One assessment down. Eight to go. I think. Maybe I left something out when I counted…
I thought I’d post a photo from one of the longest and happiest days of my life (San Francisco, November 9th 2010), seeing as I’m trying to be optimistic about everything at the moment.
In the next month I will become so sleep deprived, stressed out and high strung that ferry rides will be my bedtime and my fingers will bleed. Welcome to assessment month hell at jazz school – a.k.a. the last month of semester. My face will start breaking out in pimples, emulating aethestically what will be the chaos of my life. Generally, I never ever get pimples, except when I am SUPER stressed out. I don’t mean to brag (I count myself lucky and thank my mother’s genes, to be honest), but I have such nice skin that one pimple is a cataclysmic event, let alone during assessment time when I get up to three. This is too much gross detail, but with me, pimples generally never form or “ripen”, as some people like to call it. They just stay under the surface and hurt like a bitch.
Basically, life is extremely stressful at the moment, and I really really need to step it up and average out my general performance standards at a higher level. It’s so ironic in many ways that I’ve stopped caring about my grades since I got to university. I used to be the sort of person that will get B’s for not trying, and A’s for pretending to give a shit, or the classes that I enjoy, and that was perfectly fine with me. More than fine, it was bloody swell. I always felt like I always got at least 10% more than I deserved, considering I had never done any actual “studying” in my life, to be perfectly honest. But jazz school is a completely different ball game. It’s not academic in any such way, so none of this being “naturally bright” business bullshit comes into play. To a large extent, it is down to commitment, and time spent, but really, it’s about a whole lot of heart.
I finally received my feedback for the jazz combo recital from the end of last term, and the identical raw mark from both assessors on the panel that night had no bearing on my feelings at all. However, I was thoroughly pleased with the fact that their comments precisely reflected my thoughts on how I played that night. The things they thought I did well, and the things they pointed out that needs improvement were all in agreement with how I felt, so that’s really the biggest thing for me. I no longer care about the ABC’s and care mostly about my growth not just as a musician, but as a person. I mean, for gods sake I got something below a B for the first time in my life when I got to university! Nerves, freezing up and mind blanking have been some of my top enemies, and it all comes down to confidence, so I’m trying to work on that.
It’s funny thinking back on all the employers I’ve spoken to in the past who have said that they would happily employ a music graduate for a non music-related job. I remember most distinctly a barrister I had met, with whom I was discussing how I had gone about the most painful decision of my life – choosing jazz school over law school. After chatting for a good half hour, he told me that he thought I would have made an excellent lawyer had I chosen to pursue it; but also that he can see why I didn’t, and the fact that I hold the possibilities of so much more. And I think it’s this obsession with there is something more, there’s got to be more to life, there’s got to be more to me, more to be discovered, more to be devoured, more to be enjoyed, more to be read, seen, photographed, written, learnt, heard, felt, touched, loved – MORE! that ultimately drives me in the supposedly “unconventional” and “creative” realms that I enjoy so much to delve in. I don’t think it’s enough for me to simply aim for a decent paying job, end up with a nice husband, bright children and then repeat the cycle. No. Yes, I want all that, but I also want so much MORE. Having said that, it is terribly hard for me to let go of the “black-clad powerhouse woman of a lawyer with a disposable income, too little time and the world at her fingertips”-type image that I’d spent a large majority of the past decade aiming for. But also having said that, at the same time, I also harboured dreams of being a performer. I still haven’t figured out quite yet the precise sort of perfomer I’d like to be, but I think that there is merit in all forms. And in a larger, more abstract sense of the word, I also don’t think that you have to be physically doing something like playing music, dancing or acting to be “performing” – I like to think that there are such things as literary performances, which is the accumulation of those dashing, inspired moments transcribed into text on paper, rather than in the form of something you sit down to watch or listen to… which ultimately is what a musical/theatrical/dance performace also is: an “accumulation of those dashing, inspired moments”, except executed in a single setting, so to speak.
Anyway, before I ran off on a tangent, the point I was leading to about employers was the list of “qualities” that music graduates supposedly have, or will have achieved. These include all sorts of cheesy, typical-sounding adjectives which you can think of. And I admit, I’d always thought it a little over-repeated for the sake of encouraging young people to pursue a wide range of Bachelor degrees other than the “normal”, “conventional” or “money making” ones that usually come to mind; but funnily enough, these days I think I’m really starting to “get it”. I’m suffering such a bad case of low motivation and general difficulty with “getting on with it”, and I think that’s because in many ways, this music degree is actually indirectly designed to make me a better person – and that is what I’m struggling with. It’s not the actual coursework that I’m struggling with as such (although yes, it’s intense, and yes it’s difficult), but what it takes to do well in this course. You have to be so internally motivated, fight through intellectual, creative, physical and personal barriers just to get through your workload, let alone get good at it. It’s much easier for me to curl up in bed with a text book to cram for a test with, than it is for me to want to stand for hours on end and play until my blistering fingertips really can’t handle anymore bass playing. You have to want to and then make yourself go the extra mile all the time. Also, seeing as I’m self-professed not very obsessed with jazz – yes, I love it, but sometimes I just can’t conjure up the mental capacity for it, even to listen to it – it’s doubly hard for me to want to sit back, and spend hours listening to jazz recordings. By that, I don’t mean put it on and chill out, but I mean to sit there and fully pay attention to it. Over and over. Listening to all the different parts. Not just the chords, but the chord voicings, then the voicings over the particular note choices in the bass line, and the voicings used by another chordal instrument, what the soloist is playing, how they’re playing, their rhythm, time, placement, note choices, chords they outline, chords they imply, time they imply, feel, the groove of the swing… Oh by now my head just wants to burst!
My so-last-minute-I-should-get-shot transcription assessment went well today. Transcribed 64 bars of Hank Mobley’s solo on Someday My Prince Will Come and had to perform to the recording. Apparently my written transcription was pretty accurate, which surprised me. It was so hard to write out something when he plays so darn behind the beat.
Here’s a super lovely track by an amazingly sweet and talent vocalise, Rosa Passos with the legendary Ron Carter: