Category: Reflections

“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.


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!

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.

Why do we need music?

Why do we need music? This is a question I have a hard time convincing myself the answer of. Strange to say, seeing as I am a musician and a singer, and I spend hours – countless hours – listening to music, thinking about music, talking about music… I’m listening to music now as I write. (“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine* if you’re wondering.)

The answer to this question continually eludes me; but it shouldn’t. I’ve been a pianist for years. I’ve been studying opera for the past five years. I’m an organist for two churches for the past two years. Shouldn’t the answer be self-evident? Why don’t I have this instantly convincing answer for myself as to why I’m continually drawn back to this art form that I have sacrificed many aspects of my life for.

You may think, “Oh – Annette, you obviously must love it so much since you can’t stay away!” That is not necessarily the case. I don’t love music unconditionally. Some days my ears are so tired that I pray for nothing but silence. I’ve hated pianos, pipe organs and operas to the point I’ve vowed I would never sing or touch the instruments again. (Obviously, these fickle sentiments didn’t remain a permanent fixture.)

But, certainly, I love listening to music and that’s what draws me back every time. I make sense of my life and my story by finding just the right song, lyric or motif that seems to reveal some part of myself to me.

Perhaps, in an abstract way, and not in a way I can empirically prove to you, musicianship and artistry is a need for me, as it tells me something about myself, my story, my life and my place in the world.

Stay tuned as I continue to search out the answer to this question.

“I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.” – Gustav Mahler

* Currently listening to…

Dreaming a Little Dream

I tried to proclaim to those I know on Facebook that I couldn’t even put into words how much I miss my Grandma, but that’s a lie. There are rarely things that a writer cannot put into words. If I could not put this feeling into words, the odds of me being a dismal writer would be fairly reasonable.

Concisely, I miss her. I miss my Grandma Margaret. I miss hearing her voice. I miss getting a hug from her. I miss hearing her stories about Ohio, Georgia, and Altoona from half a century ago, when it was on the precipice of excellence and success.

I don’t think I would be the same person without her stories and her words of wisdom. I’m not sure that Grandma even applies to her, I do believe second mom might be more appropriate. This, in no way, is a slight to my mother, it just means she had much more influence on my life than the regular Grandma… And three years after she entered into her eternal rest, I find more ways to believe to be true.

I doubt I would be called “Annette Margaret” if it weren’t for her. The name “Annette” had originally been chosen for my mom when she was born, but she decided to name my mother after her own… And so the name “Annette” was saved for another time, and she suggested the name to my mother, and that’s how I got mine. And of course, my middle name was in honor of my Grandma’s first name.

I wouldn’t even be the same person if it weren’t for her. I learned my lessons from a different time. From the halls of an orphanage in Cincinnati, from Peachtree Street in Atlanta, and the outskirts of Little Italy in Altoona, I heard a different perspective on life. I wasn’t there, but my ancestor was, and she told me the many things she had learned from living in those places, and other lessons I may have missed if I had not known her presence.

As I’ve grown up in church, I’ve always gone to those revival type services where people stand up before the congregation and give certain live changing testimonies where God had literally ripped this said person from the grips of Hell by delivering them from alcoholism, drugs or whatever other tools of darkness by some miracle, and it always made for a wonderfully sensational testimony and one truly worth telling. But this week, I realized something, and it was very fitting as it is on the heels of the anniversary of my Grandmothers passing. All the years she told me about the Depression, wartime America, and her own personal struggles, all the advice and every other tale she told was not simply an elderly pass time. She was doing the same as those redeemed souls at the altar on Sunday morning. She was relaying her testimony to me. I recall many enchanting stories like these:

One late spring evening, in the 1930s, when my Grandma was just on the edge of entering into her teenage years, her lonely father, Frank Ostheimer, had come back for his daughters. Over a decade had passed, but finally, these Ostheimer girls were finally to be reunited with Mr. Ostheimer. For years he tried to convince the chaste caretakers of the many orphaned children of Cincinnati, that he, in fact, was quite capable of taking care of his motherless daughters. Unfortunate events had first lead to the loss of his wife, then, he was dealt a further blow of losing his daughters, in essence, by being falsely accused of being unable to care for them, which certainly was not the case.

