Thursday, March 19, 2020

Quarantined in MN/Sri Lanka Top 10

No, I'm not on some exotic adventure now. I'm stuck at home in Minneapolis, Minnesota during COVID-19 outbreak practicing my #socialdistancing and debating how to have a #virtualbirthdayparty. And while it sucks that life isn't normal and I'm not supposed to leave the house except for necessities, I've actually done quite a few things I haven't done in a long time: played guitar (I'm amazed how much I remember), done artwork, cooked real, full meals multiple days in a row, and talked to friends I haven't in awhile. I want to elaborate a little more on playing guitar because it was the first time in AT LEAST six years that I've picked up an instrument without any intention of rehearsing, performing, or having to be good. I played because it was healing, enjoyable, and needed at this time. Sadly, like most professionals in our field, music hasn't always been that to me and can be full of rejection, feeling not good enough, or downright exclusive. I'm finally able to separate the action of music-making from what we as humans, namely music professionals, have ascribed it to. It felt so good to use my musical ear to tune the guitar and then *ahem figure out the riff in Bieber's Love Myself rather than look it up. I even dropped out of a choral project yesterday because it wasn't giving me joy (I didn't like the music). I don't have to prove my musical worth anymore-I've found enough ensembles that do that without trying-shout out to Common Ground Voices La Frontera and See Change Treble Choir! And now every night at 7p I am trying to get as many people as possible to go out on their porches/front stoops and sing Lennon's "Imagine" to keep us all in a mood of hope, community, and hopefully our world can be as one soon enough!

And on that note, I'm now finally writing about my amazing two weeks in Sri Lanka! Huge thanks to #GLT, Lonely Planet, and many Travel blogs for all their recs!

I want to give a top 10 list for Sri Lanka for when this ends and you can travel (which will happen!) because Sri Lanka was an amazing country and not tourist-ridden-we didn't see one American!

1) Talk to locals-most of them speak at least broken English and aside from tuk tuk drivers won't treat you as a tourist. One of my favorite memories was asking my guesthouse mama to show me some Sri Lankan cooking. She showed me how to make coconut sambal and coconut roti, and yes that includes peeling the coconut with a machine dedicated to doing so! Curry leaves are key! Also almost every guesthouse we went to had an option of a cheap dinner/breakfast-say yes, food is amazing and street food isn't really a thing.

2) PickMe the app saved us driver fees and was far cheaper than Uber almost always. Beware of distances. 25 miles can take 2.5 hours because there is only one highway so if you're not on that route, you're going through villages etc. But so worth it to go see elephants in Pinnawala! Hotel Elephant Park you can wake up to elephants right outside your $40 hotel room balcony for an all-inclusive $5 breakfast buffet! Also there are no driving rules so I wouldn't recommend driving or getting out of the car on the right side (British driving on left side of road).

3) Buy your Kandy-Ella ticket early if you want a seat. You will get on the train, but could be standing. Granted, everyone was vying for the door anyway to take the legendary hanging off the train photo (see below). You won't go over Nine Arch Bridge unless you pass Ella so don't let photos fool you.

4) Ambulawa Temple-not on the tourist path, but not too far out of your way from Kandy to Nuware Eliya. Crazy Dr. Seuss looking temple with a winding staircase up to the stuppa. It is the first multi-faith centre in SL! You can take an overpriced tuk tuk to the top that will wait for you or you can hike up yourself. Your choice, but it is quite a hike!

5) Knuckles Mountains-I can't recommend Gamani from Sri Lanka Adventure Trekking enough. As he described himself, he's a senior guide, knew all the locals of the villages we passed through, knew a hidden lookout (so was the path to get there!), and showed us a natural spice garden so no need to stop at one of the many tourist traps when you're chewing cinnamon from the wild (and it tastes like a natural Hot Tamale)! Definitely recommend the SkyCamp stay and going through Corbett's Gap. Just ensure you have a bottle of Dettol and socks/shoes you don't care about because you WILL get leeches, yes plural, and if you don't get 'em right away they will suck right through your shoe/sock. So worth it though! Rice paddies, centennials, waterfalls, natural spring water, beautiful views, and lots of hiking through cloud forests.

6) There's A LOT of temples, which we personally were satisfied without trying. Some highlights: Dambulla Cave temples and Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy-Go see the puja offering (offering) that happens 3 times a day. The other temple towns we skipped-it was hot, they were expensive, and after awhile they all feel the same.

