Don’t Ever Let Anybody Tell You

This is a heavy one, so sorry about that. If you are looking for something light and uplifting, might I suggest Buzzfeed’s list of the 50 Absolute Fattest Cats? If, however, you are not bothered by some of the more intimate details of my life, or if you are searching for validation in your exploration of gender identity, please read further!

~

I feel like one of the biggest hurdles is in life is the search for the answer to “Who am I?” Until recently, I don’t recall having ever had the freedom to really go out and find those answers for myself. From the beginning of my life, I was told who I was. I was told what was and was not “appropriate” for me to wear, to play with, to be. I was told not to practice my cartwheels on the playground if I didn’t want to be called girl (because omg the horror amiright?). I was forced into sports – by an abusive, hyper-masculine, drug-addicted, piss-poor-excuse-of-a-human-being step father – in an attempt to masculinize me. And no matter how loved and supported I was, I was constantly being sent a message that there was something not-quite-right about me, and that I need to be fixed, that no matter what I did, it wasn’t me.

18342250_1691977090817028_7673697118895841696_n.jpg

As a toddler, I was sent to a therapist to be “diagnosed.” My characteristics were too feminine for a boy. And, despite the valiant efforts of my family, I just would not assimilate to the typical “boy” behavior. Surely a three-year-old can’t possibly have instincts of their own. Children need to be molded and sculpted. And if crafted just right, a perfect carbon copy human will emerge into adulthood fully armed with blind religion and a completely unfounded moral compass that may or may not reflect an ideology of actual morality. Who needs freedom and self-identity anyway?

Now, 27 years into life, I find myself at a pivotal point. I have been feeling the groanings of a person inside of me, banging on the inner walls of my chest to be freed and released into the world for years. But I have always kept them silent. Emboldened by adolescence, or exhaustion, I would occasionally try and let just a little of them out, just to stave off the nauseating effects of holding them in, like trying to silence the piercing whistle of a screaming kettle without removing it from the heat of the flame – but only briefly.

My first memory of these feelings comes from the 1st grade. At six years old, I convinced my mom to let me get highlights. They were all the rage in 1996, and I was madly in love with the Backstreet Boys. They all had highlights. It felt like a perfectly acceptable and appropriate thing to do. So, we went to Walmart and plucked a D.I.Y. highlighting kit (for medium to dark hair) off the shelf and went on our merry way. I remember complaining the entire time, too. This was before they included the plastic option for the scalp-shredding, skin-carving hook-of-death for puncturing the holes in the tightly fitted cap, looping the hair, and RIPPING it back through. Not to mention that bottled bleach burns like cayenne pepper in an open wound. But it was #worth it because pain is beauty. So, I showed up to school the next day. Beaming. Proud. Feeling fierce.

IMG-6497And then:

“Only girls highlight their hair,” my teacher said.

Let’s just take a moment an acknowledge the immense power of language, because in just five words I learned Shame, and I have carried it with me ever since.

I came home crying that day, the first of many tearful returns home. “Sweetheart, if you don’t want the kids to make fun of you, maybe you will just have to be less girly.” As loving and as supportive as she knew how to be, my mother’s words were just proverbial nails in the metaphoric coffin. My metaphoric coffin. I weep (metaphorically) every day for that six-year-old. That metaphoric coffin would be my prison for the next 21 years.

The thing is though, I’ve always known who I am. No child expresses any single greater truth than when they are alone with their imagination, and my truth was always clear to me. It was clear in my games of “house,” it was clear in the clothes I wore in secret, it was clear in the toys I held most dear. It was the conflict that was the confusing part, and it only got worse with age.

I had the Shame thing down; I knew it as part of me, like avirus swimming through my veins, replicating by the millions each passing second, clinging to my soul, starving my lungs of the very breath I needed to find my voice. I was so ashamed, not of being feminine (because #feminism), but of failing to meet the so-clearly-laid expectations set for me by the world I was born into.

I couldn’t win.

Any attempt I made to conform was unconvincing. And any attempt I made to release even the slightest bit of the pressure building inside was thwarted by “you need a haircut” or “boys don’t wear purple” or “that color hair isn’t ‘you'” or “boys don’t play with dolls.” I was even bullied for playing the french horn. It was a girl’s instrument.

I tried to assimilate for so long. I tried to blend in. I tried to just keep myself busy to silence the constant crying-out of the person inside for freedom. But, I hated everything about myself – about the way I had to present myself the world just to keep everyone else quiet and happy, for their approval.

