I teach piano and voice at Center for Movement and Music, a performance arts school connected to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. With the yearly assessment coming up, we were all deep in the grind of preparing our students. Recently, on her way to work, one of our senior piano teachers met an accident just a few blocks away from school. A speeding truck swerved to avoid another vehicle hitting her just a split second after she managed to push a young girl out of the way. She died a few hours later without having regained consciousness. She was in her 60’s, probably. I never asked, and now I wish I had during one of our jeepney rides home after teaching.
The tragic news has jolted me into a state of uncertainty. When I was young, though I thought of death constantly, I believed it could never touch me. Death was for the old. When I was 15, 35 seemed very old. Now I’m 35 and I don’t feel old at all, but I know the possibility of dying, suddenly or in slow pain, draws nearer and nearer. I’m not being maudlin. It’s a fact that the older I get, the closer I am to being fertilizer.
Which brings me to these random thoughts. They all boil down to making some kind of dent in life’s ever-droning mechanism before my death. I’ve always believed that I am in this world for a purpose that transcends the physical realm. Seriously, are we just here to eat, sh*t, procreate, eke out a living, buy stuff, consume, and do all the other mundane things we human beings do in order to survive and have a semblance of a life? I think not. Ever since my 35th birthday, when I realized it was my 5th 7th year walking the earth (therefore, I believed, special), an urgent voice has been nagging — nay, hounding — my thoughts:
It’s time to do what you came here to do.
The only snag, and it’s oh-so-simple, is that my mind, which right now is a complicated web of ideas and feelings gathered in my 35 years, is trying to synthesize everything into one clear and solid statement that could possibly answer the question, “What is it that I came here to do?”
a.k.a. “Why am I here?”
a.k.a. “What is my purpose in life?”
And maybe, a.k.a. “What is the meaning of life?”
Since I know my oftentimes destructive propensity for perfection and know better, I am allowing my web of consciousness (and unconsciousness) to consolidate in its own time. In the meantime, the inkling of a greater purpose in life is enough to sustain hope in my soul and push me to think of my future in relation to the cosmic scheme of mortals. If you know me well, you would fall off your chair upon hearing this because I have never considered my future seriously or savored the meat of it as others do. The customary job or school application question, “How do you see yourself in 10 years?”, I answer without much regard or sincerity because I don’t have the capacity to look ahead. I live in the present; I always have and have never seen this as a flaw on my part. However, this new strong desire to help and to give requires a steady gaze into the future and a complex world of possibilities.
There is a battle ahead and I need to get ready.
While I wait for clarity, I have come up with a tentative list of tasks based on new interests and old passions.
Go back to my roots and compose.
I am a composer.
Even before my life as a pianist, I have thought, felt, and lived as one ever since I was 5 years old. In college, personal and emotional issues made me doubt my essence and I refused to call myself one since then. I didn’t lose the ability to compose and could come up with a song or a piece if pushed, but you can relate the process to a person who cooks and calls it a ‘meal’, instead of his ‘creation’ or ‘masterpiece’ as a chef would.
Recently, though, I have started composing again: a piece for piano trio and solo mezzo-soprano. I can hear the music in my head again, and have rediscovered the unfazed attitude only real composers have, the one that enable us to say, “I will write it the way I want”, without apologies or doubt. Thirteen years of limbo after, the accidental return to my roots was a consequence of a shift in the way I perceived the world, but the final nudge came from, mushy I know, a secret unrequited love (which will remain so). I will continue composing long after my heart is healed, though, and this time, instead of hiding my works in yellowing notebooks, bravely find a venue for my music.
Raise the Academe’s regard for Music.
The University of the Philippines is the most enlightened of all academic institutions, in my opinion. Still, I know many of its administrators and faculty deem Music as a superfluous course. Our college may be the first they turn for distraction or entertainment during important official functions, but I doubt if many of them view its students as intellectuals, or as vital members of society. I make these claims from the experience of having professors say disparaging remarks about music students even before I got to fill in my classcard, and of hearing some of my classmates’ assumption that I will not perform as well as they do just because I’m not taking up business administration or engineering (or whatever course they believe is better than Music.)
I’m not bitter. We, music students, bear some fault. We cut classes to attend rehearsals or gigs. We hand in late papers because of late nights and a mind barren from exhaustion. We stutter during recitations because many of us aren’t wired to be verbally articulate, and would probably express ourselves best through non-verbal sounds. Our presence is hardly felt inside the classroom because many of us, despite our brave onstage face, are introspective and shy.
But then, there are really those who think we’re just a bunch of frivolous stage-whores without intellectual depth or substance.
This unfair regard for musicians and, more importantly, the pure excitement I feel at the thought of it, is pushing me to find ways to connect other disciplines, like Math and Science, with Music. It’s hardly innovative or revolutionary, and, admittedly, it’s more for me and my need to respond wholly yet succinctly to people who snidely ask, “What is Music for?” or assert that it has no value in this world.
It’s just me wanting to slap the haughtiness from their heads.
After the sting from the slap, I want to see their eyes light up with a new appreciation for Music.
Take my MA and my PhD.
Possible course for my MA: Art Studies.
Be braver in standing up for what I believe in.
For starters, to ensure that everything I write here I declare instead of whisper, I have changed my public wordpress name from the “lizzie5apple” to “almacabel”, my real name. No pseudonym from which to hide behind any longer.
Baby steps, everyone. Baby steps.