7) A cheaper version of Sigiriya Rock is Pidirungala. A bit of off-path bouldering is required, but well worth the view of Sigiriya Rock and far fewer people. Don't listen to the 20 min timeframe. We were booking it up the stairs and it took 25 mins to get up and an hour total to take pics and descend. Also if your tuk tuk driver isn't there, he didn't run off with your stuff, probably just went up the road for tea time (speaking from real experience). Strongly recommend getting his (didn't see any lady tuk tuks) number so you can communicate if you have a change in plan.

8) Whatever you do, DON'T have a layover in Mumbai Airport. Yes, tickets are cheap from there, but just don't unless you want SEVEN security checks and no time to enjoy the layover. If you have a bag over 7 kg you have to check it and you'll have to leave the secure area which a) requires a visa b) requires a lot of security checks and c) once you re-enter the airport you can't go through security until 3 hours before your flight and you can't leave the airport. Just don't do it-trust me.

 9) Spoil yourself with an Ayurveda resort for a very cheap price. Jasmin Villa in Negombo was <$20 for a 75 min full body massage and pedicure! Beware of oil-they're generous to say the least!

10) I'm almost hesitant to say this last one, but we read Hirikiteya Beach was the perfect mix of nightlife and calm and no one was there (2018 Lonely Planet)-WRONG. When we went to check it out it was people everywhere-no spare room, full of hawkers and tourists everywhere. Meanwhile, a 20 min tuk tuk ride (~8 km) there was a beach full of paradise called Talalla where we found Onchillawa, a tent for $5 on the beach, greeted with fresh coconut water w/ reusable straws, turtle laying her eggs, no hawkers, and very few people outside the beach bar we were at, which had AMAZING sea food and only people at night who were all very cool. Don't expect much from the town, but what do you need anyway when you go on a beach vacation? Swings, beach chairs, umbrellas, ocean waves, and a long coastline-check. You do need to get cash before arrival because there are no ATMs, but Matara or Dikwella aren't far. Dikwella was another more local beach more in the city but still felt the remote feeling. Would've explored more had we had more time.

Bonus 11) If you do a safari at Wilpattu (way fewer people than Yala!), commit to a whole day. Everyone that saw a leopard (we did not) did a full day and saw them in the afternoon. But we saw some really cool birds, including a wild peacock mating dance with its full cloak! It's pretty rare to see a sloth bear as much as we wanted to see one.

Random things: Incense is everywhere, even in the market fish and the taxis!

See below for some pics (many more on Facebook!):
the famous Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

Homemade coconut roti we cooked!


Yes, that is the village road (note the droves of school children!
View of Talalla Beach from our tent, no more words needed

On the train to Ella!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Power of Labels

Until 2018, I called myself a jogger because I'm not fast, nor did I do long races. I ran for stress relief, for endorphins, and to socialize. But once I ran 10 miles in April, in 14 degrees, I decided I was due for an upgrade and proudly claimed the title. Labels have power. Some beneficial, some not at all. Runner is one of those powerful ones. One I only admired from afar, but have actually become! All of a sudden using that label I felt more legitimate and less like I had to justify jogging vs. running. !

Now four months later training for a half marathon, I can DEFINITELY claim it! I've heard it said before, but it's truly more a mental thing than anything! I'm training this time around with no music-previously the only way I can run and for race day I'll probably prepare a playlist just in case! But this time it's more about kinesthetic memory of my legs running and less about the beat they're running to and guess what? I am running lighter, faster, and more consistently than ever before! Even with ten days of not running AT ALL (granted I was schlepping canoes and paddling for some of that), I ran almost 7 yesterday with no issues and another 5 today. So I'm less anxious of the week before the race only hiking in Glacier-though the distances will be comparable! And I'm not sore. And I feel great!

I realized how many expectations I was putting on the label "runner." And just decided to stop doing that. It's no different than "musician," really. I get to define what these terms mean and as long as I do the activity I can use the label. Almost halfway into thirty and I can't think of a year where I feel freer (yay no school!), healthier, or more self-assured about an age where I am FINALLY embracing my whole self and not letting previous limits or preconceived notions of what a runner or musician is stop me. I'm done letting society tell me what I am/am not supposed to be doing, own, or have. I am living my life that IS what I am doing, have, and am. And it feels pretty excellent!

So here's to 2018-a year of being a runner and a musician. Thanks, thirty. You're pretty wise :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Community Resulting From Singing from Birth?

