Category Archives: Culture and Society

My Personal Journey As a Pianist, Part 4

September 24, 2018

Culture and Society / Piano Performance

When you grow up on a tropical island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, there is a part of you that will always live there no matter how far you go and how different your life becomes. I used to spend hours sitting on the beach, lost in my thoughts as waves crashed onto the shore.

When I left the island, I left my ocean-the place where I went so seek solace, comfort, and joy. I boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight when I was 17 years old with my tear-stained face. I said goodbye, begrudgingly and willingly. I knew that my whole life was about to change.

For a long time, I walked this earth without my ocean. I did not have a place where I felt grounded and safe, where I could feel calm and at peace.

Looking back, it was this emptiness I felt that drew me to the piano.

The piano became my ocean.

At an old church building where I once worked in Charlotte, NC, there was an upright Yamaha piano in the sanctuary that I discovered when I was wondering around on my break one day. Upon inquiring, the folks who ran that church told me that I was welcome to play it whenever I wanted as long as there wasn’t anyone using it to prepare for a service. I took their permission and ran with it.

I must have spent hundreds of hours–late nights, early mornings, late afternoons, evenings, and all points in between–playing that piano. I felt so safe sitting there, and it inspired me to play my own music. I composed the bulk of my first album “Seahorses” at that very spot.

From a sonic perspective, the piano can be as thunderous and as gentle as the ocean. There can be so much power with the touch of every finger. I could lose myself in its undulating rhythms and feel every bit of the emotion I poured into it coming back to me.

I found the piano at a time when I needed it, and at a time when I was in a dark place in my life.

I heard its crashing waves, and it heard my loneliness.

This instrument became my guiding force, my sense of safety, and my private haven from everything in my life that was going so wrong.

The piano continues to be all of these things and more.

I still miss the ocean, but thankfully, through the highs and lows in my life, I found something just as mighty and meaningful that sustains my spirit.

I sit at a piano, and I feel greater than and better than who I was before. I sit there for hours dreaming my dreams and lost in my thoughts. All of this crashes into me every time, and the air and space around me gets filled with sound.

Life doesn’t get better than this.

-Roqué



My Personal Journey as a Pianist, Part 3

September 16, 2018

Culture and Society / Intention / Piano Performance

There is one word that sums up the vast majority of my time as a pianist.

Practice.

Yes, lots and lots and lots of practice.

There is more practice than the time spent actually composing music, writing lyrics, being creative, and performing. It is time spent getting a fingering sequence to sound effortless on the piano, hours learning a new piece by playing it over and over again until it sounds and feels right, and fingering exercises to maintain and enhance the flow and dexterity of movement on the piano.

This is the part of being a musician that most people would find dull and uninteresting. The constant repetition of music and singing during practice would drive most people insane. It’s also not particularly glamorous. I actually like to practice in my pajamas and under the most mundane and comfortable conditions possible. If I am practicing a new finished piece that I am excited about, I will sit there for HOURS meticulously working on several details until I am playing it just right.

It is ironic that I put so much time into practicing now when it was the repetition of nursery songs when I was young that pushed me away from learning how to play. The difference was that, in time, I grew more patient, and I eventually recognized the deep value of practice.

Sure, practice makes perfect, as the cliché goes, but it’s actually about more than just getting better at playing. Over the years, I have found that those rare moments of inspiration-those lightning bolts of a new song that light a fire under you-they would not happen without the tedium and persistence of practice. The repetition and memorization buys you the physical space and time to seek out musical textures and understand them. You build this understanding into a personal catalogue in your musical brain.

It’s also like going to the gym for your fingers. You build muscles and muscle memory every time you repeat something. Your hands get stronger. Your body grows to know the rhythms, ebbs, flows, highs, and lows. Your ear grows more refined and selective.

Practice is the act of growing what you know, of cultivating an instinctual and multi-sensory language that only you can understand.