Eventually, out of complete, exhausted surrender, I stopped dying my hair. I kept it short, neat, clean, masculine. I stopped trying to push the envelope. And after years of bullying, even my skin got thick. I learned to swallow every lump in my throat. And I did it all just to fit in. To be un-noticed in ‘that’ way.

I wasn’t even really sure how to speak up. My mother was so loving and supportive but I didn’t even know how to tell her what I wanted or what I needed. So I just allowed it all to continue without uttering a single word about how I was hurting, or that I was even hurting at all. Despite how much I knew she loved me, I was always afraid of disappointing her.

20232717_10154921713602705_5548094900120262510_oFear has been such a close companion throughout my life that I cannot even imagine living without it. Fear is not just one sided, either. Fear is 360°. I was afraid of rejection, but also afraid of acceptance. Acceptance might be the scariest part of it all, because acceptance means it’s time to face the world. Acceptance means you can no longer rely on the fear of rejection. Acceptance means vulnerability. Vulnerability is terrifying. But, it is human.I am afraid. I am afraid and I am angry, but I am exhausted, and my skin is getting thinner; so thin that even those on the outside are beginning to notice the patient yet eager rapping on the other side of the door from inside my chest by someone who has been waiting far too long to be introduced to the world. I am angry that, until now, I had never had the courage to tell them they were all wrong.

I guess this is sort of a “coming out.” I am coming out as the person many of you have never known. A person who seeks to confront the world with truth and authenticity, with curiosity and wonder, who has finally decided to live as the universe has always intended.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you who or what is or is not “you.” YOU are the only being in this universe with the authority to decide what is and is not “you.”

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you are wrong about who “you” are. You know, and You are as authentic as You will ever be.

Don’t ever ignore or suppress your voice. Letting it out is the only way for You to be heard.

A Time for Change

The following is just a repost of a piece I did about three years ago from another blog site.

For much of the past year, I have been trying to wrap my head around a way to salvage the industry about which my colleagues and I are very passionate. I have been wrestling with many different ideas for the better part of the last six months, and have been biding my time, waiting for the right time to announce what I have come up with. I have a vision.

First let me start by expressing a couple of my beliefs about this issue. I believe that the disintegration of our orchestras actually has little to do with public school music education. I believe that it has every bit to do with a deep seated view by the general public that in order to be allowed to enjoy classical music in America, you must be a) White, b) upper-middle class (at least), and c) Old (or at least older than 30)…

Over the past year, I have attended performances by the Richmond, Cincinnati, Houston, and National Symphony Orchestras, and each time, I was dressed comfortably and casually, in “street” clothes, if you will. Since I am a trained classical musician, the concert hall is not a venue which is foreign to me. It is actually a place where I feel quite at home, so I feel no need to dress up.

However, while approaching the doors to the venue, or waiting for the house doors to open up, more than once I was met with looks of disdain from many of the other patrons. Suddenly, I was made to feel inferior and alienated in places that I once hoped to make my career. Why is that? Did I smell? Was there something stuck in my teeth? Then it dawned on me. I was one of the only concertgoers with dark skin, under the age of 50, and not wearing a suit and/or tie. I was dressed appropriately, I suppose as appropriately as a 22 year old male could dress in public. I was bathed and my clothes were in good condition. My hair was combed…well, it was probably styled in some sort of faux-hawky fashion. But I did not look any differently than any other young person would at any other public location.

It then occurred to me that a twentysomething-year-old-male-without-a-suit-and-tie was not societally “allowed” to enjoy classical music. I should have been at the mall, or at a rock concert, or at a bar… The funniest part being that I was, I am, trained; a horn player even, and I was very well versed and quite academically familiar with the repertoire on each of the concerts I attended. So, why was I made to feel so inferior to my suit-wearing, perm sporting, pachouli smelling fellow patrons? I listened intently, I applauded when I was supposed to, and I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent musical journeys on which I was transported by each of the magnificent groups which I had the opportunity to witness. Aside from not abiding by the unwritten dress code for each of these events, what other possible conditions was I not meeting? This is a problem.

Why do we have to dress up to see the symphony? I asked this question to a friend of mine, who kindly replied something to the effect of, “…it is out of respect for the musicians. They dedicate their lives to the music they play, so you want to look like you care.” A very honorable and honest response, I think. But, a doctor has dedicated his life to medicine, and you don’t put on a tie every time you have a checkup, do you? As a musician who has dedicated my life to the music I play, I couldn’t care any less about what my audience is wearing. I just want them to be comfortable and to enjoy the music. I want them to experience Mahler, Beethoven, and Brahms in the same way that moved me to have such a profound love for classical music. And if I can effect just one audience member in that way, I will have done my job, whether or not he is wearing jeans or a tuxedo.

