Is piano a therapy? I know it is.

I have been thinking about the need to tailor my experience in performing and teaching piano to connect to and comfort people.

General public is more aware of the essential and powerful role of music for emotional health nowadays, owing to the proven effectiveness and related information on music therapy available for autistic children, teenagers with bipolar disorder, seniors and shut-ins, and veterans with PTSD.

But, is it?  We know that music and art are the first things to go when there is a funding cut at our kids’ schools. I feel compelled to show and share music (making) on the piano for daily consumption, to nurture and tease out individual creativity and ultimately to contribute and strengthen one’s emotional health.  In other words, each of us should grow up and keep our velveteen rabbit.  Piano is your toy becoming real now.


What’s piano lessons to you?

Kevin is thriving as soon as I assigned him Nemo Egg, enlisting his mom for figuring out “what drummer he listens to.”  He became animated telling me why he likes Mr. Newman’s solo from  Finding Nemo.  He has been very attentive and persevering so far, tackling all challenges I gave him,  enjoyed reading about J.S. Bach, which led him to start working on the first invention in C major I assigned.  He finished the early intermediate level piano method, when he stopped taking lessons and became “on his own” six years ago.

His visible outpouring of himself into music of his choice helped me understand how to nurse musical yearnings of teenagers and to prepare forErin’s first lesson.  Erin is a friend of my middle child.  I spotted her as a child who I could identify as myself or remind me of my first child,  who are emotionally intense, sensitive, perceptive, and self-centered, as any  dolphin type  would be, one of the Four learner types  I remember from my piano pedagogy class.  Erin has been through some alarming incidents last year and recently I signed up helping her use piano for funneling her emotional energy daily.  We got together last night.  I found out that listening to Beethoven was the beginning of her interest for piano when she was 5-6 yrs. old, which I could relate with my own experience.  So much for her mom’s worry that she is tired and bored of all classical music assigned by her previous teacher.  We sat next to each other in the living room sofa to ponder why we play piano, using the tale of the goat-eared emperor’s barber who used the shouting pit to get the secret off his chest.  Interestingly, reading Wikipedia article about Aesop’s fables while thinking about Erin’s lesson, I found out that the tale of goat-eared emperor is not an Aesop’s fable, , but a Serbian tale unlike I always thought relying on my memory for the Korean translation (in which it was a donkey-eared emperor, by the way).  My fascination about what’s lost in translation, how or why Serbian goat became Korean donkey will have to wait for now.

Erin was very attentive throughout her lesson, even though I went dreadfully longer than she and her Dad expected.  She will work on Beethoven’s For Elise and Imagine by Beatles, her musically “balanced diet”, or  (in my terms) pulse music as well as breath music.   She will also have lots of random but mindful listening for the next two weeks until we meet after she comes back from Florida.

Blum’s family is having their lesson in spite of all their scurrying around getting ready for their trip to the dream resort in Dominican Republic this week.  Liz, the mom was able to luxuriate her hour-long lesson,  going through the hymn “In the garden”, which she is excited about playing for her self-taught pianist Dad, Joplin’s Maple Rag, two other pieces  from the method book, by Kabalevsky and Mozart.  But, when Darren was summoned to piano, he looks clearly displeased by having been peeled off from the computer and the game he was enjoying.  Over the past, Darren has burst into tears a few times at the piano.  He is again about to, gripped with sadness and feeling cornered about mom not letting him stop, when he says he doesn’t have any interest in piano.  Later, mom and his sister Amelia advise me that it’s typical of him begrudging every time facing to learn a new song, which I agree.   Still, I decided not to persuade nor will this 7-year-old into toughening up. He was allowed previously to take a break, but resumed after attending  his sister’s students recital last year.  When I announce my opinion that he displays daily anxiety and stress, perhaps towards the stellar performances of his older brother (soccer and academics) and sister (swim and academics),  weekend trips and constant schedules changes, not to mention his pressure to please/impress mom, Liz is not moved nor surprised.  She is upset that Darren has to forgo his chance to learn his life skill of discipline.  Maybe, her frustration is toward me not acknowledging her hard work propping him up for his lessons and practices to continue so far, instead, my discarding it at the drop of a  hat.