People walking around, the city lit up at night, and not a dodgy neighborhood in the entire city. These were my observations of Georgia at 4 am. People always ask if I feel safe traveling alone and honestly most of the time I feel safer wherever I am than home. Statistically, Georgia is one of the seven safest countries in the world-no crime, no slums, only the occasional peddler or homeless person sleeping harmlessly.
I have no data to support this but I'd like to posit the following: could it be the neurological effects of singing, bonding together as a community, have resulted, at least in part, in such a safe place? It may seem a stretch but according to Berkeley researchers, health researchers, and Oxford researchers (to name a few!), they have shown singing synchronizes heart beats, that it produces oxytocin-the same hormone that bonds a mother to a child or released during sex between two partners, and dopamine-the hormone that gives us pleasure and happiness. It bonds people together-as a community-and research shows that nothing brings people closer together than singing! Why it's such a powerful tool for us development practitioners! Could it be Georgians feel an obligation to be kind toward one another, to follow the Golden Rule, because it's a fellow human that they've sung with? Is it perhaps so safe because of their singing?

Repeatedly, during the conference, Georgians explained how fascinated they were by us doing music for social goals (the simplest definition of community music) and how they could bring that idea to Georgia. How they could develop curriculum, have social outcomes, etc. While this is all fine and dandy, I'd like to question if Georgians actually are the ones being more proactive? That singing for the sake of singing has resulted in not needing community music programs because of its natural ability to unite, to strengthen, to build camaraderie? What social outcome would they want to achieve? Most of the outcomes our programs achieve have already been achieved in Georgia. We want to keep kids off the streets, we want to lower x rate, we want to bring different communities together, already done in Georgia!

Georgians break into song without taking pitch, ever. They just sing three part harmonies in tune. After seeing elementary-aged youth do this, despite being the only one on a part, or being one on a part against 19 others on another (stay tuned for video!),  I asked them, how do you teach this? They just laughed and told me Georgians learn this in the birth canal, it's part of their blood. I suppose it's no different than most Latinx being able to dance-it's part of their DNA.

After a 2.5 hour choir rehearsal with the Georgian maestro telling us to do this, that, and the other thing, I realized how exhausting this type of singing was! And yet, they do it at all times of day-even in the bars at 2 am or walking home at 4 am! Georgian drinking songs are actually quite sacred with references to wine and eternity! Georgia is also the birthplace of wine and one of the oldest Christian nations. The toasting tradition called tamadá, also has Christian roots. I saw churches from the 13th century! And Georgia is known for their hospitality. If you think of the origins of singing, whether from an evolutionary perspective or the church, it brought people together, to connect, and express feelings of gratitude, glory, laud, and honor, and perhaps could be the activity on the logic model that resulted in these outcomes, even if they were unintended.

I still am curious how a song is taught in the Georgian classroom, but until then, I'd like to suggest that we follow their lead! Once again, other countries have so much to teach us! Let's have our babies learn singing in their birth canal and perhaps, just maybe, we'd have a more peaceful and connected world.

On another note, I am proud to say my research will be published in the proceedings of the ISME conference :) Yahoo! #zarathescholar

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Heart Massage

That is how a new friend described Ialoni, the female Georgian choir that sang last night (see my Facebook for a video or go to their website. I think the thing that was most contrasting to what I am used to hearing in polyphonic music was the "oomph" behind the women's voices, particularly the lowest altos who were droning on a D5 (that's VERY low!). The warrior nature of their sound was exquisite and very chesty. This made me think of how outside classical Western music, we're not told to use our head voice. Someone introduced the term "natural voice pedagogue" to me yesterday. All my life I have been a chameleon, including as a musician. How the conductor wants me to sound, wants us to blend, etc. etc. It's come to a point where I don't know which sound I'm supposed to be producing when it is my choice (not all music is empowering-the opposite has been true!) 

Anyway, I digress, to see these women sing with their beautiful natural voices and still receive a standing ovation at the end because they shared their unique and beautiful gift, THAT was empowering. And then they still had some BEAUTIFUL acapella more choral sounding pieces, but that was just one color on their palette. Not to mention the stories that accompanied these songs. The one on my Facebook is about a baby dying and wow the dancing, the symbolism, the sound, everything so gorgeous. 

So often, choral educators use just the primary colors, or a monotone color. What I saw last night was a full palette with clear primary colors as roots, but by the end of the 45 min presentation they had all used their whole palette. What if we broke out of that mold? Painters in Buenos Aires have developed a very trendy style using just neon colors! What if we challenged ourselves to do the equivalent as vocalists, as musicians, as artists? Sure, classical singing has its time and place, but it doesn't have to dominate. I am going to strive to not make it a monotonous color on my palette. I am embracing my inner Georgian and using my natural voice as my primary color--how it should be mixed, I'm still working on that, thanks Dr. Michaels!