Having never had a career in a professional orchestra (yet), it is difficult for me to say with much certainty, or even validity for that matter, what it is that directly causes the crises that our great orchestras face. But, based on my experiences, it seems, frankly, that young people feel like they aren’t allowed to like classical music, for fear of being thrust into a demographic incongruent with their own affiliations of choice? Picture this: a high school jock enjoying the power of Mahler, a head cheerleader relaxing to the simplicities of Haydn, a goth vibing on Beethoven string quartets. These examples seem paradoxical, wouldn’t you agree? That is a problem.

It is time that we young musicians take charge of the future of our craft, our art, our passion, our livelihoods. And here is my vision.

I hope for a group of musicians that share a mission and operate under one name, a sort of society, if you will, dedicated to perpetuating classical music as accessible to, literally, people from all walks of life. Easy enough, right? (I am fully prepared to accept the repercussions of what I am about to propose) How do we do it? Image. Classical music is BEGGING for a new image, the survival of the industry in the US depends on it. I am not stuffy, and I know for damn sure that my colleagues are not stuffy…especially those I shared my undergrad with. I do not walk with my nose in the air. When I sit on stage waiting for a downbeat, I am doing just that, sitting and waiting to have the opportunity to transport a group of listeners to another world through music, for whatever period of time. I do not expect the audience to respect me because I’m on stage. I expect them to respect the music, to give it a chance, to travel with me on a remarkable phonic adventure, to respect an experience than can only be had first-hand.

So what if, for my next solo performance, I walked into a crowded court yard looking like Adam Lambert, Horn in hand. Personal prejudice against Mr. Lambert aside, I anticipate that the crowd’s reaction to me would be much different than if I had walked into the courtyard in a shirt and tie. And what then, if I played the most beautiful exposition of a Mozart concerto? Would they applaud? Would they jeer? Would they notice? What if it were a small ensemble, dressed in a similar rock-star fashion, who gave the most tremendous rendition of the Schubert Octet, or Beethoven Septet? How would the crowd react?

What if an entire symphony orchestra performed the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at a downtown amphitheater dressed like rock stars? Or better yet, dressed like normal, everyday people? What if we could show the world that we are people, just like them. That we like to go to the movies, we like Ben Affleck, and sometimes we drink a little too much tequila. Do you think it would make a difference? The target demographic here is not the stuffy subscriber who leaves before the big piece because it was written after 1803. It is the unsuspecting classical music lover who thought they were never allowed to enjoy Mozart, because their social rules confined them to liking only Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

We need to make our music look just as cool as it sounds. And who knows? We may end up having fun doing it. So, who’s with me?

Inundated

Much like any acceptable order of cheese fries, this post is going to be loaded. I have been back in the U.S. for three months, and it has been stressful — to say the least. I miss Mexico every day, but for reasons I did not anticipate. I miss my friends, of course, but above all I miss the pace of life. Comparatively, everything seems so much more difficult now. Considering I left to start anew in Mexico: a new country, a different language, I set out with nothing more than a few suitcases and my horn on my back. The task was daunting, difficult, but within a month I was settled in my new job and in a great apartment, surrounded by wonderful people and a beautiful culture. When I made the decision to make the move back to the U.S., I had assumed the transition would be relatively fluid, easy even. I was horribly wrong. It took me nearly two months to find a job, and it took us nearly three to get on our feet and into a place of our own. It seemed that everything is designed to be stacked against you here. We had to constantly fight, tooth and nail to crawl out of the (literal) basement we were living in. We did it – are doing it – but I am still weathering the effects. My hair was falling out at an alarming rate and my mental state had begun to deteriorate rapidly leading up to this point. While I, we, are endlessly grateful for our family who provided our shelter, there is something about just having independence that in itself fosters the very momentum of life. Without it, stagnation. Things are okay now. They will only continue to improve. My career is back on track, I’m playing horn again, even composing again, and I am looking forward to the future. What was my point? Oh right, I miss Mexico. I have such incredible respect, now more than ever, for any immigrant who sets their sites on the U.S. for their new home. If it was this difficult for me, I cannot even fathom how difficult it must be for anyone who is not a citizen. I saw a very small glimpse of what it might be like to come to the U.S. as a Mexican. I came back with pesos, and turning those pesos into fruitful USD proved to be more difficult than I could ever have imagined. Spoiler alert: they did not go far. This new government administration’s attitude toward immigrants hurts my heart, and I want everyone who cares to listen to hear my story.

