The Source

I was never an “ideas” person, I told myself… ideas are for other people. I’m a supporter of other people’s ideas. After all, it was Beethoven’s idea to write these notes, aren’t I just here to make them sound good?  When my endlessly creative collaborative chamber music counterparts suggested bringing spirituality, movement, and theatre to our straight and often narrow classical music world, I enthusiastically participated. I’m not the one with the ideas, I told myself, unfazed. Always willing to try new things, to devote myself, to move around in something new, but not the source, I feel like that was me for a long time.

And now I sit here, from a vantage point I never imagined for myself originally: I’m a public school orchestra director, and I’m bursting at the seams with ideas. I want to do EVERYTHING under the sun. I’ve kicked myself several times for not considering this path sooner, but the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t have been ready. And now, I don’t even recognize myself. My world looks so wildly different than anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’m just now finding the head space to be able to write briefly about it.

On the most basic level, having a routine schedule with “normal hours” almost feels trippy to my freelance/evening teaching internal clock. My body is still in shock, and I’m convinced I’ll still be adjusting when it’s finally light enough outside to actually see my crappy half-awake make-up application job on my drive to work. Long story short, and waking up early aside, I’m loving the benefits of maintaining a schedule that actually has elements of predictability. Who knew this was a thing?

You could also lump having a salary in there too. Didn’t see that one coming as much, but knowing how much and when you’re getting paid is an undeniably huge game changer. I am proud of myself for making things work before this gig, and continue to have mad respect for freelancers out there with better budgeting and math skills than me.

And then there is the work itself, though it doesn’t really feel like work. Teaching in this setting feels like what I was meant to do. I’m not sure how quite else to describe it. And it may sound dumb, but I also really love having a space that exists at work for me to just… work in — not in my own home. Can you imagine having an office? Head explode! It’s so great.

But honestly, I think the reason it all feels so great — the kids, the colleagues, the office, the schedule, the music — is because of the community.  Bringing people together is really what teaching in a school is all about for me. It is one of the warmest, most fulfilling and inspiring scenarios of my entire life, and I simply can not get enough. I am so grateful to be here.

Cheers to landing in unexpected places, perpetual exhaustion, big ideas, and being a part of something!

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Mmmm… Finally!

I “celebrated” my 28th birthday a few weeks ago — and as is tradition, I frantically scribbled down a list of things I had learned this year in my ultra girly purple diary, both the good and the bad. At the very top of my list I wrote, happiness is temporary. When I was in my early twenties, I felt perpetually happy. Like, abundantly happy. Don’t ask me how or why, but I did. And I thought I would always feel that way. And I realize now that I wasted some of it. You really can’t control when you feel certain emotions. And when the unpleasant emotions take the place of the breathless elation that’s usually experienced randomly throughout your day, you begin to notice. So I’ve started to really savor the good ones.

Earlier today, I was joking with my sister that it feels like someone has suddenly taken the metal pin out of the little voodoo doll that has represented me this year… Clearly, the pin was in my left shoulder! Maybe that’s why the doctors were never able to diagnose me!

Well, today, I played in my first rehearsal since last May, when I was rehearsing a Shostakovich Quartet with Q for the Gesher Festival of Emerging Artists 2012-2013 season. It was amazingly fun to simply be in a rehearsal environment again, nevermind playing music with lovely people. I’ve also spent the last month practicing my scales and arpeggios to rebuild my strength, in addition to relearning the Franck Sonata for a collaboration with the fabulous Kathy Lee later this year. People I love to play chamber music with (and just plain love) are starting to trickle back to the Chicagoland area, promising some incredible musical experiences very soon.

The future is suddenly very exciting again. And not just because I’m going to be able to PLAY. But because I think I’m coming back to playing a very different person.  I have a much better understanding of what my body needs, physically and mentally. I’ve started running — a lot. It’s taught me about discipline in a way that music never could. I absolutely love it. I’ve started using my ears so much more than I ever have before — doing nothing but listening for a year will do that to you I suppose. I’m so much more productive when I practice these days. I’ve put a ton of effort into learning how to overcome some of my personal challenges with learning, and valuing my own opinions. I’ve never been more excited to challenge myself in my entire life.

I’m pretty realistic about the fact that this shoulder problem will probably be a thing I have to deal with for the rest of my life… it’s something that I’m just going to have to work with and monitor. But in learning to take the good with the bad this past year, I’m certain I will manage just fine. And in the meanwhile, I’m simply going to savor how delightfully awesome things are for the time being. Mmmmmmm………!

