Please excuse the delay. The past two weeks have been hard for me.
I’m actually doing much better now but it took me quite some thought to get here. It also took me a while to decide how much to share about how I’ve been feeling. I’ve decided that if I want this blog to be a meaningful account of my travels then it should include my struggles as well as my successes. While this isn’t the main subject of this post I’m just going to give a brief aside on that:
We are living in an age where our personal interactions happen increasingly through digital means. If you don’t agree with me try keeping track of how much time you spend on Facebook, emailing, and texting today. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that what we say on the Internet MATTERS. Aside from the obvious limits the web puts on communication like gesture and intonation I think there is an even deeper way that this influences our interactions; Social media keeps our every movement saved for posterity forevermore and it gives us virtually infinite time to craft what we present (pun lol). As a result our human instinct to create an attractive image of ourselves is magnified. Our digital profile is not an accurate picture of us but often a sort of indulgence of our own vanity. While this is fine for entertainment I suggest that it might make us even lonelier. So if I make this blog into something more than just an expression of my swagger then this post could be a good thing not just for me but also for the people reading it. Most of my struggles are just minor variations on the struggles of being a free person just out of school and my thoughts on them might have some relevance to some of the people reading.
During the first two weeks of my stay here I took introductory lessons with one of the vocal teachers here named Sudah. I felt these were helpful and filled in some gaps in my existing knowledge. Generally I was really enjoying my first two weeks but I realize now that I liked them mostly because they were fairly familiar. I was studying Indian music alongside a continuation of my jazz studies and the Carnatic material was all in a subject area I knew a little bit about. Sure I was in another country, but I had time to practice, a quiet room, and a gym so I couldn’t get too worked up.
The founder and director Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian is my main teacher and we began lessons last week. He’s really an amazing man. Perhaps his most telling features are that he sleeps five hours a night and one in the afternoon, he comes from nine generations of Veena players, and he believes so much in his own teaching method that he quit his job at the University of Madras to start this school. I didn’t realize that the workload was going to change but I went from a couple classes a week to an intensive two-hour lesson every day. He was planning to do this for the duration of my stay, which is a level of dedication, and support that still awes me.
Frankly I couldn’t hang. There was too much material and I couldn’t keep up with that pace. A few days ago I told him that I didn’t want to waste his time and we are reducing the number of lessons per week.
Going through this was difficult for me and required that confront my goals, my aesthetics, and my own personality.
First of all, I have difficulty giving up on something that I feel is expected of me and I couldn’t help but feel that my pace was somehow a failing on my part.
When asked to complete these tasks I did my best to completely immerse myself in it, which meant that I entirely abandoned my old practice routine. To a non-musician or even a musician who has been guided more directly by a teacher this may seem trivial, but this is a carefully crafted regime that I have designed myself over a period of ten years through a combination of trial and error, meaningful personal and musical experiences, and repetition. It means a lot to me. Way WAY way more than I ever realized before. It may not be an exaggeration to say that my practice routine is the most concrete part of who I am. If we take as a premise that my music is a form of self-expression and my practice routine is an attempt to refine that expression then altering it completely is actually a huge change not just in my craft but in my self. And now that I have had a few days to reflect I think this is actually a good thing. If I believe in what I’m working on that strongly then hopefully that means that the end result of my efforts means just as much to me.
I have listened to only a tiny fraction as much Indian music as I have jazz and as I worked I became worried that this work would take me in a direction that I don’t really want to go. This music is very different then American music and while it is very beautiful it can sometimes sound overwhelming, strange, or even ludicrous to me…Similar to the way American music sounds to Indian people. These thoughts made me doubt my reasoning for even being here in the first place. If I don’t want to learn Indian music why the hell am I in India? Shouldn’t you have seen this coming? Are you just some guy looking for a cool story? This in turn raised a lot of feelings of guilt: Am I a tourist in a culture I don’t really care about? And inadequacy: “There are so many people who really understand this music who deserve this opportunity more than you.”
The inadequacy is a big one. And I still don’t have it all worked out. I realize that the only fix for it is internal but I still am dealing with that one frequently. I often found myself reverting back to this fact that I was awarded a fellowship for my trip here. After many hours of jumping back and forth from this fact I have realized that this means nothing and that my reliance on it was moving me backwards. The truth is that the grant world is just about random, especially in the arts. Even though I got the Beebe, that only means I CAN do my project it still doesn’t mean that I SHOULD. Having money doesn’t make something a good idea and I could have had a whole lot more money doing plenty of other things if I thought they would make me happy. As an aspiring professional musician I have a lot of anxieties about money. I’m still chewing this one over, but I’m beginning to really believe (instead of just saying) that if I do what I believe in the money will follow. I don’t think I fully believe this yet and I’ll have to see how this changes over time.
Because I still don’t have any real friends here yet I was also having these debates almost entirely within my own head. That’s a pretty inefficient process that also made me go a little crazy. I actually got worn out from obsessing about my own life and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before.
All this was compounded by the fact that I am literally living right next to my teacher’s studio and I am expected to keep up with a large amount of material every day. Although I’m sure I was imagining it, I felt that my every sonic movement was being evaluated by this virtuosic stranger.
So I spent a few days spinning my wheels trying to figure out what to do. Should I go back to Denver? To Ghana? The moon?
The bottom line is that whether this was a good decision or not, whether I am a lucky shmuck or a deserving artist, whether I am musically prepared for this experience or not I am here now. I have an amazing teacher and the infrastructure to practice a lot. That is an enormous privilege and I should take advantage of it before I get freaked out and run away. This is a challenge that could lead to some great things, I just don't know what those are yet.
I made an agreement with myself to see how this next month goes. I’ve created a little time in my day for some of my old practice routine. I realize now that I need that. I will be going to Durga Pooja in Kolkata in October and I will re-asses then when I have more clarity on what my studies here will look like. Until then I am going to just put my head down and shed and see what I can learn and how it is benefitting me.
OK and also I’m going to go all Siddhartha on you again:
“’When someone is seeking,’ said Siddhartha, ‘it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.’”
Not sure if this is right for me or not. At Stanford Mark Turner said “you have to have a goal. Otherwise you might just work your whole life and get nowhere.” But for now at least I’m just out here trying to find bb.