This fearless, strong woman presence was also noted in the large Kartlis Deda Mother statue, think the giant Jesus Christ in Rio, but of a woman with a sword in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. She symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies. Strong, but still knows how to celebrate, love, and have a good time. This is what we need more of in the world. Keep our armor shells, because without them we'll wittle away with all the political divisiveness going on and we certainly need to continue to fight the good fight, but not without keeping a glass of wine in the other, to cherish life every day and remember to befriend. 

This statue especially had meaning after I had accompanied two Georgians to dinner prior and we went through the Georgian toast process. Essentially, you can make a toast to anything: trees, napkins, women, the potential President, the list goes on. Someone starts the toast and everyone goes around and says something about the topic at hand-and then you drink half the glass of wine and continue to repour until the jug is gone. Ours was intermingled with intense debate, but the nature of it was there. It happened over several hours so I had no problem climbing the hill to the monastery and aforementioned statue after, don't worry :) To drink with this amount of intention and truly cherish everything-from trees to napkins is a lovely practice I hope to carry forth. So here's to serif font that helps you read this and to the beautiful Georgian people who have already taught me so much in 72 hours! Not to mention the actual songs I'm bringing back with me. What are you toasting today?

Here's to Day 2. And no more sleepless nights.

Art cafes and Minivans

Well I've now been here 72 hours and here was my daytrip adventure to Gori.

After an hour minivan ride learning Georgia has no road rules (!!!), I arrived in the town of Gori quite ready for lunch. I used maps me to find a read art cafe. Intrigued I walked there and could not think of a better way to pass the hottest time of day! The grandma made me a special Georgian soup, an iced coffee that tastes like a frappe, and I had my first Georgian salad-cucumber and tomatoes w nuts. I escaped bread-a feat here! Then she turned off the American music and came in very proudly and put on Georgian music. And now I’m reading in the very appropriately named Read Art cafe in ironically Stalin’s birthplace. His museum wasn't much if you don't read Russian-appropriate I suppose. 

But the minivan ride back showed the Georgian people's true character. After getting dropped off at the train station when there was no train in sight, I boarded a minivan bus to go to the minivan marutshka terminal. The van was full except for a fold-up seat, whose seat back went maybe halfway up my back and whose seat cushion was non-existent, essentially it was a rock, for an hour. But no imaginary third lane passings like on the way here or tailgating semis that I swear we were going to hit(I already have already been sideswiped-thank you very much!). And then the girl next to me starts speaking to me in Georgian and I turn to her and she is pinching her nose, her hands covered in blood. She had a bloody nose. Usually, I see someone hand someone a kleenex and the route continues, but in Georgia, you pull over to the side of these crazy highways and the driver and 3-4 women get out offering kleenex, consoling her, making sure the bloody nose is not a life or death situation.

I felt so helpless not being able to say anything, which made me realize this is the first time in 2.5 years I haven't been in a country where I can speak the language (thanks Latin America) and it's been since the beginning of Tanzania in 2010 when I couldn't understand anything because even in Thailand there was always someone who spoke English! But here they talk to you as if you speak fluently. Google translate has certainly been our friend because not only is it a new language, but another alphabet-cyrillic! 

Good thing there are sulfur baths to wash away all your worries (and dead skin!).

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thesis process and music reflection continued

I wish I could have a more creative title, but the thesis has suppressed my creative writing so forgive the lack of creativity!

It's always interesting to read your thoughts-even a month ago. I am seriously a new person now that this thesis is behind me and as of this morning I PASSED!!! So I'm now Master Zanussi :) That process taught me so much. How I can truly be present in every moment and frankly, who my true friends are, who I miss seeing, and frankly, who I don't. It also was wonderful to know those hours didn't go to waste as they're already resulting in one international conference (if not two) come 2018. I don't say this to be boastful, but rather to show that hard work almost always pays off. There's not really a secret to doing something except working really hard. I had a nonprofit breakfast with Kate Barr, CEO of now Propel Nonprofits who essentially said just that and I couldn't agree more. There's no magical skill or technique I do except to keep doing, even when it gets rough. Now that I'm behind it, I can say there were multiple moments this fall where I truthfully felt I couldn't do it, that I truthfully was doomed (optimistic I know). But here we are, on the other side. The "secret"? Faith, determination, and persistence.

