Introducing 12 Months of Practicing!

Introducing 12 Months of Practicing!

This post is to let everyone know about a year-long project I’ve started called 12 Months of Practicing! I’ll be posting one video on YouTube every month for 12 months, summarizing my journey with practicing throughout 2019. Click here to watch my first video of the year!

In 2018 I participated in the social media movement #100daysofpracticing on Instagram, but had to cut it short because I realized that social media was not a positive influence in my life. Of course, once I quit Instagram, I lost the accountability of #100daysofpracticing and fell off the wagon immediately. Looking back at the total number of days/hours I had practiced in 2018, I felt guilty, but then I realized that by gathering those statistics I had given myself a gift. The data made it clear that my longest streak of practicing happened in February, which was the same month I participated in #100daysofpracticing. So I thought, why not figure out a way to do it again, but without using social media and for a longer period of time?

This is where 12 Months of Practicing comes in. I’ve come up with this system not only to keep myself accountable, but also to explore the baggage I carry around when it comes practicing. My goal is to make this process relatable not only to other musicians, but also to anyone who struggles to consistently do the thing they know they need to do.

I’ve also decided to write a companion post on my website to go with each video. The idea is to expand on things that I mention in the video but don’t have the opportunity to discuss at length. In this case, I want to follow up on two things: 1) the fact that I’ve never practiced consistently, and 2) the impact that toxic practicing culture had on me as a young musician.

Whether you’re a musician or not, you’ve at least heard the saying, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Carnegie Hall is one of the best music performance halls in the world, and the message objectively makes sense - if you want to play in the best hall, you need to be the best. In order to do that, you have to work as hard as you can, which means practicing as much as you can.

Here’s the issue that creates baggage for musicians, right from the beginning: we are all taught to have the highest expectations of ourselves. To be a perfectionist is the only way to become the best. But every day we don’t practice, we lose time, and there already isn’t enough time. Maybe if you start when you’re 3 years old you’ll be okay, but if you start later than that there is already a deficit, and it gets bigger every year you wait. I started cello when I was 6 years old, but most kids in my public school system in Seattle were introduced to instruments when they were 9 or 10, which is on the late side. Think of all the work they’ll have to do to keep up with the 4-year-olds who already have a year of practicing on them. And if you dare to start even later than 10? Forget about it, unless you’re ready to work your ass off to catch up with everyone else. We are conditioned to think that we have never practiced enough, that we have started with a deficit, and that the only thing we can do to get out of it is to make our whole life about practicing and to do it as much as possible. If you can handle this kind of pressure, you might end up at a conservatory. That’s when things really get good.

We all know 18-year-olds can be judgmental jerks. So imagine the pressure I’ve already described, and then imagine if the negative voice you have in your head was personified by your immediate group of peers. Add those two things together, and now you know what it’s like to be at a conservatory. If you’re not a musician, a conservatory is basically going to music university, the point being to major in your instrument, take lessons, and practice all day (with some other musical extracurriculars like orchestra, and basic humanities classes that almost no one takes seriously). Once you are there, it is hard not to believe that the whole point of your existence is 1) to compare yourself as a musician to everyone else, and 2) to have others compare you to everyone at the school who plays the same instrument as you. This is an enormous amount of pressure that everyone is expected to just deal with privately. The question “How much did you practice?” Is asked incessantly (with implicit and sometimes explicit judgement about the answers), probably because practicing is the only thing that anyone can really control. You can’t control how talented you are, and you definitely can’t control how talented other people are.

My experience with this toxic practicing culture made me feel like there were two options. I could make my whole life about practicing, neglecting my physical health and my mental health, not to mention my studies. Or the other option…rebel. Choose NOT to make my life about practicing. Do other things. Read. Watch TV. Be in love. Take classes about non-musical subjects. Be friends with people who aren’t musicians. Go to the gym (a subject for another time). This is the path I chose, and because I was an arrogant, judgmental, 18-year-old jerk just like everyone else, I took pride in the fact that I could get by without practicing. The short-term gains were great. People were jealous because I got to say that I barely practiced, but I still got to have amazing performance opportunities. It wasn’t fair.

