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.

What Is Success?

Success does not require formal training.

Success does not equate to following the rules.

Success is not measured by recognition.

But this does not mean success is easy to achieve.

The problem with success is that we let others define what it means.  

We grow up constantly being compared to our classmates, our friends, and our family.

We watch as those who exhibit the most skill within the confines of any “test” are recognized.

We learn to aspire to the spotlight and to fear leaving without a legacy.

We are taught to blend in when the only sensible route for differentiation is to stand out.

We are rewarded for playing it safe only to learn later in life that those “rules” don’t matter.

This leaves us feeling betrayed by a system into which we put so much energy and trust.

But education is designed to teach us how to succeed in educational systems—it is self-serving.

And to let it (or anyone else) define what “success” means is silly.

This does not mean to disregard ideas from your trusted teachers, friends, and family.

This does not mean to do whatever you want, whenever you want.  

This does not mean to blindly follow your own path.

After all, success absolutely requires you to work hard—as hard as you possibly can.

Because achieving success is very difficult.

And the odds are not in your favor…But not for the reasons you might think…

You see, the reason success is scarce is because we get hung up on everything above.

We spend a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears chasing after something that will not fulfill us.

Clawing for recognition at all costs, and silently pained when it comes to others over us.  

Because we are rarely taught the truth:

Success in a career is simply earning a living doing something you love.  

Remember that: what YOU love, not what someone else defines as “successful.”

And while we’re at it, let’s discard the myth that more money or fame equals more success.

Doing the thing is hard enough, and it is worth celebrating when you get there.

Any recognition that comes along with it is simply a bonus, but it is not required or guaranteed.

And if you do happen to earn that living doing what you love, don’t stop there…

For success is not a static entity—you must constantly improve and differentiate yourself.

And you must reevaluate if the living you are earning is sufficient both for today and for tomorrow.

Take faith in yourself and the race you are running.

And don’t trouble your mind comparing yourself to others—instead learn from them along the way.

Appreciate their struggle and celebrate in their success as you would want them to celebrate in yours.  

Let’s redefine what it means to be successful in any career, one person at a time.

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.

Position is Key

There is a disconnect between the short term and the long term: we live day to day with different moods, roadblocks, and routines, yet our minds dream big with distant goals pushing us forward and giving us a reason to applaud or admonish ourselves each day.  How can we overcome unpredictability of the short term in order to realize our dreams in the long term?

I watched a video the other day on the Galton Board and was taken by the random, unpredictable paths of the balls producing the same predictable shape every time (in order to understand how it works, you only need to watch up to 2:30 on the video).  While it is practically impossible to predict the path of any one of the balls, bounces to the left and bounces to the right are equally likely-so most of them will fall directly below where they start.

This experimentally proven result is a metaphor for the seemingly random journey to achieving our goals.  While it is easy to obsess over each day hoping for a favorable bounce, it is far more beneficial to put time and effort into positioning ourselves to accomplish what we want and letting the inconsistencies and randomness of the day to day work themselves out in the long run.  Instead of worrying about what we cannot control, we should instead have faith that there are many possible paths to realize our goals (often paths we are consciously unaware of), despite any day to day setbacks we may encounter.

I did not have a clear path to success when I moved to New York last October, just some skills, some connections, and an audition.  While I still cannot fully comprehend how quickly things fell into place to lead me to Hamilton, I firmly believe moving to The City, taking every opportunity I could throughout my life to build a unique skill set, and making friends along the way put me in the position directly above where I wanted to be.  Even if things had not worked out, chances are I would have landed close to where I wanted to be, on a similar path to realizing my personal goals.

The next time you have a rough day and your personal frustration is building, I challenge you instead to take a moment, reaffirm what your long term goal is, and ask yourself “am I in the best possible position within my control to achieve this?” If the answer is no, then adjust your position accordingly to increase your odds; and if the answer is yes, take a deep breath and do not worry about setbacks of today knowing that the odds are in your favor.

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.  

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.”