Sunday, September 27, 2015

C'est parti!

Although I am way behind on blog posts (I still have not even posted about my incredible experience at the Silkroad Global Musician Workshop, nor Mike Block String Camp), enough people have asked me why I suddenly moved to France that I figured it is about time to post. Here are some answers to the What, Where, When, Who, Why, and How:

I have enrolled in a certificate program for jazz and improvised music.

Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood (CMDL) in Dammarie-lès-Lys, France, about thirty miles (48km, I'd better get used to that) outside of Paris (I am living in the nearby town of Melun). 

Now! I moved to France last week. It is a two-year program, finishing in spring of 2017. Placement exams are tomorrow.

I will be studying jazz violin with the incredible Didier Lockwood, as well as the other amazing faculty at CMDL. If you have never heard of him, I recommend starting with this album (easier to swallow if you are not accustomed to progressive rock/jazz fusion).

Yes, why? Why, after eleven years of higher education in violin performance, including a doctorate, would I want to go back and do even more school? Unless you enroll in a program that specializes specifically outside of classical music (like, at Berklee, or a jazz diploma program at a school like New England Conservatory), the curriculum, pretty much everywhere, is limited to the classical tradition (especially for string players). After eleven years of that, I have discovered that I want to learn other things, and to acquire a new perspective on what I already know. I want to be able to jump into, for example, a Latin jazz ensemble with the same comfort as I do with a symphony orchestra or string quartet.

Why France? Um... Why not France? What better way to learn a new musical language than in my second language? One can only help the other, right? I studied French in middle and high school, came back to it as an upperclassman in college, and lived in Geneva for a year. It’s been ten years since I was speaking French every day, and I feel that I have lost quite a bit of a skill I always wanted to master. I am usually lost when it comes to watching French movies or listening to native speakers converse informally (do we speak English that fast?). I figure I had better get back to it while I am still arguably young, and what better way to keep my brain fresh and active? I feel like I have forgotten everything, and I am pretty sure my roommate is already tired of having to repeat himself. But, it is only the first week. I have to remind myself to be patient.

How to jazz? This is the question I will be asking myself every day for a long time. As a classical musician who demands perfection of myself, how am I going to handle the foreign and variable world of jazz? You can argue that there is no right nor wrong in classical music, only good and bad taste; but the material itself is invariable. What you are supposed to play is right there in front of you, printed legibly in your choice of many different editions. It is your responsibility to make the music come to life. You can infuse it with your own unique style, phrasing, sound, color, expression, etc. (and yes, the possibilities are endless). But still, you will either play the notes right, or you will play them wrong. Keep the variable elements, but take away the constant. That’s jazz. Sure, there is a framework of chords and yes, you are given the notes of the tune itself, but all the real substance of jazz is on you. Jazz demands a deeper level of listening than classical music. You can get away with superficial listening in classical music (although, I will argue that the best classical musicians listen with jazz ears).

So, there you have the technical question of “how”, to which I will be finding the answers over the next two years. The “how” that I am worried about is more personal.

Vulnerability has always been my least favorite feeling. I do not like it at all, and I have always tried to avoid it at any cost. During my last lesson in the U.S. with the incredibly wise and incomparably talented Zach Brock, I was a ball of nerves. He asked me what I am most scared of. I told him that my nightmare would be that I know less than everyone else at CMDL, that I go blank during the placement exams, or that I am forced to sight-sing in public (it has been years), that people will say “And she has a doctorate?”,  and that I will be embarrassed. He just shook his head and said, “But even if that happens, the worst thing that could come from that would be that you feel embarrassed.” And it made me realize that I had been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Coming from classical music, I thought my goal should be to get so good at jazz that it is unlikely that I will embarrass myself, because I am so good at the jazz. But the truth is that the real change and growth comes not when I get past the point of embarrassing myself, but when I feel embarrassed and am not debilitated by it. I have to learn from my embarrassment. Maybe I will even get to a point where I enjoy it.

So, here I go, diving head first into what is likely to be the most humbling and humiliating experience of my life. And when I mess up, I will smile. Patience. Ok, c’est parti!

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