OBT day 11

#OBTChallenge Day 11

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression.

Tonight I’m giving a piano performance. That’s something I haven’t been doing very often lately, and it doesn’t feel quite as routine as it used to. I’d initially planned to keep the program very “safe.” One flashy piece I know really well – Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata – and the rest of the program slow and quiet and tame.

Then yesterday, when I was practicing, I realized exactly how safe I was playing it (literally) and why. Anxiety was telling me I couldn’t do riskier music that might be more fun. I decided to test that theory. Maybe it’s not the wisest idea to change up your program the day before a performance, but why not? 😉

I switched out a couple of pieces and added a couple of others. The video below is one of the switches. My original program included three very safe sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. I decided to trade one of the safe ones for the one in the video, which is quite a bit harder, but more fun both to hear and to play. (If you watch the recording, you might notice my left hand jumping over my right hand now and then, and hanging out at the high end of the keyboard for a while.) I recorded it during my practice session, because playing for a video is even scarier for me than playing for an audience.

The recording is a little rough, but I decided to use it as an OBT less for the music itself and more for the reminder that, sometimes, we can do more than we think. We don’t always have to confine ourselves to playing it safe. Here’s to taking a risk now and then, and trusting our powers!

 

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

One Bright Thing, day 5

#OBTChallenge Day 5

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The ordinary day-to-day gets complicated by the weather, the increased hours of darkness, the post-holiday slump, and very often, the news in the wider world.

A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post features music by Felix Mendelssohn; not my own playing this time. 🙂 This is the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49, as performed by the Zukerman Trio.

I’m currently learning this piece, and it’s a big challenge. If you’ve read about me here on the site, you know I’ve been balancing work in music and writing for a number of years. Sometimes that balance leans more one way or the other. Lately, I haven’t been as much of a “real pianist” as I trained to be, and this Mendelssohn is definitely pushing me to get my chops back.

Learning it has been a mix of fun and frustrating. Over the past few days especially, I’ve caught myself getting really impatient with my own limitations. Why can’t you remember those notes? Why can’t you get that passage up to speed? I know the real issue is that I’m scared I “can’t do it well enough,” that I’m not enough of a pianist anymore. But if I let myself get impatient and angry, it only makes the work harder. If I try to keep a sense of humor about it and let myself learn and grow at my own pace, things happen much more easily.

It’s hard for me to be patient and accepting with myself and to honor when I’m trying my best. If I want to be able to do that with others, the buck starts here. This piece is teaching me lessons about more than music. And it’s a wonderful piece too: full of drama and fire and all shades of expression.

Please enjoy the video and visit back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 4

#OBTChallenge Day 4

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is a recording I made of his Sonata in F Major, KV 280. It’s about ten minutes long, and like a lot of Mozart’s music, it’s joyful, sparkling, and full of energy. Guaranteed to give your day a boost.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and if you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 3

#OBTChallenge Day 3

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post, keeping with the music theme from OBT Days 1 and 2, features music by Robert Schumann. The recording below, which I made a couple of years ago, is about fifteen minutes long. If you don’t have time to just sit and listen, I definitely recommend it as a soundtrack while you’re working. Guaranteed to make the work go faster. 🙂

Schumann (1810-1849) wrote this piece, Papillons, early on in his career. The title literally translates as “butterflies.” Schumann chose it to capture what writing the piece felt like to him: he was riding a wave of inspiration, with musical ideas flying around him thick and fast, a cloud of butterflies.

The music creates a ballroom scene. Schumann puts the listener there, watching the dancers, admiring all the costumes and masks, caught up in the swirl of light and sound. It’s been one of my favorite pieces since I first learned it about 25 (!) years ago: fun to listen to and joyful to play.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and if you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 2

#OBTChallenge Day 2

In case you didn’t see yesterday’s post, my new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day, in the spirit of lighting a candle when things seem dark. Today’s post features the music of Impressionist composer Claude Debussy.

This is my recording of the first movement of Debussy’s suite Estampes, which literally means wood-carvings, but we can think of it as the stamps we put on mail. Stamps from places around the world.

The first movement is called “Pagodes” – Pagodas – and is meant to take you on a trip to the East. In this piece, you’ll hear Debussy making the piano sound like chimes and gongs, and playing around with dissonant harmony to create beautiful washes of sound. It’s incredibly evocative, and also extremely fun to play.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and meanwhile, think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. (If you post it on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925, and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.)

 

A New Daily Challenge: One Bright Thing

#OBTChallenge Day 1

To bring in 2020, I’m repurposing the blog for a while. Let’s see how long I keep it going…

It’s already a tough year. A lot of us are probably struggling with more anxiety than usual because of the headlines, especially the news out of Australia and Iran. January is often a tough month to begin with: after the holidays, when life goes back to normal, but the days are very short and it’s often cold and dreary. All of this gets compounded if you already struggle with mental health challenges.

