As I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord the souls to keep
Of all my peers who practice late…
I thank him that I didn’t wait.
As I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord the souls to keep
Of all my peers who practice late…
I thank him that I didn’t wait.
Dear University and High School,
I was fortunate in high school to have had a wonderful arts department. The faculty, students, and facilities were excellent and I was well-prepared to be a college-level musician. Now, I am studying at a conservatory among talented peers under the direction of stellar professors.
But something is missing.
My high school music program and college conservatory were and are both incredibly supportive…internally. Within the arts departments, students and professors know each other well, building friendships and mentorships that will endure a lifetime. We cheer each other on in concerts, accompany each others’ solos, give each other advice. We pray for each other, share in the joy of each others’ accomplishments, and listen to each other practice the same piece for what feels like the millionth time.
But this is all internal support. “Intra-conservatory” if you will. Outside the walls of our halls, there is little understanding of who we are or what we do, causing music students to feel unknown and undervalued. This is not something that can be resolved overnight; however, it is vital to not forget what the arts contribute and, in turn, how you as a university can show your appreciation.
For instance, we as a conservatory or high school music program…
We are pleading with you, our fellow students (and especially our administration), to come to our concerts, to experience for yourself the beauty of the music we love. Yes, we would love a new building with enough practice rooms and working facilities. We would love increased funding so that we can put on more lavish events or purchase the supplies we need. We would love to be included in the headlines of the school newspaper. However, the most meaningful way you as a university can show us your support is also the smallest: simply come and listen.
Every once in a while, I have what I like to think of as a flash flood of ideas. It seems that inspiration is everywhere and I can hardly jot down one idea before another demands my attention. It’s terrible and wonderful at the same time; I love to dream and brainstorm, but am frustrated when time constraints and real life prevent me from being able to execute all of my ideas.
So, naturally, to cope with the storm of ideas, I wrote some poetry instead of working on them.
A river builds within my mind
Against the dam, too-strict time.
The tide of thought, irresistible-
Drowns me in its ebb and flow,
For it ought to carve a canyon steep
But life restrains this swirling deep,
So current’s force grows storm by storm
As raindrop muses demand form;
They rise and swirl, must soon o’er take
The crumbling barriers we make.
Oh! On the day they’ve held too long,
The gates shall give to waters strong,
And then shall finally freely pour
The ideas held in painful store;
The words will flow and music play,
All the deeper for their delay.
Okay, so the title of this post is a bit misleading. To clarify, I have not taken lessons in speaking Italian and, if I’m being completely honest, my Italian speaking abilities consists of basic greetings, “grazie”, and apologetically smiling and batting my eyes. Oh, and I got pretty good at ordering coffee and gelato.
But anyway, back to the title. Last year, after I returned from a trip to Europe, I wrote about the lessons I learned as a traveller while there: https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/a-europe-state-of-mind/
Having just returned from a couple weeks in Italy, I figured I would do something similar. However, instead of just travel tips, the following are life lessons which I learned from my time in Italy.
1. Show some gumption.In one of my stories, a character goes on a trip despite being terrified of airplanes, ruined plans, and -shudder- strangers. The important thing is that she goes anyway. Sound familiar? I have the same fears and, after cancelled flights, nighttime desert drives, lost luggage, and generally dashed expectations, I was on the verge of giving up my adventure and going home. But then I remembered a character by the name of Paige O’Connor. A character I had invented, no less. Oddly enough, I was inspired by my own character to show some gumption and get on the plane. Granted, I got off the plane an hour later when it was cancelled. But still.
2. Sometimes not knowing is good.
I got pretty good at reading Italian menus (I mean, most pasta has Italian names anyway), but sometimes I would just guess and order something at random. It really pays to not be a picky eater. I had the most amazing pasta with mussels because of this. I didn’t even know I liked mussels and probably would not have ordered them had I known that’s what that dish was. But I did and I found a new food I enjoy. Win win!
3. Don’t be half-hearted in anything.Sure, Italians may not be the most punctual. (I became familiar with the idea of an “Italian 8am” as being somewhere around 8:15 or later.) But I will say that they give their all once they arrive. Every detail in the city where I was was intentional, from the grandest paintings and statues in the Duomo (Cathedral) to the tiniest designs on the top of a cheap cappuccino. Once a barista carried my coffee three feet to my table even though I was more than happy to take it myself because making the coffee was only half of the job.
