Hello How is everyone this evening? I am so sleepy…I actually took a power nap between 6 and 6:30 this evening, and would have slept longer if Tulip hadn’t come to get me for dinner! I think I’ve been staying up too late and not getting enough exercise. But it’s sooo cooooold outside, and I don’t wanna way aaaaaall the way to the gym…which is only five minutes away from me. I have no excuse, I know! And I wasn’t even that productive today. But I just finished finals, right? So don’t judge me, rugrats! I’ve earned the right to sit in bed with my blue blanket and marathon Chuck (even though the whole time, I was crafting articulate arguments about why Sarah Walker is far from the feminist ideal. I know. I wish I could turn it off sometimes too.) At least I wasn’t lying in bed. Until I took my nap.
Anyways, I am going home tomorrow, and after a couple of nights of sleeping and days of nothing-doing, I am sure I’ll be ready to get back on the productivity train! You would think that because I’m on vacation, I would have nothing to do, but I have promised myself to get halfway through my thesis, work on my novel, and catch up on SJP duties that I’ve neglected during the semester. I also want to alphabetize our family’s bookshelves and play card games with my sister. Oooo, and I want to watch Jewel in the Crown, which is a BBC miniseries set in colonial India! And I need to finish my mom’s birthday present. And knit myself a pair of mitts for when I’m driving. As you can tell, I party hardy when I get the chance. NOT.
Another thing that I would like to do during the five weeks that I’ll be at home is practice for my music lessons. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned music lessons before, but I’ve taken flute and voice lessons every semester since I’ve been at Cornell. I am also part of Cornell Chorale, which takes up my Friday evenings, but is totally worth it. I’ve been playing the flute since I was in seventh grade, which was the same time I started voice lessons.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have awesome teachers all my life, but I’ve found my Cornell instructors to be particularly wonderful. My flute teacher Liz is a warm, kind person who somehow manages to encourage me to work as hard as I can without ever making me feel bad if I’ve had a particularly rough week and haven’t had time to practice. Technique has always been my weakness; I have relatively small hands and I tend to tense up during technical passages, so short, tense fingers = weak technique. But I have come so far with Liz, primarily because if I’m having trouble with a passage or an etude, she will play along with me, which gives me the confidence to make mistakes. Making mistakes is probably one of the most important things I’ve learned to do during my lessons: if you don’t try, you will never know if you can play the second movement of the Bach E minor, right?
Amanda, my voice teacher, is the first teacher I’ve had who has really understood my voice type and has always been successful at helping me choose repertoire that I can learn something from without overly taxing my voice. I’d always thought that I had a top-heavy voice, and was surprised to find that I was more in tune and had a freer sound if I just backed off a little and let my voice do my thing. As Amanda always tells me, I have an “Italian servant/peasant girl” voice, because my range and timbre is appropriate for roles like Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Despina in Cosi fan tutti. But I’ve also been singing a lot of jazz and other songs that keep my lower register in check.
Anyways, why am I shamelessly plugging my teachers? Well, first of all, if you are a prospective Cornell student who wants to continue taking flute and/or voice lessons, you should definitely ask to audition/meet with them! They are both wonderful teachers and you would be lucky to have them. But I also wanted to write this post because I had to make a slightly difficult decision this semester about whether to continue lessons in the spring or to drop them in order to focus on my courses and my thesis.
Obviously, I decided to continue, and a large part of it was because I couldn’t imagine what my semester would be like without Liz or Amanda! But I also couldn’t imagine what my semester would be like without music. I mean, I listen to music, but creating music is one of the most relaxing, sometimes most frustrating, but ultimately most rewarding things I do. Whenever I feel anxious or stressed, rather than eating raw cookie dough or punching my pillow (oh, who am I kidding, I do that too!), I head out to Lincoln Hall, lock myself in a practice room, and play or sing Faure and Mozart for hours.
I realized that music was more than a hobby that I picked up but would most likely drop after college: it is often a lifeline during hard weeks and it reminds me that there is more to life than one usually thinks. As Karl Barth said, “When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; but I am sure that when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart – and God eavesdrops.” (I prefer the Romantics like Chopin and Faure, but you can’t really compete with Bach and Mozart, right?)
And most importantly, I need music to remind me why I do everything else. To be honest, classes can be grim sometimes, especially considering the types of things I’m interested in. Going to my class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right after discussing racism and sexism in Enlightenment thought tends to bring one down after a couple weeks. And as much as I love activism, it is sometimes draining and depressing. You fight for weeks and months, and for what? The UN strongly condemns this and calls for that, but sometimes it feels like nothing ever changes.
And then I play a couple of bars of Ganne’s Andante and Scherzo and I remember why I’m fighting. In the short term, oppression seems like forever and change comes slowly or not at all. But in the long term, change has to come, because with beauty such as this music, how can it not? I remember that while I’m fighting for concrete change, I’m also fighting for beauty and art and music. I think I often feel torn between what many mistakenly think of as two separate identities: the “artsy” me, who wants to write for young girls to show them that it is possible to be a strong woman without wielding a sword, who ardently believes that music has healing properties beyond our imagination, and the “political” me, who knows that without direct action and speaking out and educating oneself, we will never achieve justice and equality. But to create something beautiful, whether it’s a poem, a painting or a particularly emotive rendition of Faure’s Pavane–isn’t that a form of resistance in a world that often seems too ugly and awful to bear? To refuse to give in to “reality,” “practicality” and the other labels we put on racism, bigotry and oppression to make them more palatable? To fight fire not with fire but with love?
Sorry if that was super cheesy and philosophical. I think Mark Gonzales said it much better than I ever could: “Dance, write, speak, dream, love and exhale the world anew…and wage beauty.”