On the Death of a Close Friend

“Are you sitting down?”  

There is no good way to give bad news.  It hits like an earthquake: suddenly, unrelentingly, and with countless aftershocks that are equally devastating.  It is a rare moment where the emotional world manifests as a physical force, knocking us off our feet both literally and figuratively.  I wasn’t sitting down, but even if I was this news would have pulled the floor out from underneath me.  Receiving news like this is a fact of life that I have struggled coming to terms with for many years, a specter perched in the back of my mind akin to a ticking clock: easily covered up with white noise, yet persistently poking through the subconscious.  

It wasn’t until 2 hours after that phone call that the news of Jason Ryan’s passing began to sink in.  As I began my first show on the two show day, I recalled a text he sent me out of the blue several months ago when Hamilton opened in Orlando:  

“Hey bud!  I wanted to make it down for the show but I am still on the job search and haven’t landed anything yet.  I would have loved to come and see the show!  I’m sorry I couldn’t make it but keep me posted as to where you are touring!! Once I get a job I would love to come visit during a weekend.”

The thing is, I never asked him to come see me in Orlando, nor did I expect it from him.  While many of the times we’d talk would be unexpected, a unique attribute of his character has crystallized as I reflect now on those sporadic conversations: Jason treated every friendship, opportunity, and experience he had as a blessing.  In a world haunted by the past, obsessed with the future, distracted by fleeting things, daydreaming of greener pastures, and constantly making excuses, Jason created his own current with his unwavering hope, infectious love of life, and devotion to his friends.  As if his uncommon perspective wasn’t enough to leave a lasting impression on everyone in his path, Jason didn’t know a stranger.  He was simply unforgettable, and in the moment when you hadn’t thought about him for awhile, you’d get a message that would brighten your day.  

________

In the Fall of 2010, I piled my life high into my car and caravanned with my parents to Stetson University for move in day.  A haze of reluctance and insecurity hung in the air: after six years with the same class of just north of 100 students at Trinity Prep, I was fearful and ill-equipped to handle even the slightest of changes.  Enter Jason Ryan.  He was the first person I met at Stetson on Orientation Day as he was a Focus Leader.  Donning a bright green plastic Stetson Hat and a voice full of joy, he was a ball of energy that quickly snapped me out of my timid reluctance to begin this new chapter.  He was that upperclassman friend that invited me to join his group at lunch, included me on his crazy shenanigans with and without Nerf guns, instilled in me a love and pride for our School of Music, and inspired me to work as hard as I could while showing me that it was still possible to enjoy the ride.  

He never asked me to join Phi Mu Alpha.  He never had to.  His genuine gravity pulled me in-how could I not want to be a part of the things to which he was so dedicated?  When I discovered he was my big brother, I was ecstatic-but I could never have predicted how enduring and special our friendship would be.  Aside from being such a great mentor, inspiration, and friend, he always made the time to go the extra mile.  I’ll never forget one special Saturday he had told me to set aside completely for a surprise.  A week or two before my initiation, he showed up at my dorm first thing in the morning and asked if I didn’t mind driving.  It was about two hours down the road through the Ocala National Forest and off I-75 at a gas station in Lake City that he surprised me with two tickets to see the FSU football game, my childhood home team.  While the Marching Chiefs played the National Anthem center field, he caught the attention of our entire section as his rich bass-baritone voice belted out the words, bel-canto style.  Needless to say, in typical Jason fashion, we made a lot of friends that day.

Although we had not lived in close proximity after he graduated for most of this decade, our friendship endured.  I visited him twice in Boston, first to attend his Master’s Recital at New England Conservatory, and second to stay with him and his soon-to-be fiancé, Matt, while I auditioned at Boston University for their Master’s program.  Most recently, Raveena and I caught up with him and Matt months after they moved to New York while I was on vacation from Hamilton.  Though it had been years since we had seen each other last, our friendship seamlessly picked back up as if no time had passed, and I could already feel his gravity adding to the force pulling me back to New York.  As we talked more in the coming months, his presence in The City made me so excited for life after tour, a future of finally living in the same place once again after so many years spent at a distance.  

