The View from the Other Side

It’s hard to be the regular person.  

We fear change.  From an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve inherited the notion that change opens the door to the unknown and thus is synonymous with danger.  At the starting point, we long for the moment when the new normal becomes comfortable—when we know what to expect and have faith that we can fully deliver what is expected of us.  We long to be the regular person.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.  

As time passes, the technical challenges we deal with on the daily become easier to navigate.  With more experience comes more tools at our disposal to put out the proverbial fires.  We feel thankful that we are seemingly over the hump, that we’ve been able to settle into our new routine.  For a moment, it feels as if this feeling will continue indefinitely…that nothing stands in our way.  Comfort sets in.

It’s hard to be the regular person. 

After a critical point, the collective comfort starts to destabilize for any number of reasons.  Either the physical, mental, or emotional demands of the new normal wear us out over time; or as the technical problems diminish in difficulty, our minds create their own problems to occupy our time instead; or collectively we settle so much into our routines that our jobs become peripheral.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

As soon as we feel comfortable, the everyday things lose their immediacy.  We long for vacation—either in the literal sense of us going individually or the figurative sense of just longing for something different than what we already have.  I used to always think being the sub was infinitely harder than being the regular person, but it’s really just a different race altogether: being a sub is a sprint while being the regular person is a marathon.  The biggest difference?  I would argue that a sub is a welcome, albeit temporary, change to a system—a departure from the ordinary, a vacation from the normal.  The regulars are predisposed to welcome a sub with open arms.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

There comes a point where you just stop trying or caring about what everyone else thinks.  In the beginning, you’re focused on doing a good job and trying to compound on what is being put out by others…but with added comfort comes the ebbing of extrinsic motivation.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

Two years ago, I walked into a rehearsal in Seattle with 10 other bandmates whom I had never met.  Save for a couple audition tapes, I was an untested professional musician thrust into a leadership role—but this was definitely not the first time I had gotten an amazing opportunity that led me to question my qualifications.  Now that I reflect on my relatively short transition from student to professional, I realize that one particular experience informed my preparation and approach more than any other.

Years ago, a 17-year-old me spent a summer at a prestigious music festival and was placed in a string quintet with a bunch of name-brand conservatory students.  It was quite a stretch for me, and though I tried my best to deliver as violin 1 I was out of my league.  Needless to say, this placement didn’t last more than a week before I found myself in another, more “suitable” group.  

This quick leap and fall from grace made me wary in each subsequent scenario that felt similar, and landing Hamilton fit that bill perfectly.  So, in my months leading up to the first rehearsal, in my countless hours of preparation, in the wee hours of the morning before I fell asleep, and in the final days as I tried to find inner peace with the looming unknown in front of me, my mantra was simple: DON’T SCREW UP.  I even wrote a blog about this at the time “Be Prepared.”  And while I feel like I did very well individually in rehearsals (and subsequently in shows), I was not actively thinking like a section leader—I was satisfied with “leading by example” and being as solid as possible for our quartet while patiently waiting to see what specific things I could do as concertmaster to be most helpful.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

I recognize now that in the beginning I was so inwardly consumed with my own part that I was hardly listening beyond.  Fortunately for me, I was working with some incredible players that all had experience playing shows and touring, we somehow gelled as a quartet from day one, and we all hit it off super well socially.  I cannot stress enough how fortunate I was to work with this particular group: if anything negative had come up in rehearsals or the first month of shows, I probably would have been ill-equipped to handle the situation adequately as a leader.  But this quartet and band bought me time to truly learn on the job…And for a moment, it was easy to be the regular person.

But it’s hard to be the regular person.

I have learned so much in my time on tour about myself, about how to succeed as a professional musician, and about how to be a good leader.  But the most important lesson that I’m still experimenting with is how to lead with calm, expertise, and confidence regardless of the circumstances: ideal or not.  It’s a careful balance of inspiring intrinsic motivation to go the extra mile in every facet; having a fully-formed concept of how things should be while remaining open to (and in some cases pushing) individual creativity; building a predictable and genuine workplace environment where feedback is regular and expected; being a positive influence on the group, even when issues arise at work or at home; and, above all else, being present with the group and getting my eyes and ears outside of my individual part.  THIS is where my inexperience reared its head in the beginning, and now, two years later, this is the part that I wish I could go back and change—who knows how those changes would have propagated after two years with the same group…

It’s hard to be the regular person.

So, just celebrating our two year anniversary of the Philip Tour and being over 800 shows in, we find ourselves in Toronto, Ontario for fourteen weeks with a quartet of local musicians.  It is a new beginning in many ways—a chance to try again from scratch while being informed by the experiences I’ve had the last two years.  From the rehearsal process to the first week of shows, I’ve made a conscious effort to focus outward and to be mindful of the group rather than being consumed by my individual part and trying to impress.  It’s not the same as “not caring” about my part, rather it is realizing (and hoping) that elevating the group does much more for the whole than focusing on elevating myself.  It’s this small, fundamental change in perspective that I believe will serve myself, the group, and the whole well for our long time here.  And from this experience I’ll be able to further refine my approach for our extended time in Washington, DC later this year with a fresh quartet of local musicians.


Sit back comfortably in your chair and close your eyes.

Turn your attention to your breathing.

As you inhale, imagine the air filling up your heart; exhale and feel the static tension leave your body.

After a few breaths focusing on your heart, turn your attention to your emotional state.

I want you to feel gratitude.

Meditate on what that emotion feels like, or a time in your life that you felt it strongly.

If you had to graph it on a chart, where would it show up?

