During school, I was focused on building classical repertoire. I started The Nouveau Classical Project around the same time I began my master’s program with $175 and luckily, musicians who were willing to volunteer to play for free for our very first benefit. The economy was ROUGH!
NCP started off very classical it has changed with me. After finishing my master’s, I became more interested in new music. I had also wanted compose but stopped whenever I tried to start: I respected composers and their craft so much that I thought I had no right to do it. Along with that, I was worried that I would not be good or successful at it since I did not start at four, like I did with piano. So I immediately walked away from the idea.
As NCP grew, we commissioned composers and I, along with some members of my ensemble, would think of collaborative possibilities. This was the extent of my making activities. In retrospect, I wanted to be actually making things and not just assembling pieces, and that frustration would come out in weird ways.*
After primarily pursuing a career in performance and being solely a pianist for several years, I felt not just a desire, but a burning need to express and share my experiences and perspectives as a Filipinx American woman. It crossed my mind that I would have started doing this sooner if I saw more Filipinxes doing this.** Part of my motivation was just showing up, being a representative or an example for my people, but maybe that rationale was also a way to make it less personal and therefore less terrifying.*** I hit a turning point, where I decided I would make an attempt at this strong but long-feared desire to compose music.
A couple of things happened one year that pushed this decision. I was a Fellow in the Target Margin Institute for Collaborative Theater Making, which was not about theater, but about questioning one’s practice. This fellowship was a year long, and at some point during that year, two friends from high school around my age passed away. They were too young to die, and I realized that life is simply too short to not try to do something you want to do, regardless of whether or not you achieve conventional success. One other thing happened that I would rather not detail here. But just mentioning it so you know there was one other thing.
For the fellowship, I was meant to explore how to play the piano in unconventional ways, but as the fellowship went on, the TMT mentors (David Herskovits and Moe Yousuf) noticed that I often kept talking about how I wished I could compose. So they made my final investigation about finding ways to compose rather than about making a “good” composition, which further encouraged me to give myself permission to just try. Moe even said that my investigation should be trying to make a “bad” piece of music. It was hard to break out of my shell, so a lot of my practice has had to do with dismantling the perfectionist mentality.
I have always been a late bloomer so I suppose starting late makes sense. It is still often scary, and it is not easy, but I love what I do and I am grateful to be able to do it!
*This can be a whole other essay.
** Yes, there are many Asians, but we all are so different, so no, when I see another Asian I do not necessarily see someone who represents me.
***I wonder if this is part of the thought behind the zeitgiest of identity-focused art? By making it about ourselves but related to a broader identity it’s theoretically bigger than ourselves and feels altruistic? Anyway check out my piece Islander, which explores the residue colonialism has left behind and the resulting fragmentation of identity! :-D