early! Woo hoo! Still, I think I should probably resist the urge to drink too much since the weekend is only two days long and I have a lot of music to learn for the (all contemporary music) recital I am giving in Syracuse on December 29th. I actually just got two of the pieces I will be singing yesterday, so I'll feel much better once I have learned them. And... I am planning to perform the pieces I just wrote, accompanying myself on the violin. My mother has offered to be my back up in case I wimp out, but I am going to practice and see how far I can get. Lots of work to do! But first... party! :-)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Letting Go

My good friend Scott proposed the following advice about composing:

"Never be afraid to throw your precious music in the trash. If something just doesn't work, get rid of it. Don't get too attached too soon."

It just occurred to me that perhaps this is really good advice about other aspects of life as well. :-) Like Scrabble.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Inspiration

My experience performing last night left me feeling so inspired that today I ended up writing a five song set of pieces for voice and violin that included the one song I had already written. I had actually written two others songs with texts by the same author, but had written them for voice with a simple piano accompaniment (that I never liked), so I decided to rewrite them for violin and then decided to add two other pieces with texts by the same author. They are all short and I may very well continue to revise them, but I am really excited. I never thought I would accomplish anything like this. I am surprised at myself!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Performance Challenge

Tonight I have agreed to perform a piece I wrote for voice and violin *by myself * at what I hope will be a very mellow house concert. That was not the original plan, but when the original plan fell through and I needed to come up with something else to perform, I asked a friend of mine if he would be willing to hum the violin part of a duet I wrote while I sang and he said he thought I should try to accompany myself. I decided this would be an interesting challenge, but now I am trying to figure out how to take on this challenge without making myself look like a bad musician. I have to say, I have a tendency to play it safe when it comes to musical performance. I have only performed my own music in public one time outside of a composition class and that one time was in a remote art gallery corner (singing and playing piano) where people were milling about and not really listening. Also, I have not played my violin in public in over ten years. I tend to only sing music I think I will sing well. Honestly, I am pretty scared of having people think I stink at what I do. So... tonight I am pushing the boundaries in two areas. Not only am I singing a piece I wrote in public, but I am accompanying myself on the violin. It doesn't sound too terrible... but I am trying to figure out a way to perform the piece so that part of the time I am singing without the violin just to show that I can actually sing and sing in tune. It's remarkably hard to sing with good technique with a violin on your neck. Also, it's quite difficult to sing in tune with a violin you are playing. Wish me luck! Am I crazy?

UPDATE 1:05am: Performance over and it went pretty well! It was definitely a good experience over all.