I practice every day, and I have done so for many years. If I do not manage to play on a piano for some reason, I try to play another instrument. My ukulele and cello enrich me as much as my first love.

For those of you who might be wondering, my piano practice is built on a foundation of fingering exercises from the book, Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises for the Piano. I have a vintage, old, and worn-out copy that I have used forever and a new one that I lend out to aspiring new pianists or for travel.  I have done these exercises so much that they feel more like meditation to me. I focus on the flow of movement of my fingers and the rest of the world fades out into the background.

I love to practice on the piano just as much as I love performing on it. Along with writing, it has served as the deeper infrastructure for all of my creative work.

I do it as constantly, vigilantly, and lovingly as possible.

-Roqué


My Personal Journey As a Pianist, Part 2

September 9, 2018

Culture and Society

I dream of Liberace.

Ok. Not really. But I do dream of what he represents.

Pure, unbridled showmanship. The man was a star!!!

Flashy. Daring. Unabashed. Not to mention his outstanding musicianship!

When I first started performing (like in public and on a stage), I was certainly no Liberace. For my first time at an open mic, I played and sang the first song I ever wrote on my own. Of course, this was months after I actually started writing it. I practiced playing it like crazy. When I finally got on stage, the shy version of me took over, and it was over before it began .  .  .

I started by saying, “Hi, umm, I’m just gonna play a little song for you tonight. And stuff? I hope you like it?”

Ugh. I did that annoying thing where everything I said sounded like a question. I did not own that stage and claim it for myself. Instead, I took out a loan with a high interest rate and rented it for five minutes.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. But somehow, I think it was.

Now, in hindsight, it’s okay that my first time playing on a stage made me look incontinent. It’s actually part of what made me who I am. That first time was at a venue called The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC, where I once lived. I would go to many more open mics on that stage later on. Eventually, I would move to Nashville, TN and start doing open mics at places like Cafe Coco and Douglas Corner Cafe. Then, I would play my own shows at places like 3rd and Lindsley, the Exit/In, and BB Kings Blues Bar.

If I didn’t let that shy little Asian take that stage for the first time and feebly go where I was terrified of going, I would not be where I am now.

An important part of my journey as a performing pianist was my willingness to keep going and keep trying.  If there is one thing I have learned from history and in life, it’s that deep, substantive change does not happen overnight. It takes its own time across many years to happen.

I wasn’t always going to be that shy little person on stage, and I’m very happy about that. Sometimes, I like to imagine that the shy version of myself now sits in the audience staring back at me as I play. (Looking like he did a prim and proper #2 at the appropriate facilities, no less.)

He’s smiling and beaming proudly.

Liberace, here I come.

-Roqué

My Personal Journey as a Pianist, Part 1

September 2, 2018

Culture and Society

This post is the first instalment of a series of remembrances.

I have been wanting to document my journey as a pianist and a musician for posterity. People ask me all the time how long I’ve been playing, and I always give the same answer. Well, this time, I want to go into a little more detail about how I evolved as a performing musician. There will be places and faces named and information on how I developed (and continue to develop) my technique. Someone once told me that I should write about what I know.

Performing at the piano is what I know.

I remember being 7 years old. My parents enrolled me in a small piano school on the island of American Samoa where I grew up. I was ushered into a room that had several desk stalls, and each stall had a small electronic keyboard. There were what I felt at the time to be oppressively dull lessons in which I had to press the keys down in a continual motion OVER and OVER again. Looking back, I can understand the formative value of what I was doing, but it was incredibly boring nonetheless.

In time, I progressed into simple children’s songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, but we had to play these songs OVER and OVER again.  By this point, a few months into the lessons, I was OVER IT! I begged my Mom to stop taking me. I remember the look of disappointment on her face when this happened. As a child in a small village in the Philippines, she did not have the opportunity to learn how to play such a glorious instrument, and she relished  the notion that her own children could hone such a gift. This was not to be the case. My older sister Lette was also enrolled to take lessons, but she was bored out of her mind as well. We wanted to be kids running free, playing games, and getting dirty. We lived on a gorgeous tropical island for goodness sake! It was always more fun to be outside.

