Confessions of a Closet Musician

I still feel jealous whenever I see a musician performing onstage. I know, I call myself a “life coach” so I should be more evolved than that. But I’m not. I do know, however, that noticing my feeling of jealousy is a juicy nugget of treasure to show me the thoughts that are keeping me imprisoned. So I start to do the work. Even now, that I am actually living a life of sharing my music in the world, there is an old, fear-driven part of my brain, which hasn’t quite let go of its hold over my essential self, that is yelling in my ear, "You'll never make it in this world as a musician! It's just too hard to make a living! You'll never be respected! You'll have to work too hard! It'll never be worth it!" Ever notice that the people who say these things are the ones whose lives have actually proven these beliefs to be true? I haven’t found a successful performing artist who has said, “Forget it. It’s too hard. For all the effort I put in, it’s not worth it.” (On the other hand, for some reason, I've met plenty of doctors who've said this to me.) The reality – the truth - is there are many examples of people whose lives prove these beliefs NOT to be true. What's the difference between these two groups of people? Is it talent? Is it luck? Is it genetics? Is it a mystery? Continue reading "Confessions of a Closet Musician"

Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One

The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity for me surrounding my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama. In case you haven't seen it, we have a new blog and a Twitter account, where you can keep up with our latest activities. We've played in the Bay Area at least two nights every week for the past two months, and spreading our joyful energy has yielded plenty of early interest in our fledgling local band. I've been so amazed with what I've experienced that I put together 10 brief lessons from launching my first ever band. Let me say right away that it's been a total team effort with my friends and fellow musicians, Randy Bales (guitar/vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion/bass/vocals). 1. Practice in public
  • In other words, be sure to play outside your comfort zone in public every once in awhile. Most of us can learn something from this statement: "Don't be so humble. You're not that good!" I can't tell you how many times Randy has encouraged us to play songs that I didn't feel were "ready". I can also tell you that at our first gig, I was deliriously frightened of what might happen! I had so many ideas about what a "performance" needed to be. Yet if I had waited until I thought we were ready, we might still have never performed in public to this day! My point? Be willing to start small. Just be sure to start!
  • Even if you consider it "practice", show up at your own personal best every time. This doesn’t mean you play perfectly. It means you set an intention for HOW you are showing up each time, and you let go of the results. And you do this every single time.
  • Notice that there will always be ways to improve upon your performance, but never be disappointed in yourself. If you’re tempted to “get down” on yourself or be harsh with your criticism, notice it and ask, “How will this help me show up at my best next time?”
  • Keep playing and be kind to yourself no matter what. Always know that you will have another opportunity to grow. It helps if you…
  • Create a regular consistent schedule of opportunities to play in a supportive environment. You will always get more comfortable by doing what seems uncomfortable at first.
  • All that said, also develop some “comfort food” – material that can always make you feel good, for those moments when you need to boost your own confidence.
2. Do the thing you think you cannot do.
  • This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is framed on the wall of my office. Practicing in public (item #1) was exactly the thing I thought or believed I could not do, until about a year ago. My peak discomfort point was reached – in a public, but safe, setting – and it forever changed what I believed was possible for me musically.
  • Give yourself the gift of being open to this kind of transformative experience. Instead of avoiding the thing you fear, embrace it as the very chance you’ve been wanting to break through to your next level in life.
3. Strike while the iron is hot.
  • If you have an intention or an idea, start NOW while your energy is behind the project, and take defined steps right away to make your idea feel real to you.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Go with your first instincts.
  • Take small, defined, and consistent actions over a period of time rather than waiting for everything to be “perfect” before you begin. Hint: There is no perfection, so get over yourself and act now.
4. Support other people’s efforts with generous encouragement and humility.
  • Judgment comes more quickly than understanding. Seek to understand first.
  • Capture and share not only your own work but others’ as well. Facebook is a great example of how this works. Don't you love being tagged in photos or videos? And reading others' comments or "Like"s? There is a real-world analog to this, and it's called being present, supportive and expressive. Try it!
  • Collaborate openly. Playing with other artists helps build bridges of trust and understanding, and helps you understand yourself better too. Continue reading "Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One"

Too much fun!

OK I just loved this performance by my band, Chinese Melodrama, last night. If you grew up listening to Metallica (which I didn't), you might recognize this tune. For me, it's like a thrilling roller coaster ride each time I play it, since I get to make up the ending every time! That's right, totally improvised every time. It reminds me that every single moment is fresh, whether or not it feels familiar in some way. Great way to live life! If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see us play this Sunday, 8/8, at 8pm, at the OCTOPUS Lounge in Pacifica. And "8" is an auspicious number in Chinese!

