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Rachmaninoff, Twix, and African Drumming MAG
I curled my hair on the first day; first impressions have always been important to me. Tugging nervously at the ends and watching them spring back, I surveyed the other people waiting to have their picture taken for their ID.
Anyone could tell the dancers by their bodies and the way they gossiped in small circles, the visual artists by the paint under their fingernails and quiet dispositions, and the drama students by the way they gesticulated enthusiastically and seemed to already know one another.
But it was difficult for me, staring intently at the small treble clefs painted on my shoes, to pick the musicians from the crowd of parents reluctant to leave their children and teenagers impatient to attain their independence.
The awful feeling in my stomach persistently questioned whether the other musicians would be anything like me, whether classical pianists had a place among rock guitarists and pop lyricists. Coming from a small town, I was sure I would be unable to connect with the bulky German death metal fans carrying bass guitar cases and the blonde Miss America descendents who happened to be accomplished singers. I never would have guessed that a month later, I would be crying as I said good-bye to the kind of friends I told everything to and wished to know for the rest of my life.
The time I spent at summer camp was the most demanding, intimidating, rewarding, and revealing month of my life. I was terrified to leave my family on the first day, but part of me did not want them there at all. I did not want anyone holding my hand when I jumped, floundering, into the sea of unfamiliar artists and new experiences.
Any concern I had became absurdly insignificant when we were all handed bongos and told to make our rhythms fit together, or when we participated in Bulgarian voice exercises that required us to feel comfortable with discomfort.
Every day I sat in a practice room for three hours with only a piano and my thoughts. Twix revived me before piano studio each afternoon, when eight of us would discuss Rachmaninoff's Russian influence in his preludes, Vinko Globokar's note clusters, and the anatomy of a concert grand. The days were punctuated with impromptu jam sessions on the beaten-up piano in the dormitory.
“Boogie Chillun” became the way musicians greeted each other after our blues-obsessed music history teacher introduced us to guitarist John Lee Hooker. Those two simple words paired with the nature of our art made musicians the most unified family at arts camp.
Music exposes one's vulnerabilities; all barriers are torn down. It takes a confident group of artists to perform something as ridiculous as the Balinese Monkey Chant or tribal African dances. Only a strong person would allow herself to be emotionally dissected on stage. Performing Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C minor, with my heart spilling out on the floor became a privilege rather than a fear when all I saw were the smiles of those who shared my passion.
A small, worldly woman spoke at a tribute concert we performed in honor of her husband, a jazz pianist and teacher. She ended with a quotation from her husband: “Music is a passport to infinity.” These words are now written in black marker on the mirror in my room.
Once in a while I glance at the charcoal picture that my roommate drew of me playing a grand piano and remember why I am a musician. As a child I enjoyed plunking out five finger patterns on my grandmother's piano and believed my mother's story that the tooth fairy created piano keys with baby teeth. As I grew older, music became more than a hobby; it wove itself into my identity.
Arts camp was a think-tank in which I could immerse myself. But was there lasting value in my journey? Art makes life beautiful, but is it productive? For a month, I did nothing but create, but how much did I actually accomplish? The answer was always, “Art creates meaning.” While science increases our understanding of the truth of the world, art challenges us to understand that truth differently.
Before last summer, I questioned the value of my contribution through music. But on the last day of camp, after closing ceremonies, hugs good-bye, and one final jam session, my mind was on repeat: “I am an artist.” I believed, without hesitance, that I could now better my community and the world through my creative talents. Four weeks before I had been eager for my independence. Now, having gained it, I reached out to my mom, knowing I was ready to return home. She ran her fingers through the soft curls in my hair, and I cried.