In 2012, I was fresh out of an undergraduate program in classical guitar performance and deeply engrossed in a commercial music production program in Florida. At the time, my mentor Dave Greenberg had asked me to assist with the formation of a student organisation that would allow a group of delegates to attend the Audio Engineering Society Convention in San Francisco. My experience as the assistant to the attorney who developed the curriculum for the Legal Issues for Musicians class, more than prepared me for the host of paperwork and parliamentary procedure necessary to establish a student organisation in enough time to present a professional proposal to the student government for AES trip funding.
At the same time that I was working towards creating a solid foundation for my peers to attend the AES and other audio engineering field trips, I was at a crucial decision making point in my life. After spending several months in the Paralegal Studies program at the community college, working as an assistant to their lead instructor, I realised that though I had a proclivity towards the law (my boss always said my case briefs were better than advanced students in law school) and thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual challenge of finding holes in logic, I still had an unquenchable desire to pursue my talent as an artist.
Due diligence is paramount to any life altering decision; thus, I faithfully sought advice from the professors that I most trusted. I spoke to them at length about their experiences at various institutions and ultimately arrived at the conclusion, that if I was to leave Florida to pursue new artistic freedom and professional opportunities, it would be in California at a liberal arts institution or conservatory. Dave Greenberg, my primary mentor in the world of audio engineering, was a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, CA. Discussions with Dave about the culture and available resources, heavily influenced my consideration to move both the college and San Francisco Bay area to the top of my list. When we went to the AES convention in San Francisco, Dave encouraged me not just to simply attend convention exhibits, but to explore the city and consider the artistic resources that it had for someone who was interested in music composition, performance, and avant-garde practices.
The freedom during this initial exploratory venture emblazoned a special place in my heart for the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember ambling down the streets finding the sweetest little neighbourhood cafe with delicious coffee and avocado toast. Attending a concert at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, seated behind the orchestra — and most poignant was a four hour and thirty-three minute immersive performance of the works of John Cage at the Yerba Buena Arts Center. This free public presentation, was the first time that I was exposed to an experimental event during the day, with an audience that ranged from youths barely able to talk to octogenarians barely able to walk — all quietly and deeply immersed in the sights and sounds surrounding them.
In that specific moment, I was hooked on the cosmopolitan nature of a city that was as bustling as NYC, but without as much of the baseline taxing energy and overt competition that causes one to be on top of their game ALL THE TIME through fear and simultaneously growing a stress ulcer in the pit of one’s stomach. Both afforded chances for artistic development and growth, but the pace of life was markedly different.
When I returned to Florida and received my acceptance letters, the reality of a cross-country move set in on several fronts — first, the financial investment, even with financial aid the San Francisco Bay Area is beyond expensive and not conducive to those with few means or job prospects whilst involved in a time intensive artistic academic program, going to school in California meant taking out more loans and digging myself deeper into student loan debt; second, uprooting one’s life to the other side of the country meant decreased access to the resources and artistic network that had been cultivated over years of performing and interning. Ultimately, we know that I took the road less travelled, I used the money that I would have spent out of pocket for tuition to finance the travel, performance, gear acquisition, research materials, and recording expenses that were crucial to the growth and evolution of my artistic self.
In January 2019, I returned to San Francisco, not as a young girl in search of success, but as a professional artist ready to prove how much she had blossomed in the last half decade. A simple sentence, rife with the stress of expectations and pressure to bring my best energy to performance, workshopping, and interviews.
On the day of my concert at the Center for New Music, I started the day as a ball of nervous energy. I did about forty minutes of yoga before getting dressed and heading out the door to see some relics that I had not laid eyes upon in the better part of the last decade — the buildings and sculptures around the Yerba Buena Gardens. As I passed over Market Street, everything just clicked and suddenly a sense of home and familiarity washed over me. A drizzly rain stuck to my hat and scarf, as cold wind nipped my nose and stiffened the bones in my fingers. Immense gratitude filled my heart as I stood in front of the iconic waterfall that graced cover of my first set of solo piano works… here I was again, but everything was different.
I made my way back to the warmth of my hotel, and curled up with my score of Nathan Corder’s Sashay, with the sobering knowledge that this would be the first time I had performed the piece in his presence. (Sashay appears as the first track on my debut album on Aerocade Music, and Nathan had sifted through several recorded versions before the live performance.) I studied the notes carefully, making pencil markings to remind myself of things we had discussed over the past three years since Nathan had composed the work for me.
Suddenly it was time to walk to the venue. And all of my trepidation, seemed to have washed away, as I strolled downhill on Taylor.
It is one thing to present your own work, it is another thing to act as an emissary for the work of another creative being. Performing a composer’s work in front of them is not about trying to impress them — in a sense you have already impressed them enough to allow you to perform their work — rather presenting the work of a composer is always a representation of who the composer is at their aesthetic core, it is a responsibility that no performer should ever take lightly, and playing a composer’s work in their physical presence is the ultimate test of whether or not your interpretation of the concept that they have turned over for hours in their minds and committed to a page is in line with their overall vision. The most rewarding moment comes when that composer approves of your performance of their work. Although it had been about three years since Nathan penned Sashay for me the first three exposed notes were full of trepidation… suddenly, an old friend appeared in the sonic realm as if to say, “You’ve got this… keep going.” From that point, the rest of the concert was a satisfying blur… mistakes were made, but they were inherently human and largely only known to the woman behind the fourth wall.
The next few days were a flurry of work, but the pace of everything placed me in a state of meditative contentment that was conducive to putting myself in a place of full artistic exploration — on the rainiest day of my stay, I worked diligently indoors transforming my written sketches into a digital draft for a solo saxophone piece for Toronto-based performer Robert Hess, I spent my last day in a six-hour straight workshop with Nathan at Paul Drescher’s studio experimenting with the electronics for a new solo piece that I will premiere in Brooklyn as part of the mise-en Curator Series in April.
The prospect of returning to Florida, seemed completely foreign, as a familiar feeling of contentment in my work and with my friendships, working relationships, and artistic practice enveloped me — but most of all, I was taken by the same feeling I had only a year ago on a solo drive from Athens, GA to Saint Petersburg, FL as I prepared to switch out gear for a set of solo performances — THIS is what I was put on this Earth to do. I went out into the big bad world and proved that I am meant to be a professional artist. I went back to a place of my directional uncertainty; came out realising my strengths and recognising that there are still more levels of self, friends, colleagues, artistic practice, and the world-at-large to explore. Consumed by the feeling of something beyond happiness — the contentment of a full purpose driven life, the resolute knowledge that this is what I was put on this plane of existence to do; moreover, a still burning urge to help others achieve a similar feeling of contentment on their own purpose paths. I know that this is not the ending of my journey, and I am cognisant that there are many more miles to trod, obstacles to conquer, and wonders to behold.
Here I am again, standing on the edge surveying the vast landscape of possibility, ready to soar.
Let’s fly together!