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I have recently come back from directing the Young Composer School at Gondwana Voices National Choral School, a role that I have relished as it combined the paradox of creativity with the responsibility of quality choral education.
Creatives who are choral composers are always asked to straddle the line between imaginative possibility and what choirs are able to do for them. Write a work that is too specialised, and only the very best choirs with well-developed technical ability can perform them. Write a work that is too juvenile and simple, and choirs will find it unsatisfying on both counts. Even more than for instrumental writing, choral composition requires the composer to write as both a creative and an educator.
Write a piece that resonates with choristers of a certain age-bracket and ability, enhances their vocal development, and expands their performance confidence + sound, and you will have a sustainable and well-loved piece of repertoire which has the power to affect choristers long after the final performance of the piece.
And this is where I find complete joy; trying to find that sweet spot. I write like an educator, always looking for words that will stick, and what feels good on the voice, and how to create a choral framework whereby a developing choir will feel and sound good performing my pieces. I also seek to extend and develop quality vocal technique but in the “Mary-Poppins-spoon-full-of-sugar” kind of way, through embedding choral technique in a way that it is unnoticed until you have reaped the rewards of it through rehearsing and performing an engaging piece of music.
And this is what I have spent that last week mentoring and teaching to the young composers at Gondwana NCS.
I had an incredibly nostalgic realisation during the choral school; that when I was 25 years old, someone took a chance on me as a young composer. That someone was the artistic director of Sydney Children’s Choir, Lyn Williams, who saw something worth developing in my writing and in my love of choral education. Now, at age 37, I realise that my time for looking for mentors is being overlapped by actually doing the mentoring myself. Rather than cold-calling for mentorship, I am now cold-calling to mentor. When I see that spark of determination, uniqueness of voice, a love of the voice, dedication to developing as a composer, resiliency, and a talent that resonates with my own creative values, it is my job and privilege to offer to nurture that talent.
And so I did this. There were two stand-out composers in my small group of 7, and I wrote emails acknowledging the manner with which they embraced the composing school, their quality of work, and their ability to collaborate in a healthy and productive way whilst still maintaining their creative voice.
It’s now my responsibility to look for places where I can shine the torch on the brilliant and innovative young talent coming through. And what an honour to look at things so differently, whilst still having the chance to work as a creative myself.
It feels enlightening to be holding the torch and illuminating the journey from the other side!
Why are we always in such a hurry? It’s because we ask more from ourselves in a certain amount of time and with a certain amount of energy than we can possibly give. We squeeze in one, two, or three last things into our days, only to be left feeling frustrated and vaguely empty because we are exhausted from the ordeal, or we have done everything superficially; everything from loving our families, finishing tasks, to taking care of ourselves.
While I absolutely follow the rule of “done is better that perfect”, and relish in the crazy productive dash that allows me my wind-down time at night, I think that we have become a generation obsessed with maxing out our time, getting more “bang for our buck”. This includes working hard, and partying even harder. Why does everything have to be “done” before we are content? And what content is there to be gained by just wallowing in nothingness afterward, exhausted and unable to connect? Is it because there is no expectation of us? Or because we are so hampered and hemmed-in by daily demands that we long of simplicity and some sense of personal freedom? And why should an email inbox produce such anxiety in people that we dread opening our eyes in the morning?
I think that pushing ourselves sometimes is correct, that we should be pulling out all stops sometimes. But these should be for exceptional events, like a baking all-nighter to create something beautiful for a child or family member, the unexpected creative project, the 5-hour long Skype session with someone special. Because that is the right and human thing to do. Because we are made of love.
But I don’t believe in using ourselves up like some inexhaustible resource. We are not designed for that, and it’s just not sustainable. So how do we deal with this?
We can choose to get kinder and clearer on what we can actually do in a day, an hour, a spare 11 minutes. We can choose to be kinder to ourselves when we do not finish something, knowing that we have done all that we can in a day. We can choose clarity of planning and thinking more deeply and comprehensively about things that matter. How conceited we are to think we can pull off anything amazing just because we decide to pour an excess of time into it immediately? What was ever created like that which didn’t drain the life-blood of the creator? Yes, there are some extraordinary exceptions, but everything worth having, be it a strong relationship, a creative project, a deep friendship, a beautiful composition, or raising a healthy and happy child, all require consistent, loving attention and time.
What if we did all our daily tasks in the time they should take for each of us, with full presence of mind, and the awareness to connect, laugh, reflect, consider, and be joyful?