My last post was about the racism I felt, as a brown American, returning to the U.S. from Mexico. In short, I felt like a stranger in my own home. I felt like a target, and I desperately wanted to hide, to assimilate, to be overtly American, so as not to be “found out.” I have read (and listened) to reports of mass arrests and subsequent deportations of hundreds of undocumented immigrants along the East Coast. Families dismantled, people who came here with dreams of having better lives than the ones they left behind. I submitted over 50 job applications over the course of six weeks, four of those resulted in interviews. I am an educated American citizen, with two college degrees. Eight percent of the jobs which I applied for (all of which had active ‘now hiring’ advertisements) considered me a viable candidate for employment. I applied for all kinds of jobs: positions in my field (music), retail, secretarial work. All hourly positions. And despite my education and citizenship status, ninety-two percent of those employers did not consider me to be qualified enough for even an interview. Sure, you can argue that my degrees are specific to one field. But can you imagine how difficult it must be to find a job as an immigrant? I don’t know. It may be obvious that immigrants will have a difficult time…you know, immigrating. But my own struggle just really spoke to me about just how difficult it is. And I don’t even understand, not really. I can only infer based on my experience as a very American citizen. Overall, it took us three months to get on our feet. To get out of the basement and into a place of our own, to establish ourselves as independent adults again. In retrospect, three months doesn’t sound like a long time at all. It really isn’t that long. But it threw me, and it certainly heightened my awareness of my own privilege.

I grew up in racist America hearing all of these ‘funny’ anecdotes of Hispanics “jumping” the border, climbing fences, swimming across the gulf. But these stories are not funny. They are the opposite of funny. Coming into the U.S. in such a way is motivated by sheer, unadulterated desperation. By both hope and fear. And now we live in a country run by an administration that blatantly fosters the idea that these people, these human beings and their lives are disposable. ‘Send ’em back.’ You [[general ‘you’]] have no idea what these people have gone through to get here. You have no idea what they might be running from. You have absolutely no idea what it takes, the courage and desperation to risk everything – your life, your family’s life – to be an immigrant success story in the 21st century.

I am lucky. While my existence is the product of immigration, I am not, myself, an immigrant. And I am now acutely aware of the privilege that that fact affords me. So, I encourage all of you to heighten your own awareness. The next time you see someone struggling with English, be patient. If you see a person, a group of people, or a family who appear lost, afraid, overwhelmed. Smile at them, approach them, and offer them, at the very least, your kindness.

Stay tuned for a more uplifting post about my life and the things that are bringing me my daily happiness, I just needed to get this off of my chest. Namaste, y’all.

No-Return Policy

Long-story-short, and for personal reasons I do not wish to publicly divulge, I have left Mexico and am back in Indiana. It has been nearly a month since my return, and I am still ‘coming down’…so to speak. Having the experience of living in Mexico absolutely changed me in ways I could never have predicted. Obviously, I have known for my whole life that I am of Mexican descent. But, having only recently become acquainted with my father, who is the hispanic bloodline, I have never personally known the culture in any way. I was raised white. I grew up in small-town, white, rural Virginia. I attended a primarily white school. My family was white. As far as I knew, I was also white. I took no notice of my own skin color; I didn’t know to. It wasn’t until a couple of years after high school, and an unpleasant interaction with a racist old man at an ice cream shop that I began to develop awareness of my melanic differences. Looking back, I am astonished that it took so long. What does this have to do with living in Mexico? Well, I’ll get there.

