My One Year Interlochanniversary

Driving back from school, in between listening to Sunday in the Park with George for the 3rd time and Hamilton for the 4th, my dad sternly let me know that it was time for another blog post. So, after 3 weeks of waiting to be able to post this, here are my thoughts in honor of a very special day (sorry it’s long… I hope you like it anyway). One year ago today, I embarked on a journey that has shifted my perception, altered my path, and changed my life forever (I mean technically we left my house on June 19th, but we got to Interlochen on the 20th, so whatever). 

I could write an entire post on my experiences at Interlochen, and I probably will at some point, but for now I thought it would be more appropriate to take a moment to acknowledge the most important things I have learned in the past 365 days from my mentors, my colleagues, and my best friends:

First, I need to acknowledge everything I learned from my amazing composition teacher, Dr. Van Maanen (because she deserves to be put first also I feel bad because I told Dr. Deemer about college before I told her oops). Dr. Van Maanen taught me everything I know in terms of skeletonizing and drawing my music and listening to all kinds of music, even if we don’t like it very much. However, one of the most important things Dr. Van Maanen did for me was to secure me in this new field and convince me that I belonged there. When I met the other members of the comp studio at the beginning of the year, I felt like I had somehow tricked the world into believing I was a composer. I felt like it was a false identity, and I didn’t really know what to do. I never told DVM this, but the reason we spent the first two months of school editing my old music was because I was too scared to bring her anything I was writing because I was worried about how it would compare to other students' work. I was extremely insecure in my abilities, but by shoving me in headfirst and helping me succeed, DVM showed me that I was capable of more than I thought, which was very important in my relatively early development as a composer. She helped me when I decided to start over on my orchestra piece, she helped me when I couldn’t figure out what my concept was for my next chamber piece, and she helped me figure out how to make my music be supportive but unobtrusive for Mirror Image. Most importantly, though, she made me realize the value of being yourself as a composer and as a person. She has encouraged me to continue playing clarinet and piano and she has pushed me to maintain my personal creative process and compositional style, all while working to improve my technique, which is not easy to do. On top of that, she helped me find community in the studio and appreciate the value of taking a break when you need it. Overall, I owe most if not all of my success this year to the mentorship and companionship of Dr. Van Maanen, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Next, I need to acknowledge everything I learned from Dr. Deemer at camp. He was my first composition teacher, and the number one thing he taught me (in addition to actual craft things like how to not have collisions, and how strings work) was persistence in the face of disaster. I technically had 3 weeks to write a 3 minute band piece, but a week before the deadline, I started over because my first draft had been such a mess. It took 2 days of skipping classes, 3 extra comp lessons, and 7 hours in a library study room with Dr. Deemer to finally get the piece ready for reading, and let’s be honest here I definitely wanted to give up. I called home crying almost daily and ended up pulling 4 all-nighters in my blanket fort laying out parts. But it was 100% worth it. The feeling I got when the band played my piece in Kresge was a feeling Dr. Deemer knew was coming, even when I didn’t. He knew that if I kept trying, I could make progress and actually create something, even though I was definitely ready to call the whole composing thing off and be done with it forever. He also taught me that the library is a wonderful place, not only to check out scores and edit band pieces on big projectors, but also to hold class when there’s an 8-year-old string quartet concert right outside your normal classroom.

From Liz Thornton, I learned that in order to be a good friend, you need to listen more than you talk, as long as you get to talk when you need to. Liz also taught me the value of hot chocolate, popcorn, and Netflix, and the fact that, “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be friendly.”

From Caitlin Aylmer, I learned that a good joke is worth a thousand words, dogs really aren’t so bad, and calling your family every once and a while is good for their mental health, as well as yours.

From Eliza Fisher, I learned that if a room in your house ever needs sprucing up, just print off a picture of Jaden Smith and hang him somewhere prominent. Preferably in a bathroom.

From Justin Best, I learned that being an introvert is okay, and taking walks by yourself is good for the mind as well as the body.

