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Such an interesting experience last night at the HAAAA mixer. I made a bit of a “melodrama” big deal out of preparing myself – bracing myself, really – for the event, since I had a chockload of memories from previous times in my life when I had allowed these events to “trigger” my hot buttons. I used to have complaint festivals afterwards for days and days with anyone who would listen!

So how did it go last night?

Not a big deal. Really neutral for me, neither terribly interesting nor terribly annoying. It was just fine. Some might say, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” This was definitely not a “hell yes” kind of event. I did meet the real-life Jeff Yang, founding editor of A Magazine, one of the first glossy magazines designed for hip young Asian Americans back in the 1990s. It was like bringing back ancient history for him, since he’s now moved on to more mainstream things, working for a consumer trend market research firm and writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. I tried to convey to him a bit of the hero status he has in my mind, but it was obviously way beyond him.

Anyway, perhaps the greater value came from learning how much I truly longed to play my violin at the open mic I was missing in order to attend the event. I happily sped home on the 101, noting that I could make it home in time to get my violin, get to Angelica’s Bistro, and still have about an hour of the show to go. I was totally filled with excitement when I made this video just outside the entrance to Angelica’s.

Turns out the list was so full of sign-ups we didn’t finish until about 11pm, with no room to fit me in! I enjoyed the familiar faces, the ambience, and the feeling of belonging that I get from just being at our open mic. Chalk it up as another one of life’s pleasant surprises!

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Tuesday night I continued my practice of saying “Yes” to life. I showed up at a Jazz Jam that someone invited me to after hearing me play at my gig last Friday with Randy Bales’ Chinese Melodrama.


I’ll always remember something said by the keyboardist who was in the group before I went on. Someone asked if he was disappointed in his performance. He answered immediately, “I’m never disappointed with a performance. I know it can always be improved, but I’m never disappointed. Especially when I get to play on a Steinway! How could that be disappointing?”

What an example of gratitude and acknowledgment of himself!

I was a little nervous showing up at something called  “Jazz Jam”, since I was carrying around the belief that “I don’t know how to play jazz”. It seemed to me to be a separate language, an insular club open only to members, and a totally separate skill set that I don’t have.

Funny how our beliefs are reflected back to us…

I sat down to watch the first group play, and Carl, the bass player who was to be in my group later in the evening sat down next to me. “So, do you play in the symphonies locally?” (He had heard that I was “classically trained”.)

“No,” I replied.

“And you’ve never played jazz before?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, I know how terrified most classical musicians are of improvising.” Read the rest of this entry »

With the wonders of technology, you can listen and watch live streaming video from my performance tonight, Friday, June 25, at 7PM Pacific (10PM Eastern), without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Visit the following link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/sf-bay-area-sounds

I will be playing improvised violin music with Randy Bales (vocal, guitar), and Cathy Luo (bass, percussion) starting at 7PM. Later, the amazing Shawn Evans Band will take the stage. These are an amazing group of Bay Area musicians that have become part of my circle as I journey into uncharted territory with my music.

Here’s a clip of Randy and me, for a taste of the kind of music we’re playing:

Preparing my mind and body for my first live acoustic rock performance experience tonight as part of a trio. Beautiful warm weather here in northern California, and this morning I read these words from Iyanla Vanzant:

I have learned to look at my life as an observer. I stand back, look at what happened, and focus my attention on the place where the wound was inflicted. I do not look at who inflicted the wound or how it was inflicted. That it was inflicted is the essence of healing. Find what your wound is, where the wound is being played out in your life, and heal it. Only by doing the work on ourselves that is required to heal mental, emotional, and psychological wounds can we ever hope to be whole in our spirits. I chose to do the healing work because I didn’t want to be mad anymore. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I wanted to heal so that I would have something to celebrate – myself.

from Yesterday, I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant

I felt deep in my soul a renewed calling that I must tell my story. Not just for myself, but for others. Not just this part of the story, but my whole story. It’s all I’ve been trying to do, and now I know it needs to be done. Read the rest of this entry »

Here was a Tweet from Martha Beck today, on her Sonoran STAR retreat: “Next time I need peace, remind me 2 head for the wilderness, close my pie-hole, and open my senses.”

This is the feeling I get whenever I descend into the place of deep listening. I do it each morning as my delicious wake-up ritual, and I do it in a richly connecting way each time I play improvised music. The differences between “learned” and improvised music are so vast that they are almost separate art forms in my mind. After a lifetime of learning to translate written notes into sounds on an instrument – or more like “maneuvers” in on an instrument – and training my eye-hand coordination by sight-reading in orchestras, I now play almost exclusively by ear. It’s not that I don’t value all that classical training. I’m just done with it for now. I’ve moved on to a different mode of playing, where I get to drop all notions of how things should be, stop thinking, and just listen. That’s my only job. My hands are trained sufficiently that I don’t have to think about where to go on my instrument. I can just play. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard to believe I’ve been gone from Truth Love Beauty for two whole weeks. I’ve been over at The Music Within Us, populating it with blogs related to my latest interest area, physician burnout. Amazing the amount of dialog on the blogosphere and in print media like the New York Times about this subject. Lots of doomsday stuff that feeds into a pervasive tone of doctors being “victims of the system” in which they work.