Knowing I am of Mexican descent fostered an extreme curiosity for Mexican culture from a very young age. And as soon as I could, I enrolled myself in Spanish classes in eighth grade. I wanted to be as close to my inherited culture as possible, and in white America, this was the only way I knew to do it. Fast-forward fourteen years (Jesus Christ…) and I would find myself living and speaking “the dream.” I felt an instant connection with the city, the people, the food, and the culture. Following my dramatic “coming out” period, I came to feel comfortable in my own skin, and surrounded by a community in which I believed I belonged. But I definitively had not experienced a sense of belonging like I had while living in Mexico. For the first time in my life, no matter where I looked, everyone looked just like me. There was a bit of a language barrier, for sure. American public school Spanish will only get you so far, no matter how long you’ve studied (for me, it was five years). But I caught on quickly and was able to effectively live. You know, adulty things like paying bills, conversations with utility companies, store clerks, my landlady, and of course shoppppingggg and ordering foooood. I assimilated very easily. What was especially interesting to me, however, was how automatically each person I encountered expected me to be Mexican: to speak fluent Spanish, to understand the nuances of the language and culture. And even more strangely, when I was not up to the task, I was not met with the anticipated “learn the language, go back to where you came from, foreigners are ruining this country, etc.” rhetoric one so often hears in America. Instead, I was just met with confusion. “You’re not from here??” Nope. I moved here from Indiana. “Seriously?” Yup. Maybe it was because their opinion of my Spanish was much higher than my own, but let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we? I’m brown. Seven months of given acceptance, I had grown such an intense sense of public comfort that I did not know could exist for me. And I’ll tell you, that made for a doozy of an experience coming back, as well.

The most interesting part of all of this is that, the person who stepped onto the plane in Guadalajara was not the same person who stepped off in Atlanta, Georgia. At least, not as perceived by the general public. And I was painfully aware of this. I felt every stare, heard every murmur, and could feel the “shock” of those around me as I stepped into the “US-Passport” line at customs. I went from feeling — being confident, self-assured in my surroundings to feeling almost embarrassed, just for being brown (even more brown than when I left, because the weather in Guadalajara is chronically beautiful). I found myself keeping my head down, making as little direct eye-contact as possible. I was sweating with intense, irrational fear that the customs officer…agent…whatever their title is, would sniff me out as an immigrant and fabricate some reason to prevent my entry into the United States. I made huge efforts in my speech to speak as clearly and intelligently as humanly possible. I sported this huge (yuge) false smile, baring a mouth-full of pearly whites for all to see. And, even though I made it through completely unscathed, I still expected to encounter some kind of trouble for hours following. The first week back was the weirdest, feeling like a stranger in your own home. Overcompensating, overemphasizing your “white-ness” to detract from the “brown-ness”; feeling like a foreigner in literally the only land you had evscreen-shot-2017-01-18-at-2-41-33-amer walked until you left. It was very bizarre.

So what am I doing now? Well, I’m trying to find myself again. I have given a lot of thought to what I want my New Year’s resolution to be, and I have decided to focus on striving every day to be a more authentic version of myself than I was yesterday. For years I have had a clear vision of the person I want to be. But, I always look at this person and resign to the fact that I lack the will power, assets, whatever to ever become them. I have thought a great deal about what it means for my sense of self, and have questioned if perhaps I am “trying to be something I am not.” “Accept who you are.” “Love yourself,” they say. Well, for me those sentiments are just breeding complacency and do not effectively encourage healthy growth. I also intend to significantly reduce my consumption of pre-packaged foods in an effort to be a more whole, wholesome human being, but that is more of an effect than a cause.

In a recent visit to Michael’s, mostly to kill time, partly to window shop and price a new easel, I came across a quote that has really got me thinking. “Finishing creates momentum.” In an effort to combat the “stuck” feeling I so often find myself in. I am really going to go to great lengths to ensure I finish everything I start this year, starting with finishing up my projects from 2016. I am tired of constantly searching for closure and validation in my life: Did I do enough? Am I doing enough? How am I doing? And this year, instead, I want to know that whatever I set out to do, I did. Look out 2017, I’m coming for ya.

Mirror

I began writing music when I was in eighth grade. At thirteen years old, I received my first pad of manuscript paper. The first “piece” I wrote was a short melody for Alto saxophone with light piano accompaniment. I did this for a Geography project about culture and we were assigned Ireland. So, naturally I picked two of the most naturally Irish instruments that exist… I wrote something in 6/8 time with a few grace notes here and there, and got an A nonetheless and. In the process, however, I birthed a passion that I have carried with me ever since. It is incredible, the power of music, and how therapeutic and healing it can be. Over the past several weeks I have been sifting through old accumulated files of compositions, the earliest of which date back to 2005 – assuming when I totally legally acquired my first full version of Finale (musical notation software). I remember the awe I felt, fledging full-scale works and hearing them played back in real time (albeit in MIDI, computer-generated renderings). The hindsight is striking, knowing just how little about music and composition I understood. I basically knew how to read and play music. I had learned the basics of a slew of wind instruments and piano. But it is evident to me, and perhaps only to me, I had a deep understanding of what sounds moved me, and what reflected how I felt.

