Auto-bio, or how I got over my fear of composing

Watercoloring, my new hobby

Watercoloring, my new hobby


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



This post is imageless, due to the fact that all public domain bubble images are cheesy and I can't find the photo of me with my bubble gun that makes giant bubbles the size of my head.

I'm going to start this post with an excerpt of the post-election e-mail I sent out yesterday:  

I hope everyone is doing ok. There's not much to say that hasn't already been said. I'm completely shocked. I went to bed at around 2 am, and although things were already looking bleak and it was apparent that Hillary was going to lose, I still held out the tiniest iota of hope that when I woke up, just maybe things would have turned around...because it ain't over till it's over, right?
After hitting snooze several times and finally getting up at 7:25am, I looked at my phone and just broke into tears. I'm taking this loss personally, as I'm sure many of you are. I could elaborate on my thoughts, but I've been posing status updates throughout the day, and I'm sure you're all seeing messages similar to one another come up on your feeds as well, so I won't go on.
The one glimmer of happiness today was spending the morning with my Target Margin fellows in SoHo, where we vented our frustrations, supported one another, and had a discussion with Richard Foreman. We asked him questions about his work, but of course, we could not avoid talking about last night's election, which led to us asking whether or not art has the power to change people.
Richard said no, and I don't blame him. Right now I don't know. 

I still don't know. I just interrupted my practicing to write this because I guess I want to try and see if it's possible to effect change. And I really need to get back to practicing because I have a recital this Saturday and I still need to get Mary's piece up to tempo (getting there!) so this is going to be quick, I'm going to be thinking out loud on (digital) paper, and possibly be a little sloppy. I feel an urgent need for us to come together as artists and figure out how we can engage with people outside of our collective city bubbles. I, for one, live in a city that nurtures outsider art and embraces PoC and LGBTQ folks. But this isn't the case everywhere, and if we're making pieces about race and gender equality, perhaps we should reach those not in the proverbial choir.

Why can't art just be a job like everything else? Art is about engaging with people for many of us. And this election, which has illustrated both the explicit and complicit racism of this country affects all of us. PEOPLE. "...the government of the people, by the people, for the people" is going to be led by a megalomaniac that according to the popular vote, most of us don't want to be our president. 

Something I know I'm capable of doing is organizing the shit out of anything and making things happen. There's strength in numbers and I want to hear from my fellow artists about what we can do to #popthebubble and reach people outside of our current spheres through art.

Or we can just keep making art apart from this, and keep donating, signing petitions, etc....ain't nothing wrong with that. But we need to try. I feel a responsibility as an artist to just step the hell up already. Stay tuned for a meeting in the coming weeks (no more than two because I hate when things lost momentum). In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

I'll be eloquent another day


I’m currently doing research for a project that I’m going to start digging into later this summer. And I’m aiming to finish this blog post by 3:30 pm, which is in 15 minutes, when I have to head out the door.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reflecting deeply on race and gender. And not in the general sense, but specifically about being a woman of Asian descent, being Filipino, and a Filipino artist, in America. There are so many contradictions and I’ll be eloquent on another day, but now I’m down to 10 minutes. With the way I’ve been brought up, there’s a mixture of pride (lumpia is THE BEST type of eggroll, #sorrynotsorry; Pacquiao (as an athlete, not as a person!); Boracay is one of the most stunning beaches in the world) and self-loathing (stay out of the sun to avoid getting dark; use skin-bleaching soap; looking more Chinese=better). I’m proud to understand every word of Tagalog, although I do need to brush up on my speaking. I love so much about the country where my parents come from, but it can also be such a sad place. Last night I watched the movie Metro Manila and it pained me to see the slums of the Philippines that are all too real, and the way most of the world sees us.  

Us? I was born in the United States so I’m am I even talking about? But as I’ve gotten older I’ve been drawn to investigating how my upbringing as a daughter of Filipino Immigrants have affected my worldview. It’s become undeniable, unavoidable. Being born female and having the natural inclination to prove I can do anything boys do definitely complicated things, as Filipinos still had a “traditional” view of women when I was growing up: I had to beg to play volleyball (luckily I did; I was good and played varsity for 3 years of high school…in fact, I often thought I’d pursue volleyball instead of piano) and when I wanted to skateboard, my dad was resistant and asked if I was a lesbian. (And of course I didn’t back down without a fight. And of course I won. For the record, my dad is actually a really nice, open-minded guy…he’s grown a lot, so please don’t hate on him! Plus I keep him in line. And I’m a shitty skateboarder.)   

I need to finish this up so long story long: I’m creating a piece that incorporates a Filipino dance called the Tinikling. I’ve found a lot of metaphors in the dance itself that I think I can really expand on. This week I've been reading through various texts and I thought I’d try writing this (very rushed) post as part of my process.

If you are also the child or descendant of immigrants and want to share anything related about your own experience, please feel free to comment!