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There have been so many questions running through my head since Sunday: How could this happen? Why him? Why now?  But the one that I keep coming back to is What can I do now?  Nothing in life can prepare you for the death of a loved one, and I am at a loss trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  What I do know for sure is that I have not cherished life and my experiences the way Jason did, I have not kept up with old friends and made every effort to make those relationships enduring like he did, and I have routinely talked myself out of tackling big goals instead of relentlessly whittling away at them with hope and passion as was so characteristic of him: needless to say, there is still so much to learn from him even after his passing.  They say that after death we live on in the memories we shared with others, the love we gave freely to others, and the many ways we affected those whose paths we crossed…And while I had taken that statement at face value up to this point in life, I cannot think of a person this describes better than Jason and the legacy he has left on all of the people in his life.  So thank you, Jason Ryan, for teaching us all what it means to be a great human, a kind soul, a loving friend, an inspiring artist, and a spring of hope.

________

To the Stetson School of Music community, I cannot think of another student who loved and believed in the School with the fire that he did.  

To the Brothers of Phi Mu Alpha, I cannot think of an individual who better embodied those qualities we hold near and dear to our hearts.  

I have never been to a Senior Recital in which a single musician both filled an entire 800 seat hall and simultaneously entranced each soul to gracious silence (and I haven’t heard of one since).

I have never known a person who loved life and the people he shared it with as much as he did.  

The earthquake from his untimely passing has brought forth a tidal wave of love and beautiful memories universally from all of those he touched in life, a truly uncommon and incredible sight to behold.  

 

20 Things I’ve Learned on Tour

Reflections on 1 year on tour with Hamilton

 20 things I learned about work, life, and myself.

  1. It is absolutely vital for your well-being and happiness to have friends at work.
  2. If it feels scary, then it’s probably the right thing.  
  3. Walkable cities with reliable and diverse public transportation systems are the best.
  4. Getting to watch shows instead of playing in them is a blessing.  
  5. When your environment is constantly changing and you strip away the people and things that make you feel “home,” then you begin to discover who you truly are and what you truly want. 
  6. Even introverts have a limit to how much time they can spend alone.  
  7. Four weeks in Vegas is too much.
  8. Sprinting is based on talent, Distance Running is based on character.  
  9. AirBnBs are better than Hotels.
  10. The people around you are incredible resources-listen to them, learn from them, and collaborate with them.  
  11. There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing on a day off. 
  12. If you don’t practice, you won’t get any better.  
  13. Never forget to take care of yourself, because no one else will.
  14. Vacations are just as much for you as they are for your coworkers. 
  15. Hold on tight to the people that know the real you and love you all the more for it.  
  16. If you aren’t a voice to make things better, then you are inviting complacency.  
  17. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal and sleeping in your own bed.  
  18. Despite the day to day ups and downs of life, make every effort to enjoy the ride-because you never know when it will end.  
  19. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” -C. S. Lewis
  20. Give 100% of yourself to everything you do, otherwise you are wasting both yours and everyone else’s time.  

P.S. I love my job, and I love you guys.

I’m Thankful…

For my Parents

For their authoritative yet understanding demeanor; for their unyielding support of my passions; for knowing when to save me and when to let me fall; for encouraging me to be myself; for always making time for me and always being there when I perform; for demonstrating the power of actions over words; for teaching me how to lead by example.

For my Brothers 

For picking up where my Parents left off; for teaching me how to be cool; for showing me how it feels to be accepted for who I am; for the never ending advice and encouragement at a moment’s notice; for sharing with me: time, energy, experiences, love.

For my Family

For always giving me love, no matter how much or little we see each other…even if we barely know each other; for always showing genuine interest in my life; for welcoming me with open arms; for being patient with me as I learn what it means to love unconditionally, as I grow older and understand the true value of family.

For my Friends

For accepting me for who I am and how I am: at my best and at my worst; for giving me their time and energy; for being inclusive; for being honest, even when it’s hard; for being equally supportive in my successes and failures; for teaching me what it means to be a good friend.

