Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grand Pause

I had my last concert as a regular member of the UMKC Symphonic Orchestra last night. Seeing as how there's a new graduate student arriving next year, there's almost virtually no chance I'll be asked to return to play concerts next year. Though, the university did send me a scholarship agreement for 2008-09...

It's usually at times such as this that people get overwhelmed with bittersweet feelings. I expected I would, but I didn't. I'm not sure why that would be, exactly. Perhaps it's because I've only been in the group for two out of my four years. Maybe it's because I'll be seeing most of the people next week, when we do the finale of the Wind Band season.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to have five hour less rehearsal time in my week!

I bet the main reason is because everything feels so unfinished. My comprehensive exams, supposedly entirely finished and wrapped up within 30 days of March, stretched long into April. A set of mishaps on the administrative side led to one of the exams never being delivered for grading to the appropriate professor. As a result, I still don't even know whether or not I've passed and am able to continue with my degree.

So though I'm being recognized at performances as an "outgoing graduate" who is moving on to other things... I'm not. I haven't been pursuing academic jobs, because my terminal degree is still wildly up in the air. It's one thing to apply and be "all but dissertation", which implies that one needs a good hard slog at books to complete the doctorate. It's another thing to let employers know that you are still waiting on the results of an examination that may prevent me from ever earning a doctorate. I'd probably go straight to the bottom of the pile.

And here I sit. I've been working on my lecture recital, which can only be presented after passing comps. I've been thinking about my research projects, which can only be presented after comps.

I had an interesting experience this week, which will no doubt make it into its own entry. One of the finalists for the local symphony came and gave a master class. As I was explaining my research ideas and directions, he cautioned me that those particular ideas weren't really useful for auditions. And as soon as he said it, I knew that he and I were on opposite sides of a large philosophical crack about what "being a musician" means. Luckily, they're not competing ideas, but it was still an "aha!" moment about what all this study means.

But right now, all it means is that when people ask if I'm graduating, I say "No". If they ask if I'm leaving Kansas City, I say "Maybe".

And when they ask if I know the final FINAL final results of my comprehensive exams, I say: "Are you kidding?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Busy busy busy

Lots to do this week. It seems like the last weeks of class snuck up on me. That seems a strange thing, especially since I'm in rehearsals every day working on pieces that I knew needed to be performed sometime before May 2nd. And there's just not a whole lot of time left before that happens.

Regular updates will probably continue after Wednesday or Thursday, when I only have concerts every night, not seven other things.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Honda Diagnosis

I discovered a method to expose how many things are on my mind, and all it takes is my car stereo.

Last night, I made a quick drive over to the grocery. Before I started the car, I turned off the radio. I often do this when I know I'm going to be making short trips because my retractable antenna doesn't fully retract anymore, and it makes an awful grinding when it tries. When the radio is on, this noise happens every time the car starts and every time I stop the engine. To try to avoid it, I'll shut off the radio.

That meant that the radio was off when I drove to school today. Ordinarily, I have NPR running all the time so the periods of silence in my car are few and far between. On this particular day, I made it two-thirds of the way to the campus before I realized the radio was still off. On a 30 minute drive, that means I spent 20 minutes in complete silence and didn't realize it.

I had filled the time with continuous and wild leaps of cognition. From the moment I started the car (if not before!) I was immersed in my own thoughts. It's a measure of how much is on my mind; ordinarily, I'm thinking only a few lingering thoughts, so I've got plenty of brainpower to devote to other more immediate things. In this case, though, I had a larger helping of issues. I suppose I should be lucky I could still maneuver my car on autopilot.

The good part is that I don't need any diagnosis to tell me what it is I'm thinking about: it's all right there on the surface. The bad news is it doesn't help anybody if I'm demonstrably lost in my own thoughts.

That's why I'm sitting here tonight, in front of my fireplace. I had planned on going to hear a recital this evening, but I eventually decided against it. Not because it was far away (though it was), or because I wanted to be home (which I did). No, I decided not to go for one reason: I was going for the wrong reason.

I'm sure that sounds all kinds of faux-dramatic, but this isn't going to be a revelation about how I'm going to recitals to avoid having to think about beating my kids when I get home. The simple truth was that I was going to attend that recital for reasons that had nothing to do with the performance. As a music major, I realized that's just not acceptable. A recital should be about the demonstration of musical preparation, not as a stepping stone for an audience member.