4. Don’t be typical.The most embarrassing moments I had were when people knew I was American. It made me feel so obnoxious. But it helped that I was not in the usual tourist hotspots for the majority of my trip. I stayed mainly in Cremona, the most adorable little city I’ve ever seen. Despite being the violin-making capitol of the world, it is off the beaten path and thus has more of the spirit of Italy than commercialized Milan or even Verona. I had a much more enjoyable time learning to live in this unique place than touring in the usual destinations and I think this “road less travelled” philosophy extends to life beyond travel as well.
5. Music is at least 25% setting.I was in Cremona to study classical music, which was nice, but I loved listening to a street performer play Adele on his violin just as much as the concerts I attended. I’m usually not a fan of pop, but with the bustle of cafes, the sun’s setting light reflecting on the cathedral, and the taste of gelato fresh on my tongue, I enjoyed the slightly-pitchy rendition of Adele just as much as the polished performances I had been listening to all week.
6. Shoes are always a good idea.
Two facts: 1) Italy produces the cutest shoes I have ever seen and 2) Italy is geographically shaped like a boot. Coincidence? I think not. Actually, I’m pretty sure that this is legitimate evidence for Intelligent Design.
7. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.I never seem to realize how much I love my family until I’m alone, stressed out, and far away. At this point, even a brief call from my dad or snapchat from my mom (I know, she’s hip) means the world to me. And distance seems to make me only remember only the good things about good old Gilbert, AZ and all who live there. There truly is no place like home…especially when you are away from home.
8. Blessings really do come in disguise.Before leaving, I said it would be my nightmare to lose my luggage since I hate shopping and had been careful to pack cute hair/makeup stuff. But, alas, when my bag did end up getting lost- and, with it, my cosmetics, hair stuff, and outfits, I had to let this go. And, you know what? I found out a couple magical things: my natural “boho-homeless” hair isn’t bad, a little lipstick goes a long way, and shopping is fun when you can make the airport pay for everything. I might even try to lose my bag again when I head to Rome in a few months!
9. Make your own opportunities.I found myself slightly bored at times during my time at the music academy (that’s the downside to learning my music in advance I guess), so after wallowing for a bit, I realized that moping would not solve anything and decided to make some new opportunities to keep myself occupied. It ended up being amazing! I met so many wonderful musicians/professors and was given the chance to study composition and even write and premier my own piece! (Check out the link for a video of the first performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj8KdhZpWNs)
10. Inspiration is out there!
Maybe my brain was just in a heightened state from all the travel stress. Or maybe it was all the Italian espresso I was drinking. Either way, I could not seem to escape the ideas for poems, stories, and compositions that were thick in the air in Cremona. I had to carry several notebooks with me at once just in case I needed to catch an idea like a Pokemon.
11. Simplicity is beautiful. And delicious.Italy is without a doubt the land of food. Everything I ate was beyond delicious, but, unlike America, the meals did not need to be supersized to be good. The portions were smaller than here and made with minimal ingredients, but because everything was so fresh and only whole foods were used, the food in Italy was unbeatable. I ate a tomato here in AZ today and it tasted like disappointment in comparison.
12. Why rush and devour? Savor.I mentioned already the concept of an “Italian 8am,” but it actually is a pretty solid idea. I like schedules and maximizing my use of time, but I learned to take more time to savor things from meals to coffee to commuting during my stay in Cremona. Having to walk everywhere taught me to slow down and enjoy my surroundings, the slow process of dining out taught me to truly taste my food as I ate it, and the tiny coffee sizes forced me to value every sip. As a quick, busy person, this was freeing.
I’m sure I will have to update this post with more lessons as I continue to recover from jet lag and, as such, remember more and more of my trip. For now, though, this will have to work.
I feel a bit guilty admitting this, but I love writing essays. Really. My classmates- if any of them actually are reading this- are probably rolling their eyes and groaning, but call me a nerd, I don’t care and I’ll say it again: I love writing essays. I especially love writing them when they are not on set topics and I am free to explore familiar regions, themes from my own life, stories chosen directly from my bookshelves. Having, over the course of the last two weeks, written a total of nine essays for AP Literature (even for me, this was too much), I suppose I was bound to find at least one where I could choose my own topic and, to my delight, the final prompt was the one.