My grandma had fond memories of the orphanage and she made the best of her stay there despite the circumstances – but nothing could ever substitute for being home and in the arms of dear old Dad. She told me that being reunited with her father was one of the fondest memories she had ever known. Just imagine: walking through the streets of Cincinnati, gently warmed by the compassion of springtime, gently walking on their way to their new home, her real home, was thrilling and captivating to her heart.

There must have been magic in the air, and a beautiful song in her heart, because she always said she heard “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” as she, her father, and her sister Frances made their way through the city and past Fountain Square. From the way he had heard it, my uncle had always thought perhaps maybe she heard the tune from a nearby radio on a porch, or someone whistled the tune, but me and my budding curiosity prompted me to ask where she had heard the song as they strolled through Cincy (She always called her beloved hometown “Cincy”). She told me she had heard the song recently, and she heard it in her head, not from anywhere else, and the song always stuck with her and reminded her of that night.

What a memory to hold! The dazzling lights of the city dancing on the beautiful fountain, the buzz of the city streets, and finally being reunited with the father you’ve loved so and wished to be cared for by…

Stories like that made me want to see Cincinnati for myself. I wanted to hop in a car, make my way through Ohio and be just on the border of Ohio and Kentucky and take a look at that fountain myself. I’d touch the water in the fountain, I’d gaze on that same fountain my Grandma had walked past, and I would hear the same graceful song in my heart…

But I’d also remember what brought her to that scene: Hardship.

While this was a joyful reunion of my Grandma and my Great Aunt to my Great Grandfather, there were also melancholy tones underneath the reunion narrated by the happy larking melodies of Dream A Little Dream of Me. If you remember from the earlier paragraph of the story, you will recall that she wasn’t returning home to her father and her mother – she would just be returning home with her father and her sister. Her mother had died a few months after she was born. She was a year or so shy of forty when she had left three daughters and a heartbroken husband.

Along with remembering that, I stop, and remember to thank God for the parents that I have, for the life that I’ve been given, and that I didn’t have to wait 12 years to live in a household with my family. I remember to thank God for the privilege of knowing my mother. It was unfortunate my Grandma had never known that privilege. My Grandma had never even seen a picture of her mother. Try to imagine never seeing your mother, never talking to her, never knowing her. It’s not something I want to imagine.

My Grandmas testimony always ended up being a wake up call to me and a call to reality. In my spoiled 21st century existence, her stories of an era gone by reminded me to be thankful for what I have, and to remember I’m never far gone from the existence she had once known – and that I should remember the lessons she had taught me. You could never put a price on the value of the stories she had told.

Every day, I always find some way to remember my Grandma. I remember to be thankful for her, but today I especially remember to be grateful for having knowin my dear Grandma. Oftentimes on this date, I have a recollection of the last words we had exchanged and the testimony of her life she presented to me. What I have learned from this is that a person should never take anyone for granted – God has placed a light in each of their lives, and the beautiful glow of their lives will always shine a light into yours, if you just allow it to… If you just listen… If you step outside of yourself for just a moment, you’ll see it.

But it’s only if you divert the attention from yourself and to another, and oddly enough your life will seem much brighter, even on the darkest days.

That 1999 Entry

Hey 1999 Annette,


I guess I’m supposed to give you some kind of advice as a memoir, because, er, well I can’t help but see the advice is pretty pointless. Perhaps it’s something I can take through the next decade also?