So, I'm at home. Sure, being in front of the fireplace on a cold, wet night isn't a terrible punishment. But my chastisement is not about having a bad time while grounded in my room; this is about me deciding that no matter what it is I'm pursuing, I need to do it without compromising principles.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Cold-Fingered Inferno

I got hit with the double whammy of negative possessive emotions: jealousy and envy. Oftentimes one sees the two terms used interchangeably, but they're really quite distinct. Envy is most often associated with the desire to possess something that belongs to someone else. I have no claim or right to the thing, but I am envious that you have it and I do not. Jealousy is the belief that I have more right to the thing that you do, though it was given to you. It can also be a desire to hold fast to a thing I already possess, as well.

I was blindsided by it. I just turned around and got overwhelmed. Oh, how I envied the guy. Oh, I felt such jealousy about the girl. I couldn't even speak, when I'd been chatting and friendly 30 seconds prior. What a massive change! and for what? Seeing a girl leaving somewhere with a guy? Were they headed to class? Was she dropping him off? Is she bringing him back to her place because he's dating her roommate? I have no idea.

But my mind leapt to the worst of all reasons. The most painful of all realizations. The bitterest of all draughts. They were a couple. My eyes got wider. I'd missed my chance. All that preparation for nothing because they were a couple. Shallower breathing and microscopically parted mouth. All the times I talked to her and built up a relationship don't matter because she's now with him.

How could he! One of my own friends stabs me when I stepped away! I desire to run up and rip them apart, about how it's not going to be this way because I'm the one! This chance is my chance. Not yours.

Then it all ebbs away. My Reason tries to pick up the shattered pieces of the theater torn apart by my Passion. Pointing out the flaws. Urging restraint. Counting to ten.

Facing the facts.

If I never made my intentions known, who then to blame? Myself alone, when my courage falters every and each time the moment rose. The blame is not hers nor his. What have they done but act as two people do, in such an intimate business: without reference to others.

Who dares to fault that? Only the ones tortured by their own frozen lives, who cry out when the cup of life is taken from them though they never raised a hand to it. And what are the cries of those kinds of people other than the whispers of leaves that have already let go of the tree and are blown along the ground to the opposite horizon?

Fate need not concern itself with the lamentations of those who want everything and risk nothing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If not for mucus...

It's a disgusting word, mucus is. It's disgusting to say and it's certainly disgusting to think about. I can't think of any good kinds of mucus. Nothing that you would spread on toast, use for plant food, or even use to wax your car. My life has been occupied with it for the past few days, though, because I've been sick. I feel better now, but the mucus remains.

I reacted to this the way I always do: I tried to flush my head. The first step involves food. I made a dinner of Mexican food, complete with a golden habanero hot sauce, and I've made dinner plans for tomorrow night that involve Indian food. I like things that make my nose run even when I'm healthy; I cook with an inordinate amount of peppers, curry, salsa, and spicy sausage. I have no medical knowledge that such food helps me at all when I'm ill, but assuming I'm not in gastronomic distress, I always try to eat some. Maybe it has to do with a stuffed-up nose blocking the tastes of blander foods. I'm not sure...

The second step is a good cry. I got a movie from the library, though not with this purpose in mind; it was transported from another branch a week ago, before I'd even left on the trip to Louisville. I watched "Stranger than Fiction", which I'd only seen once before. I was hoping that the DVD came with a director's commentary (no dice). It's a sad story and a sweet one, about our ultimate destinies. Really, it's about how we chose to approach that destiny, even when it's a forgone conclusion.

The main character is faced with his own mortality, and he makes the choice to embrace it. Not because he's being forced to or even because he feels obligated to. He does it because he acknowledges that, out of all possibilities, his specified death is important. It's what needs to happen, simply put.

Part of what makes a tragedy is the inexorability of the forces working against the hero. The Greek tragedians exploited this by writing dramas wherein the fates of all were already known. The Greeks believed in the satisfaction of pre-established forces; to them, tragic events were a sort of gravity, which had no choice but to act on all objects, pulling everything in a particular direction.

In works of Shakespeare, the tragedy springs from flaws. Othello has jealousy. Lear has vanity. Hamlet is trapped by his own over-analysis. We identify because we may have those flaws, too. They're not usually of the degree that would end empires or crack the royal families, but they can ruin lives if left unchecked.

In "Stranger than Fiction", the main character has never pursued the things he wants. It's a flaw I can identify with. I haven't been cursed with a complete lack of goals; I've achieved a fair amount of the things I wanted. I am haunted, though, by things that I never acted on. Even on a daily basis, I feel it. Something may have happened yesterday that I didn't react to, and now the moment is firmly fixed in the past. It may yet recur, but more than likely I'll react the same way and be trapped by my own decisions into the same path of inactivity.

Unlike the protagonist, we none of us know what the future brings. We can make educated guesses, we can plan for the days we think are coming, but we can never fully be certain that whatever choices we make lead us down the road we anticipate. Even something as simple as getting sick can throw our entire existence into chaos, causing discretionary ripples to swish back and forth.