For my Teachers

For having the courage to teach me how to teach myself; for being patient when I don’t understand or work hard enough; for teaching me to love the journey more than the destination; for pulling me off the floor after failure and pulling my head out of the clouds after success; for showing me that there is always more to learn.

For my Job

For giving me the opportunity to perform for so many people; for teaching me consistency; for showing me just how amazing work can be; for allowing me to do what I love every day; for connecting me to people that teach me and push me to be better; for proving to me that I can do it.

For Music

For giving me a language far more expressive and personal than words; for being the soundtrack to my life; for comforting me in hard times and exciting me in happy ones; for bringing people together; for providing an artistic channel in which to process raw emotion into something more; for giving a voice to my creative energy.

For the Naysayers

For pushing me to realize my full potential; for helping me to understand what I truly want in life; for teaching me that I cannot please everyone; for keeping me unsatisfied, ever reaching higher.

Perfectionism: A Tale of Two Races

How can you measure perfection?  In the context of a test, a perfect score means getting all the questions correct.  This requires defining a standard by which to measure all of the participants, but a perfect score is not a guarantee for the very thing a test seeks to measure: the understanding and assimilation of material.

How then do we measure perfection in the context of a performance?  On one hand, it is nearly impossible to define a universal rubric by which to measure a performance given the sheer number of details involved.  This has quickly become apparent to me because personal opinions about the strength of any given show varies depending on who I ask.

In what seems like a former life, I studied Chemistry alongside Music.  One of my favorite teachers said something that has stuck with me for years: he routinely told his students that grades meant nothing to him and that we should not obsess over them.  Instead, he said our focus should be on learning and understanding the material as fully as possible and that grades would naturally work themselves out-brilliant advice that was definitely against the grain at a prep school full of kids employing every tactic to raise their GPA in order to stand out on their college applications.

Artists, subjected to a life of terminal perfectionism, should  take a cue from my former Chemistry teacher: focus on learning and understanding every nuance of what you are working on to the fullest as well as how the pieces fit together, and, in doing so, the accuracy and strength of performance will work itself out over time.  Knowledge itself is a journey: we can only learn at our own pace, and our limited understanding of the world around us is ever changing and much more nuanced than we are led to believe.

In the same way, learning music is also a personal race.  Many musicians, myself included, obsess over being able to reproduce the notes exactly in live performance; however, it is quite possible to perform perfectly and completely miss the connections with the music and the audience.  When you set perfect execution as the highest goal, you place yourself in a race against everyone else in your field with the only hope of differentiation being that you come in First Place.  This is a race that is near impossible to win, “A race to the bottom,” as Seth Godin calls it.

Rather, let us strive to speak through what we create, to connect those who listen to the world we have discovered through our own learning process, and to achieve something far beyond simply playing what’s on the page.  These goals require so much more than simply learning the notes: they require a complete understanding of what we are performing in the same way that success in Chemistry requires more than simply acing every test.  With these goals comes the development of individuality, artistry, and community.  This is the race worth running, and the beautiful thing about this race is that there is room for everyone who has something unique to say.

Be Prepared

As of Friday, May 4th, I have performed Hamilton 100 times.  This is incredibly hard for me to wrap my head around as this time last year I had just performed my Master’s Recital and was weeks away from graduation with nothing certain on the horizon except a desire to move to New York City.  Upon further inspection of the 100 performances to sold out crowds approaching 3000 people per show is the realization that we have performed Hamilton for close to 300,000 people…and all it took was three months of touring and performing eight shows a week.  What’s even more incredible is that despite only a handful of technical issues and one case of a flying prop into the orchestra pit, the show has been incredibly smooth and consistent thus far. 

