Adventures in Fear and Discovery: Learning Music Outside the Canon, Part 1

It’s been a hot minute since the last time I wrote here—between then and now there have been thousands of miles of air travel, a lot of faffing about on Instagram Stories, even more unprofessional faffing about on Twitter, a whole new language learned(-ish), many performances with and without other people, a move to a new city, a wild midterm election, a truly terrible season of House of Cards, several excellent high-grossing movies, some awful movies that made a lot of money anyway, some excellent movies that didn’t make enough money, the discovery of an awesome TV show, and the slow realization that although I haven’t had enough time for all the sleep I should have gotten this year I somehow had the time to watch a lot of movies and TV.

Hmm.

When I wrote last year’s post about branching out of standard piano repertoire (recap: it’s all by white dudes) to explore music by women and people of color, I’ll admit I had a secret little fear that I wouldn’t be able to follow through and that my good intentions would wilt and I’d go back to my usual diet of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.

Well, I’ve been chugging along at my personal crusade of searching out and learning music by female composers, and I’m happy to report that 1) I haven’t given up, and 2) I have a lot to say about the journey so far, which has been a roller coaster of fear and discovery (hence the blog title). There are a lot of unique challenges that come with straying from the canon, as well as a lot of really special bonuses that you don’t get playing music from the standard menu.

This post will be a two-parter, because I started writing this and it got…really long. So Part 1 will focus on the challenges I’ve encountered so far, and Part 2 will be all about the wonderful, magical parts of the process that (spoiler alert!) make the challenges worth it.

So let’s get into this, shall we?

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A list of normal-person things I have done in the past few weeks

For better or for worse, concert season tends to distill my life into a caveman-style existence. Near the end of my March-April-May run, my daily routine involved practicing madly from early morning to late at night, keeping myself awake by overdosing on Earl Grey (yes, the tea—it’s not some fancy new slang for drugs), subsisting on whatever I’d ordered from DoorDash for the day, and never leaving the house.

These long bouts of solitude were punctuated by, of course, my actual performances, which involved putting on real clothes and switching into meet-and-greet, Q&A mode, which thoroughly confused and entertained the atrophied social centers of my brain.

I emerged from the latest spate of concerts, blinking confusedly in the sunlight, having almost forgotten what a normal life looked like. I have since spent the past couple of weeks diving into doing Very Normal Things that I think Normal People do. Here is a list of those things:

    1. I have put on clothes that are not A) pajamas or B) red dresses and I have left the house! Several times!
       
    2. I have re-discovered the joy that is fresh, non-takeout food. I have been joyfully eating kale every single day for…uh, many days. And fruit! [immediately puts “fresh fruit” on all riders from here on out]
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    3. I saw a movie. That movie was Captain America: Civil War and when Chris Evans said [spoiler] “Thank you, Sharon,” in the movie, I said “You’re welcome” out loud in the movie theater.
       
    4. Bryce and I went to Disneyland, where I drove a kiddie convertible.

      A photo posted by Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) on

    5. Then we came back and I got an actual convertible.
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      (This is not a drill. I now drive this car.)
       
    6. I made decorated a cake.
       
    7. Did I mention that I’ve put on real clothes and left the house? I don’t think I mentioned that. Hey you guys, I’ve been putting on real clothes and leaving the house! NORMAL PERSON STUFF.
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Life, Lately

When I was younger I was plagued by a sincere fear that my diaries and school compositions would be studied and published by future historians looking to illustrate life in the 90s. I’m well out of both the 90s and my childhood paranoia (which has only been replaced by adult neuroses) but to some extent that particular fear still lingers in the back of my mind. Since my last update, I’ve been relatively absent from social media, I haven’t written in my personal journal, and I also haven’t written any juicy tell-all letters to anyone. So according to the official record, the last couple of months never happened.

So, doctoral history candidates from the year 2519 (Hello! Do we still have polar ice caps?), here’s what’s been going on lately.

Recitals

Through April and May, I gave a cluster of solo recitals, and even taught a master class.

You know it all went well, because I got flowers out of the whole deal.

Sometime this century I will get around to uploading clips to my abandoned Youtube and Soundcloud channels, but until then, here’s the proof:

recital
Photo courtesy of Laura Holford.

There’s also an Instagram video, which you will have seen if you’ve liked my page on Facebook (wink, wink).

Amalfi

If my Facebook feed is any indication, one of life’s greatest joys (second only to finding true love or having your work praised by someone you admire) is announcing your international travel plans on social media in some clever, self-congratulatory way, so that you can convince people you are a worldly, important jetsetter, rack up as many likes as possible, and reaffirm your worth as a human being.

I am clearly where happiness goes to die, because I never got around to making one of those status announcements. I mean, I thought about it, and then I procrastinated, and then it got to the point where I seriously considered just not telling anyone that I was going to Italy.

That’s right, I’m going to Italy this summer to be in the Amalfi Coast Festival! I am excited! I am scared! I am not practicing nearly enough!

My biggest concern right now is what kind of data plan I’ll get in Italy, because I want to be able to upload all evidence of my worldly, important jetsetting to Instagram. #priorities

Instagram Travels

Speaking of Instagram, did you know that shamelessly reposting Instagram photos is a totally legitimate form of blogging? That’s right.

Because I am a spectacularly smart planner, my string of recitals coincided with some work deadlines and other various obligations, so by the time May was half over, I hadn’t had a free day in weeks and was slightly dying inside. So I did the only responsible thing: I canceled all my appointments one day and got on a plane.

Today is a “clear your schedule and get on a plane” kind of day.

A photo posted by Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) on

It was a short flight—just to LA, where I had the most painfully awkward conversation ever with a confused Uber driver, got to hang out with some really great friends, and experienced the wonderful, therapeutic goodness of a hotel bed. Here is my 100% sincere grown-up recommendation: if you’re feeling worn out by life and you just want to feel comfortable and responsibility-free, just go sleep in a nice, soft hotel bed. 

Then two weeks later, I was back in LA (planned ahead this time) for a weekend in Disneyland. You know, as adults do. 

  #latergram from last night: a memory of strong drinks and great people. #tradersams #dlr   A photo posted by Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) on

Ohhhh yeah. #Disneyland #dlr A photo posted by Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) on

Bryce and I were joined by our good friends Ben and Midori and we proceeded to spend most of our time drinking, eating, and Instagramming. #sorrynotsorry to anyone who happens to follow all four of us. 

  It’s 5 PM somewhere, right?   A photo posted by Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) on

Thanks for the great shot, @midoriwada! #nofilter A photo posted by Bryce McLaughlin (@brycemclaughlin) on

So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been doing—outside of the usual eating -> sleeping -> existential panic cycle, I mean.

(Believe it or not, I actually feel rather guilty that I don’t update this blog as much as I should. Once in a while I try to rationalize it: Jeremy Denk never updates his blog! But then again, he’s Jeremy Denk. I don’t think that’s an excuse I’ll be able to use.)

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