And what if were to stop running around thinking we are each so special that we can each be superhuman, and choose the right amount of things to fit into the minutes that we have. Do each thing with care, and your days become so much richer + worthwhile than a blur of nothings.
Forgive yourself your beautiful humanity + tender vulnerability, and choose to live well.
I am in Sydney for Gondwana Voices National Choral School and with a few days of joyous wanderings to myself, I am in total heaven.
The nostalgia hits hard, making my heart somersault at the most unexpected moments; the dirt and heat of the trains, the impossible hustle of Town Hall Station, the buzz of tourists and sunny ease of Circular Quay, when all you want to do is get from Point A to B, the cocoon which comes from a coffee in a quiet alcove in Glebe, the eclectic assault of Newtown, and the hipster, “single-origin-coffee-smashed-avo” vibe spilling out unapologetically from tiny nooks and crevices of mis-matched, town-housey cafes onto the pavements of Surry Hills.
I am pulled and pushed right back to 2014, to all the struggle, new connections and learning in a year of leaping into the unknown in a manner unprecedented for me, someone who finds pure joy in the ordinary.
Every smell and sound is a reminder and overwhelmingly, I am most reminded of how lucky I am to have taken this opportunity, and how slight a change in mindset can change the momentum around you forever. The thing is this; 5 years ago, despite all, my spirt was unfathomably naive, strong, and buoyant.
Here I am, wandering Sydney as a tourist, and I realise how easy it is to just exist in this exciting yet unforgiving city, where just the commute home can exhaust you, and daily interactions ask more of you than you expect because of the emotional cost of living.
Your brain goes into overdrive for day to day work + survival, and I wonder how young students with not a lot of money figure out how they will make their way when there are hundreds of others, equally as hungry to find their path, doing exactly the same, and doing all the right things.
And yet, some determinedly optimistic part of me thinks that it is still as simplistic as how hard you want to work, how you see things, and how you choose to interact with the world. Sitting on a train going to and from work, you could easily pass 10 years just existing. Just making enough of a living to survive with some semblance of happiness and comfort. But then, sitting with a coffee, dreaming possibilities, or looking out over the harbour on a humid summer morning, and you can wonder what you might do differently. What can you choose for yourself that is a step above just living from one day to the next?
I have everything I need to make whatever leaps of faith I want right now; time, energy, support, love, good health, a wonderful network of friends + family, a beautiful home, food, financial security, and a rewarding place of work. I can literally choose whatever door I’d like; I can take whichever version of sliding doors I dare to reach out for and walk through or pass.
Part of me thinks I was so much braver and grittier in my year in Sydney than I am now, despite being much more sure and confident professionally and personally here and now, five years later. I marvel at how intrinsically the same, yet different, that I am now and how I will awaken the parts of me that have been lying dormant due to a secure way of living.
I was always the girl standing on the edge of the bridge, throwing metaphorical streamers into the wind when I had nothing else to give, and coming into work each day on four or five hours of sleep, and being joyous and playful when that was all I had to offer. To be sure, I worked my arse off. I learned and studied the curriculum I was responsible to teach, I prepped my lessons over and over, I worked at my composition like some sort of obsessive creative habit.
My creative work was as determined as it was impossible, and I never questioned it. I wrote five choral commissions and fulfilled a Composer-in-Residence position that year with limited access to a piano, limited energy and time, and with 3 months of travel and very little money to spare. My God, I was a daring and audacious little biatch! I make myself laugh even now as I reflect, how the hell did I think I had what it would take in time and personal resources to make that year happen when I was so stretched and depleted?
But I did it. Snippets of writing and composing in tiny moments of the day, by the window in the corner of the Conservatorium High School staffroom while everyone else was at lunch, snatches of time in every coffee shop in Surry Hills and Paddington, and sometimes even with a delicious and savoured brunch on the weekends when I could afford it. Something I can afford without thinking now, and that very fact makes me so tender for the me from five years ago. Stolen weekends in practise rooms at the Sydney Conservatorium, where I asked for time on Saturday and Sunday mornings when no other university students were practising, and I would finally be able to hear what I was creating.
Damn, I was courageous.
And in these few delicious days of wanderings, mostly down memory lane with renewed wonder, I am reminded of how to be courageous now that I have everything I need to do so.
Mostly, I live + let live but there are times, I confess, where this is my sole modus operandi. 😂
Each day, we do our best. And each day, we need to look for ways to strive to be more, to push our boundaries, to be inspired by others, and to be humbled.