Adolescence was tough for me. I came out of the closet early, at thirteen. I was bullied a lot. I came out out of pure necessity. I had no defense other than to respond: “Yeah. I am. Now what?” Admitting it turned out to be a great source of strength for me. And it wasn’t so much that I was giving in. I was owning who I was. And that is probably the most empowering thing a person can do. I had music, too. It is amazing to me how quickly a piece, or a song, can take you back through some very vivid memories, and how it can resurrect formerly buried and forgotten emotions. Nostalgia, many call it. But sometimes we encounter bitterness, anger, or sadness. For all artists, creation is life-fuel. The resulting relic serves as sort of piece of iconography that not only stands as representative of whatever piece of your soul is imbued within it, it also provides access to the deposits that reside within for immediate retrieval. In going through these scores and listening, I am acutely aware of precisely what I was feeling with each note. Although I never would have, and still hesitate to call myself “composer,” the music is most certainly still me; albeit small parts of me.

Let me again be painfully clear in saying that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The sounds I made were not consciously intention, and I think my creativity was greatly hindered by the software I used. But I didn’t know any better. Even so, I found a way.

The oldest of these came out of a particularly difficult time. My mother, may she rest in peace, battled with depression for much of the time I had with her. I humbly and graciously accept the love she gave to us, as do I the lessons I gained from living with her. To say her illness did not effect me would be a lie. But to convey the impression that I am somehow scarred by it, would be equally false. Simply: I experienced, and I learned.

I spent a lot of time by myself in that house. Writing, practicing, watching Harry Potter, doing anything but my school work to try and shut it out. It was a pretty tense space. There was so much yelling, unruly, wild heathens of children. And although her intentions were pure, they came across as sometimes muted. The mood stabilizer she was taking, to her own admission, replaced the middle hues of human emotion with one solid block of gray, but left the outer extremes of anger and sadness. She was much quicker to cycle into anger than she was into sadness, but the bluer hues were just as scary. She was not a happy person during those years. She was going through a divorce with a dead-beat, abusive husband. I remember the night we left like it had just happened yesterday. We had found ourselves borderline squatting in this beautiful farmhouse in a state of halted renovation. There was electricity in two rooms: the kitchen and the living room. The wood stove used to heat the entire house had caught fire our first night there, so we resigned so spending the winter in one room: all six of us crowded around a single kerosene heater. I got very sick that year. It terrified her. So we left. One night, when he was out, she packed up our stuff into the back of a friend’s pickup and we never looked back. Once settled, I began to write. I wrote about my fears, my anxiety, my sadness, and I wrote about my worry for her. The staff became my journal. Only, it was ultra protected because I was the only person in my family with the ability to read it.

As we grow, it is common to look at a photo and be able to recall the memory. For a broader perspective, one can even lay out a spread of photos delineated into a timeline to observe one’s growth. Music is like this for me. It has always been such an emotional practice and I can quite literally pinpoint each major emotional checkpoint in my life with every score I set eyes on.

When I got to grad school, I began taking composition lessons for the first time. My aesthetic at the start was for film score, for lush harmonies and sweeping melodies. I idolized the modern giants such as Danny Elfman and James Horner, or Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for ’…Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.’ A taste for film score is taboo in the classical music world, especially as a composer, yet I am a shameless fan and am in constant awe of its power.

I am one of the few new composers who still believe there is merit left to be found in “traditional” harmony. There is a reason why it has withstood the test of time. And what I find absolutely fascinating is how human life resonates with music as a collective. How is it that certain music is SO captivating – whether consciously or unconsciously – for all of us? *Spoiler Alert* When Dobby dies at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, we all feel it (and don’t tell me you don’t. I proudly admit that I ugly-sob into my pizza/bowl of pasta/*instert-carb-of-choice-here* every damn time). And, in revisiting all of these old works of mine, it is even more evident that there is a language here, one that we all innately understand. When I was thirteen, I didn’t know jack-squat about writing music. I didn’t even learn what a “standard” chord progression was until I got to college at five years later. But somehow, my heart knew what it craved. And I think all of yours do, too. It’s why we all gravitate towards our own collections of music. We have all discovered for ourselves what resonates with us, what heals us, what distracts us…our souls know it, and I think life is a journey about understanding the soul, not finding it.

So.