From Leah Cohen, I learned that shoes are never necessary, and it’s important to not throw away your shot. Also, last night she taught me that eyebrow stencils exist, which I never would have known otherwise.

From Reese I-Always-Mess-Up-Your-Last-Name, I learned that maturity comes with experience, not with age, and somehow, it is 100% possible to injure yourself 19393743718 times in one year.

From Tyler Wagner, I learned that there is a giant world of music I’ve never heard of, and I should in fact be listening to jazz in order to learn from the non-pianists.

From Ciel Pope, I learned the value of being silly every once in a while.

From Nic Gotham, I learned the importance of being yourself, listening to weird music, and working without inspiration. Nic also taught me that sometimes when someone says, “I’m fine,” they really mean, “Please come find my practice room and bring me a cup of hot chocolate in Yoni’s mug because I really need someone to talk to for the next hour and a half.”

From Yoni Weiss, I learned that plays are things you can and should read, and it’s okay to be a theater dork.

From Spencer Channell, I learned about the power of observation, the importance of taking as much time as you need to think, and the value of good conversation.

From Emil Khudyev, I learned that I need to blow more air, and auxiliary instruments are hard.

From Nozomi Khudyev, I learned that no matter how terrible of a day you’re having, music provides a sanctuary that can take you away from reality for a little while.

From Mr. Early, I learned that I am apparently a good student when I’m not off campus for 9 college auditions.

From Dr. Smith at camp, I learned that spectral music, gamelan, and plainchant exist, and perfect pitch is not something you’re born with.

From Dr. Bob at camp, I learned that tone row matrices can really blow your mind if you don’t have anything else to do.

From Dr. Childs, I learned that Mountain Pies are the best things on the planet, and you should watch out when you’re doing shadow puppets because you never know who’s on the other side of the tent. Most importantly, though, I learned that music theory, analysis, and composition are never black and white, so you should embrace the other colors in between. 

From Mr. Wescott and his assignments, I learned three things (I mean I learned a lot, but these are the big three): 1. We are all traveling in circles and we move up on the spiral every time we are brought out of a cave (Plato style), however small it may be. The goal is to move up as often as we can, rather than statically clinging to our familiar circles. 2. In writing a paper for my first semester Wescott class, I learned through the wise words of Leonard Bernstein that the best students make the best teachers, and although it may seem obvious, relentless curiosity is the only way to gain knowledge. 3. Persona shifts are hard, especially for teenagers because we are so concerned with how those around us perceive our actions. However, the neighbors’ projections are always going to detect when we change something about ourselves, so any negative feedback should be seen as a result of the shift, not as a result of the new trait. In other words, never apologize for revealing some new part of yourself, because the neighbors don’t even matter that much anyway.

From Mr. Sears, I have the following memory—

One experience that I know I will hold onto forever is from Collage weekend of Academy, when all the groups perform for the parents in town. After knowing him for a month, I walked into Mr. Sears’s office crying my eyes out because I was so nervous to play. I explained that soloing is not very comfortable for me, particularly in front of people, and he sat me down and reminded me that we make music for the sole purpose of making our audience happy. Yes, we need to be happy too, because that adds to the music and overall emotion, but the primary goal is to put a smile on someone’s face. To do that, we don’t have to always play the right notes. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect performance. But we do have to have fun making music together.

From Dr. Schlomer, I have the following favorite rehearsal story—

My first Interlochen band rehearsal was filled with all sorts of sounds, none of which came out of Dr. Schlomer’s mouth. I wondered if he could speak English, or any language at all. In the weeks that followed, he talked about how the transition to Interlochen was like getting a brand new Lamborghini, and we had to learn to drive it to reach our full potential. In a rehearsal before one of our final concerts, he brought back the Lamborghini analogy and asked us how we felt we were doing with our new car. I was struggling to choose a college at this time, and one of the big questions was how badly I wanted to stay in an ensemble. I was starting to think I could learn to live without band and without clarinet at all, but then this rehearsal changed everything. To continue the analogy, I realized I would probably never drive a Lamborghini again. BUT, I couldn’t just go straight from driving this amazing band to not driving anything at all. Although Dr. Schlomer taught me many things about time architecture, pitch imagination, and listening deeply within an ensemble, this moment was the one I wanted to share with everyone, because without even knowing it, Dr. Schlomer inspired me to continue my clarinet studies and take advantage of every opportunity I am offered.