So, how did we put the entire show together in a little over a week?  How did the band establish a cohesiveness within our first, nine-hour rehearsal day?  And how did we unite our cohesiveness with the cast and crew that had been working separately for many months before we even came into the picture in just a couple short rehearsals?  From my limited perspective, I believe a combination of three interdependent factors led to smooth sailing from the beginning: personal preparation, high expectations, and a universal excitement surrounding the show.  First, with our extremely limited rehearsal time together and a sold out crowd waiting for us nine days after our first rehearsal, we had to individually be able to play the show cold before we even walked in the door.  Beyond this, we had to already have a deep understanding of the interconnectivity of the orchestration beyond our individual parts, which would be expanded as we played together more.  However, this personal preparation would be unsuccessful without the high expectations pushing each of us to our limits in the months leading up to the first rehearsal.  If left to our own devices, we would have been stuck in the “good enough” mindset with no desire to overachieve.  Finally, the magic glue that brought everything together was the sense of excitement surrounding this show: it put us in the right mindset during our preparation, it coated our interactions with others in professionalism and mutual respect, and it reinvigorated us in the moments when we were physically and mentally worn out.  On their own, preparation, expectation, and excitement are extremely important factors that drive us to work our hardest, but it is the combination of all three that make Hamilton a reality eight times a week.  

A year ago, I could have never imagined that my first audition would prove fruitful, but once the shock of success wore off I realized the magnitude of the responsibility I was given: I was tasked with performing the same show eight times a week, 52 weeks a year to capacity crowds with sky-high expectations.  I knew this would require a level of consistency, endurance, and relaxation both mentally and physically that I had yet to realize in my playing.  While I had done strings of performances of the same works before (week-long runs of musicals, operas, and other concerts), I had never done eight shows a week in which I was single-handedly responsible for playing my part-usually I was part of a section of violins all playing the same part.  I knew that I would need to fundamentally re-engineer my process of preparation and practice in order to produce results I had never before attained.  For this post, I will explain the process of preparation that I undertook in detail, focusing for now on the months leading up to the first rehearsal.  While I am aware that my process will not prove fruitful for everyone who tries it (since every individual has different strengths, weaknesses, and drivers), I am nevertheless compelled to share the many facets of my preparation as to inspire others to delve headfirst into their passions without fear of failure.  

During the audition process, I was given the opportunity to sit in the pit at the Richard Rogers Theater in New York to watch the musicians perform Hamilton.  Although I was not as familiar with the full score by that point (I had been focusing primarily on the songs I had to audition with), it was an incredibly insightful and eye-opening experience to see and hear how the original quartet (the same one that performed on the soundtrack) plays the show: from the technical elements like articulations, note lengths, and timing with the click to musical elements like phrasing and use of vibrato.  This completely transformed my approach to the music and greatly informed my months of preparation, which I will detail next.    

In the months leading up to the first rehearsal, something my former drum teacher repeatedly told me stuck in my head: “Prepare 200% so that when you’re nervous or having an off day you can still deliver and exceed expectations.” However, doing this is not as black and white as simply practicing twice as much as you think you need to: preparing a musical book is like doing the multi-faceted, semester long assignment that integrates everything you’ve learned up to that point…and don’t even think about procrastinating.  This was very much uncharted territory for me, and all I could think of was how I would not be able to re-record at all in live performance (I was able to do this as much as I wanted for my audition).  So, my ultimate goal was to apply the same deep-level technical and musical understanding to the entire book as I did for the audition songs, to gain a complete context of how my part fit in with the rest of the quartet, band, and vocals, and finally, to be able to perform this consistently and accurately.  In order to make the most of my time, I purposefully overestimated the amount of work I had to do and underestimated the speed at which I could accomplish this.  

From many years of experiencing different practice and rehearsal techniques while saving the methods that worked for me, I codified something I call “Layered Practicing:” a combination of studying without an instrument in hand and then learning and re-learning the same music through different lenses.  This practice method builds an incredibly detailed and intricate understanding while at the same time gaining an unparalleled level of familiarity and flexibility.  Before I even began playing through the book, I listened through the entire soundtrack following along with the violin part and noting the idiosyncrasies between the print and the recording in a journal.  In my first pass through, I focused primarily on technical things like note lengths, articulations, fingerings, and style while also making notes about sections I perceived would be difficult either for technical or tuning reasons.  After studying five songs, I would transfer the notes I took to my part and practice slowly to absorb the intricacies of the part while applying what I learned from my homework.  Once I got through all 50 songs, I repeated the process-this time focusing on musical aspects like phrasing, use of vibrato, dynamics, and timing.  As I became more familiar with my part, I would isolate sections of certain songs to practice slowly each day for mostly technical reasons and then slowly put them in context and work up to speed in a variety of different rhythms, accents, bowings, and articulations in order to fully ingrain the patterns in my head and fingers.  I slowly worked from playing sections of songs, whole songs, strings of songs, whole acts, and finally, the whole show.  As I played through more and more, I was able to focus less on my part and more on how it fit in with the others: I made notes in rests as to other instruments playing or the passing of motivic ideas as well as times I was playing with others.  Meanwhile, I continued listening to the soundtrack in a variety of environments and focusing on different elements to glean other details subconsciously.  