Well, on with the show. Good afternoon, 9 year old Annette! Right now I’m pretty sure you clock in at a whopping 4’3″ (IF that), and from what I remember, you count the minutes until your math homeschool work is finally over so you can work on that next comic book page. After that, you’ll probably watch your favorite cartoon (Rugrats) or listen to some techno music. Great, you are a little bundle of imaginative, creative energy that enjoys a good story. Keep it up! That’s the only thing that will keep you ahead in the coming years.

Just about everything interests you. (Except maybe sports.) That’s not going to change. You’re just going to be interested in a lot more. Right now you’re in some kind of like, sci-fi/anime/science phase. Which is good and all but because of your beloved asthma, you’ll give up the “becoming an astronaut” dream in about five years.

In fact you’re going to explore quite a few different careers in the next ten years, some of them being:

Astronaut (As mentioned)
Writer (This one’s a keeper!)
Singer (This too!)
Secret Service Agent
Comic Book Writer
Musician (Pianist, more specifically. Keep up with this one.)
Guitarist (Don’t try, you have dainty pianist fingertips.)
Violinist (Again, the dainty pianist fingertips.)
Trumpet player (Well this time it’s your dainty lungs that will hinder you from this one!)
Graphic Designer
Photographer (This will help you later!)
Webpage geek (Don’t know what else to call this. This definitely will help you. You’ll discover website designing in about a year.)

I think there is more to add there. You were crazy, pretty much. ADHD, yes? (Thank God they weren’t medicating every crazy kid yet at your age!)


Oh yeah, about the musician thing… You took guitar lessons a year ago but it wasn’t quite a sure fit. You just didn’t connect the guitar too much, huh? It’s fine. The piano is more of your perfect fit. If I’m not mistaken, you started piano lessons either last year or this year. Keep up with it. It’s a pain, I know. Note reading doesn’t make any sense yet. Remember, for the treble it’s “Every Good Boy Does Fine”… And uh…. Well, you see, you’ll get to a point someday where you’ll even forget those reminders for the bass cleft. (I just did.) But you’ll still know the notes! PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!!! And try to get over that whole stage fright thing. No one cares if you hit a wrong note or two.

windows98You’re on the computer a lot. And now you’re just discovering the internet. In fact, you’ve been using computers since you were four years old. GOOD. Computers are just starting to catch on, before you know it, everyones going to be using them for just about everything. Anyone who is familiar with a computer right now while it’s primitive will have the upper hand!

JesusknockingatdoorAnd God makes sense to you. Jesus makes sense to you. He’ll always make sense to you (Even when He doesnt). So don’t ever doubt (You never will, as far as I know). Just don’t try to be perfect. You’re going to drive yourself nuts about being perfect. You’re not supposed to be… Just really close to it, that’s all. Learn to embrace your perfectionist self8 here and there.

GrandmaPeggyEnjoy your time with Grandma Peggy and Pappy. They will provide wonderful memories for you, and give great advice. How lucky you have been to have all four of your grandparents for most of your life! Friends will come and go, also, but you’ll find a lot of valuable ones out of unusual circumstances. Just don’t hope for any luck in the whole dating thing when you get older. (It’s just as well, you have a lot to accomplish right now!)

Gee. I mean, sometimes I feel like I didn’t do so much as my 9-year-old self, just living in my own little dream world half the time… But you know what, you were a cool kid. Spunky, but shy. Competitive, but a great loser. Mostly unflappable and determined. Cool. I know you think about your 2009 self a lot, like, how it’s going to be so cool to be an adult and all.

Being an adult… It’s interesting to say the least.

I really feel like after the New Year begins tonight, that I should write a blog entry giving advice to myself for the next decade! Because, quite frankly, this seems rather pointless. These ten years are gone. But they were wonderfully developing for me. (Go figure, they were those crazy pre-teen and teenage years!) Thankfully, God got me through mostly unscathed… Or wait, scathed, in the best ways possible.

I actually have some old journals from 1999. I’m going to have to dig that thing up and see just how different I am.

I’m excited to see what the next ten years have to offer! Until then… See you in 2010!