If you find yourself drifting down a tangent, bring yourself back to center—back to your breathing.

Then, try again.

I’ve been seeing a Life Coach since May.  The above is an excerpt from one of our first sessions, back when she was beginning to teach me the art of emotional regulation.  We had previously done this same exercise, but we focused on the emotion of love—one that comes far more naturally to me for some reason.  How do I know this?  Because the point of these meditations is not to feel these emotions; rather, it is to regulate your heart and breathing, to refill your emotional energy tank, and to regain control of the internal things you can control while simultaneously disposing your worry for the external things you cannot control—and when it came to meditating on gratitude, I could not achieve this as I could with love.  Much to my dismay, I honestly struggled to pinpoint what gratitude felt like in this moment…

It’s easy to feel thankful for anything in the first mile—a new opportunity, a new job, a new relationship.  As long as something feels fresh, gratitude effortlessly flows from within.  But over time, the spring dries up and what was once fresh and exciting becomes the new normal, a progression seemingly written into the laws of nature.  Every time we go into something new saying “this time will be different,” and invariably we find ourselves weeks, months, or years later fantasizing about our next move and how fresh it will feel in comparison.  

So what changes?  

When something is new there is no expectation attached to it, save for our desire to feel like what we’re doing now is different than what we were doing before.  

After two years on the road and moving to a new city every couple weeks, I’ve been through an endless cycle of boom and bust within each stop along the way as the newness of each city is exchanged for (usually) a desire to get as far away as possible by the end.  These smaller cycles have also seen an overarching battle between the romanticism of exploration and the stresses of constant motion—with only a matter of time until the latter wins the war.  

So is this progression universal law in the same way that we’re slave to gravity and the spontaneous pull from order to disorder?  Is there an antidote to the “comfortable” phase?  Some argue that it’s simply to keep searching for something that makes what you’re already doing feel fresh again: to spice it up, to fall back in love, to get creative.  I think it’s more fundamental than that…

Simply, don’t lose your gratitude for what you already have.  

Don’t forget about the opportunities that have been bestowed upon you, the people that have been placed along the way, and the things that make you who you are.  Instead of fantasizing incessantly on where you used to be or where you want to be, use the past as a means to refresh your gratitude and excitement to how you felt when you began, and use the future to reframe your trajectory—ever grateful for this rung in the ladder.  It’s easy to make an impulse decision to pursue something else in the name of a fading flame, but without gratitude you will be slave to the same boom and bust cycles as before.  

Let us never lose sight of our gratitude.  For when we let the comfortable phase in, expectations come in too.  Like a revolving door: as gratitude leaves, entitlement comes in to fill the negative space.  Gratitude is the antidote to the comfortable, to the normal, to the monotony.  It is the spice that keeps everything fresh, the lens that brings clarity to the haze of going through the motions, and the oil that feeds the eternal flame of passion.  

Static Friction

Why is New Years always such a let down to so many people, myself included?  Maybe it’s because we couldn’t spend the day with the people we loved the most, or perhaps as we think about our hopes for the coming year we are constantly reminded of our shortcomings and missed goals from last one.  While I had some big aspirations for this year (and made some serious headway achieving those things), 2019 was largely a year of building foundations and finding the groove.  Already a year into touring with Hamilton, I felt that I was still very much learning how to fully function in a constantly changing environment.  

When I look back on my year, there is a clear divide between the goals I concretely pursued and the ones that largely fell by the wayside—a story of a hidden force.  I don’t remember much from High School Physics, but after learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion in an idealized, abstract world, you’re introduced to one of the “catch-all” forces that brings them into real life: Friction.  The interesting thing about Friction is that there are two types, Static Friction and Kinetic Friction, and while both resist motion, Static Friction is always greater than Kinetic Friction.  Simply, It takes more force to move a stationary object than it does to keep one moving, and this parallel is visible in everything from the process of developing good habits to the reason (I think) why big cities overflow with productive energy when compared to small towns.  

In 2019, I lived in 16 different cities for mostly three week stints, played just shy of 400 shows, reconnected with many friends along the way and lost a very dear one…and I only wrote three times.  Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions and myriad of experiences from this year, I found it extremely difficult to both set aside time for writing as well as collect my thoughts and channel them into something cohesive and meaningful.  And it shows: while I am an introverted person, I’ve found myself dipping into becoming even more of a hermit with very little to say—and the static friction persists.  

How does it manifest?  

For me, it involves an endless cycle of idealizing how things should play out, putting on the persona of having everything together and contributing only when I’m 100% sure of things, finding myself frustrated and flustered when things don’t crystallize physically as they do mentally, and then going back to the drawing board to try again with the weight of past shortcomings ever present in my mind.  

And how to overcome it?  

Overcoming this, however, is simple in theory: I merely need to ditch the persona of having everything together—this opens the door for things to play out differently and for me to remain flexible instead of triggering my perfectionist mindset.  

Why is it then so hard to do this?  

Sunk Costs.  After years of being raised in an environment that rewards and accredits those that have the answers and ignores those that don’t, I’ve subconsciously accepted this mindset as I’ve transitioned to the professional world—and with those years living by this philosophy comes the inevitable sunk costs of admitting it is flawed and starting over.  But it is necessary—and now, six paragraphs later, I realize that change is the only way to break through the static. 

So what is my New Years Resolution for 2020?  Simple: to overcome Static Friction.  To Reset in order to recognize the hurdles I’ve built.  To Reframe the narrative in order to eliminate the force keeping me stationary.  And then, to try again.  

Reset. Reframe. Retry. 

Happy 2020.

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.  


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.