After a month and a half of practicing and studying this way, I met with Jonathan Dinklage, the Concertmaster/Violin 1 chair for Hamilton in New York, in order to ask a couple questions I had concerning how the quartet should fit in with the ensemble in terms of timing and intonation, concerning the job description of the “concertmaster” in the context of a string quartet, and concerning other general things including how he would recommend I practice in my last month before rehearsals.  In order to make the transition between practice and performance as smooth as possible, he gave me a recording of the video feed from the conductor camera with audio to practice running the show as it would be in a live performance.  He said this is how he would prepare the show if he was subbing and added:

“Practice running the show along with this video while counting every rest and focusing on every detail-until you cannot take it anymore.  If you do this, you will have a fantastic first show, and a terrible second show-but then you will be good!”

And so, in addition to the process I had already begun before, I began working my way up to full run-throughs with the conductor video while noting any additional differences between this new recording and what I had grown to expect from my prior study.  In essence, after learning the show completely with the studio recording, I completely re-learned the show with the conductor video a month and a half later, from the ground up.  By learning the show in a variety of different ways with slightly different variations, I was paving the way to be more sensitive and flexible with the company I would eventually be working with on the Philip Tour.  In order to build stamina in a healthy way, I started by running the show once or twice a week, eventually building to a run-through every day the week prior to our first rehearsal.  Finally (flashback to the beginning of my preparation), I knew that in addition to being able to do everything aforementioned, I would need to greatly improve some basic things about my violin playing alongside learning the book.  In my practice journal, I wrote the following things down to be consciously and subconsciously working on during my preparation:

Intonation in all keys, always

Clean relaxed shifts, always

Clean strokes on arco, no extra noise

Better string crossings and bow changes

Relaxed, precise trills (all dynamics)

Relaxed, precise tremolos (all dynamics)

These are things that I am still working on improving every day on tour, even after 100 shows-they take a lifetime to truly master.  However, I know that I have made tremendous progress on them by writing them down and keeping them in mind over the last couple months.  

In the end, I walked into our first rehearsal feeling 100% confident in my personal preparation, and quickly learned the absolute joy of experiencing what it feels like to put a show together with an entire band, cast, and crew that had spent months preparing for this moment.  The ease with which the show came together in just over a week is a testament to incredible preparation, high expectations, and the magic that surrounds Hamilton.  As someone who had never been satisfied with my preparation in the past, I believe this process showed me the mindset that pushes me to accomplish things I didn’t think possible as I said before: overestimating the amount of preparation needed and underestimating the speed with which it can be accomplished.  I have more stories and lessons from the days following our rehearsals and first performances, but I will save those for other posts.  Even though my lessons or recipe for preparation may not resonate with everyone, I hope that laying my process and thoughts bare will help you to realize that you too are capable of accomplishing the things you feel are unattainable.  

What Comes Next?

These last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind, and I have had a lot of trouble finding words to express my thoughts and emotions as of late.  With regard to social interactions this is not such a surprise seeing as I am very much an introvert; however, this phenomenon has been amplified recently by the onslaught of new experiences and people in my life.  In the midst of big changes, my initial reaction has been one of quiet observation, and while this vantage point can be a bit lonely at first, it has brought to light some interesting ideas.  In an effort to process my thoughts of the last couple weeks (so I can hopefully break out of my introvert shell), here’s a couple connections I have made.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I grew up in Orlando, Florida, and while I did not spend my entire childhood at Disney World (shocker, right?) I was heavily steeped in Disney mythology like most American kids.  Probably the most striking commonality of all these stories is the “Happily Ever After” ending-a sleight of hand that compresses a life story into a tumultuous series of events bookended by stability and happiness.  When we are young, we are often led to believe in the myth of “Happily Ever After,” that everything will come together magically all at once and then life is pure bliss.  But this fairy tale ending begs the question, What Comes Next?

