Summer of 2015: The last 6 weeks in Taiwan

At some point, we owe it to ourselves to shift gears and reanalyze our perspectives, maybe do something completely different, something that we are not sure we're even capable of. 

This summer I spent 6 weeks in Taiwan to immerse myself in its culture and reconnect to what I call my native country. With my extremely limited Taiwanese, I live in Taipei, Chiayi (especially the Hsing Kang township), and 2 weeks in the mountains of Taidong with  the aboriginal descendant Bunun people. 

The odd thing about this trip is that I had no idea what I was going to find: I knew this journey was an important one to me, that it would give me something that I felt I needed but wasn't exactly sure what.

Looking back now, through the tougher parts to the more rewarding parts of the adventure, I feel as if I have taken a thousand mile trek through my own emotional landscape, taking the gifts of love and sincerity from the people of Taiwan and the Bunun people to unlock an intense self-exploration. I have made many new friends, countless people to whom I am too thankful for words. It is thankfulness, I believe, that is most special about Taiwan and the Bunun people - that you are always aware that you are in a community that is constantly sharing and giving. 

My trip culminated in a concert in Hsing-Kang, Chiayi, where I performed with the award-winning Hsing Kang elementary orchestra and musician colleagues in a piano quartet, performed five original compositions written in the course of my time in Taiwan, and interactive improvisations with the audience. The theme of the concert was officially a cultural evocation of Taiwan through my own eyes.

But honestly, the real theme was gratitude - in Taiwan and for Taiwan. 

             *Below is a video clip of one of the compositions I performed in HsingKang: 

And an improvisation:

ASTEP - On Stage! In NYC and Sing for Hope Volunteer Organization

Last Wednesday, I had the honor of participating with the amazing non-profit organization ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty) in their On Stage! program in New York. This program brings artists to share artistic appreciation and empowerment to youth in the city of New York, most of whom are not regularly exposed to the arts.

I'd given a music appreciation workshop for children in Mott Haven, interacting with students in a setting that I find most musicians, including myself, don't usually work in. (A few pictures of the workshop in action to the right.) Organizations like ASTEP help the artists that volunteer with them as much as the children it brings the arts to - what does it mean to engage and understand the people you present your art to, and how does one really do that? 

Link to ASTEP's website

Please take some time to check out ASTEP's website and its numerous global programs - I think that what they do is special in the art world and is carried out with true sincerity in their vision. 

This past week I also participated in my first volunteer performance with Sing For Hope - an arts volunteer organization based in New York that brings art performances and workshops to various audiences whom want to experience or interact with the arts around the city. 

Sing for Hope believes in arts as a sharing process - a true volunteer spirit based on what your perspective as a person is, including what you find is beautiful, powerful, or helpful, and reinterpreting your perspective as an unlimited gift that can be given. I shared some of my music at a care center for men and women in  lower Manhattan; the experience was completely stress free and a rare period of music making that one felt one could enjoy without judgement. 

These experiences help keep a person looking in the right direction while they progress their artistic command and therefore themselves - you can practice and sweat in a world about perfectionism and competition, but the more you can get outside of the box and remind yourself that what you work on is a gift with absolute value, regardless of what you do, the more you learn about being an artist.  

Link to Sing for Hope's website

New Thoughts

Lately, I've been working on projects that fall into a category that I'd call "artistic activism". 

The term "activist artist" was one that was supplied to me by a friend following a phone conversation about the management of outreach-minded, educational, community projects. 

To me, artistry is radical. It should push the frontiers of society. It should invite social discussion, challenge our awareness, make us reevaluate our perspectives. And I do not limit this just to concerts that would fundraise for a charitable institution, as beneficial as the effects are for such an endeavor. I'm talking about the fact that within artistic creation, there exists a certain humanity, a certain kind of medium through which we perceive the world, that is, in itself, a powerful, visceral force. Music shouldn't just be something that is therapeutic - when a listener is ready for it, it should also have the capacity to challenge and transform. 

But where does one start? I say through self-exploration. No person is the same, no person has the same perspective, and therefore no artist has the same craft. That artistry is separated into music, dance, theater, visual arts, multimedia, etc. reveals how we find labels for abstract things. In the end,  we all express ourselves differently, day to day or professionally. Yet, art unites our "expressing" under the umbrella that "we're all in this together". That I am a me-expressing individual, that you are a you-expressing individual, and that we are united in this sense - this is art. 

Upcoming: Composition concert

This past school year, I have been part of Dr. Philip Lasser's composition for non-majors program. Each semester, all the participating performers'/composers' works are featured in the "Double Vision Concert", held at Juilliard.  

This semester, all works performed will be short concertos (for the composer's performing instrument) with string orchestra, and the composition process has been and continues to be a huge and exciting undertaking for all of those involved. 

The Double Vision concert premiering all the composers' works will be at Juilliard (orchestral room 309) on a Monday, April 20th at 8 pm.