It is interesting how my home environment as a child inadvertently prepared me to become a musician. My parents loved playing their cassette tapes and vinyl LP’s. My dad was always keen to have a top of the line stereo system that came with large speakers. He often played the Beatles while my Mom played lots of Elvis. Abba, Frank Sinatra, and Englebert Humperdinck were also on continuous rotation.

There was ALWAYS music playing. It was part of the fabric of our every day lives.

Being the third child out of four also meant that I was subjected to the musical tastes of my older siblings. My brother, in his teenage years, LOVED 80’s heavy metal. I shared a bedroom with him growing up, and he was always blasting music from bands like Def Leppard, Metallica, Megadeth, and Guns N’ Roses.  My sister was all about the boys. New Kids on the Block and Boys to Men were some of her staples.  There was plenty of R&B and pop music blaring all the time.

My own musical tastes basically revolved around catchy pop music. Culture Club’s album “Color By Numbers” was the first album I begged my Mom to buy for me.  Wham (and later George Michael’s solo work) and Michael Jackson were also big favorites.  Sting’s solo album “.  .  . Nothing Like the Sun” and The Cure’s “Disintegration” were also on heavy rotation on my own stereo.

Clearly, all kinds of sounds, styles, and textures hovered around me across my childhood and adolescence.  My family unknowingly cultivated a deep appreciation for the art of song in my life.  The simple act of listening intently to music and the daily practice/enjoyment of it made such a profound difference to me. This would help me develop my own ear for melody, rhyming, tonality, and rhythm.

The rest, with some curious stops, starts, turns, and pivots, would unravel from there .  .  .

-Roqué

Roque’s Reading Recommendations

August 26, 2018

Culture and Society

This week, I thought I would share some of the more interesting writings that I have discovered online from a few of my favorite bloggers. I am always on the lookout for insightful information that can give me either a fresh perspective or practical information that improves some process or practice that I am curious about.

For starters, I recently shared my thoughts about social media and the challenges it creates against living a more present and less distracted life. One of my favorite writers is a blogger by the name of Cal Newport. He is currently a computer science professor at Georgetown University and has long been a lone voice against the pitfalls and dangers that are inherent in social media engagement. His most recent post looks at the growing awareness against the power of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Part of the truth, as I see it, is that we should not wait until social media becomes a much bigger systemic problem before we take action and make substantial changes. Here is the link to the post:

A Brief Summary of the Social Media Reform Movement

Up next is a post from someone who I have followed for a long time. He is the creator of the blog zenhabits.net. In this post, he writes about how to be mindful ALL OF THE TIME–yup, for as much as possible and as long as possible every day. This is no easy feat, but it is a worthwhile pursuit for those of you who long to live a more meaningful life that is completely aligned with your values and goals. A life of mindfulness is a life of intention, and he gives us a simple tutorial on how to make this happen.

How To Be Mindful All the Time

Up next is a recommendation that came from Josh Spector’s For the Interested E-mail Newsletter, which is a carefully curated newsletter I subscribe to that includes informative readings about balanced productivity and creativity. This is a post from author and blogger André Chaperon. It discusses the underlying process behind what it means to truly learn something new. Check it out:

How To Get Better At Learning (And Leveling Up)

There are numerous other articles I could recommend, but these three are good for starters. If you know of a well-written and thoughtful article online that I might enjoy, please let me know in the comments. I geek out on this kind of stuff.

Happy Reading!

-Roqué

A Payment Given is a Gift of Appreciation

August 19, 2018

Culture and Society

There is an old adage, or maybe it’s a cliche, that says:

The best things in life are free.

I will not argue whether this is true or false, but I am willing to say that in many instances some of the best things in life are worth the price of admission.