That’s exactly where I am. So I decided to give myself a new kind of challenge, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than letting the darkness take over. My goal for myself is to post one thing on the blog, every day, that puts a bit of light out in the world and maybe makes someone smile. One bright thing.

My first one is some music, a recording I made of three of my favorite sonatas by Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. (I have a feeling music will be a frequent go-to in this project.) I love these pieces for their clarity, peace, and joy. Other days, I might post a photo – hopefully not always a cat photo 😉 – or a short piece of writing, or even a sketch or watercolor.

I invite you to enjoy the music here and visit back tomorrow. I also invite you to post your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. If you post it on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925, and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.

I’d love to see what you come up with. Let’s put some light into the world for the New Year.

 

 

Trusting It

Thank you for visiting the blog again. Trying to stay a bit more reliably up and running! 🙂

This afternoon, I’m giving a lecture-performance about my book To Love A Stranger. Before I started having major anxiety struggles this summer, this kind of performance was a little nerve-racking, but mostly no sweat. Today, I’m considerably more nervous than usual. It’s a familiar format, and the kind of gig I’ve done many times before, but I’m having to trust that my performance chops are still there, and will do what they need to do.

It feels like a risk. Part of me wants to run from it, but I’ve learned that the worst thing you can do with anxiety is let it win. When the panic starts telling you that something isn’t safe, or isn’t possible, that’s the time to push back and show it how you know better. Over the summer, when I was really struggling, I had a few days where I let the panic dictate. I canceled my commitments (not many, fortunately) and holed up in bed, listening to music for hours on end. The music was great, but overall, taking this approach to panic was definitely not the right thing to do. It taught me that the only way I could respond to fear was by digging myself a burrow and crawling in.

It’s much harder to push yourself to do things when you’re scared, but it’s also the best way to re-wire your brain and learn that the fear reflex isn’t telling you the truth. Anxiety is an interesting phenomenon. Your hindbrain thinks you’re going into danger, and it wants to protect you, so it kicks in your fight-or-flight response, sometimes so intensely that you feel incapacitated. (If you’ve had the kind of panic attack that involves chest pain, nausea, shaking, dizziness, and the other kinds of symptoms that make you believe you’re in the middle of a heart attack, you know exactly what I mean.) All of this fuss on your hindbrain’s part because it wants to keep you safe from what it sees as danger. Meanwhile, though, its perception of that danger is a little skewed: it doesn’t need to protect you from working, or driving, or staying home alone, or any of the once-ordinary things that might be triggering it. You have to teach it this by doing those things that it doesn’t want you to do.

For me, today’s lecture-performance falls into that category of things. My hindbrain tells me it’s very scary, I won’t be able to get through it, it would be safer not to try. But I know I’ve done exactly this kind of performance before and will do it again, maybe many times. I can get through it, I will get through it, and in so doing, I’ll teach myself and my over-reactive anxiety a valuable lesson. I will trust myself instead of the fear messages.

The video below is a taste of what I’ll be playing this afternoon: the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 90. (Apologies for my somewhat out-of-tune piano. Also, yes, that is a Christmas penguin in the background. 😉 ) Beethoven is one of the composers whose music helped inspire To Love A Stranger, and I’ll be reading an excerpt from the book in which his music features, and talking about why he’s perhaps my ultimate musical hero if I could only pick one. As I write this, I tap into the familiar pattern of these performances, and I get a taste back of my own excitement and enjoyment at the idea of giving one. Take that, anxiety. 😉

Hope you enjoy the music. As always, thanks for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Musical Meditations Launch!

Following up on the very short post of a couple of weeks ago: today marks the launch of a project I’ve had in mind for a long time. 😊

Musical Meditations is a new, fully self-guided course on my website. It combines three elements: musical inspiration and space for journaling; features on four major composers and periods in music history; and writing prompts based on the music. (If you’re not a “serious” writer, don’t worry: you can still have fun with the prompts, and see where they might take you creatively.)

How it works:

The course is set up to be completed over four weeks. Each week features a different composer: Johann Sebastian Bach in Week 1, Johannes Brahms in Week 2, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Week 3, and George Gershwin in Week 4.

Each week, you’ll first listen to a recording I’ve made of some of the composer’s piano music. While you listen, you’ll journal or free-write, letting the music guide what you put on the page. This is a chance to give yourself space and get in touch with your own thoughts. Music is a great catalyst for this kind of self-expression.

After listening and journaling, you’ll read some background on the composer and the music you’ve heard, learning about that composer’s life, the time period the work belongs to, and some particular features of the pieces. Finally, you’ll be given a writing prompt that draws on the music in some way: something about its structure, or why the composer wrote it, or the time period it belongs to. You can work on the prompt at your own pace and see where it leads you.

Four weeks is the suggested pace, but you can work at your own speed. Once you’ve taken the course, you’ll always have access to the material, so you can go back to it whenever you’d like. As a special bonus offer for writers, if any of the prompts lead you to write creative work that you’d like to share with me for feedback and guidance, participants in this course receive a discount on my one-on-one manuscript consulting rate ($35 per hour instead of $50).

