My Journey at ASU; Dedications - Teachers (Part 1)
Teachers are such amazing people, under-rated and under-appreciated but essentially the most crucial beings in the world. Music teachers are always seen as those who "cannot be performers" but are they really? Who are the people who taught performers then? All these insane amount of research about how music makes one smarter, yada yada yada, were musical skills not imparted by music teachers or did the child become smarter just because?
I'm a lucky goat and have met insanely incredible violin teachers/mentors most of my life! I'm not a terribly confident person, nor do I think I have talent for violin at all, but all my mentors believed in me and pushed me to achieve so much I've never imagined I could. Sounds cliche, but true.
There are a few amazing mentors I've had and I'll be penning down my relationships with them in the next few posts - Dr. Jonathan Swartz, Andres Cardenes, Foo Say Ming, Dr. Margaret Schmidt, Leslie Tan and Lim Soon Lee. Whenever I feel jaded or exhausted and have a strong desire to complain about my life, I just have to think about one of these mentors and tell myself "Come on, what's this compared to what these people have been doing?"
Dr. Jonathan Swartz, Tee, Dr. Margaret Schmidt, Dr. Sabine Feisst after Tee's Final Thesis Defense (Oct 17 '17)
More than 5 years ago I met Dr Swartz at a festival in Texas and eventually came to ASU to audition. He wasn't the friendliest person ever, in fact probably bordering on most intimidating at that time. Somehow after 4 lessons in Texas and 1 at ASU, I had a gut feeling he would be good for me. At the very least I knew he knew what I needed in my playing and could help me with it. In what other ways would he be a good teacher for me I didn't quite know, but I would find out really quickly for better or for worse.......
In my first year at ASU I struggled tremendously as a person and as a musician. Studying under JS, I felt I could never reach his high expectations as a musician or his idea of a successful one. While he was pushing me to be an all-rounded successful musician, I felt myself as a product of the environment I was brought up in so strongly - constantly afraid of being judged, constantly judging myself and feeling I was never enough. Never being enough also meant thinking nobody really wants to hear what you have to say and so never saying it. Often enough, that meant I didn't even have to have an opinion, since I wasn't going to say anything anyway. I was ready to throw in the towel and just say, I was brought up differently, what do you expect from me? That's not my personality, I can't and won't do it! Of course, JS stubborn as a mule never let me get away with it........
2 years of Masters flies by really quickly and wanting to a pursue a DMA would mean preparing for auditions in the 3rd semester of Masters. I initially started Masters toying with the idea I might pursue DMA but ditched it entirely because I wanted to learn and grow as much as I could in the 2 years instead of wasting time on auditions.
In the 2 years I kept pursuing what I needed to, tried to learn as much as I could, but also took baby steps to address all my weaknesses and to break out of the self-limiting me. Of course sometimes when your teacher just pushes you over the cliff you don't have a choice either! I kept pressing on, struggled, was frustrated, but never looked back. I also started to learn a tremendous load about myself and my warped belief of what I can or cannot achieve. Awareness is always the beginning of change, and I had to start deliberately practicing things that made me incredibly uncomfortable in order to grow. I learnt that it was okay to be vulnerable, or to ask for help when needed, or to show one's weaknesses, or to be a human and have feelings, emotions and opinions, or simply not having to please everyone.
One month before I was due to move back to Singapore post-Masters, I started to think about the future. I was growing both as a musician and a person, but was I strong enough to take on what's coming up? Was I mentally strong enough to return to Singapore to take on life? Was I strong enough to defend my music and what it represents in a judgmental environment? Was I strong enough to keep growing independently in an environment that created the self-limiting me? Of course these were only some concerns amongst others. I knew the answer was no, but I've already made the choice to move back to Singapore, I've made preparations and literally had no furniture except my mattress in my apartment. But will one ever be ready? Maybe if I'm pushed out of school I'll be ready even if I aren't? How is one every ready anyway? WHAT IF I"M NEVER READY? Am I just being dependent?
I spoke with my teacher and we decided that since the reality is that I'm moving back, we needed a plan that's going to make sure that I can continue to grow in the right direction. We had a couple of talks and started strategizing and suddenly,
I had a huge choice to make. I sat out of orchestra on the pretext of being injured (ok I've never done that otherwise, trust me!) so that my brain could desperately churn and weigh the pros and cons of my choice. WHAT IF I"M NEVER READY? What if I stay and find at the end of it that I'm still not ready? What if the only way to be ready is to get out of there? Am I just avoiding it? What if.........?!?! Within a few hours, I made the choice, sent an email to my teacher, in a week paper work all filed and processed. I was on the road to DMA with a TAship. I'm not religious but thank God for all that my teacher did for me in that short span of time and all the support I got from the other faculty members and admin that made everything work out smoothly. It wasn't that I could foresee what would happen in the next 2 years, looking back now I probably didn't even have a inkling of my life would be now. I only remember being strongly convicted to my choice, suddenly feeling at peace and never looking back and doubting. It just felt right, and I was excited by all the possibilities of my DMA.
Tee's brother, sister-in-law, Tee and Jonathan Swartz post-commencement
Now that I've made that choice, I won't know if any of those strategies would have worked. All I know is, these precious 2.5 years of DMA continued to change my life. The 2 years of Masters opened up my mind, made me search deep inside myself and made me realise how I was my own stumbling block, how much attitude and perspective changes one's life. The next 2.5 years I built upon that awareness, changed my attitude and mentality and constantly challenged myself.
At graduation last week, I met with Dean Tepper for a video shoot and he asked me about graduation. I remembered the feeling of saying "I'm ready for what comes next!" I am ready, excited to move on to a new phase of life, strong enough to face whatever comes next. That's when I knew that the choice I made to stay was right, but most importantly, how much my teacher has helped me through the 4.5 years, how much I've learnt, how much stronger I've become and how much support I've received from other faculty members at the school. I'm ready, something I never imagined I would ever be saying after I finished my Masters.
In my 4.5 years, my teacher has made me face all my weaknesses, not given me an excuse to neglect any of those, constantly nagged at me in all different kinds of spiels to stop killing myself over nothing. Simply laying the truth in front of me, not allowing me to cloud it with emotions and frustrations. He's definitely the rational brain I needed to calm my craziness, and the kick I needed when I tell myself or him that "I just can't!!!" He constantly inspires me to be a better musician, teacher, person and to be curious about EVERYTHING! Words cannot describe how thankful I am for him.
Photo courtesy of Kaz - Tee's Final DMA Recital at Neil's Residence on Dec 2nd 2017
Tee Dec '17