Being a girl can be hard. Being a Christian girl can be even harder. But in the midst of a time and a place where femininity and humility and, well, normalcy are rare, you stand out like a city girl at a rodeo.
In a good way.
There are days when staying the course feels hard, and it seems like you’re the only one left that’s standing for something, for anything.
But you’re not. In Christ, you are never alone. And while you journey on in this broken world, or sally forth as my pastor likes to say, let me give you a few words of encouragement as a woman who used to be a high school student (read: nerd) myself.
5. Don’t freak out about what you’re going to do after college.
The world and your teachers and your peers are going to press in hard. They…
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Chairman Kovner, President Polisi, most distinguished honorees, dedicated family, friends, faculty, and to EACH of the talented, ambitious, courageous, adventurous Juilliard graduates of the class of 2014 before us here today, thank you!
I stand before you this morning, duly humbled, and in awe of the distinguished and hard-earned accomplishment awarded to each and every single one of you on this unforgettable and long-awaited day of your graduation. Look at you! You are gowned and tassled and you’re ready to take on the world! Through that first nerve-racking audition, all those subsequent sleepless nights, the painstaking preparation for your recitals, the endless hours of reed-making and memorization, the blisters and the tears, and now here you walk side by side with the life-long friendships you have now forged, you are about to be Alumni of the acclaimed Juilliard School! I invite you to breathe that in. You, my friends, are living the dream! I wish I had had the foresight when invited to speak here today, to ask them to break with tradition and print my old biography from when I was your age instead of my current one!A great example of contrasts, it would have shown you that despite my “star turn” as the off-stage lover in Il Tabarro with my ONE, single, SOLITARY line (did I mention it was OFF-STAGE?), and that despite being the only young artist of my class to fail at securing management until the ripe age of 29, and DESPITE my evaluation sheet for the Houston Opera Studio which simply declared me to possess “not much talent” and that despite WAY more rejections and easy dismissals than actual “yeses”, despite ALL of that, I am somehow, miraculously standing before you all today, regaled in an admittedly different kind of designer gown, dispensing tidbits of “wisdom” before a group of artists who – and this is honestly no exaggeration – artists who I never could have been classmates with, because there truly is no way I could have gained admission to your school back in the day. I simply wasn’t ready back then. That is the truth. One never, EVER knows where their journey will lead them. But YOURS has led you here.
There are a few more hard-earned truths – as I have come to know them – that have arisen on my personal odyssey as a singer and at first glance, they may seem like harbingers of bad news, but I invite you to shift your thinking just a bit (or perhaps even radically) – you guys are artists, so thankfully you’re already brilliant at thinking outside the conventional box! I offer these four little observations as tools to perhaps help you as you go forward, enabling you to empower yourselves from the very core of your being, so that when the challenges of this artistic life catapult and hurl themselves directly and unapologetically into your heart and soul – which they will do, repeatedly – you will have some devices at your disposal to return to, to help you find your center again, so that your voice, your art and your SOUL will not be derailed, but you will instead find the strength to make yourself heard, and seen, and FELT. Then you will have the power to transform yourselves, to transform others, and, indeed, to transform the world.
My first observation:
You will never make it. That’s the bad news, but the “shift” I invite you to make is to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t believe there is actually an “it”. “It” doesn’t exist for an Artist. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life– is to decide, without apology, to commit to the JOURNEY, and not to the outcome. The outcome will almost always fall short of your expectations, and if you’re chasing that elusive, often deceptive goal, you’re likely in for a very tough road, for there will always be that one note that could have soared more freely, the one line reading that could have been just that much more truthful, that third arabesque which could have been slightly more extended, that one adagio which could have been just a touch more magical. There will always be more freedom to acquire and more truth to uncover. As an artist, you will never arrive at a fixed destination. THIS is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.
A second truth:
The work will never end. This may sound dreadfully daunting – especially today when you are finally getting out of here!!!! But what I have found is that when things become overwhelming – which they will, repeatedly ~ whether it’s via unexpected, rapid success or as heart-wrenching, devastating failure ~ the way back to your center is simply to RETURN TO THE WORK. Often times it will be the only thing that makes sense. And it is there where you will find solace and truth. At the keyboard, at the barre, with your bow in hand, articulating your arpeggios ~ always return to your home base and trust that you will find your way again via the music, the pulse, the speech, the rhythm. Be patient, but know that it will always be there for you – even if in some moments you lack the will to be there for it. All it asks is that you show up, fully present as you did when you first discovered the magic of your own artistic world when you were young. Bring that innocent, childlike sense of wonder to your craft, and do whatever you need to find that truth again. It will continually teach you how to be present, how to be alive, and how to let go. Therein lies not only your artistic freedom, but your personal freedom as well!