Sounds from Half Moon Bay

A little night improvisation

What a difference a few weeks makes! It seems like my musical world is expanding at breakneck speed, and relationships and opportunities are arriving effortlessly. All the while, I'm having so much fun, it almost seems criminal. Really! I have such a strongly ingrained belief that "work" is "hard" and "having a life" means "struggling" that doing what I'm doing right now has triggered a part of my brain that wants to cry out, "Danger!! This does not compute!!". Luckily, I now notice that this is an ancient part of my brain reserved for true fight-or-flight situations that I rarely encounter in this corner of the world I call home. Right now, in this moment, I'm sitting in a chair in front of a computer. I'm breathing. I'm surrounded by beauty. The sky is clear blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the trees are silently growing outside my window. There's nothing dangerous about being at peace. Sorry, brain! Here are some of my latest improvisation videos from this week's open mic nights. In each case, I had never heard the song before and just started from a place of listening.

"Rooster" by Alice in Chains, with Randy Bales, at Angelica's Bistro in Redwood City, CA:

"Knocking on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan (performed with two strangers who asked that I remain onstage to join them after seeing me perform with Randy!) at Blue Rock Shoot in Saratoga, CA:

Something to watch tonight…

What do you do for a thrill? Go ride a roller coaster? Plan an adventure vacation? Book a skydiving or heli-skiing trip? Try something you've never done before? We all have ways that we access excitement, aliveness, and passion in our lives. Hopefully you've identified positive outlets for these emotions that we all long to experience, rather than resorting to addictions or distractions from your real desires. My thrill-of-choice right now is showing up at open mic' s and playing all-improvised violin on songs I have never heard or played before in my life, with musicians I've never met before either. The story of how I got here is a little involved (I've written about it before here and here and here), but I am truly thrilled to have this new source of joy and freedom in my life, and a way to connect with people I can learn from.

Watch and listen to my new band play live tonight...all without leaving your home!

TONIGHT you can watch me play with my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama, on a live streaming webcast! Yes, from the comfort of your own home, you can watch and listen to our music as we are playing it. If you're in the Bay Area, we'd love to see you join us live, but for all of you who are spread out across the country, please tune into this link at 7PM Pacific (10PM Eastern) TONIGHT, Friday, June 25: Here's a little taste of the kind of music I'm playing these days. Enjoy!

Evolution of a Song

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One of my deeply ingrained childhood beliefs was the notion that, "In order to be able to do something, you need to go to school and learn how to do it first." In the thinking of my childhood, I was led to believe that there was a very linear, singular path toward any particular destination. That there was a prescribed sequence of things that needed to happen in a certain way if things were going to work out. I'm beginning to unlearn that lesson, among others. Part of why I am sharing all these old beliefs, as I take myself through my process of chipping at and melting them away, is to reveal that our beliefs, once we begin to observe them, are not as solid and rigid as we make them out to be.

We evolve.

So I share with you my own wide-eyed, childlike awe and wonder at learning - in my mid-30s - about whole other worlds that I never knew existed. After playing music nearly every day of my life since the age of three, I played for the first time into a microphone while wearing headphones in 2008. It was my first experience with multi-track recording. I learned a whole other way of "composing" that occurred with a mixing board and the software interface of a computer, when previously my mental picture included images of Mozart, wearing a powdered wig and stockings, sitting at a clavier and writing on parchment paper with a quill pen. The truth is I had never personally known any kind of real live musician other than the violin soloists and symphony orchestra players and conductors I was exposed to growing up. I had met the then child prodigy Midori when she taught me in a master class. I had played for legends like Josef Gingold and Ruggiero Ricci. These were the idols and icons of my childhood. Continue reading "Evolution of a Song"

Feel and Heal with Music

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I used to believe that music is something we do. Now I know that music is who we are. Last night I performed with Randy Bales (guitar, vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion, bass) at the unique, cozy, and inviting Angelica's Bistro in Redwood City, California. (See this NY Times article about the "rebirth" of downtown Redwood City.) I've written a bit about the experience of preparing for this gig. Last night the learning continued, as I recognized that I had always seen music as a set of skills I had, a job that I did, a responsibility like my education. I was very dedicated and disciplined about practicing and building my skills in music, and I had many opportunities to perform on great stages around the world as a very young child. As with most of my accomplishments in life, I never acknowledged myself. I went through life seeking acknowledgment from others, believing that the more I did, the more likely I would be to receive what I most wanted. What may appear to an outside observer to be ambition, determination, and drive, was in fact the passionate pursuit of acknowledgment from others. I did not realize at the time that what I really wanted was to acknowledge myself, and to believe in myself without needing to constantly seek approval. I did not have that skill, because I was so busy practicing how to see what was missing from my life. I was so busy doing more, that I failed to receive the acknowledgment that was already available to me at every step of the way. Even if others were acknowledging me, I could not see it for what it was, because I had not honed those skills of recognition. I knew how to receive criticism, and I knew how to drive myself to do more. Those were my greatest skills. Continue reading "Feel and Heal with Music"

Take Two from last night…

I've been talking about my improvised violin recording project, and have been looking forward to sharing something! Today's that day. Here's a little something we recorded last night. Hope you like it as much as we do!

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