I don’t see if it’s my place to argue with her about what is important for him at the present.   On the other hand, my lingering thought is that there are other teachers who would wrestle or cajole through his lesson after lesson, so he could get it over with or  grow out of it.  What is the skill we are teaching as a result?  I tell my students that music is all about emotion, food for feelings.  “Music makes you feel and a song makes you feel a thought, as Harburg said.

Other piano teachers may find my decision odd, I suspect, instead of enlisting the parent to persuade and help the student pull through the lessons, I recommend them to let the student to “quit”.  I feel good, oddly enough,  about having stepped back when I realized that I could not teach what I signed up for.  If I do,  I’d teach or send a message which I don’t intend or have no control over.   The next thing, he might say “The piano teacher made me do…”   I wouldn’t want to force or manipulate him only to desensitize himself to survive the “discipline” of music week after week.

When they come back from the vacation, I may share with Liz about my experience with Kevin, a high school senior and the baby of the three Swanson boys, who has been begging his mom to resume his piano lessons after taking a long break and having spent years in the wilderness (on his own) trying to learn his favorite songs via YouTube tutorials.  Or, I can simply state that I don’t think piano lesson is for teaching any life skills, without nourishing one’s soul.  Even better, “Liz, am I teaching you any (life) skills?  Or, am I teaching you for the pleasure, but Darren for discipline?  I sense that you don’t agree with me.  I don’t “make” you pay attention every day to how you count, hear, sound, let alone any other discipline, unless you “feel a thought” and understand the need for being mindful in your practice.  What is it Darren’s missing if he decides that he doesn’t want it?”  “Do you know what he’s losing if he ends up languishing or enduring what he doesn’t want to do?”

I probably wouldn’t  say all that to her, but I look forward to speaking with her about how she can be mindful in her own practice benefiting from the “discipline” of yoga she greatly enjoys recently.

Therapianist, who are you?

I googled my blog to log in after the absence and found out two things:  I need to reset my password, can’t recall the current one and there is Therapianist who posted YouTube soundclips in 2008 from Netherland.  He has two decent improvisations: One is “Manage your emotions while listening to piano improvisations” (5:04) and the second one is “Just an improvisation” (2:28).  It’s a shame that there’s only 246 views total.  I find them beautifully crafted works, if packaged well, they could’ve been as popular as any work  by Yiruma, which my piano students love to learn.

I haven’t left any comment to inform the pianist to acknowledge my mistake, because I have only checked domain names, not YouTube before I started using TheraPianist (which was coined by my brother, Kevin) for this blog last month.  I will have to, once I find out how to change and what to with.

I admire and envy what he is doing, according to what he stated :

“I improvise on the piano when I need to manage my emotions.
Playing piano is my therapist, my outlet.
When you want your own musical therapy: mail me, try to describe in detail what’s so wrong (or so perfect!) and I’ll try to improvise on the piano and broadcast it to you!
I hope I can be your Therapianist.
Please give some feedback/hints.”

Even though I am not able to improvise as well as he does, I have a tingly desire that I’d like to learn his work and play my own version.  Other than that, what he means to me is a confirmation that I can easily find musicians near and far, who strive to reach out, knowing their music have something to “benefit” us, fellow humans.

Benefit is Susan’s word, who is a mezzo soprano I met in 2010, owing to my playing as a substitute at the third Christian Scientist church in Clintonville.  I instantly was moved by her music, rehearsing with her for the Sunday service.  Visiting her at home with her Newfoundland and via FaceBook, I learned about her highly sympathetic personality with people and animal as well as her equally powerful voice  in political and social aspects.  Recently, I was more than surprised by the fact that she has founded and is managing “the ANAHATA Music Project, a chamber ensemble that creates programs focusing on themes of social and environmental justice,” currently presenting Holocaust Remembrance (Yom HaShoah) concerts.