As a musician and content creator, I’ve come across numerous people who always want something for free. I get that. Many people cannot afford a lot of what’s out there. The cost of living in America and most places in the world is perpetually on the rise, and too many people do not have the tools and wherewithal to handle their money wisely.

Nonetheless, there is a problem with always wanting and getting something for free. It devalues the service or product that is given. It discounts the valuable time, thought, and effort needed to learn the skills to make the service or product viable.

Okay then, so what?

Well, sure, you get something for free and save yourself money and/or effort. However, expecting to get everything for free as much as possible is downright selfish.

Yup, selfish.

Just think about it. If everything that was truly valuable was free, then those talented and visionary people behind creating all of this value would be poor and penniless.

Where is the fairness in that?

This is not to say that greed does not happen on the other side because it does. Corporate greed, for example, exists when behemoth companies can monopolize an industry and hike up their prices (while obliterating localized competition in the process).

I’m also not saying that you should not try to get a bargain. If something is on sale, then it’s a win-win. The sellers still get compensation while you get what you want at a more affordable price.

The key concept I stay mindful of is to maintain a willingness to give money toward a product or service that has meaningful value to me, regardless of the price.  If it makes me happy or is helpful to me in some substantial way, then I am comfortable paying the full price for the standard of care and quality that I want.  By doing so, I also recognize the depth of effort taken by the creators/visionaries I am buying from. I am appreciating their work and contributing back to its fullness.

How about a new adage that can become a valuable cliché?

The best things in life do not have to be free.

-Roqué

Plastic Is a Worldwide Problem That All of Us Must Face

August 12, 2018

Culture and Society

I live in a rural county in the state of Tennessee here in the United States. Every week or so, I take our recyclable materials such as plastic, cardboard, and paper to our local recycling center.  It was recently announced that plastic will no longer be accepted by this same facility. Since then, I have had to truck my plastic recycling to other counties. I recently asked someone who works in local government why they stopped accepting plastic. He gave me his answer in one word:

China.

Yup, China, but his answer was an oversimplification of a convoluted, complicated, and distressing situation.

Plastic, as we all know, is now as ubiquitous as the air we breathe and the water we drink. It, or some form of it, is exists in virtually any object that humans use on a daily basis. The computer I am typing these words on has plastic in it. I am wearing plastic house slippers right now. Machines made with plastic parts were used to manufacture and deliver the clothes you are wearing. The cars we drive have numerous plastic parts. We all have used bottled water, headphones, cell phones, shopping bags, diapers, pens, and so on and so forth .  .  .

PLASTIC.IS.EVERYWHERE.

Now here is the terrible part. Plastic is generally made of chemicals that microbes do not like to consume. As such, there are different estimates ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 years regarding how long it takes for most plastic to decompose and biodegrade. When I stand in the middle of a grocery store, I look at all of the plastic containers and packaging, and it deeply pains me to know that ALL of it could still be around for thousands of years to pollute our land and oceans.

According to Slate.com, scientists have done studies that project the lifespan of a plastic grocery bag to be 500 to 1,000 years. Since these bags have only been around for about half a century, it is difficult to pin down a specific number. Nonetheless, those projections are sobering indeed.

Let’s take this full circle shall we? This brings us to China. 

Yup, China. Since 1988, China has processed plastic from 43 countries and roughly 90% of plastic exports from around the world. In November of 2017, China announced that it will no longer do this. This means that everyone else has to figure out how they are going to deal with the disposal and recycling of their own plastic.  It has been projected that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of trash and plastic will have no place to be processed. (See Sources below.)

Yup. 111,000,000 metric tons.

I just want to cry.

My little recycling facility in my county is feeling the repercussions of China’s decision. Chances are that you are also feeling them in your neck of the woods.

I do not mean to be all “doom and gloom” about this, but seriously, THIS IS AN ENORMOUS PROBLEM!!!