This is today’s dose of all that for me. Beautiful, inspiring, and humbling. A reminder of how strong and supple we all are, how innately beautiful, courageous, and creative.
Don’t live within the boundaries. Nobody knows they can be pushed up against and broken unless someone does it. You can’t live life always looking for an example of “someone who’s done it”.
Why don’t you be in the front line, and go and do the impossible?
This morning, I finished re-reading the extraordinary book, The Courage to Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi + Fumitake Koga. It shakes me to the core every time with its conversation and ideas, asking me to consider so much. You need a lifetime of thinking to process some of the concepts, and with each re-read (I have re-read it 3 times now), you pick up something different, and the understanding changes to fit where you are in life, and what issues and points of development have your attention.
For me, it got me thinking about self-love; how I care for myself, how I love myself, and how I hold myself in loving tenderness.
It was extraordinary to me how many times I have let myself slip in self-love, and how many times I failed to be tender to myself. No-one else would see it, but I am considering them now.
More than ordinary: Why do we all want to be extraordinary and different for the sake of being those things? We equate living a “good” life with living a “dull + ordinary” life. And “dull + ordinary” very dangerously become synonymous with “worthless”. It isn’t our job to strive to stand out from the crowd as our first priority; it’s our job to just live a good life. When we do this, a certain momentum and energy comes off us, and we become extraordinary and different, because we are animated, fully-engaged, and alive from doing our life’s work. Striving for acclaim and ultimately love and acceptance as our first course of action is a deeply unloving way to ask yourself to work, and to live life.
Just be: When we go into work, we are often measured by what we can give or do. We are only as valuable as our skills, success-rate, and productivity. Sadly, when we engage with family members, friends, and colleagues, in the same way we sometimes measure them through what they can give us. Is it that they make us feel good about themselves? They have a skill we want? They have scintillating and witty conversation? They are socially acceptable to be around? They have money and accolades? The do not ask questions which offend us? While all of these aspects are important and we should choose to be with people who are positive influences in our lives, shouldn’t the very first requirement be that they are just themselves? When we think of others as comrades and equals, rather than useful commodities – and it is a very subtle change of mindset – everything changes. Something shifts, and people are more willing to engage with you and willingly offer of themselves and their talents.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we each of us need to just be, safe in our worthiness.
Momentum, direction, and agency: When you are working from a base value of strong self-worth, then what you create, do, produce, say, achieve, is a bonus. It gives your life purpose and meaning. The fact that I teach, compose, and conduct choirs is a value added on top of my value as a person. Yet, too often, I have brandished those defining factors in front of new acquaintances as a definition of who I am, of all that I am. And I have looked for those defining factors in others as a reason to either keep or discard a connection. This also applies to students I teach as well; does the student who is on track and produces high quality work automatically get more value than a student who is a little turd? Theoretically, no. In practice, we all try not to. But how often have we said, even internally, “Oh, that student? They give me absolutely nothing. They’re a waste of space.” Shouldn’t the absolute bottom requirement be that they are there? Am I not the teacher and adult in the room?
When I scroll + scroll + scroll: You all know those days. It’s been a shitfest since 7:15am in the morning, and every lesson has progressively sucked from the word go. Get home, and you don’t want to engage. I numb by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook + Youtube. And when I cannot break that cycle and I tell myself that I deserve the chance to mentally check-out because I’ve had a shit day, I am not loving myself. When I stay in a holding pattern rather than taking those first, challenging steps toward moving through what I need to, reaching out and telling my story, nourishing my body through good food or exercise, or nourishing my brain through words, music, or journalling, I am feeding myself emotional junk-food and not doing myself any good. And the effects are just as shallow and ineffective. Start the work, care for myself.
I will see what I want to see in the world: People are imperfect, and they will let you down and hurt you. That’s a fact. However, if I set out to see how many times someone has let me down, I will always find evidence of this. If I look for evidence on how challenging a student is being, or how hopeless their situation, I will always succeed in finding it. I will always be able to verify whatever I want to see. So, it is my challenge to change the course of my thinking; how can I change my immediate response? How do I see something different, and look for clues otherwise in a situation, even if the hard work and course of action ahead is exactly the same?
I will see what I want to see in myself: Oh yes, there are several ways I can beat myself up. I don’t buy in for the “mindlessly Pollyanna” way of thinking either, because that’s just lip-service. But I will also see in myself what I look for. If I am looking for evidence of times I have let myself down, or failed, or how much I sucked at something, or how thoughtless, or when I have made a fool of myself, I will no doubt find it. And I can think of so many days when I have come home from school fixated on one interaction which has overtaken any of the other positives in my day, and how hard I have to try to change that course of thinking. Let me train myself to see things differently. Let me celebrate all that I have done well, first and foremost.