She writes, “Our concerts are born out of our collective passion for issues that touch the heart and waken the soul.  It is our hope that our audiences will come away from our programs with renewed awareness, commitment to compassion, and determination to extend healing to their corner of the world.”

I have another musician who is also a singer, but teaches, directs choir and chorus in a way a successful performer/entertainer would.  He is the new music director of Vaud-Villities.  Throughout the first evening at women’s rehearsal, he made them giggle like their own teen aged kids and plowed through the night’s workload.  I was so moved by this young but experienced entertaining director, I did something unthinkable toward the end of the rehearsal.  I got up from my piano bench, not to bow, but only to say (without having asked!), “He must’ve had a very happy childhood.  I don’t know what else it could be, definitely not anything taught in school.  I’ve never had a choir conductor who got so much done just having fun!”  after he acknowledged me, a new accompanist, and made the whole chorus gave “thank you” clap.  By the way, this seems to become a redundancy, but I don’t know how to stop it coming, I begged him to give me more work  instead, not “forced” compliments on the third weekly rehearsal.

It’s up to me to exercise my scavenger instinct and learn from all of these hard-working talents around me,  who I see every time I turn my head.

I have been to a program under the prevention service of the Columbus Public Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program as the interpreter for a Korean participant.  I have noticed that the participants arriving and checking in for various programs are always told to wait in the lobby or in the designated room, until the counselor or instructor calls them or starts the session.  None of them talk to each other or read (as you’d expect to see in doctor’s office).  They simply wait.  I thought that would be the perfect time and place for me to play.  I may have to bring my own keyboard.  It may not be my place to holler “Use music and splurge!” but I know someone will find it complimenting (as it would in the shopping mall), others may feel comforting, energizing, or healing.  Especially after we were shown the documentary, Broken Child narrated by Susan Sarandon, I am working up a courage to approach the administrator with a pitch suggesting creative activities  to fill the void, created after treatment and intervention by channeling daily emotional current.  This will enable me to participate in rightly taking my small step in the spiral of the Work That Reconnects, an empowering process of four successive movements : Coming from Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth described in Active Hope by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone.

I am continuing weekly visit to Glenmont and slowly accumulating my repertoires.

Whatever blesses one blesses all…

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Bruce at Glenmont last week.  I often thought about what he mentioned while explaining tenets of Christian Science for me, “man in God’s image”, “Jesus healing the sick and overcoming sin and death”, “showing eternal Life, the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter”.  I felt oddly at home realizing that I came to the right place for Classical piano music to be appreciated and that I heard him talking about his work coordinating activities teasing out who they are and what they used to do when that is what they identify themselves with.
I decided to use what he quoted as Ms. Mary Baker Eddy’s words as my springboard, “Whatever blesses one, blesses all.”

Bruce has stated that “it will work out as we explore how this lovely gift on your part can bless our residents,” accommodating my last-minute request to switch the day of my visit in conflict with my newly assigned interpreting session.  Selma, Barbara, Arthur, Sara, Gail, Carla, Daphne, Alene joined their lunch at the table.

When I thought about what to play and how to present for this first visit, I decided to approach as their (music) food server, without a prepared menu, but ready to find out what I can serve “from scratch” and what kind of demands I could work with.  I started with Bach preludes, in C,  C minor, B minor (Bach/Siloti), and “Sheep May Safely Graze” (Bach/Petri).  Going through each prelude, we talked about several things.  Marion, Gail, Carla, Daphne recognized the first prelude and connected it to Gounod’s Ave Maria as I hoped. We talked about having Betty and anyone who wants to sing giving me a list of solos I can accompany and requests for sing-a-long numbers.  That brought up Arthur telling me his summer night belching out the tunes by Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy riding his wheelchair outside with Gail.  He quipped, “You’re too young to know those.”  Daphne asked if I play Broadway musicals.  I clarified my position, I only got to know Broadway numbers from accompanying voice classes during Cal State grad school days, not because of being “too young to know”, but being not American enough, even after having lived in the States for 25 years now, so much for the second half of my life spent trying to think and sound like an American.  Carla remembered her days learning jazz and also the time when she checked out the Westside Story piano score for practice.  She found it pretty hard learning the tricky rhythm, but she could hum the beginning of the overture as if it were yesterday.  Sara, the Queen of knowledge, according to Arthur told me, “Play Classical, anything and everything, that’s what you are best for.”