In the context of performing Hamilton, this question has been particularly pertinent to me-not only because “What Comes Next” is the name of a song from the show, but also because we give eight performances each week.  We all work hard, play our hearts out, go out to celebrate, and then go to sleep; however, when we wakeup, we must repeat this same cycle (sometimes twice) each day.  It was brutally obvious, even from the first rehearsal, that playing for this show is not a game of speed, but a game of distance – a job that tests consistency and pacing from show to show.  The dichotomy between sprinting and distance running is reflected in the contrast between the world we see in movies, shows, and plays on one hand, and the world we live in every day on the other.  It is easy to live life in search of the next big thing – to live in a state of perpetual boredom and routine until a highlight comes to break the monotony; however, there is so much more enjoyment in celebrating the journey rather than focusing on the elusive destination…but how to do this?

A former teacher once described the difference between a student and a professional as this: the student practices until they get something right, whereas the professional practices until they don’t get it wrong.  The realization that “Happily Ever After” is never certain mirrors the shift in objectives that occurs when students become professionals.  You can practice like a student and nail the first rehearsal, but what will you do for the next rehearsals or the concert?

When I look back on my time in college and grad school, I remember struggling most in my weekly private lessons.  It was very clear in my academic classes and orchestra rehearsals what the expectations were from my professors; however, lessons are a bit more freeform because the only thing limiting progress is what you individually are capable of achieving on a week-to-week basis (since you’re not at the mercy of the pace of an entire class).  While it is easy for me to make observations now that I’m no longer in the middle of it, I wish I had made this connection in my college and grad school studies rather than seeing my objective as solely what my teacher asked for in a given week.  Now that I am the sole person driving my practice and defining my goals and expectations, I am starting to realize the unique challenges of being your own teacher while at the same time garnering more and more appreciation for those who helped me learn and grow as a musician.

A landmark experience in my music education was attending Brevard Music Festival for two summers as a college student.  Aside from the amazing music making that happened there every week, the incredible location nestled in the Appalachian Mountains provided an experiential fulfillment unlike any other.  I took every opportunity to drive up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and just take it all in: from the scenic views with the accompanying silence and peace of the mountain air, to the dizzying roads and near misses with oncoming traffic.  The Parkway stretches on for almost 500 miles (which at a max speed of 40mph takes quite awhile!) and has a similar number of overlooks, which were definitely the highlights of these drives.  The overlooks provide an interesting parallel to real life: you never know what you will see or when they will come up, and sometimes they come up too quickly for you to stop and turn off the road or you simply drive past them without noticing if you’re not looking for them.  It is easy to stop at an overlook overwhelmed by the view and feeling like you’ve arrived at the end of the road, but if you keep going chances are you’ll find something different and even more stunning.  Similarly, if you’re expecting every overlook to be a postcard view, you will undoubtedly be disappointed more often than not as reality may not always live up to your expectations.  Instead, let us resolve to enjoy the journey without focusing on the destination, let us resolve not to sell ourselves short with exclaiming “Happily Ever After,” and also, let us resolve not to be discouraged by the uncertainty of What Comes Next.  The road continues on, and there is plenty more to see and do if you’re looking in the right places.

Go West

Hello everybody!  I’m sorry it has been so long since I wrote last-it has been a very busy month and a half.  For this post I have a lot of different things that I want to talk about, and so I hope you all will humor me as I open the floodgates and let the words spill out for the first time in weeks.  I’ll see you on the other side…


2017 was a year of incredible change.  I began the year with a mind full of questions, an endless to-do list, and thick clouds obstructing my future gaze.  “What comes next,” my friends and family asked me ad nauseum.  “Perform my Masters recital, graduate, move to New York, and be a musician,” I replied nervously.  It was a year of making plans and then having to change them last minute due to unforeseen circumstances or new opportunities.  This is a tale of new beginnings.