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One year later

Wow. I’ve been meaning to write about my injury for some time now — I truthfully attribute the delay in writing to my personal need to spin most everything into something positive.  That doesn’t mean that I have nothing positive to report, in fact, it’s quite the contrary, but I have to admit I’m still struggling with what I’ll call an injury hangover.

It’s sorta hard to believe it’s been OVER a year since I’ve been a functioning violist. The toll that’s been taken on my musical self esteem and career seem monstrous, and with full disclosure, I’m bitter.  I’m experiencing feelings of doubt and fear that I’ve never dealt with before, I watch my friends with envy, and am brought to tears when I think of the rich EXPERIENCES I’ve been unable to cash in on. They mean everything to me. And in a couple of weeks, my orchestra is going on a European Tour without me. It really, really stings.

I feel weak in my heart and a swelling in my abdomen when I allow myself to think like that.

So, I force myself to think of the positives.

I have an amazing occupational therapist, Stephanie Davies, who cares about my recovery, and about ME. Her dedication to my rehabilitation is inspiring and gives me hope and strength.  She is helping me, and I’m happy to report, I have minimal shoulder pain these days. She is an incredible human being.  I have dear friends who are constantly checking in on me, and a string quartet that is unyieldingly supportive and patient. My family is pretty awesome too.

And then there is all the stuff I can literally take with me: A stronger core and shoulder blades (!), a detailed understanding of how my body operates at “neutral”, an understanding of what life is like without an instrument in my hand, and an insatiable hunger to play all of the music I’ve listened to this past year.

And of course, I have my families. My kiddos, and their incredible parents. My students are uninhibited, fearless, and inspiring.  Their parents are friends.  I leave teaching in a better mood than when I came every. single. day.

There is plenty to be happy about.

So why is it still so hard? I’m not sure. Probably because an entire year without making music is a pretty big deal. It changes you.  It does. And it sucks. It sucks so much.

But I’m hoping the worst of it is over. And soon, I’ll be free to say what I want to say, and give all that I want to give. And if I’m lucky, people will still want to listen.

Aimee Biasiello

A snow day love letter (and rant)

It’s such a crazy thing getting older, you know? Planning your life. Figuring out how you want to spend your energy.  Compromising. Taking risks. Trusting other people.  Trusting yourself.  Prioritizing. Letting your guard down. Choosing to be around people who inspire you. Becoming your own person.

All of these things are constantly on my mind these days. Which, from what I can gather, is probably a good thing (for my future) while also extremely tedious (in the meanwhile). I can’t speak for the non-musicians out there, but I can for the (27 year old) musicians I know, and I have to say, we have a lot of tough decisions to make at this age.

With simply the pure intention of finding a healthy balance between some kind of artistic satiation, personal fulfillment, and all the other stuff like love, money, family and friends, I’ve considered so many different scenarios for myself in the past two months, it makes my head spin.  Full disclosure(!) I’ve thought about slicing my teaching load in half to become a full time nanny, moving to a completely new city to start something from the ground up, and I even applied for a full-time administrative job (which I didn’t get). Whoa. What in the world is happening to me?!?!

Of course, there is one HUGE factor in all of this, which is the fact that I CAN’T PLAY THE VIOLA .

(Side rant: It’s so ridiculous — I feel like I’m suspended in this perpetual land of limbo, where I don’t know what to tell myself.  If I choose to think about how I will get better in the future, I feel frustrated by the waiting game.  And if choose to accept my current state, I’m unfulfilled by what I have to show for my life currently, even though I love my teaching.  Not being able to play seriously affects my income, and my happiness.  And makes me write pissy blog posts like this! Bah!!)  

But nevermind that. If I look around at some of  my wonderful musicians friends, we’re all finding a way to make our crazy and challenging lives work.  Giving and taking, always. Maybe you have to live somewhere that’s ideal for your partner, but not for you — but your partner is the most incredible human being you know and is so totally worth it.  Maybe you have to teach late five days a week — but when you finally leave your teaching job each night, its with a better feeling than when you first began.  Or MAYBE,  you can only afford an apartment where your bedroom has (1) stupid outlet in it, but you know that one day, ONE DAY, you will perform Mozart K. 387 with some of your best friends for an audience, and it will feel better than anything else in life ever could.

