Ruminations of an Old Soul: Part 1

With friends Lynnette and Tressa at a Roaring 20’s Party, Dec. 2019

I’m an old soul. I’m not sure that I always have been. Is one born that way? Is one like Benjamin Button, born old, then lives their way to youth as they approach old age? I love old music, old photos, secrets held by previous generations that helped us get to this fascinatingly progressive world that we live in today. I wonder if I was born this way, or was I molded to appreciate the gifts of previous generations by my upbringing? Some would say it’s both, some would say I was born this way, this is the question of nature vs. nurture. All I know is that it did help that my earliest and most intimate memories included having the privilege of being surrounded by four people who were defined as the Greatest Generation. I didn’t know that’s what they were called. I knew them as Grandma, Grandpa, Pappy and Grandma Mary.

Richard Sousa gave a poignant perspective as to why my parents’ parents were defined as the greatest generation: 

In addition to enduring this country’s greatest economic catastrophe and fighting two wars, they went on to work at Leviton and Boeing, they built homes and raised families in Omaha and Bakersfield. They put a man on the moon! They were carpenters, teachers, welders, Fuller Brush men. But, most important, they wove the fabric that made the United States great. They gave their children safe and secure homes; they exemplified a solid work ethic and belief in America; they instilled in their children the value of education.”¹

Grandma Peggy (Margaret Mary)

I knew Grandma (Peggy, to be exact) as my maternal grandma who I would spend almost every weekend with through the earliest years of my life. I’m her namesake and she named me. Margaret Mary Ostheimer LaMark gave the name Annette Margaret to me, partly because she was going to name my mother Annette but chose Catherine instead (she was going to name my mother after hers, she had no memories of her and was motherless as a baby), and so I was given Annette. She lived a simple life in a duplex a few blocks from where I grew up. 

Her own harmless idiosyncrasies were unknowingly setting me up for a life with common sense safety. She often chastised me about eating too much sugar; I hate sugar now and have no sweet tooth, how great that has been for my health! She told me not to put things to my mouth or touch my mouth frequently. She flew in the face of Jean Piaget’s theories of Cognitive Development and told a three year old to stop putting things in her mouth. Did I understand it? Absolutely not. Did I stop doing it? You bet I did, and to this day, I don’t chew on my fingernails. Heck no. Keep those germs out of my mouth. Perhaps her simple pieces of advice have somehow kept me alive in light of recent events. We’ll never know.

Grandpa LaMark (Charles LaMark) during World War II

Grandpa was a force of nature. His bellowing Sicilian voice was a rumbling alarm clock that demanded coffee and aired opinions about anything and everything, and told seemingly endless stories about World War II. They would be interrupted by the times he would bring in a miniature sized keyboard he would find, and he would play a couple tunes that he transferred from playing on the accordion.

Grandpa never finished school and went on to work during the Great Depression, so he knew full well what it was like to go without. For this reason, he would often come to my parents house with gifts of toilet paper and paper towels (I bet you’re jealous now). He would buy little things he might think he would need later, and give me little trinkets that I thought were strange at the time, but make sense to me now. 

He also did not give one single crap about what you thought. He had the courage to tell the truth, and he didn’t care if it hurt your feelings. He’s the reason I figured out that I had very nice, albeit large teeth, when he first spied my mouth after my braces were taken off when I was fourteen.

“Ehh! Did you get a set of dentures there, Annette?” He asked.

“No, grandpa. I got my braces off.” I responded sheepishly.

“It looks like you got dentures. You have horse teeth.” He said, without one hint of hesitation or an apology, but a man who survived the Great Depression and World War II wouldn’t give much thought to telling his granddaughter that her teeth looked like they belonged to a gift horse. Let’s all say he earned that right.

Mind you, I was lucky enough to have both sets of grandparents to share their reflections and thoughts with me for most of my young life. My Grandma Peggy and Grandpa LaMark taught me the most, but I had a unique perspective on life from my dad’s parents, Pappy and Grandma Mary, who cultivated the land and lived in tight knit communities in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania as well, that I admittedly have recently come to appreciate. I will share more about them in a later blog post.

This is the first of, I hope, many installments, sharing what this old soul has learned from this generation. I’m not sure that it has become more relevant in a time such as this, as my generation is finally facing their collective defining hardship. We’ve been privileged. This COVID-19 situation is crazy and out of our control, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on. But we’re here now, the damage is done and it’s about damn time that we see what it is we’re made of. 


¹“The Greatest Generation.” Hoover Institution. Accessed April 21, 2020. https://www.hoover.org/research/greatest-generation.

From home back to… Home

If you’re like anyone else in the rest of the world right now, you’ve probably been sentenced to a life that will have to be lived at home. For some of us, this is a bit of a chore. For the other part of us, this isn’t so bad. Some of you may be the extroverted types (like me) that have to fight the temptation to chat it up with your mailman or talk the ear off of the grocery store cashier while you’re out getting your essentials. If you’re an introvert, you might not find this to be too bad, but you’re taxed with a bit of anxiety about a world free of extroverts out there making the world a safer place for you.