And yet. The long-term results of this rebellion were: stasis (if you don’t practice, you don’t get better), and an inability to make myself want to practice, because I had spent years being rewarded for not practicing. Lots of questioning and feeling sorry for myself ensued: Why is it harder now? Life is unjust. Time to hide in bed and avoid practicing. All of this compounded the problem, resulting in a turbulent cycle of not practicing, feeling guilty, making grand proclamations about practicing every day for 5 hours for the rest of my life, failing on the first day, feeling overwhelmed, hiding in bed, and starting over.

I finished my conservatory studies five-and-a-half years ago, and only now am I learning how to deal with the pressure and baggage of practicing, how to set reasonable goals for myself, how to have my own voice as a musician and artist without comparing myself to others, and how to be kind to myself when I don’t live up to my perfectionistic expectations.

I hope to explore all of this and more this year, and invite you to join me! If you saw my video or read this post and found any of it helpful or cathartic, that’s awesome and it means so much to me. Thank you for your time, and please come back in March for the next installment(s) of 12 Months of Practicing!

The Beauty of the Protest

The Beauty of the Protest

“I wanted people to see the beauty of the protest”
-Devin Allen, Baltimore photographer whose photos of the 2015 Uprising inspired Judah Adashi to write The Beauty of the Protest.

Today is a day filled with mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, my husband and I are both experiencing professional success, achieving things that have been on our want-to-accomplish list for some time now. Together, we are releasing a recording of a piece that he wrote for me called The Beauty of the Protest for singing cellist. Also happening today is an extremely important event that Judah runs called RiseBmore, that I am proud to play a small part in this year. These are wonderful successes that we both worked very hard to accomplish.
On the other hand, the reason this day is significant is not actually because of our release, or because of RiseBmore. In fact, neither the piece nor the event would even exist if the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 hadn’t happened. And the whole reason the Uprising happened is because two years ago today, Freddie Gray died. And all of this, ultimately, is about and because of him. 
I never knew Freddie Gray, but we were both born in 1989. He would have turned 28 this year a few weeks before I did, if he were still alive. He’ll never know that people marched for him, that people chanted his name on the streets of Baltimore. My husband wrote his name in his piece, and I sing it, but he will never know either of us.

In The Beauty of the Protest, Judah brilliantly deconstructs the chant “all night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” quoting directly from the Uprising itself. One of the ways to keep fighting is to remember him. Judah has done that by writing this piece, and I have taken part by playing and singing it. Now that I have sung those words, I will never forget that I have to keep fighting. The best outcome of this piece is that it becomes irrelevant - a historical artifact, after the true end of the danger Black Men and Women face every day. Unfortunately our country is not even close to that point yet, so we have to keep fighting, and remembering.

It is important to note that The Beauty of the Protest is as much about and inspired by the city of Baltimore as it is about Freddie Gray. I am not a Baltimore native. I love this city more and more every year that I live here. It is a raw, unusual, and beautiful place unlike any other - I have done my best to represent that in the way I play and sing this piece.

P.S. I have no interest in telling anyone how to listen to a piece of music, but I want to say a few words about how I approached this one because it is the first recording I’ve ever made of myself singing and playing at the same time:
I always wondered why Judah decided it should be for singing cellist, instead of a singer and a cellist - why one person instead of two? Judah will tell you that it’s because he loves hearing me sing in the house and he wanted to write for my voice, which is very sweet, but I’m not a singer. My thought, though, is that it would feel wrong for this piece to be played by two people - it isn’t chamber music, and it’s also not a piece for solo singer with cello accompaniment. I find this dichotomy to be incredibly important to my interpretation of the piece. There is struggle, and there is ease. There is light and there is dark. There is the chant of many being sung by one. There is, as Devin Allen says, beauty in the protest.