What’s Next?

I’ve been telling my friends that I plan to quit music school soon.

To be honest, I always knew I was going to drop out. A degree was never the objective. Instead, I enrolled because I wanted to learn…or at least, that’s the press release. The real answer needs deep introspection, and introspection needs time that’s probably better spent studying for Solfeggio or practicing Czerny.

Time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m planning to leave UST: music school takes up so much time. And I knew this, my piano teacher repeats to me when I show up to her studio looking run down the nth week in a row. And I did know this. I knew that school would take up time, effort, that I would lose Saturdays and sleep and a whole host of other things.

I also know what a parametric EQ does and how it works. But I still struggle to use it on Garageband.

There’s a lot of difference between knowing and knowing. The latter, I guess, you can only gain through experience. I’ve been in UST for nearly two full school years. If I stick to my plan—and I don’t know if I will—then I won’t last a third. I haven’t made up my mind to quit, but I’m nearly there. The only thing holding me back from definitively making that decision is that I am just as uncertain about why I should leave as I am about why I started in the first place.

I know why I should go. I should go because I keep turning down gigs for this. I should go because I don’t get to sleep much. I should go because there are ministry opportunities that I miss out on because I’m in school on Saturdays (and what nobler thing is there to leave the conservatory for than church?). I should go because, ironically, music is taking time away from music.

But is it really?

Someone asked me—I forget who; maybe it was a lot of someones—what I planned to do after I quit UST. I think the exact phrasing was, “What’s next?” At first, I found the question odd, but then I realise that I have always had something going on. I can’t remember the last time I had Saturdays free; probably back in university, but even then I’m convinced I was probably doing something. For an introvert homebody, I don’t like staying home: I always need to be doing. And, for at least six years and maybe more, that doing has had to do with music.

Back to the question of why I enrolled in music school to begin with. The easiest answer would be that I simply traded ST for UST. The band broke up the year I got in, and school conveniently took up all the hours I would spend rehearsing in Marikina, week after week. If I’m less kind to myself, maybe I’ll even admit that getting into the conservatory was me trying to prove a point: I got in on the strength of two songs I wrote and produced all on my own, no bandmates or audio engineers or “hitmakers.” In that last, horrible year, I remember constantly feeling like I had to prove I was worth the band staying together.

My ahia would say this sounds about right, but they don’t to me. I know they’re correct, somewhere, but like I said before there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I know what I know isn’t quite it.
I plan to at least finish my four freshman AppMaj requirements (Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet) and my piano minor before I go. If I go. When I go. To be honest, even now, with Saturday in just a few hours and my dread of it growing, I’m still not 100% sure if I should leave or if I should stay. My old university professor—also a musician, also a current music student—shared a post that went, “When you feel like stopping, think about why you started.”

But what if I don’t remember why I started? Or else, what if there’s nothing to remember? What if I never really had a reason, a real reason; I did this because it was a convenient “next,” because it felt like the logical thing to do, considering my “dreams.” I don’t even know what my dreams are anymore, but that’s something for another time. Or maybe it isn’t, because that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. Because I feel like I’ve lost my way, and now I don’t know where to go or what to do or why I’m even here.

Maybe the harshest truth is this: I knew what I was getting into, what I was going to give up. What I didn’t know then, that I might know now, is that maybe I wasn’t so willing to count that cost. The “self-care” and “self-love” posts on Facebook say that it’s okay to take time out for “mental health,” and I think they’re right, but when is it self-care and when is it just laziness? When is it me being soft on myself?

When do I face myself, look in the mirror and admit that maybe I just don’t have it in me?

I don’t know. All I know is that there are open mics I want to play, dance classes I want to join, ministry opportunities I want to take, and goals I still keep in view, even as I wonder if I’m ever going to hustle hard enough to reach them. There is a Google Keep account with an album’s worth of songs, and a constantly moving target for when I want to release them. There is a sound I keep chasing that I don’t ever know if I’ll be good enough to make.

There’s a weight in my chest I can’t shake, that keeps me awake even after my homework is done.

There’s a wish, faint but if I’m honest getting stronger by the day, to close my eyes and maybe never open them again.

There’s a difference between knowing and knowing. Perhaps that’s why I stay. Because for all of these things I know, I don’t know the answer what’s next.

And I don’t know if I ever will.

Singer

Strange little girl,
sung from her first exhale.

The world, it doesn’t make sense,
but the notes on a scale–

–well, they run up and down,
in predictable lines.

So long as she can sing them,
she’ll be fine.


Tonight, we went to the birthday party of my mum’s cousin.

As a kid, before I started in the “band scene,” I used to jump at any opportunity to sing in front of an audience. Often, this meant rockaoke at parties, or else hijacking the microphone from friendly live bands in cafés and bars. Barring that, I would sing everywhere: in the shower, in the hallways at school, in the car, in the street. Literally everywhere.

I had a love-hate relationship with my voice. On the one hand, I liked hearing it (obviously). On the other hand, I never felt it was good enough. My earliest performances were often ruined by my nerves, which robbed me of air and strangled my notes in my throat. It was like this up until college: I simultaneously craved live gigs and feared them as opportunities to fall short.

I nearly lost my voice when I was twenty. For one reason or another, I got vocal nodules, and had to go on two weeks of vocal rest, followed by three months of therapy. There was no guarantee, throughout the whole process, that I would ever get my voice back, but thanks to Ms. Kitchy Molina, I not only got it back, but returned with a healthy three-octave range and the ability to sometimes belt. I could finally sing Elphaba’s parts in Wicked.