It’s not easy for either sides of the social orientation aisle at this time. Truth be told, I can understand dreading being at home for so long, especially if there are things in your heart and mind that haven’t been sorted out. How comfortable you are at home reveals a lot about the state of your heart and mind. There was a time I didn’t like having to be at home, and it sometimes felt like a prison sentence.

It was a bit unusual for me to be at home for most of my childhood life. I still get questions about my schooling at that time and what affect it had on me later. At the time, I was very used to it, and also at times, I loved being able to lose a couple hours of my week playing video games and being closed off to the world. But by the time I hit 18 and 19, I wanted to get out there and make my mark in the world and certainly self actualize, and see what all those years at home had made of me.

Life in social isolation as a pianist, 2013

Surprise: the profession I chose to make myself something with was being a pianist. Most serious pianists have to spend a considerable amount of their time alone. In a practice room. Away from other people. Sometimes I absolutely enjoyed being cloistered away from others in a windowless white room with nothing but the piano and I. Other times, it was torturous and I wanted to be back out in the world and see what was going on without me.

After college and a rough patch in my mid 20’s, I was especially tired of being at home, facing memories, some nicely stowed away mountains of clutter and unfair judgments against myself for a life that was reasonably lived. I worked 5 jobs, found as much time as I could to socialize when I wasn’t working, and essentially only went home to sleep. I did this for about an 8 month time span.

Then, I needed a new job. It ended up being a work from home job. So, now, most of my time was, again – spent in isolation and working away from other people. This is something that happens to me over and over again in my life, and this past year, I was able to get some insight as to what this is as a concept. 

Apparently, it’s the concept of circumambulation from Carl Jung. I was struck by this idea from lectures by Dr. Jordan Peterson, and it occurred to me just shortly before the United States was introduced to the “invisible enemy” of COVID-19, that I have a recurring theme of learning to be comfortable with myself in isolation. Going back home, when I don’t have a choice in the matter, is my circumambulation of the self. I’m always forced to go back to what I consider to be home; which is always away from others.

“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self.

There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self. Uniform development exists, at most, at the beginning; later, everything points toward the centre.

This insight gave me stability, and gradually my inner peace returned.”¹

I mean, I spent the first 18 years of my life mostly in my home. It wasn’t bad. It just was. It made me feel different being homeschooled. I was sick of being called the “different kid.” So, I was on a mission to prove my difference didn’t mean deficient. I accomplished that, and I liked being out in the world, so I wanted to stay out in the world.

Then the world decided hey! You’re going back into your house, mostly, in order to eventually get back out into the world. But then the world decided to put me back into my house so I can process these formative years of my life and prepare for whatever is to come. I’m like the rest of you. I’m not thrilled about having to be home. But for me, I knew it was coming, I knew this was a theme of my life that I’m familiar with, and I know there’s some big adventures and exciting turns in life waiting for me after COVID-19 is done with us.

The thing you might be avoiding when you hate being home, is yourself. That’s the only thing that’s been different for me in this return home. I’m pleased with the choices I’ve made and bettering myself in the last 3 years. I’ve earnestly tried the best I can, now I have an opportunity to stay home, think, and sharpen myself up to figure out how I’ll be a better version of myself once the world opens up again. I wouldn’t be so thrilled if I had been avoiding myself and things I could have been doing better over the past 3 years. 

There’s a big adventure and challenge waiting for us all after this is over. We should stop avoiding ourselves and those close to us to figure out how we’re going to rise to the occasion. Home isn’t a prison. It’s a safe place to regroup and start over.


¹“C.G. Jung: ‘There Is No Linear Evolution; There Is Only a Circumambulation of the Self…”.” Jung Currents, December 8, 2013. http://jungcurrents.com/jung-chartres-mandala.


“Don’t quit your day job”

How often as a fledgling musician, when you were, say… Not too good yet? Or had a night of debauchery at the local pub and heard a sub-par version of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” during karaoke after Patricia’s bad break up with Mark? You often hear murmurs of snickers from the crowd along with: “Wow, Patricia, don’t quit your day job.” Largely due in part to the fact that Patricia’s liquid courage removed her fear of ridicule due to her unrefined singing abilities, and everyone else’s influence of alcohol made them a bit kinder… Wait, no, that is not correct, it certainly made them quite a bit more unkind – which is why someone is telling Patricia to not quit her day job.

However, I would tell anyone who is a fledgling musician or a musician who is infused with passion for the art to never, ever, ever quit their day job – which, is a means of supporting themselves. Even if you’ve just premiered your best aria in Carnegie Hall, even if you just won the Cliburn as a pianist – don’t quit your day job. But also, don’t quit being a musician and pursuing your art as a hobby, as a career or as a personal journey to a higher version of yourself.

Why?