Perhaps my favorite truth:
It’s not about you. This can be a particularly hard, and humbling lesson to face – and it’s one I’ve had to continue to learn at every stage of my own journey – but this is a freeing and empowering truth. You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and adulation (although that MAY well come, and I wish with every fiber of my being, that it WILL come in the right form for every single one of you – however, that is not your destination, for glory is always transitory and will surely disappear just as fleetingly and arbitrarily as it arrived.) The truth is, you have signed up for a life of service by going into the Arts. And the life-altering results of that service in other people’s lives will NEVER disappear as fame unquestionably will. You are here to serve the words, the director, the melody, the author, the chord progression, the choreographer ~ but above all and most importantly, with every breath, step, and stroke of the keyboard, you are here to serve humanity.
You, as alumni of the 109th graduating class of The Juilliard School are now servants to the ear that needs quiet solace, and the eye that needs the consolation of beauty, servants to the mind that needs desperate repose or pointed inquiry, to the heart that needs invitation to flight or silent understanding, and to the soul that needs safe landing, or fearless, relentless enlightenment. You are a servant to the sick one who needs healing through the beauty and peace of the symphony you will compose through blood-shot eyes and sleepless nights. You are an attendant to the lost one who needs saving through the comforting, probing words you will conjure up from the ether, as well as from your own heroic moments of strife and triumph. You are a steward to the closed and blocked one who needs to feel that vital, electric, joyful pulse of life that eludes them as they witness you stop time as you pirouette and jettè across the stage on your tired legs and bleeding toes. You are a vessel to the angry and confused one who needs a protected place to release their rage as they watch your eyes on the screen silently weep in pain as you relive your own private hell. You are a servant to the eager, naïve, optimistic ones who will come behind you with wide eyes and wild dreams, reminding you of yourself, as you teach and shape and mold them, even though you may be plagued with haunting doubts yourself, just as your teachers likely were – and you will reach out to them and generously invite them to soar and thrive, because we are called to share this thing called Art.
You are also serving one other person: yourself. You are serving the relentless, passionate, fevered force within you that longs to grow and expand and feel and connect and create; that part of you that craves a way to express raw elation and passion, and to make manifest hard-core blissful rapture and – PLEASE, I beg of you, never forget this – FUN! Don’t ever abandon that intoxicating sense of FUN in your ART. Thought that, you are serving your truth. My hope for you is that you will let that truth guide you in every moment of your journey. If you can find that, you have everything. That’s why “making it” is, in the end, utterly insignificant. LIVING it, BREATHING it, SERVING it … that’s where your joy will lie.
I want to share with you a quick email from a soldier on the front lines of our Arts: an elementary/middle school teacher from Salt Lake City, Ms. Audrey Hill, who is fighting the great fight! She brought her students to the recent HD telecast of “La Cenerentola”, and wrote the following note to me:
“One of my boys … a 5th grader… wrote in his review this morning that one of his favorite parts (besides the spaghetti food-fight scene) was where at the end you were singing about getting revenge, and how he really liked that your revenge was going to be forgiveness. This boy was new to our school this year, has a beautiful singing voice, and has been teased a lot. I have seen him getting more and more angry as the year was coming to a close and today it seemed like all that had disappeared. It was very moving for me to experience.”
* That’s exactly who you are serving as you now go out into the world. How lucky are you?!??!
Ah, so OK, I lied … I think this may be my favorite truth:
The world needs you. Now, the world may not exactly realize it, but wow, does it need you. It is yearning, starving, dying for you and your healing offer of service through your Art. We need you to help us understand that which is bigger than ourselves, so that we can stop feeling so small, so isolated, so helpless that, in our fear, we stop contributing that which is unique to us: that distinct, rare, individual quality which the world is desperately crying out for and eagerly awaiting. We need you to remind us what unbridled, unfiltered, childlike exuberance feels like, so we remember, without apology or disclaimer, to laugh, to play, to FLY and to stop taking EVERYTHING so damn seriously. We need you to remind us what empathy is by taking us deep into the hearts of those who are, God forbid, different than us – so that we can recapture the hope of not only living in peace with each other, but THRIVING together in a vibrant way where each of us grows in wonder and joy. We need you to make us feel an integral PART of a shared existence through the communal, universal, forgiving language of music, of dance, of poetry and Art – so that we never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together and that we are all deserving of a life that overflows with immense possibility, improbable beauty and relentless truth.
What an honor it is to share in this day with you – savor every single moment of it – and then fly out of this building, armed with the knowledge that YOU make a difference, that your art is NECESSARY, and that the world is eagerly awaiting to hear what YOU have to say. Go on, make us laugh, cry, dance, FEEL, unite, and believe in the incredible power of humanity to overcome anything!
This past Christmas Eve, I went to church with my wife, my sister, and my brother-in-law. We arrived a half hour early, which was a half hour too late. All of the seats were taken, and even the standing room in the back was filling quickly.