Instead, I joined a rock band.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” That’s how the song For Good goes. It fits what rock and roll life was like for me. For better or worse, I was changed. My first gig was horrible: I barely had any stamina to make it through a three-song set. But through years and gigs and rehearsals and setlists that stretched my range, I learned. On our EP Launch Concert, I scream-belted my way through six high-octane songs and still had a voice to speak the next day. Being in a rock band made me a better singer…but it also made me think that, as just a singer, I wasn’t worth much.

Even before the band “officially-unofficially” broke up, I guess I had a feeling it was headed for the end. Why else did I try the open mic circuit? Armed with only my guitar and rudimentary playing skills (which, over the years, have scarcely gotten better), I had no one to hide behind. Open mics and solo shows wore away the last of my stage fright. I got used to screwing up, that I don’t even feel that much relief when I don’t.

Nowadays, I don’t even bother looking shy when asked to sing. I go up, pick a song, and perform it. But, unless I’m invited to a gig, I don’t sing much anymore.

I had an officemate who would plug in her headphones and loudly sing along to her playlist while working. Other people might find it annoying, but I didn’t. I envied her, because it’s been a long time since I’ve sung that way. A long time since I simply enjoyed my voice, the wonder of losing yourself to a melody, the three minutes where the world falls away. I listen to a lot of music. I dance. Sometimes I lipsynch.

But, outside of gigs, I don’t sing much.

I didn’t know that my mum’s family was very musical. My dad’s family kind of is, but when I perform at parties (I rarely perform at their parties) it always feels like they’re humoring me: they text or chat to their seatmates and only perfunctorily clap when I’m done. At my mum’s cousin’s party, the grandkids all came up to sing and everyone was so engaged: taking videos, cheering, singing along. It was lovely.

There was a rockaoke band they hired for the night, to serenade them for dancing. I was actually on my way out when the lead singer/host, Mike O’Brien (O’Bryan?), asked if anyone wanted to sing. My mum pushed me forward.

I sang “Grow Old With You” from The Wedding Singer. I remember it was one of the last songs an old college crush taught me before he got bored of teaching me guitar. It’s a really easy song, but after I was done these distant relatives who I rarely saw–but genuinely enjoyed being around!–started coming up to me and telling me I should pursue singing.

I’ve been trying to be a musician for the better part of six years, but for most of those years, I’ve focused on being something other than a singer. Songwriter. Arranger. Student. I’ve always fallen short, never been as good as I was when I had a band behind me and could just focus on lyrics and melody and getting the notes to come out of my body until I became the music. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about singing in these past few years.

But tonight, I realized I miss it. Just singing. Just disappearing into the music.

I miss it so much.

“What’s on your mind?”: frantic, overshare-y thoughts on me vs. my facebook feed

Here’s a confession: every time I add a new Facebook friend, especially one who I’m keen to impress for whatever reason, I am seized by a sudden fear that my feed–filled with selfies, KPop, classical music memes, and makeup–presents a picture of a vapid, self-absorbed, “me”-llennial (as the Gen-X and Boomer thinkpiece-writing keyboard warriors like to call us).

I mean, it’s not an entirely inaccurate picture: I curate my Instagram; take tons of photos of myself, healthy drinks, and quinoa bowls (or a combination of all three); and don’t exactly have anything on my feed about saving the world, or being profound, unless it’s posts about how profoundly dumb I am at my job.

Sometimes.

(Long-time friends and co-workers, I know that because you are loving, caring people, you don’t like it when I call myself “dumb” but:

1. You haven’t heard my so-called “inputs” during video-call meetings with our Facebook account manager and, 

B. Let me have this moment. It is the closest I will ever come to being a standup comedian.)

Recently, I accepted a (surprise!) Facebook friend request from someone that I was extremely keen to impress (for reasons I do not think I can ethically discuss), and was overcome with the existential dread that comes with realizing that, outside of occasional “conversations” where I make two to three awkward, nervous jokes (tops!), said person’s idea of who I was, as a person, would be based on this narrow field called a Facebook timeline. A field, which, I’m going to be honest, is less about what fuels my introspection and more of whatever floats my boat when I’m not having an existential crisis about work or turning twenty-six in a few days or whether or not I have been setup for massive failure and anxiety because, when I was younger, I was told I was “destined for great things,” but now here I am at ALMOST THIRTY still living with my mum and auditioning for KPop reality TV.

Oh, hello existential crisis. Let’s pretend I didn’t see you coming.

Thing is, if you meet me in meatspace and maybe give me five minutes of your time, you’ll know that despite the fact that I have the rapid-fire, awkward yappiness of a toy-sized dog with a bladder problem, I’m not just shallow, self-absorbed, and frivolous. I have deep opinions on things other than the necessity of sunscreen (though if you say you don’t need to use SPF I will fight you) or whether or not Kim Seokjin has secret abs. And I know that’s not just me: some of the most articulate, interesting, and profound people I know have the feeds of bored thirteen year old memelords. Because, yes, at heart, they are bored, thirteen year old memelords…but that’s not all they are.

I don’t know if this post had a point when I started it, but in writing it, I’ve kind of, like, realized stuff. (Yes, that was a Kylie Jenner quote. And yes, that was a shameless bid to look #relevant.) Specifically, in a culture where we pre-screen acquaintances via Facebook “stalking” (in the words of an acquaintance, “It’s not stalking if it’s public information.” And no, that acquaintance was not Joe Goldberg.), maybe we should take feeds** with a grain of salt. Facebook–Messenger or the main page–can’t really take the place of an IRL dinner and sangria (or coffee and donuts, whatever) when it comes to figuring out who a person really is, what they’re interested in, and whether or not they’re actually interesting.

Which is to say, at twenty-six, maybe instead of mooning over green lights on my Facebook contacts list, I should actually give people a chance to get to know me in person, and to get to know them in person too.

Maybe 2k19 is the year I decide to get out more. 

Maybe.

(Fat chance.)

~ F.

**No promises about profile photos and captions, though.