Because you need to eat. You need to live in a home. You are not a robot. You, unfortunately, are a human subject to biological processes. Musicians are not computer processors. And many who study even as a hobby find themselves forgetting to make time to care for their biological systems. (Any wonder, considering we are often making our lives so intertwined with technology?)

I’m pretty okay as a musician; I play pipe organ for two churches and also accompany with piano for various occasions and I maintain a private studio. Not huge, but I have a few students enough to say I have a studio.These are some of my music related ways of making my way in the world, but primarily, my main work is that of being an ESL teacher. I’m extremely thankful for the company I work with, Alo7, for rewarding great tutors for their excellent teaching efforts! If you are a musician like me, I would definitely recommend interviewing with Alo7 right now (if you have a bachelors degree and an ESL teaching certificate). By the way, we’re hiring right now!

The ESL crossover from my opera training is actually very practical. I spent a few minutes in class today working with Chinese students preparing for high level exams, and my knowledge of IPA from opera studies was able to get into those tricky vowels we often run into as native English speakers. Try saying “mine” and “horizon” sometime and take a special listen to the “i” sounds… Diphthongs are a crazy thing!

I’m in the company of some great musicians and composers by having a seemingly non-musical day job. Check out the list of musicians and composers who would also recommend not quitting your day job:

  • Philip Glass
    • He is probably the most famous and inspiring composers, who kept up a prolific composing life while maintaining a job as a plumber. According to an interview by Christina Patterson for the Independent, Glass was 42 when he began making more money through this music. Until then, he was driving cab and doing plumbing work to support himself.
  • Jon Nakamatsu was a German teacher who went on to win the Cliburn. His “day job” was a German language teacher at a high school.


Having stable day jobs did not preclude the aforementioned artists from building their craft and nurturing the gift within them. I’m not sure about you, personally, if you are a musician, but I feel sometimes the artistic community suffers from impostor syndrome if we don’t spend all of our time making music and building our craft.

If you stink at music, don’t quit your day job. If you’re awesome at music, don’t quit your day job. Because living must be supported by food and shelter, because we are biological creatures, we need this before we make any music. If music can eventually be your all encompassing day job, that is amazing! If it isn’t your all encompassing day job, that’s amazing too – because you’re still bringing something beautiful into the world while also being a responsible member of society. Stay whatever path you’re on to take care of yourself.

Long story short, do what you need to do and keep up your hustle: Keep your day job (or night job), my friends. Cheers!


Sunday Work, Oct 4, 2019

Had the chance to play one of my favorite hymns this past week! It’s not an easy one and actually worked on some techniques to improve my playing on it, but take a peek. It is a fun job to be an organist.


Why do we need music? II

We meet again; back to the question that I am circling around. I still don’t have the exact answer. But, I do know of the answers I don’t find truly justify myself and are the easy go-to’s. They answer it so easily and simply that it can’t be the only answer.

I don’t want the answers that fit into the perfect little boxes, and tick the boxes in the right way that provide the “ah-hah!” answers:

  • “Science proves that singing in choirs helps release feel-good hormones!”
  • “Studying Mozart makes you better at math!”

Yes, yes. We know these things, and I’m not saying these things aren’t important. However, how do we go through each and every day nearly unable to hear at least one piece of music? How is it to powerful? What exactly is it, that draws on us so profoundly?

In our world, could you go through one day without hearing music? Why? Why does it permeate every inch of our culture and existence in the Western world, and how do we still not understand the mysterious pull of music? We know what it does, we know it’s good. Even personally for myself, though, I want to know why I keep doing it. I want to know what my motivation is and why we’re so intrinsically drawn to music; what about music reveals to us our own narrative, and for musicians, what about music shapes our narrative? Is there a gene that affects musical and creative types?

Something about music defines us, tells us our story and makes a profound impact on our direct experience of the world, and it has been doing this for thousands of years. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Glaucon deliberated at length about their concern of the influence of music over young men in society – even the type of modes and rhythms, and how this would seemingly influence the actions of these young and impressionable men. They believed that the ancient Greek modes were so powerful that they influenced certain accents:

“I don’t know the modes, ” I said. “Just leave that mode which would appropriately imitate the sounds and accents of a man who is courageous in warlike deeds and every violent work, and who in failure or when going to face wounds or death or falling into some other disaster, in the face of all these things stands up firmly and patiently against chance. And, again, leave another mode for a man who performs a peaceful deed, one that is not violent but voluntary, either persuading someone of something and making a request – whether a god by prayer or a human being by instruction or exhortation – or, on the contrary, holding himself in check for someone else who makes a request or instructs him or persuades him to change, and as a result acting intelligently, not behaving arrogantly, but in all these things acting moderately and in measure and being content with the consequences…” – The Republic of Plato, translated by Allan Bloom (p. 77-78)

Music has been influencing us for thousands of years. These are questions we continually ask; or, do we take it for granted and just accept that music influences our actions without asking why? I continue to ask why.