Why I'm here: Thoughts on Being Back at Juilliard

The Stairs at Juilliard (photo cred  designage.files.wordpress.com

The Stairs at Juilliard (photo cred designage.files.wordpress.com

Yesterday began my 10-day stay in NYC for Lincoln Center Education's Summer Forum. I'm here as a participant in Teaching Artist training, a dream I've had for many years come true. In case you're wondering, a teaching artist is "a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities and habits of mind of an educator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts."

Every since I learned what teaching artistry was, I felt called to the work. I always identified first as an artist, but I also longed to "engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts," like a teacher. This impulse to share my craft with people always seemed to be tapping me on the shoulder on the tail of each creative impulse.  I liked interacting with the audience just as much as I did performing, and for me that has had many iterations--from teaching college music courses to speaking from the stage at concerts to being a guest in the public school classroom-- yet I've always wanted to stretch my skills. And so this summer, I finally get a chance to focus in, here with the folks who I believe do it best.

Yesterday morning's session began with a welcome and keynote by the Excecutive VP of Lincoln Center Education, Community Engagement, and International, Russell Granet. He had quite a lot of inspiring things to share, but the thing I found myself thinking at the end of a wonderful first day, was the question he asked all of us: "Why are you here?" 

Now, if you've read the paragraphs above you might think you know the answer to this question for me (indeed I thought I knew it myself), but after ruminating, I have a more complex answer.  I am here to deepen my teaching artist practice, for sure, but coming back to NYC, coming back to Juilliard, to open myself up again to inspiration, to be vulnerable enough for growth, that something that hasn't always seemed possible. 

There aren't very many places in the world where the architecture truly captures the spirit of a place, like it does at Juilliard. Upon entering you're met immediately with a seemingly impenetrable staircase. This last hurdle, a treacherously steep uneven Tetris game gone awry, reminded me poignantly everyday what hard work was to get there. (It never occurred to me to take the elevator!) Like so many students there, I felt like an imposter. I'd somehow snuck in under the radar and my main goal was to make sure no one found out I was a fake. I approached the whole experience with trepidation and fear. This fear, which turned into despair, poisoned every aspect of my life during those years--starving myself down to a size 2, compulsive exercise, regularly pulling all nighters studying and practicing, unhealthy relationships. I believe this was not triggered by one specific person or experience, but a conglomeration of all my years of perfectionism reaching fever pitch in a city who's perfection triggers never sleep. Looking back on it now, I'm amazed I managed as well as I did in that state. 

I've been back on campus numerous times since those days, but somehow being here in my old classrooms for an extended period of time for this workshop, perhaps because I'm happier, healthier, and more joyful than ever--it redeems those rough years for me. It might seem odd to say it, but today I found myself remembering the master classes that took place in the room we were in, and now almost for the first time, being able to process and learn the lessons that those teachers were trying to share all those years ago.

They had fallen on deaf ears before, because when you are that scared of failure, learning is not possible. 

I'm indescribably grateful for these opportunities--to have studied here and to be back. My journey wasn't easy, but it was meaningful. And I wouldn't be where I am today without that experience.


I am here to relish learning and music-making in these hallowed halls like I was never able to before. 

I'm here to share my story so that someone else who may feel this way won't feel alone. 

I'm here to absorb every ounce of teaching artist training I can get, because this work opens me to a special kind of joy that both the world and I sorely need. 

Have you thought about why you're here? (Wherever that may be.) Are you able to be vulnerable enough to learn? Courageous enough to see yourself honestly? Joyful enough to repurpose your pain into growth? I hope so.