I played Chopin Waltzes in C-sharp minor and in A-flat and Johnie Dean’s arrangement of Abide With Me (In the setting of Beethoven’s “PathetiqueAdagio Cantabile) and  announced the “recessional music” and played Badarzewska’s Maiden’s prayer.

Arthur, Sara, and Gail are the last three who lingered long after their lunch was over.  Marion and I reminded them of the important graduation event they need to get ready for.  Sara asked me if I have recordings already made, which she could listen to.  I don’t.   I may dig up some old graduate recital tapes, bring to her, and see if she’d like them.  Interestingly, Arthur hollered, ” Please come back, don’t you see we are quite hungry for it?”  That must be what fed my ecstatic feeling of becoming an overflowing cup at the piano.   I was achingly grateful,  feeling showered with immeasurable gifts and indescribable blessings.  I promised Arthur Debussy’s Clair de lune and Schubert next week.

Letter to my friend to commiserate my crush, yes, already

I got something to tell you, Becca.  Just like what you said, I  want to do what I like doing and make a living, too.  So I went to see a career coach–free service offered through a non-profit community social services and the library, told him that I want to cater piano music, because music is just like food, and I want to start at the nursing homes.  In fact, I’m going to meet with the activity coordinator at the Christian Science nursing home where I played with the flutist for their Christmas concert.   I told him,  ” I could ask the director to work with me (because he seemed quite excited about my offer) and use it as my internship to organize my business brochure.”

My career coach first seemed to go along with it,  advised to  “get the business brochure ready and make sure you include the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, once you start visiting nursing homes in the area.  Because they do have the lobby and piano for kids there for that.”
But, then he slipped in, “you know, nursing homes don’t pay much.  What you’d be  doing is  a recreational activities assistant’s job.”  And, pouring fuel to the fire, “music doesn’t pay the bills.”

At this point, I didn’t know whether I should consider him biased about music as business or music as therapy.  No, that’s a wrong approach, he advised me not to confuse myself with  a music therapist who has credentials.  In fact, he cautioned me about using “therapianist”  to call myself.   I could see that I can’t afford gambling away my time for an idea only in its conceiving stage when I know I am not equipped for torturous trail-blazing work and efforts nor a savings account to live off on.  I am qualified for his “Displaced Workers program”, for which I will submit my résumé and cover letter for the cataloger position just opened up at the local history museum and do my best to get ready for a future interview. And I’m going to send this message to the career coach to say thank you.

I am still going to see the nursing home activity coordinator on Friday.  I don’t think I can come up with a fantastic project to find me a grant to write about it, though…

I have recently started teaching a music therapy major, “Carrie”, she is finishing her internship in May, get certified, and ready to get a job.  Even though I fancied a partnership, she’s too young and far from being ready to think about a business adventure with anybody, I should be just happy for now that she’s such an eager student .



Drink piano as your daily tonic

I googled this morning for Beet Kvass recipe and ran into a webpage where I found Kef-Chi recipe (you guessed it, it’s Kimchi made with kefir, it comes under Kefirkraut).  This is what you’ll read under his family photo showcasing kefir mustache: “If we are not pro-creative in a positive manner to serve Life with Love, then we become con-degenerative. The good news is that as long as we breathe, then it’s never too late to Love and Live to serve in a pro-creative manner. When we or others around us fall, what can we do to help elevate the situation so that Love prevails?”

