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Whenever I’m emailing another staff member about a student fro whom I can’t spell their name, I always pull up their email address up on the “CC space and then delete it after I’ve gotten the spelling down.
(Yes, I realise this is stupidity at its finest…!)
This backfired spectacularly today when I was emailing on behalf of a New-As-Of-Term-3-Sir-Year-10, and pressed enter on a message raving about his attitude to learning, aural skills, and determination to succeed to another staff member.
This student cannot read printed music. Yet he can play by ear like a boss. He’s intelligent, imaginative, streetwise, and centred. He cracks me up with his sassy humour. I cannot wait to see who he’ll grow into for the remainder of Year 10, let alone Year 12!
But it was a rough start to the term coming into a class of ridiculously talented Year 10 Music kiddies. You know how you get waves of talent? We’re riding the crest this year with this amazing vintage.
He hit reply on my accidental “CC” and wrote:
Dear Ms Kwok,
I have to admit that I was pretty freaked out starting this term at Pulteney, and finding myself in a class of freakishly talented people. It was overwhelming. But in 3 weeks, you have made me feel connected and included through your teaching and finding ways to acknowledge my skills within the class. Case in point? This email, which I suspect you didn’t mean for me to see. But I’m glad I did. It’s all these little things that you + the class are trying to do for me without me knowing which make me feel valued and good about being here.
Thanks for finding a spot for me, while trying not to make it obvious. That somehow makes it even better, and I appreciate it even more.
Cheers and see you next lesson!
Sir Year 10.
As I luxuriate in free time and start to really trust that I am on holidays, I find myself completely engrossed in various creative ventures. With complete freedom from a teaching schedule, from holding the reins, from mentoring, guiding, loving and problem-solving, directing and inspiring in choir rehearsals, and all together doing work akin to air-traffic control on a daily basis, I find my mind absolutely alive with creativity.
I am joyfully alive, and so happy to engage in playful conversation with myself, the world, and all those creative ideas which have lain dormant for months. Oh, the joy of realising that pathway back into myself is still there, despite the hammering my energy levels and creative being have taken through everyday work!
I find myself writing words and looking back on my experiences, re-living events, examining happenings, and honing my descriptions on a daily basis in a way that makes my own heart flip with recognition. I realise that I have been so busy, and so mentally and emotionally stretched by teaching, that sometimes I do not recognise myself in my words during the school term.
Just keep going, you know the drill.
Journalling now is pin-prick accurate. It is both enlightening, and lighten-ing. My mind feels lighter, like there’s more room and freedom for ideas to play and be seen. There is no protective film or professional work-front to get through; I can just be. And it’s not to say that I am two different people, but there is a treadmill and speed that comes from teaching which inevitably puts you into “teaching go-mode”.
Two speeds, on or off.
Being reflective and compassionate in my teaching costs every ounce of energy I have, and it is solely directed at the students under my care. I give my time and energy freely, completely in love with my work.
I am playing the piano as if I am painting my every feeling and emotion, every sound is a colour that I shape like words being formed. I’m not practising accompaniments, or hurriedly cobbling together a transcription, I am playing from the heart. My heart. I am playing and creating for the pure joy of playing, and it is intoxicating. Plus, those of you who know the hoops I have jumped through in the last three weeks as a teacher and accompanist will know that I also have a fierce ulterior motive for practising; a somewhat fiery determination to play + hone my technique (and sass) to play the goddamn arse off my Year 12 accompaniments. But I digress…!
I am composing as if I am speaking. It’s magical to be playing with a palette of words, like coloured beads, and creating a thread of sound which is both an expression of my thoughts, a message I want to bring to life, and a connection of music and living ideas. It’s slippery, frustrating work, catching and refining those beautiful, elusive melodies, and yet it’s a conversation I am absolutely, completely enraptured by.
And I look at all that I am doing; journalling, writing, reading, composing, speaking, creating and I ask myself: What right do I have to be this creative in so many different fields?
Yes, I am on holidays and I have time to indulge my creative self and spirit. But shouldn’t I choose one place to refine? One place to strive for excellence, and to hone my ideas? Why am I being so selfish, so carefree, so audacious with my creativity that I am squandering hours joyfully engrossed in everything expressive?
How wasteful. How audacious. How selfish!
And then I think: Why shouldn’t I?
I am not being creative to strive toward excellence, even though I know that if I do it for long enough, excellence comes off what I create naturally, like a heat and light that others gravitate toward.
I am being creative for myself. I have a voice that is fluid and alive in many different mediums, why shouldn’t I delight in using it?
It actually doesn’t matter if I don’t reach a level of excellence in anything that I do at this moment in time; the only thing that matters is that I create.
That I create because I am human, with a heart that works, and a spirt that is alive.
That I create because I feel, and that alone is enough for expression in any medium.
That I create because I am moved to do so, filled with inspiration and something to say.
That I create because it creates freedom, movement and life within my cells, mind and body, to allow new ideas to connect, and new understandings to form.
I am not creating for anyone. I am creating because I am human with a voice.
I can hold as many paint brushes, notes, sounds, keys, words, threads, and ideas as I want.
Create with quiet regularity and commitment long enough, with enough openness and courage, and excellence and uniqueness will resonate from my words, my music, my playing, my conducting, my voice, and my ideas. The authenticity will be unmistakeable.
Let me remember that I am creating for myself first, and if it resonates with others, then I am lucky and joyful indeed. If my creative and artistic endeavours gives voice, understanding, and connection to others, then what a privilege be allowed to affect them.
If I’ve moved someone with my creative work, well then, T H A N K Y O U.
For allowing me to move you.
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.
Little poignant moment today; I packed away my baton. Four years with the Senior Concert Band, and for an ensemble I didn’t even WANT to direct and fought hard NOT to get in my first year at Pulteney (yes, really! 🤣), I have absolutely fallen in love with the intricacies of looking after this ensemble.
Thank you for the opportunity to stretch myself as a director at this level and as a result, learn to love the craft.
Onwards to new and exciting things with my brand new shiny choirs for 2019! 😊
Just come back from Year 11 Solo Performances with the absolute joy of being a spectator in the audience, not a care in the world in terms of piano accompaniment + marking, and just being able to cheer on my soon-to-be Class of 2019 music kiddies and get excited about their potential.
A very nervous Sir Year 11 was presenting his first vocal program having made the change over from trumpet. Part of the nerves was how Dad would react, and my heart just went out to him, wanting him to nail this performance.
I happened to be sitting in front of Sir Year 11’s parents. Dad leaned over to Mum excitedly and said, “Hey! He’s got a good voice!”
And if looks could kill, his Mum’s would have. She responded, stage whisper: “Yes, DEAR, your son DOES have a GOOD VOICE.”
Sir Year 11’s Dad, somewhat defeated: “WHAT?! It was a compliment!”
Kid, I think you’re gonna be fine next year. 😁