Sound good?

If you’d like to take the course, you can submit payment through PayPal. The suggested cost is $45, but pay what you can. I’m excited to offer this and can’t wait to see how it works for everyone! 😊

Once you submit payment, you’ll receive an email including a password, which will let you access the course page. (Please note that this process is not yet automated. I’ll be sending you the email personally, which may mean a slight delay, but you should receive it within 24 hours.)

Click here to submit payment. When you do, please be sure to include, in the “note” field, the best email to reach you.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com. And if you take the course, please send me feedback any time. I’d love to hear what you think!

Lake Sable writing
Find your favorite place for meditative creative work!

Stay Tuned…

Today’s very short post is only to share that something new is coming soon to the website. A project for writers, music enthusiasts, and anyone looking for inspiration for their creative work, or simply something new to relax and open the mind, will be live most likely within the next week. This project has been a long time in planning, and I’m excited to share it. Stay tuned! 🙂

Musical Meditation

The blog is late again this week: it’s been a very busy teaching week, which has helped with my need to keep my mind busy. 😊 I’ve been leading a summer writing workshop with Writopia Lab in Washington DC. Writopia is a terrific organization that works with young writers, ages 7 through high school, and I’ve been having a great time with a group of very smart and creative teens. It’s fun to see how the next generation of storytellers is shaping up!

This week, I wanted to depart a bit from the subject of the past couple of weeks, though what I’d like to share today is still connected with the larger topic of mental health. I’m putting this out partly as a teaser, and partly as a way to motivate myself to follow through on a plan I’ve had for a long time.

As both a writer and a musician, I’m always interested in the ways in which these two art forms can dovetail, feed, and support one another. For several months now, I’ve been planning an online course which I’ll run through my website. Called “Musical Meditations,” this course is meant to support writers in particular, but also artists in general, and anyone who would find some music-inspired creative work helpful to their mindset and well-being.

In today’s post, I’m offering a sample of what the course is meant to do. It’s designed as a group of four sessions which will take place over four weeks, though participants can work at their own speed.

Each session will begin with a recording of selected piano music. Each recording will include multiple pieces, but they will all be by the same composer. Participants will first be asked to listen to the music and free-write, or journal, any response they have to it, or anything it brings to mind. This is the meditative part of the exercise: freeing the mind by letting it go wherever the music leads.

After the free-writing exercise, participants will be given information about the music they just heard. Each of the four course sessions will feature a different composer, belonging to a specific period in musical history and writing in distinctive ways. Participants will learn about the composers’ lives, the stylistic choices they made in their music, and why they wrote the types of works they did.

Participants will then be given a specific writing prompt based on the music they heard. This prompt will in some way tie into the historical period the featured music belongs to, events in the life of the composer, and/or the construction or style of the music. For writers, this prompt may help create a new idea for a story, poem, or essay. For other artists, playing around with the ideas might support work in another art form. For all participants, the prompts are meant as a fun mental exercise to stimulate creativity.

Below, I’ve included a recording of a work by Claude Debussy. Debussy (1862-1918) is a French composer belonging to the Impressionist era in music history, which covers the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Impressionist composers loved to create washes of color in their music by using rich and often dissonant harmonies, and fully exploring the ranges and capabilities of the instruments they wrote for. Their fascination with musical color parallels the interests of Impressionist painters like Monet, who worked during the same time period. Like their colleagues in music, Impressionist painters wanted to create rich palettes in their work, fully exploring the potential of colors and how they could blend in new ways.

In the Debussy recording presented here, you can hear how the composer uses the full range of the piano, and how he creates a lush palette of sound that explores beautiful and startling dissonance. This piece, “Pagodes,” is the first movement of Debussy’s three-movement suite Estampes. The title of the whole work translates literally as “woodcuts” or “etchings,” and in each of the three movements, the composer intends to evoke a specific place, as one might create an image for a picture postcard. The first movement, “Pagodes” (“Pagodas”), evokes an Eastern flavor with the sounds of chimes and gongs.

If you’d like, I invite you to listen to “Pagodes” and, either while listening or afterward, free-write or journal in response to it, letting your mind travel wherever the music leads. I often find this is very helpful for calming and centering the mind, especially in times of stress or agitation. Then I’d invite you to consider the following prompt:

Debussy creates an image of a place he loves, through the use of particular harmonies and musical sounds. Consider a place you know well and can visit in your mind. Evoke it as vividly as you can on paper, using all details that make this place special: not only what you might see or hear there, but what you might taste, touch, or smell. Describe all of this to bring this place to life. [And for writers, the following additional prompt: does this setting suggest any sketch or lead to a story or other piece of written work?]

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be putting together the full course on my website, and will post an update or two as it’s getting ready. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed today’s sample!