My original plan to move to New York did not work out in the time frame I had anticipated, which caused me to move back home to Florida for a couple months-just in time for Hurricane Irma.  I have nothing against moving back home after school or people that choose to do that, but I knew even before graduating that this was not a path that would lead me where I wanted to be in my life or my career.  So, for me to have to take this pivot step felt like a failure in many ways and my mind ran as wild as the hurricane outside: either my plan to move was not well thought out or it was some sign that I was not meant to move to New York (or some other variation of these thoughts).  With every passing day, the thought of starting over somewhere else became more and more difficult to fathom as the stakes became higher, and with that New York seemed to fade away from feasibility.

Then something changed-opportunities started to pop up.  One conversation with an old friend opened the possibility of subletting his apartment in Harlem.  While mulling this over, another opportunity emerged that led to my audition for the 2nd National Tour of Hamilton on violin.  Within weeks, I went from considering staying at home in Orlando for a year to having a place in New York with a lead on a possible job.  Too good to be true?  It definitely felt that way; however, I knew I would never get another shot like this.  I will say though-as intense as the audition process was, it was no match for waiting for that callback (detailed in my post “Wait for It”).

In Seth Godin’s blog this past week, he had a post entitled “Beginning is Underrated” in which he wrote about the beauty of diving headfirst into something new and unknown-focusing on endless possibility instead of obsessing over the impossibility of preparing adequately.  For many of us, including me, this approach does not come naturally-it is hard to be filled with wonder when you’re caught in a web of questions.  With age comes an increased awareness of the complexity of everything, and so it follows that over-thinkers like me will become more and more hesitant to start something new as we grow older since we recognize more and more how many pieces need to fit together just right in order for success to come.  It is a commonly held belief that learning a new language, a musical instrument, or a sport is much, much harder once you’re an adult; however, I believe the pattern of overthinking that I described earlier (something we develop as adults) is largely to blame for giving children the upper hand in learning a new skill.

Approaching something new with a childlike frame of mind is very similar to the teaching philosophy in the book The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.  In this book, Gallwey argues that the best way to learn is to observe others and objectively experiment without falling into the trap of judgment and negative self-talk, a pattern of behavior that has been especially problematic for me.  Even in practice I often fear making mistakes to the point that tension creeps into my playing and my mind is consumed by negativity instead of creativity.  Recognizing this voice as simply a product of the adult mind is key to unlocking the power to temper its influence.  The mind is like an apartment building in the City, and your conscience is merely a single tenant: while you may not have so much control over who moves into the building as it gets older, you can choose which guests to let in to your personal space.

Back to the story-through a carefully orchestrated series of events that I could not have foreseen or possibly put into place (read: Divine intervention), I got the job as a touring violinist with Hamilton for their 2nd National Tour!  Thus began the eye of the hurricane: a period of relative quiet from November until late January in which I learned the music, enjoyed the holidays with my family and friends, and mentally prepared for the rest of the storm to come.  “In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet for just a moment-a yellow sky.” 

In the weeks leading up to departing for Seattle for the tour, so many questions filled my mind: What would come next?  How would rehearsals be?  Did I prepare enough?  Am I ready for this big leap?  Seth Godin’s post that I referenced above came at the perfect time-after doing all of the preparation, I realize that I got this opportunity largely by diving in head-first and not letting myself be consumed by doubt, and this is exactly the frame of mind I need in order to be successful in what will come next.  And boy, what a joy it is to be here at the beginning of something amazing surrounded by people who are so excited, prepared, and driven to bring artistry to every aspect of this incredible show.  I cannot imagine ever calling this “work,” for it is far too inspiring, fulfilling, and fun to ever be given such a title.


So, in a couple month’s time I go from hoping to move to New York to starting the Hamilton Tour in Seattle-a new beginning by any measure.  Here’s to starting anew, throwing caution to the wind, and giving it my all without fear of failure…I encourage you to come along for the ride, to “Go West.”