I am going to share with you some of these pieces. I will include the year each piece was completed and I think those of you who have known me for a while will get a pretty good kick out of the progression of things. I am linking the sound files generated by my notation software – some (one) will be live performances, most will be at worst MIDI. These are the pieces that moved me to make this reflection – not, of course, by any means, for their compositional or academic merit, but because of how quickly I was able to identify the period in my life during which it was written. I am not sharing these as an invitation to criticize Marcus Redden as a young, teenage composer. I am not Mozart, so you can go ahead and calm right down. But, if you like what you hear, and you are not already a classical music fan, consider checking out some film music — a gateway…drug? I personally recommend the aforementioned composers, John Williams is a great place to start, Danny Elfman is particularly moving for me, and of course the late great Ennio Morricone. Really, just google search your favorite movies’ film score composers. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Verdi’s NO-tello

Hello there! It is currently two-thirty in the morning, so I will try to make this as intelligible as possible. Firstly, THANK YOU for the overwhelmingly positive response to my (first) blog post last week! It is nice to be reminded that having a voice is still of value these days… Last week, in my free-time, I made a list of several topics  that I would like to write about. So, naturally in true procrastinator fashion, I will not be writing about any of them right now.

There are so many things going on this week, that I don’t know where to begin. We are currently in opera tech-week for Verdi’s Otello with the orchestra, and for some reason when rehearsals are moved from morning to evening, my brain always seems to just slowly rot away, so that by the end of the cycle, there is nothing left but a distant ringing in the ear and the perpetual state of fear…of missing the next key change. Nonetheless, I am grateful to check another masterpiece off of my “to play” bucket list. I can’t see what is going on above me, but it sounds like it might be worth booking a flight to Guadalajara? But what do I know, I’m just a pit-musician, and I can’t see anything from underneath the stage.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my orchestra career, and I have been revisiting musings of a different way of life. It seems that I come to this crossroads about once every three years or so — things tend to happen in groups of three. The last time I found myself in this place, I was just beginning grad-school, and I found myself grasping at straws for any justification of my pursuit of music. I struggled with this one for a while, actually. Just after my mother passed away, I was ready to throw in the towel for good on my music career. I wanted to trade it for something “meaningful.” I had deemed the path selfish and  ego-centric. After all, what in the world could I possibly contribute to humanity by spending hours upon hours every day “perfecting” my art? Medicine, I decided, would be my target. In the years that my mother courageously fought her battle with colon cancer, I found myself frequenting hospitals and waiting rooms, and I remember to this day how incredibly warm and comforting the doctors and nurses were; how, in the face of such incredible hardship, they always seemed to know exactly what to say to keep you going. I wanted to have that kind of impact, I wanted to offer that kind of brief respite to hurting hearts, even if just for the duration of an office visit or a chemo session. Surely I could not do that from the practice room.

Now, I know what musicians are probably thinking. ‘Music has the incredible capacity to transcend all logical forms of communication, to heal, and to unify individuals and masses of people. That is done on the stage, by a group of musicians who have already spent a good portion of their lives devoted to practicing their craft behind closed doors.’ You are correct, and that is exactly what a friend told me as I broke the news of my decision to leave music. She asked me, why do you play music? I didn’t need to answer, because we both knew why.

I have avoided the term ‘healer’ for a long time, because I have always felt, somehow, that that phrase carries with it a great deal of egoism. Almost as if somehow saying, “I am a healer” makes both the act and the word lose the essence that makes them so…well, healing. But I have always been drawn to the path of healers, and until recently I always thought I would do so from the stage. In fact, some of my most rejuvenating moments have happened while being a member of an audience, even if that means simply listening to a recording. When I am hurting, I can always count on Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings to draw out every ounce of pain, leaving room for the good stuff. When I am in need of energy, Shostakovich’s Finale to his Fifth Symphony never fails to get the job done. Undoubtedly, music heals. But I have spent the last seven months in what I had thought for a long time was my dream job — playing in an orchestra, impacting lives from the stage, and making a living doing so. But, the more time passes, the less convinced I become.

Music, for me, will always be the answer. I will never stop playing music. But, I crave a deeper connection, still. I want to see the faces of the people for whom I am playing. I want to talk to them, touch them, cry and laugh with them. I want them to know that I am with them, and that I play for them. I do not think I can accomplish this, for myself, from the back of an orchestra.