From Bill Church, Yoni Weiss, and Spencer Channell I have the following 3 paragraphs (sorry)—

   My entire Rent experience was absolutely amazing, and I think about the show every single day. Since before I can remember, I’ve had a strong interest in theater, and for the past couple of years, I’ve known that I would love to play piano in pit bands/orchestras, but this was my first show and I loved every minute. Although I’ll never forget the kisses Kyle blew me every time he walked offstage after Seasons A or the hug Maya gave me onstage when she saw me crying after a technical difficulty, one of the most special moments for me was an hour before the Saturday matinee. It was call time and we couldn’t find Ms. Mindy, who usually lead vocal warm-up the actors. Mr. Church came up to me and asked if I could warm them up, and I hesitated. I had never been in that setting before, I didn’t know what keys were comfortable to start in, and overall I just felt super terrified. But I knew someone had to do it, so I nodded, and all of a sudden I realized that Mr. Church had complete faith in me. He asked me to do it because he knew I could. So I marched to the keyboard, and I had no idea what to play. Here comes the second person who made this moment so special for me. Yoni Weiss, human being extraordinaire, magically appeared behind me and told me exactly what to do. I realized that he, like Mr. Church, trusted me to get done what needed to get done, but he also recognized when I needed help and he was right there to help me. Through this seemingly insignificant turn of events, I learned that it’s okay to need help sometimes, and any time I laugh, any time I cry, any time I hear a sound, those who matter most will be around.

    As it turns out, Yoni taught me a lot of things in the short time we knew each other, the most important of which being the value of collaboration. He could not have taught me this, though, without the help of the absolutely amazing and incredibly talented Spencer Channell (as seen on “Nightly Livestream Countdown to Graduation”. Yes, that Spencer Channell). These two worked super hard this year to put on Elegies: A Song Cycle, record the cast album, and (with the help of the amazing creative writer, Grace Montgomery) perform/revise an incredibly powerful piece written by the Vanderbilt Theatre Lab, Mass Cycle: A Meditation on Cancer… not once, but twice. I had a conversation with Spencer early on in the year about collaboration and my fear thereof. I spoke very strongly on my opinion that music can best communicate in its “purest form” without the distraction of film or dance or anything else. Spencer spoke equally as strongly, and much more articulately on his opinion that music can reach many more people in more powerful ways when combined with other art forms. We laughed, acknowledged our differences, and moved on. However, after experiencing Mass Cycle once in Nashville and twice at school, I realized that if music and theater together can create something considerably more touching and emotional than one could on its own, why on Earth would anyone not want to put them together? It just seemed to make sense, and that is something I never would have learned without getting to watch Spencer and Yoni bring their gifts together right in front of my eyes.

    In watching Spencer and Yoni, I also learned that the best friends we have are the ones who are better than us at everything. I used to shy away from those who intimidated me, because I was too insecure to allow myself that feeling of vulnerability. But at this point, I consider myself extremely lucky that somehow I get to call Spencer and Yoni some of my best friends. Once I put aside my need to prove myself, I opened myself up to a whole new world of actually learning from my peers and appreciating their company on a deeper level.

To conclude this very long post, I want to leave you guys with a quote I wrote down after Mass Cycle in April. I think about it all the time, and it has made me see art and the world in a different way. I share this with the hope that you might come back to this thought in the future when you run out of things to think about.

“Art isn’t about the freedom to express yourself. It’s about the ability to articulate something that needs to be shared with the world. And if that’s your own story, then fine, but there are so many other stories out there to be told, and there are so many beautiful ways to tell them. You just have to look.” -Spencer Channell