When I avoid: When I am avoiding something, I am telling myself I do not matter. Why? We avoid things when we are afraid. We are instinctively saying, “I don’t think I have what it takes to step into that arena, and say my piece, without being torn apart. I don’t think I have what it takes to own my truth. I don’t think I have what it takes to get up from the rubble if I get shot down.” So we avoid. Let me love myself a little more insistently, that the trust in my great strength is there. And yes, it will hurt. But I will be authentic and loving to myself, and not avoid any of truths about me.
The hard questions: As a follow-on from above, I have sometimes tied myself up in knots about a family gathering or a friendly catch-up because I know I will get the questions I dread; Why am I not married, raising a family, or have children? I have used every freakin’ verbal karate move under the sun to navigate these conversations. I have avoided, come out fighting, used humour, used the Zen-like approach, responded, not responded, avoided the most hurtful and nosey people, come at them like a bat out of hell and annihilated them for even daring to ask such a stupid question. What I have to realise is this; for most people asking, they are asking on such a different wavelength to me; they are simply asking a question, and I am looking at an emotional crater of sadness and grief, which I stand on the edge of daily. Humour cheapens it, fighting doesn’t acknowledge it properly. For other people asking, they are asking out of love. So avoiding hard questions is not the answer; it’s practising and preparing my answers. It’s knowing where I stand on these things, and knowing how much they mean to me, that I know exactly what I need to say to get my story across. Take the time to tell my truth and educate others. THAT is TRULY LOVING myself. My darling girl, I will never let you down again in not owning all that you are, I promise. Love all that you are, even the uncomfortable truths. That is your whole self.
Change: Sometimes, I resist change because I don’t think the people and world around me would cope if I changed something. What a ridiculous thing to think! Am I so adaptable that I will just go on being the person other people want me to be? If I need to grow and change, it is only for myself. Again, help educate others I love and care for about the change, speak with them without apology and let them know why I am considering a different direction, or a new way of approaching things. I owe no-one any explantations, by the way! Embrace all that I am, sink into it, deeply and wholly. I am a truly beautiful woman of grace, colour, vibrancy and fire. Let’s rock it.
Owning it: And finally, every time that I step into a room and do not take the floor when given the opportunity. I am not talking about being an attention-seeker. I am once again talking about those times where I have been a happy little fringe-dweller and played small, dimming my light so that other’s around me don’t feel uncomfortable. Step up, girl. Own it. Use your words. Shine your light. Share you extraordinary ideas + opinions. Change the momentum of the air around you.
You deserve all the love.
Happy New Year, everyone! How exhilarating to watch the sunrise today at Henley Square, to feel the freshness of the salt and sea breeze, and to take some time out in solitude to be in conversation with my own thoughts.
This year, I did things differently when it came to wrapping up 2018, and I cannot tell you how free and light I feel! I have always been someone who writes resolutions, gives thanks for the year gone by, and puts down goals I’d like to achieve. As I’ve grown older, I realised I was writing these resolutions almost as prophetic hopes, as if I had some sort of guarantee from the universe that they would come into fruition because I was an A-grade student who did her work and followed all the instructions. Of course, I worked hard to achieve everything I asked of myself. But there are so many things in life that you cannot guarantee, and I have learned that you can only live life fully and well, every day, learning to grow stronger in your ideals, your courage, your love, and yourself.
Most tellingly, the “guarantee with the universe” was because I ultimately didn’t trust myself to own my dreams and aspirations, and to take the incremental steps to make things happen. How heartbreaking to realise that! Especially when I know myself to be so hardworking, creative, and determined, with so much imagination and agency to contribute to the world each day! I thought that if someone else had the contract, namely The Universe, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fall-out if things failed, that I wouldn’t be totally accountable, and I had a scapegoat that I could blame. Because heaven forbid if I actually took responsibility for my directions in life fully and completely, and held myself accountable!
The thing is, it turns out that the most conscientious, A-grade student cannot will some things into being or away, just by planning and executing. Unexpected family tragedies, falling in love, raising a family, the opportunities that come out of the blue that grab you by surprise and whisper, “Go, go, go! You have to jump NOW!” You can’t then turn around and say, “Hey, you fabulous but ill-timed opportunity, you weren’t on the resolution list. You weren’t in the plan. Get in line!”