I was instructed to choose a motif not generally taught in English course and discuss its appearance in several literary works, but having just spent several hours practicing piano, it was hard to switch gears so suddenly into essay mode. But, as it turns out, I didn’t have to! My favorite instrument (sorry, bagpipes) happens to be a common motif in literature and I was so embarrassingly excited to write this paper that I may or may not have written it to be two pages longer than required… oops.
Anyway, here is the finished product:
“I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.” -Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
In this one heartbreaking statement, Frédéric Chopin, the “Poet of the Piano,” describes not only his yearning for a lost friend but a motif that has played its way into numerous literary works: the piano. This instrument is one that I hold dear to my heart, as it has been an extension of myself since I learned my first tune; it has been and continues to be a source of comfort and companionship for
the emotional artist in times of loneliness and despair. Like Chopin, many authors have understood this connection between musician and keyboard and made use of it to portray depression, isolation, but also a hope for recovery.
The piano as a motif appears in most literary works on my bookshelves, but is especially prevalent in those dealing with thwarted love. For instance, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne is abandoned by her unprincipled lover, she sinks into a sorrow beyond the reach of her friends and family. However, she finds comfort in the notes of her pianoforte, which provides a means for her to both express her woe and piece her heart back together. Similarly, in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, when Jo March refuses to accept the hand of her best friend and ardent admirer, Laurie, in marriage, he storms away. A few hours after his disappointment, Laurie is heard playing the opening lines of Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique,” which is considered among the most keenly sorrowful works for solo piano, having been composed around the time of Beethoven’s tragic hearing loss. In fact, Beethoven wrote it to be performed “grave” and then “allegro di molto con brio,” which mean gravely and then with fiery passion. In this instance, like that of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, Laurie feels that none among his friends can empathize with his disappointment and thus turns to the piano, which is always there to suffer under his angry fingers and propel him toward recovery through its understanding melodies.
The piano as a motif does not merely appear when cupid’s arrows have misfired, however, for this instrument can be the medium for emotion and healing from misfortunes beyond star-crossed romances. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, when Daisy and Gatsby are finally reunited in Gatsby’s mansion, one of the first things that they do is find the pianist who has been “visiting” for many months and make him play a song for them called “Ain’t We Got Fun?” This piece, while frivolous, bridges the gap between them in a way that words never could and it allows Gatsby to feel for the moment that he is not completely alone. Granted, this still seems romantic, but Gatsby’s true desire is for acceptance by the “Old Money” families of society and he has simply found this desire personified in Daisy. Thus, when the piano is clinking away a familiar melody, Gatsby is actually expressing his longing to be a part of a world that he has been excluded from and creating a feeble link between himself and the representative of this world. The piano music, although performed by another, was commissioned by Gatsby to serve as the accompaniment to his heartache and attempts at healing. Another example of the piano motif, and perhaps the most obvious, is in Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. In this novel, the face of the title character, Erik, is horribly disfigured. This, combined with his extraordinary genius, gives rise to violent suspicion in other men, thus forcing him to cut himself off from his fellow men to become the “Opera Ghost.” He conceals himself within the cellars of the Paris Opera House and spends his indistinguishably dark days and nights at his organ and piano, composing his masterpiece. The dissonant tones and provocative melodies of his composition parallel the turmoil of his forsaken soul. Only the keys of his instruments understand his anguish and give a voice to his misery. Like most appearances of the piano motif, the music has a restorative nature, keeping Erik alive only for as long as he continues playing; when his masterpiece is completed and he leaves the piano bench, his life too comes to its finale. Here, as in The Great Gatsby, the piano offered a catharsis for Erik’s emotion, but when its notes faded, the healing was halted.
The piano is a staple instrument. It is used to find pitches for singers, tune violins, unify jazz band riffs, and create mood in silent films. Nearly every home has one crouching in its living room, or at least a keyboard lurking in some forgotten closet, but wherever the piano is, there lies the heart of the house and the musician who resides there. I can personally attest to this truth, for I have a piano dominating my front room and seek refuge in its music whenever my heart is overwhelmed. In the same way, pianos furnish the pages of literature as a motif that is generally overlooked but can provide major insight into the souls of the players if examined closely. From the works Austen to Leroux and Alcott to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the members of the literary canon are crowded with pianos, which, although they play different tunes, all represent an emotional outpouring and a gradual calming of the mind, experienced through the impassioned performances of their owners.