The four of us were able to carve out a spot to stand near the rear of the church. My wife and I have twin babies, and my sister had just given birth to her first child a week or two before. As we set up shop in the back, I thought to myself: “Well, we’ve got a young woman with a newborn and another woman with twins; surely a couple of the many men already sitting will jump up to offer their seats to my wife and sister. Nick and I can stand for the whole service, but there’s no reason why our…
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Well, good news! The Minnesota Orchestra will be up and running again. The lockout is over, but it looks like the musicians will be not have such great health insurance anymore. Well, surprise–it’s happening to everybody. I’m noticing a trend in that regard that keeps snowballing more people in every day.
This is gold dust.
This, then, is the faith we preach, of which the Turks and the pope and all the sectarians know nothing. The fanatics do, it is true, snatch to themselves the words of the angels, but how earnest they are is plain to see. For they receive the Word only as a piece of paper, as the cup and corporal receive the body and blood of Christ. The paper does no more than contain something and pass it on to others, but yet it remains paper. Thus you copy something from one paper on another paper; from my tongue the Word sounds in your ear, but it does not go to the heart. So they receive this greatest of treasures to their great harm and still think they are Christians, just as though the paper were to say: I certainly have in me the written words, “to you is born this day the Savior”; therefore I shall be saved. But then the fire comes and burns up the paper.
Therefore this is the chief article, which separates us from all the heathen, that you, O man, may not only learn that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior, but also accept the fact that he is your Lord and Savior, that you may be able to boast in your hear: I hear the Word that sounds from heaven and says: This child who is born of the virgin is not only his mother’s son. I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, “To you” is born the Savior. Then ought you to say, Amen, I thank thee, dear Lord.
— Martin Luther
Sermon from Christmas 1530
Intro to Academic Research/Martinez
Let’s face it. I am a skeptic in all things academic, and at first, I thought it was ludicrous that Roosevelt University put CCPA students into a tech-focused writing class. At UMD, I had tested out of freshman writing and was looking forward to a nice, difficult semester of Arts and Letters writing in my junior year. When it involves intriguing subjects, I rather enjoy writing traditional papers, and I have been unpleasantly surprised at just how little I have been expected to write in college. We future degree-holders will be expected to write well in the working world, won’t we? Honestly, I don’t know, so for the semester I gave up griping and made sure that whatever writing involved in the course was done with good effort.
Over the course of the semester, I learned how to make blogs, memes, Prezis, vlogs, and multimedia presentations. I might add that in doing so, I learned to use library resources and Internet databases better to my advantage. When it comes time to present some important matter to an orchestral board of directors, at least I will have some more ideas on how to engage them!
Making and writing for the blog was enjoyable enough that I plan to continue updating it from time to time. Commenting on the course blog was not exactly my forte, but responding to assigned readings was a good exercise. Watching and writing about the Digital Age documentary was particularly fascinating. One of my favorite aspects of having a blog has been being able to subscribe to other people’s blogs. There are so many wonderful theological and musical writers out there, from Todd Wilken to Adriane Dorr Heins, from the Chicago Symphony Archives to various opera junkies.
The vlog, on the other hand, was so far out of my comfort zone that I deleted it as soon as its grading was complete. I have hardly ever used my webcam or recorded my own voice. And putting my voice and face talking about Obamacare out for the public on YouTube—not fun. It was also a stretch to talk about two sources that I did not choose myself.
Finding a user-friendly meme creation site was a bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed finding pictures that would communicate my message. I decided on a popular 6-photo meme with my own pictures and text. I don’t typically admire sarcasm, though. About the only memes I ever enjoyed were Mozart memes and the Synodocat memes which are no longer, so if I never make another one, I won’t mind. I did enjoy learning about the coining of the term “meme,” but the group discussion on society and memes was doomed to be inconclusive from the very beginning.
I still don’t have a good grasp on Prezi, so perhaps I will practice with it over Christmas break in case it becomes academically important for me. I had never even heard of the program before, so I’m not sure it will ever be a huge thing in schools. Maybe businesses use it more; I don’t know. The zooming aspect of Prezi was attractive, but the instructions for use were not quite enough.
The multimedia presentation was quite a hurdle and took many more hours than I expected. Nevertheless, I was able to choose an interesting topic, I learned important things relating to my career, and I stored in my mind some hints for the next time I put together a research project. Squeezing an issue like the Minnesota Orchestra lockout into a 5-minute documentary is impossible, and if I do anything like that in 5 minutes again, I will try to choose a subject that is more easily summarized.
The most difficult part of this course, interestingly, was trying to relate anything to social justice. Social justice is such a vague set of words, and conversations about it seem to involve mostly social buzzwords and political clichés that confuse me. So when it came time to making my projects, I decided to relate them both to children in some way. Youth is always a nice, hot topic, so I knew it would work out.
Well, hooray, it’s the end of my first semester at CCPA! I won’t have to take another writing class until graduate school, but hopefully I will be doing more writing and research next semester in my academic classes. And if anyone wants me to learn some new technological skill, it will take me awhile, but I can do it.
“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.” — Martin Luther