Maybe so, but I’m throwing my hat into the ring as a fresh, outside voice with no agenda other than sharing what I’ve learned. I am just plain curious to see what will happen if someone speaks directly to doctors and offers them a completely different way of looking at the present situation. Instead of a collective “woe is us” victim story, what if doctors got very quiet and looked inside themselves as creative leaders of their own lives?

Counter-culture, yes. Contrarian, yes. Challenging, yes. All things that I have always loved to be.

Which was the theme of my weekend. I dropped by two different “jam” sessions that I found on the internet. A few months ago, you would not have found me voluntarily going alone to meet a group of strangers somewhere to play who-knows-what music together for an undisclosed amount of time and no apparent payoff other than “for the hell of it.” But that’s what I did. And I had so much fun! It was relaxing to me, and I felt connected to people in the only way that really matters to me right now…at the level of the soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Returning from CIIS tonight, I am struck by how I used to be impressed by technical wizardry – how loud, fast, or difficult a person could play their instrument. I used to watch with an eagle’s eye when I attended concerts. I was alert to something, without knowing what I was looking for.

Now I appreciate a different kind of artistry, and that is the skill of a musician who chooses to connect with their audience, to form a relationship with them through the music, and to allow creation and transformation to occur in that space. This is a very delicate and sensitive art form, which requires mastery of your instrument, knowledge of the elements of music, and such skill as to be able to select the particular combination of sounds that will create a container to engage your audience (whether it’s one person, several people, or a roomful of people; whether they are happy, sad, sick, healthy, present, or distracted). Read the rest of this entry »

I got to hang out at a fabulous house party including many musicians – both “professional” and “amateur” – having a great time playing together. I loved getting exposed to the new sound of “Creole fiddle” and the genre of Western Swing, playing with the front man of the Bay Area based band The Saddle Cats.

“Today I wake up empty and frightened. Don’t go to the door of the study and read a book. Instead, take down the dulcimer, let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi

Last night I was reminded of the importance of ritual. There is a reason that the word “practice” implies some regularity and frequency at which you revisit a set of actions repeated in order to bring you into the present moment in your body. There is a difference between “getting stuff done” and “practicing”. I prefer to practice.

I went into the recording studio after missing my usual session last week. My shoulder had been feeling tweaky and I decided to let it rest. It was a great decision, and my body thanked me for it. I was fresh and actually craving the session last night a little bit as I walked in. I could feel my body getting into the mode of listening and playing as soon as I entered the studio space. I knew where to put my violin case, my coat, my bag, my water bottle. The tracks were already queued up on the recording system. I put the headphones on.

And it flowed. It was such a joy! I wasn’t trying to DO anything. I was just grateful to be back in my practice. See, I’m remembering that practice is the stuff of life. As a violin teacher, I spent hours answering questions about “how to get someone to practice”. In that process of trying to explain what practice was, I got lost. I got steered into other people’s reward-and-punishment systems, bribery tactics, making up false promises, all in an attempt to portray “practicing” – which was perceived as a necessary “evil” – as something palatable.

The truth is that the soul craves practice. Read the rest of this entry »

I just recently stepped back into the recording studio, after being away from it for almost two years.

What I noticed is that there is a unique freedom of the first take that I’m challenging myself to recreate on each subsequent take. Here’s how the process goes: I hear the tracks (usually drums, guitar, and perhaps some vocals) once, getting a bodily feel for the groove of the song. I listen for sounds that I want to imitate or converse with. I notice repeating patterns. By the time I’m two and a half minutes into a song, I usually have several ideas of what I might play.

Then I put on headphones, get set up in front of the mikes, and I hear the same tracks played back in my ears as I play my violin. There is such a freedom on that first take, and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the lack of judgment. I’ve never played it before, so there’s nothing to compare myself to. I’m just PLAYING. Listening and playing. No thinking. Just trying. And so far, there has always been something (surprisingly) beautiful that comes out of the first take.

The problem is with the second, third, or fourth takes. What happens with these? Well I notice that I’m trying to “live up” to the quality of the first take. Or copy some brilliant idea from that first take, only making it “better” or “more clever’. Or I repeat exactly what I did the first time, thinking too much and making it sound canned. Sometimes, though, when I hit that wall and play about two minutes of what I consider “crap”, I’ll suddenly hear something completely different in the music and go in a totally new direction. A brand new rhythm, a countermelody, or something new in the music to converse with. But as soon as I start attaching too much – liking an idea so much I try to copy and repeat it over and over again, or congratulating myself on my own brilliance so that I start trying to “top” what I’ve just done – I lose the magic. The sound is canned. It sounds scripted. Or like it’s trying too hard. Read the rest of this entry »

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