What the hell are we going to do to get ourselves out of this mess we made?

Into the future, I will continue to post about this topic. I want to discuss actionable, attainable, and sustainable solutions, and I am open to ideas.

I will not shut up about this. Please take a moment to ponder what I have written. Let it all sink in. 

The next time you stand in the middle of a grocery store, think about all of this and see for yourself how we are continually contributing to this problem.

Let’s start taking responsibility and do something about it.

-Roqué

SOURCES:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2007/06/will_my_plastic_bag_still_be_here_in_2507.html

https://www.wired.com/story/china-wont-solve-the-worlds-plastics-problem-any-more/

I Live My Life In a Generosity Loop

August 5, 2018

Culture and Society / Intention

Over the last few years, I have been been personally cultivating what I call a generosity loop. Basically, this term refers to the constant flow of giving that occurs in my life. This is how it works:

__________________________________________________________________

Part 1:

I give my money to a cause I believe in or

I give my time and attention to someone or

I give my belongings as gifts (or I purchase new gifts to give) toward something or someone that does not benefit me personally in the least.

Part 2:

I do all of this just for the sake of giving and with no strings attached.

Part 3:

All of it, in one way or another, comes back to me somehow.

Part 4:

Refresh and repeat.

__________________________________________________________________

I am well aware that all of this sounds new-agey, mystical, preachy, and weird, but this is a phenomenon that has consistently played itself out in my life over and over again. In fact, the MORE THAT I GIVE, the better off I become.

In the world of science, in which all phenomena must be questioned, proven, and exacting, this aligns with Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion which states the following:

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

In other words, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s simple physics, and I find that it literally applies to every action, intention, and movement in the universe.

Without a doubt in my mind, it applies to generosity. Over the last year, I’ve made the monthly intention to give my money, gifts of physical objects, or my time to something that does not directly benefit me in any way whatsoever.  I carried out any of the three options of Part 1 of the generosity loop. Within the same year, I was approved for EVERY scholarship that I applied for toward school, and I even received other school funding that I wasn’t even anticipating. You can call this coincidence, but I see it as the intention that you put out into the world being reciprocated.

Energetically, I strongly believe that you get back what you give. People who horde their money and belongings and share nothing will stay closed off from the world. If you do not let anything out, nothing is able to come back in.

To be clear, one must engage in a generosity loop wholeheartedly and gladly accept the likelihood that you will get nothing in return. The objective is to give for the sake of giving and to help others. Do so without any expectations whatsoever.

There is one major bonus that comes with living your life inside of a generosity loop. In my case, it simply feels good to give and help others. It is deeply gratifying to know that I made someone smile or made someone’s life a little less heavy. With all of the suffering and misery that exists in the world, generosity is a gift that gives to everyone involved. It is a classic win-win scenario.

Please seriously think about doing this yourself. See if you can live inside of a generosity loop. What may or may not happen might surprise you .  .  .

-Roqué

Learn From the Past But Live in the Present

July 29, 2018

Culture and Society / Intention

The mind will wander where it will. It will take you back to times that may have been happier. Traumas of the past may haunt you. Sadness born many moons ago may still dwell among newer ones.

The most frustrating thing about the past is that it cannot be changed. There is no time-travel machine that exists. We cannot undo past transgressions and mistakes, but what often happens is that we beat ourselves up about them long after they have happened. They become awkward bedfellows–spooning you comfortably with their familiar presence, but holding you a little too tightly.

There is a basic truth that I have come to know. If you keep your mind stuck in the past, then you will always live there, and any way that you look at it, living in those places for very long can undermine your efforts to be well and better in the present moment.

In my case, I grew up on a lush and breathtaking tropical island in the South Pacific Ocean called American Samoa. Do I miss the sandy beaches that border the glistening and warm turquoise water? Do I miss the thunderous sound of the ocean as waves dive willingly into the land? Do I miss the smell of ocean salt that is exhaled by the ocean’s breathing? Do I miss the tropical shades of green that adorn every corner of the island–in every swaying coconut tree and along every different color of hibiscus flowers?