I wanted to respond to my last post and how my thoughts on choir and being a musician continue to evolve. I'm singing with a professional chamber group this week and the director truly knows his stuff! He not only can tell you every single word, but how the music aligns with the text, and then we get to do that!!! After doing a paper that talked about how important context is, it's been wonderful to walk the walk and not just writing about/observing it, but fully experiencing it! I've been writing about the impact music has on people without having that presence in my life so this week has been such a wonderful reignition how important that is for me! The project I'm singing with is definitely not community music, but the musical excellence has been such a necessity and refresher of my musical soul I haven't had for years. I've sang concerts, but this time I am so excited and want everyone and their mom and aunt and nephew to come see because we've worked hard and the music is so rarely performed I want people to learn about it!!

But are we focusing on community? No, but it's still rewarding. I think what I'm realizing is, in contrast to my last post, I don't know if it has to be an either/or. Sometimes I think I'd like to do projects like this one where we focus on the musical excellence and sometimes I'd really like to focus on the community aspect. But I think the difference I'm realizing is that a musician DOES NOT have to choose between the two! In music schools we're only taught the former and I am striving to find a balance between both (with my professional 100% focused on the latter). So I AM still a musician, and even a classical one at that, at times, but I don't have to stay in that box-I can be a classical musician who is meticulous with notes, rhythms, phrasing, diction, dynamics, AND I can be a potluck jamming improv musician AND I can be a musician that focuses on building community, inclusion, social goals, etc. etc. Only I can define what musicianship means for me!


Community with a Capital "C"

Another thing I've struggled with this month (I'm not even going to try to hide it with a word like navigate or grapple) is my identity as a musician. Ever since coming back to MN, I haven't felt like an authentic musician and the more I think about it, even in college, I resented having to go into rehearse/practice when it was a beautiful, sunny day. It felt like a constraint of freedom and for what purpose-to make music together, to perform, to be disciplined after I have been disciplined all day and then some, most nights. Now that a potential physical ailment is again occurring as a barrier to my vocal development, perhaps this is a sign that I really should accept the opportunity to close this chapter and open a new one. To be artful and creative in other ways like dance-the activity that makes me smile regardless of my stress level. Sure, I could do vocal therapy or voice lessons, but is that really how I want to spend my free time, perfecting something that only needs perfecting according to someone's definition? My voice is my voice and that will never change-even if that means I'm no longer a classical musician-I can accept that. That was never my goal. My goal was to make Art with a capital A and for a long time I thought that meant you had to be proficient in music literacy and ear training. Now,  I want to make Art with a capital A and Community with a C. One of my staff said something at staff training over a month ago that has really stuck with me. Do we want to be an intentional community that communes by singing or a singing group that implies a community? I'll be fully transparent. None of my closest friends have ever been musicians, have ever been from that so-called community. What music ensemble experiences have consisted of for me is a lot of "you're not good enough," "your schedule doesn't allow you to do x so you can't do y", "you need to switch studios [for the fourth time in four years]", "we're not going to make music to accommodate others," "your voice doesn't blend," "your voice," etc. etc. etc. Is this really how I want to fill my free time? The wholehearted answer is NO! Does this mean I can't be a "musician"? Absolutely not! Just not in the way I have done for so long-but with the closing of a chapter, comes an opening, and I'm excited to see what that is come 2018. I've debated community choirs that only learn music by ear, that sing for the message, even some church choirs (though I don't think I want that regular commitment). I'm done trying to be humble, prideful, or hide my feelings regarding this. Classical musician out-until I want to/if I want to-then that can be there for me-but I have to understand the tremendous work, discipline, patience, and time that would require. And at this point, that's not what I need.

I need activities that let me be me, embrace me wholeheartedly, accept and love me for who I am, unconditionally. That build community with a C-women's circles, non-technique dancing, running without a timer, hiking without a mission. Unplanned time is certainly a goal of mine for 2018, but for now I am officially closing up shop as a classical musician and just as I acknowledge in my thesis,  am accepting my limitations, now both physical, mental, and frankly spiritual at this point. I'm done denying myself because I don't fit someone else's standards. That's not transformative or life-giving. Quite the opposite. Of course I will go support others and when I am accepted as I am, join. But I'm done desiring to be on the stage as an audience member, of saying if only I would practice, etc. etc. I chose a different path and that is more than okay.  My path is to create Community through Music.