It has broken my heart over and over that my conscientiousness and overall “good-ness” as a person has not allowed me to raise a family. Life doesn’t choose the A-grade students to be mothers. Life just chooses, and we are each given a page to write. We have the power to grow and to use our words and minutes any way that we want. But we cannot hope for someone else’s page, or use someone else’s words. We get ours, and we can be as creative and daring, or as boringly safe, as we dare.
All you can do is live well.
More than ever, I find that my words and my thoughts have far more worth and value than I realise. I think about how many precious thoughts and words I have carelessly wasted over the years, using them without really knowing their impact, just talking so I could hear my voice, or so that I could make myself feel a little less afraid. I look at myself now and think, “What course can I charter? What can I say? What can I do?” I can stand for something. I am not so small that my words don’t have impact; I have more momentum than I have ever given myself credit for. Changing the momentum of the world around us starts in our small communities, in our families, in our classrooms, in our daily lives. You don’t aim to change to world, you aim to live a good life. And yet, how many people angle for a fame and accolades, wasting so much time, energy, and potential on the way?
I feel a slow and rather wonderful shift in how I am walking into 2019. I love life and what I do, there is no mistaking that, even when things suck. I like the grittiness of life, as well as the soaring delight and quiet joys. But life is not one-dimensional. Find the positive light in the grittiness, but let go of the idea that you need to be the beacon for everyone else. You just have to do what you do, as well as you are able, and you will have purpose and meaning. A heat and energy comes off someone who is simply living their best life, and humans cannot help but gravitate towards this brand of beauty and excellence.
I like who I see in myself, and I like who I am becoming very much. So I say to myself:
Let me sink into the woman that wears clashing patterns and wildly colourful outfits with a sassiness that is real and unmistakable. Let me savour the strength of my words and use them well. Let me walk with purpose, be it light and delightful, or with command and presence. I will not be anything just because it makes other people around me feel comfortable. I will walk into myself, and all that I am, so that I am so overflowing with authenticity, the world cannot help but turn their heads and hear what I have to say.
2019; so what would you like to say?
I wasn’t going to head out today. I haven’t been sleeping properly in the heat, I am tired + feeling very introverted, and I thought I’d just have a very low-key day before NYE celebrations, which are boardgames, pizza, and wine until we all fall asleep, long before midnight.
But I got up and went for a run and picked up some extra groceries. Ran into a friend who needed to connect and it was a warm, playful, and tender conversation. I could see how much she appreciated the time and connection in her face and eyes. And the connection lifted me up and made me less tired and more open.
I thought I’d stop into my local coffee shop, where there is a lovely guy who brings me the paper and always remembers my coffee order and I, in turn, make him smile and cause his heart to flip just a little. Isn’t it extraordinary that when you feel so tender and tired, that you might still light up someone else’s world? I think that of so many people who are special to me, yet I never apply that thinking to myself. I never consider the effect I might have on others when I am tired…and it’s more than I realise.
Then over to see my Grandmamma, who is 98 years young. Walked in to hear yelling and swearing at the nurses for making her wait an hour for her assisted shower, and the nurses laughing and nudging me that she is the most feisty, spirited, entertaining and determinedly uplifting resident they have. She knows them all by name, and has given them nicknames. In the 3 months that she has been there, she rules the roost and can abuse them all soundly, as well as remembering details of their husbands, wives, children, and families. Her marbles are all there. She is unbelievable.
Home, and I realise how differently my day could have gone. Home, and ready to write, be creative, and interact with the world. Ready to engage with the day, and all the people I love.
My god-daughters will arrive soon with all the additional supplies to make dumplings and peanut-butter cookies that I don’t already have in my pantry + fridge. I’ve received a text that they are so excited to see me and cannot wait for Twister + Monopoly tonight.
My cousins just sent me a picture pavlova that will make it over, as well as my favourite Bird in Hand bubbles.
How absolutely amazing that we underestimate our place in the world, and how very vital we are.
Happy New Year to you all, much love, and take your place in the world. Even at your most tired and quiet, you are so very important. Your light may be small and tender some days, and dazzlingly bright others. That’s absolutely okay, you don’t have to be “on” all the time. But don’t wait for the perfect conditions to interact with the world. Just step forward, at your most authentic, in whatever form that you are in, love and care for your tender vulnerabilities, and allow yourself to be fully seen, appreciated, and loved.
See you in 2019.