Yes. I MISS IT ALL.

There is a part of me that wishes I could go back. It was the magical home of my childhood, and it feels like it was all a dream–a gorgeous deception my mind devised just to fool me.

However, in the present moment, I live deep in the hills of middle Tennessee. It is an entirely different landscape for the most part, and at first, it paled in comparison to what enchanted me as a child.  Because I kept reverting to my past, I created an impossible standard that prevented me from appreciating what I have in the present moment.

Where I live now, my house resides deep in a hollow. Green hills rise steeply on all sides. Breezes ripple through the leaves of trees–moving in undulating waves across the treetops. There are trees everywhere. Birds of many varieties swoop and sing outside my window. In the absence of an ocean, a gentle fog blankets these hills in the early mornings, saturating the landscape with its richness.

This is my home in this moment, and it is so beautiful here.

Once in a while, my mind wanders back to my island of the past, but in this moment, I am embraced completely by the landscape of the present.

My past taught me to appreciate my surroundings. This is a lesson I put into practice to this day.

Is there a part of your past that keeps you from enjoying what you have in this moment?

This is a good question that is always worth asking.

-Roqué

 

 

 

A Morning Routine Will Ground Your Life.

July 22, 2018

Culture and Society / Intention

Over the last few months, I’ve been honing in on getting down a regular daily routine. I am close to getting one down, but there is still much to tweak. Beyond that, I am working out a simple weekly routine as well.

What’s the point? Well, if we only have a finite number of days to live our lives, then we only have a finite amount of time to get all the dreams and tasks done that are meaningful to us. A routine helps us accomplish goals at a steady and consistent rate. It goes along with doing a little something every day toward a project or personal goal.

Let’s use my goals as an example. Here are three goals of mine:

1. Progressively improve my piano skills.

2. Write more and write better.

3. Keep my body weight at a healthy and stable number.

So, how do I incorporate these goals into a daily routine?

I do something about them every morning after I wake up.

1. In the morning, I play on my electric keyboard (at a quiet level so that I do not wake anyone up) for at least 15 minutes in the morning. I always start off with finger dexterity exercises and then I explore a little with chords or progressions I am not as familiar with.

2. I write a paragraph in a daily journal every morning, and I am now starting to write my blog posts in the morning as well. Practice makes perfect, and being able to compose my thoughts in smooth, engaging, and coherent ways is what this helps me do.

3. After I wake up and before I eat anything, I step on my scale to check my weight. This acts as a reminder to keep doing what I do to stay healthy.

In addition to these three practices, I also spend some time with my cat as well as give him his morning feeding.  Whether it is water or coffee, I also make sure that I start to take in fluids to nourish my body at the start of every day. The next addition to the morning routine will be adding some sort of simple physical exercises that involve some weight training and stretching.

Here are some other suggestions for morning rituals that relate to personal wellness:

  • Sitting outside on a balcony, deck, or backyard to have a quiet moment surrounded by nature.
  • A morning shower to feel cleansed and refreshed.
  • Two or more minutes of mindful breathing and meditation.
  • Saying or writing down something for which you are thankful.
  • Making your bed to create a sense of calm and order in your bedroom.

There isn’t much to it all as long as you keep your rituals simple and easy to accomplish. It may also help to wake up earlier to give yourself more time to do them.

When I start my day with my morning rituals, I move forward with a sense of accomplishment. I create a foundation for my day that involves practices that make me feel good and stronger.  It gives me a sense of groundedness knowing that I have addressed my own wellness and inner desires first and foremost. If the rest of my day becomes miserable, I will at least have accomplished my daily rituals, and as such, I do not feel so bad.

Think about creating morning routines/rituals for yourself. How would you like to start your day?  Start every day well and make it your own.

-Roqué