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                               Goofing off with the Q ladies at Ellen’s wedding last year!

“Singers and Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life – the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”- David Ackert, LA Times

Dear 2012

Dear 2012,

Oh! How I’ve waited for this moment.  For 12 months now, I’ve fantasized about this letter.  I’ve dreamed of telling you exactly what I think of you. For an entire year, I’ve stockpiled memories and moments you’ve given me, like a squirrel preparing for a long and harsh winter.  You’re a crafty one for sure, but I’m totally onto you now.

It all started last January. January 3rd, actually.  You didn’t waste anytime. POOF. My car “disappears”.  I think it’s because you thought I deserved something much nicer than my little two-door Civic that I whipped around in during high school.  And when the police found it in that random alleyway spraypainted, with no tires, no radio, none of my stuff, and um, no engine, that was just for closure. Right? I mean, I needed to know I wasn’t getting that sucker back. You were helping me move on.

Of course, when I bought my next car after that, you had more invaluable insights for me.  I needed to know that I couldn’t work for a month and half without a day off, and expect to get from point A to B in one piece.  Also, that I should check the brakes first before buying a car off Craigslist.  So naturally, you had me smash my brand new car into the one in front of me at 9pm in a horrible neighborhood. I needed to learn! You let me down easy though, because the guy in front of me drove a beater, and the cops totally took pity on a the little white girl with the violin.

But I was resilient, because that’s my middle name.  I got myself another car, and I think you forgot about me for a little while, because I seem to remember a tiny pocket of time somewhere in April sans any kind of epic drama.

Then you hit me with a few little jabs, nothing as big as your usual swings. Sure, a few pretty horrific bouts of the flu, but I got to watch two full seasons of Downton Abbey, so we’ll leave that out. Oh, and about that custom built, extra small-framed road bike that I spent a lot of time and money on, I guess I didn’t really need that. Or my two childhood cats. I mean, they were really old.

What I clearly needed was some kind of debilitating shoulder injury that would take an eternity to diagnose and treat.  And of course, cost a freaking fortune, too. Yes! I was too happy, and I was working too much.  How dare I find three other girls that I love to make music with? How dare I  absolutely love what I do for a living? I was getting cocky, and it needed to stop.

Oh, and it has.

At first I was devastated.  But then I remembered that you have a round-about way of showing your love, 2012. I started to look at this chapter of my year differently. I realized, you didn’t make me spend my savings on six months of treatment that got me almost nowhere. You gave me four more wonderful relationships to brighten my days — Paul the massage therapist, Steve the chiropractor, Maria, the acupuncture lady (she was such a good listener!), and Mike, the redneck physical therapist, who loves Romney and guns.

But then something changed.  After spending the entirety of the summer in the dark hollows of my violaless life, I decided that you really suck sometimes, 2012. And I wasn’t okay with that.
So I somewhere found the strength to ignore your antics, and piece together a personal mantra for the things in my life that make me feel incredible.  Soon after, my life started to level out, and now I once again bounce around with a big smile, and a sunny outlook on most things.  After all, few people have families and quartets like mine.

But I got wise. I made a deal with 2013. And this is what she insisted:

I must:
Challenge myself musically, and personally. And push myself to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do.
Continue to surround myself with people who I value and love.
Continue to push myself to develop a strong voice, and to stand up for my beliefs.
Try to be the best friend, colleague, and teacher I can be.
Always try to find good, even when it’s extra tricky.

And in return, 2013 will:
Bring me good car luck.
Bring me strength to navigate all of this injury crap.
And of course, 2013 will just be a lot nicer to me than you were, 2012.

Don’t let the door hitcha on the way out!

Love,
Aimee

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Thoughts from the bench…

In May of this year, I started experiencing numbness and tingling in my left hand, and severe pain in my left shoulder.  The pain was not caused by any trauma. After spending six months abstaining from playing and seeking weekly treatment from a handful of specialists, I’m still searching for an answer to why I am in pain.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been without my viola for half a year.  This whole experience has been so difficult and overwhelming, it’s been a challenge to see it with any clarity.  It sounds dramatic, but I’ve sort of just been meandering through the Five Stages of Grief.  To musicians, our music is an extension of who we are.   It’s our passion, our means of expression, our inspiration, voice and self-worth. It’s also how we pay our bills, put food on the table, and survive.  You could ask anyone who knows me, I am such a violist.  It’s weird, you know, not to be for a little while.

