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THE COMFORT -- AND LIMITATIONS -- OF LABELS



Improvising and experimentation are not my cups of tea when it comes to making music or pursuing life in work, play, or relationships. I generally prefer boundaries and routine.


Strange to say that, because I rather pride myself on a boundless urge to create anything artsy or craftsy, and can simply go wild in constructing colorful, fanciful, feather-silk flower-and-rhinestone hair clips (pictured above) or broches (flower on shoulder, left, with more below). I never found it difficult to use sweeping free-flowing, colorful calligraphic strokes to create decorative first letters of a commission, using hand-cut bamboo sticks. And I wrote slightly edgy, humorous, pithy, rather kooky Skeltonic verse way before I even knew the name of that poetic form (see below for some examples from Vol. I "Poetic Musings about Pianos, Music & Life.).


But letting go when applying watercolors to paper, or at my piano, pushing the limits of dynamics into the upper reaches of loudness as in ffff notations, feels very uncomfortable, even threatening, even if I have no clue what exactly, is being threatened?


A year ago, I did learn to let go a good bit pianistically, when I was a student in Julliard Professor Noa Kageyama's "Psych Essentials" class. The five-zoom-session class (offered periodically during the year and starting again soon at the end of January) is designed to help students reduce public performance nerves (even in front of a piano teacher) with specific, evidence-based practical strategies, and secure our pieces better in practice and for easier performance.


What allows me an ability to cut loose in creative endeavors, is of course, foundationally a matter of feeling safe. Noa is a master of creating a safe space in which to learn.


As a result of that class I took such a leap forward in terms of pushing my limits in musicality and self confidence, that I decided as an alumna to accept Noa's generous offer to re-join the class again this month, but without additional fee. (I could tell you how he helped me let go, but I highly recommend that you sign up for his class to get the real scoop from a trained psychologist-violinist.)


Now THERE is a music teacher beyond generous and completely devoted to the continuing progress and well-being of his music students so that we can get on with the task of getting better!


My hesitancy to stretch my boundaries is likely also based on the fact that I have been inculcated by family upbringing and social messaging regarding the usefulness of labels and doing the "right" thing with the "right" way to do it. (My parents also gave me the additional message that I should do it "right away"!) Thus, I feel more comfortable operating with clear boundaries and understanding the topic or task at hand, ergo my love of the law and 16-year former career as a trial attorney! What other profession is more bounded by clear-cut rules?


In relationships, I'm likely to be more upset by silence than by interruption, because silence translates into the anxiety of "not knowing," that is, no information is forthcoming upon which I can base my next step, and gives me no clue as to how I should act next. Bad news to me is better than none.


"Human society is built around categories, classifications and generalizations, and there's something seductively simple about labeling yourself and others" ("Despite what you've been told, you aren't 'left-brained' or 'right-brained'" by Amy Novotney, in The Guardian 11.16.13).


Labeling and boundaries are simply easier to fall back into and on. One needs not think too much but point to our labels (titles, membership in groups, gender, and other). They reduce anxiety, but they can also hem us in, restrict possible growth opportunities, and deny us sources of new pleasures and learning. When I label myself through critical "inner talk," that is antithetical to my self-concept that I am a curious person open to learning and able to learn from multiple people and experiences. In that sense, negative self-labeling goes against one of my core values and has no reason to exist!


If I carefully consider critical self talk when it arises, or negative feelings about another person's affirmative actions or silence, I think I'll try Linguistics Prof. George Lakoff's theory of re-framing the issue as "not helpful" and move back into what I value: an open mind, open heart, and lots more effort devoted to improve!

***

THE MEDICATION SOLUTION

 

I may need a Valium

or an Ativan would do.

Perhaps a Prozac?

But a Mary Jane would, too,

to prepare me for my lesson

on my trusty piano,

though the lessons on rhythm

go agonizingly slow.

I may need a fan

or a pillow for my head,

after a rhythm struggle

when I wish I were dead,

feeling I'll faint or I’ll cry,

or fall down on the floor

and kick and then scream

to even the score

with my teacher,

though he’s usually quite jolly,

as I pursue my folly

to learn some more basics

and just how to play–after what?

No less than a 58-year delay!

MUSICAL NEUROLOGY


The neurons, they fire,

Then rockets explode,

The mind it goes

Into musical mode,

As harmony it seeks,

A perpetual motion,

A rhythm to move by,

A thematic notion,

A nuance expressed,

Interpretation so fine,

Dynamics from loud

To softness divine.

With chills down her back,

And stars in her eyes,

Bliss envelops her in

A world of sighs.

All neurons alert,

Synapses so wide,

She floats on her cloud

Completely shut-eyed.

Be it mysterious brain,

Or what’s inside,

It’s still from the soul

That pleasure derives.

###

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