For years now, I have had a vision for a chamber orchestra — a society of musicians unafraid to dirty its hands. I want to be involved in the communities I play for, I want to know them, I want to know their struggles and their pain, and I want to personally prescribe them an experience that could change their lives, with music. We all know classical music is dying. This became boldly evident to me a few years ago when I attended a concert by the Houston Symphony. Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1 was the big piece on the program. It was February in Houston, Texas, so naturally quite warm. I was wearing khaki shorts and a polo, paid for my reasoscreen-shot-2016-11-19-at-2-29-21-amnably-priced ticket and entered the hall to take my seat. What I did not expect, was to be chastised for my attired by an elderly woman in a ballgown. “Have some respect,” she said. That may have been the turning moment for me. The egotistical, elitist image of classical music is killing the art. The idea that any human should be shamed, or worse turned away from any music experience for their mere attire is appalling. It is literally devastating. A vast majority of the population lives in complete and total alienation from an art form so pure, with healing capabilities so profound that not even modern science can refute its benefits. I am heartbroken for any person who is made to feel that they are not “good enough” by such a disenfranchising system. And honestly, in many ways I am, myself, ashamed to be a part of it.

The vision I have is for an organization called Sonar. And Sonar will aim to Unify, Educate, Preserve, and Innovate on the way classical music is performed and perceived. It will accomplish this by joining forces with local artists and charities to radically transform the accessibility of such an incredible way of life. I’m thinking food drive concerts for the homeless, residencies in low-income school systems, concerts featuring the music of different cultures, and fundraising events for community organizations in need…and no more damn tuxes! I have a dream that one day I will look out from behind my stand and see an audience of familiar faces, a truly diverse mass of individuals who have all come together for the joy and love for music. Imagine, Beethoven’s famous Symphony no. 5, with locally designed sets and pieces of art, choreography, and lighting that would rival ANY modern pop concert. No more “concert halls,” no more judgmental ladies in their ballgowns, no more “donors only,” “VIP” opera box seating. Just people listening to people playing world-class music for people.

Something is brewing. Let’s start a revolution.

P.S. I FULLY intend to be doing all of this while wearing the amazing blazer I found at Zara, pictured above. Please try and contain your excitement.

The Third Degree

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-6-25-27-pmHi. I am not a writer. I am also not a blogger. But, I have been feeling compelled to start a blog, so here we are. “Horn Tortillas” — A blog about life, classical music, the horn, and amazing food…and/or cats and other cute, adorable animals.

In the wake of the recent presidential election, I have been literally SMACKED with the realization that, ladies and gentlemen, I have been duped. My emotions (and control of them) have been hijacked, and I have allowed them to be, by the media, by fake news, and click-bait articles. Frankly? I’m over it. Yesterday I made the BOLDEST move a young, spritely millennial could make here in the 21st century — I deactivated my Facebook [[edit: I only lasted four days because Spotify]] and said “Adios, Felicia!” to allowing my mind to be manipulated by headlines. There is so much hate, fear, anger, and despair flooding the airwaves right now, and I just don’t want to be a part of it. Any of it. So, I am going to cope by attempting to contribute as much love, peace, healing, and humor back into the world. Even if it means that my only reader is my husband, Jimmy (I love you!). 🙂

My name is Marcus Redden. I am twenty-six years old and am a nighttime composer and career French-hornist, or cornista profesional, si prefieres español. I am happily married, currently living in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico with my bunny Pippin (pictured above), and play Fourth horn full-time with la Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco. The journey of how I came to Mexico is a bit lengthy, and it is my new and current life-aspiration to stop looking backward so often. So, in a nutshell, I keep my eyes wide-open for any and all opportunities, and seize them! Mexico just happened to be the place!

I love food. I love everything about food. I love to eat it. I love to cook it. I love watching movies, shows, documentaries about it. I even love looking at pictures of it. And I am CONSTANTLY trying to change my relationship with it. How I eat, how much I eat, what I eat. Life is a constant…journey of self-improvement. And with daily reminders that “perfection” is mere abstraction, I take on the task graciously and humbly with an open heart and mind. On most days. Sometimes, though, you just have to down an entire pizza in one sitting. AND THAT’S OKAY! Humanism is beautiful.

As I so briefly stated before, I am going to be talking about a lot of things. Without the pressure of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and without the incessant battering of posts and statuses, I’m going to basically write whatever I want, whenever I want. And to me, that is so incredibly freeing! I am not going to worry if my jokes will land, or if my sarcasm is too much. I, like our all-time favorite celebrity president-elect, Mr. Donald J. Trump, am just going to speak my mind and tell it like it is. So, gentlemen, start your engines! And may the best — woman — win!