A string quartet is already such a delicate entity, without the burden of dealing with something like this.  Like a lot of challenges my quartet has faced, we realize there is no manual. We’ve had to be strong, and creative to navigate this tricky situation.  I have to say, I am humbled and spoiled by Ellen, Kate, and Sara.  These girls have been such incredible troopers, you have no idea.  I kinda secretly wish we could make our group tag line: Chicago Q Ensemble, rolling with the punches.

So now I share with you the top 6 shocking discoveries I’ve made while being injured:

1. Musicians work REALLY, REALLY hard. Looking back on the months before I started having pain in my shoulder, my schedule was just plain stupid, to steal Kyle Vegter’s phrase. No days off, running myself absolutely ramped, no time to relax. I watch my roommates now (they are both wonderful musicians) and I can’t believe how much they’re doing.  It plays with your head to be an observer.  We don’t realize how hard we’re working while we’re in it, just like I didn’t realize how important downtime was until I had a some.

2. It’s really important to evaluate your self-worth away from your instrument.  As musicians, we spend our lives mastering this one craft. We put so much of ourselves into it, that our self esteem often goes hand in hand with our playing. Not being able to play has made me explore strengths I have away from my viola and other ways to feel good about myself.  I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me last year that public speaking could actually be fun!

3. Making music is a PHYSICAL thing.  I remember my old teacher and mentor, Roger Chase saying “We’re athletes of the small muscle groups”… and its true.  We are!  We also use our big muscle groups, even though we’re not always supposed to… (Errr, like my pectoralis minor). Music schools are letting down musicians everywhere.  Teaching us to play our instruments is NOT enough. I’ve often complained that music schools have failed at giving us enough entrepreneurial skills to survive as classical musicians, and now I feel they’ve failed at teaching us about our bodies.  Anyone who plays for 3 or more hours a day should be getting regular deep tissue massages at the very least!

4. Everyone you talk to will recommend treatment.

5. I’d be totally screwed if it weren’t for my family.  Not just emotionally, but monetarily. Seriously. What do people do without the luxury of families who are able to help out financially?  Seeing doctors is EXPENSIVE, especially when you can’t work. But that’s a whole other issue.

6. Taking care of yourself mentally is just as important as eating or sleeping. Meditate, see a therapist, keep a journal, do whatever…  but keep in touch with your feelings.

As you can see, I’ve made lots of good discoveries despite all the crap. So while it’s true that dealing with the artistic and practical challenges of an injury is an uphill battle, I kind of don’t have a choice. I think there is more good I can get out of this situation, and since I’m stuck here, I am determined to find it.

Just recently, I went sifting through a stack of old journals that I found in my bedroom at my parent’s house. When I say stack, I mean stack! — Those things were my means of survival in navigating through the forest of insecurity, doubt, and self consciousness that always seem to surround most vulnerable high schoolers. Most of what I wrote about is now insignificant; what I did that day, how annoying it was when my mom told me to practice, or a detailed account of my accidental interaction with the object of my affection, so I was delighted when I found these words: “When I grow up, I want to live in Chicago close to my family, and play in a string quartet”.

When I was in high school dreaming of one day playing string quartets for my job, I had no idea about anything except how the music made me feel. I didn’t know what 501©3 status was, I didn’t know a thing about marketing, and I hadn’t even begun to understand real teamwork, never-the-less COMPROMISE. (Which I think sits at the centerpiece of quartet playing!) And what’s funny is, I don’t feel I learned much about any of that while pursuing my music degrees either.

Over the past (almost) three years, I’ve spent my time holding down the viola fort in Chicago Q Ensemble. Risking sounding pretty annoying, I have to say, I love our organization and what it stands for. Aside from everything musical Q has taught me, I feel it has made a profound impact on the way I approach the relationships in my life. Some people have a thing for politics, others go crazy for sports, but me, I like people.

I am currently struggling with a shoulder injury that is keeping me from playing, (which totally, TOTALLY sucks) but it hasn’t been all bad. I’m surprised to find myself more aware of the skills I’ve learned through the quartet that don’t involve my viola. 16-year-old Aimee didn’t know that a string quartet could do so much more than fill my ears with some of the greatest music in the universe. Through working with my three incredible counterparts, I’ve been lucky enough to learn patience, to be vulnerable, to trust, to problem solve, and to listen. All the things you’d ever want in a relationship.

More than just music…