I don’t know which ones more clever, pro-creative or con-degenerative.  I love it!  I am going to try all of his Kef-Chi recipes and share.

This find is my comforting daily bread and inspiration, while we wait Obama’s gun control announcement on this day.  Taking a long scroll on this Kefirkraut & etc. webpage, I realize that there’s always something (to change the world or surroundings) one could “do” instead of swearing “don’t do”s (–“I would not waste my breath even muttering J word, for whom to put weapons and the word protection in equation”, “I cannot talk to anyone who takes “right to bear arms” out of context, just the way they’d read the bible”, rambling on & on.)

In order to extend and articulate my vision for using Classical piano repertoire for broader consumption, I try to think like a follower of and rely on the wild fermentation practice.  To my piano students and their families during lessons and at their recitals, I have insisted that music is food for emotion and we are “culturing” the food (their daily piano practice, in this case) to achieve our optimal emotional health.  This way of thinking may be the first and most useful for normal healthy child to enrich her vocabularies to articulate how she feels about certain occasions, things, people, and what and how she reads and interprets her music.  I work on reminding each of my students how to relate what they do with relative ease as a basketball player, soccer player, swimmer, ballet dancer, & etc. to the practice at the piano.  By observing and thinking through the motions and shapes of their wrists, hands, and fingers used with familiar feels and confidence, they gradually become mindful of sounds each touch produces, wrist actions commanding brush work, and ultimately involved in the story and mood of particular piece they work on interpreting.

It is a reasonable conviction for me to see  other  kids who are extremely sensitive, precocious, and perceptive, to reach the next level (regardless of their music skill level) of finding their music as a safe hiding place and/or a forgiving hollow object or a sandbag to pour out strong, often unbalanced if not unbearable emotions and, if so, they wouldn’t mind the drill for perfecting the technique and don’t need to be asked to look up for more info or listen to recordings.  This is nothing different from what all devoted sports coaches and band directors of our kids’ school already know.  But, I am finding more than what I meant by “music is food for emotion” every day in terms of the urgency, not just the benefit, but the desperate needs of guided and functional music in our daily lives.

I have thought about ancient practices still known to us, but no longer existing. For example, I don’t know if my children growing up today in America would understand the Greek word well-known to a school child in South Korea in last century.  With the changes in modern fractured life, communal gatherings and rituals in farming way of life wouldn’t be the same, unless it is shown and taught to be applied on personal level (“pro-creative, not con-degenerative”).  Schools, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions provide various resources for discovery and continuation of knowledge and inherited wisdom on group and public level and it is extremely satisfying when your kids are as excited as mine about his school and teachers.

But, as a parent/piano teacher/Korean interpreter, my days are filled with running across people with emotional health status:  ranging from ” I’m not hurt, if I do, I don’t know where nor who to talk to about it” to ” I’ve got a fireball (only getting bigger, yes, it’s burning!) in my hand, do I just drop it or throw it to someone?”   If we neglect “to love and live” and “let us and others fall”, we could be endlessly bombarded with and callously wolfing down daily dose of endless carnage around us and around the world.  The bliss of ignorance is no longer allowed to us.

This is where my approach to my music trade /sales pitch comes in.  I use piano showing  people I encounter how to express, how to communicate, and how to live.  I share how to read a piece of music and what’s written between the line, i.e.,  in slurs, staccatos, and dynamic signs.  None of all these activities would have been pale, without my personal experience how the music I performed and taught sustained me after I got laid off from being a cataloger, let alone other personal crisis, and how it has been my tool promoting diversity.

Continuing coaching each student to be mindful and become independent at the piano during practice, I also want to play the piano where I can create “a safe place” and cathartic moments for anyone who has a need for it.  I am going to sit down with a career coach this afternoon to get professional advice and afterwards visit a local Christian nursing home to introduce myself and explore an internship possibility.