I’ve been seeing interesting dreams lately. In the most recent episode, I played my sax in front of my friends and a large crowd at a dimly lit, yet spacious venue. Velvet draperies decorated the interior. I was a bit nervous at first, simply blowing air through the horn, playing a one-note melody, keeping it as simple as Miles Davis soloing in “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” Next thing I knew, the accompanying bassist, drummer, pianist, and I grooved organically to each other’s sounds and motion. My friends cheered us on as my solo intensified. I felt alive.
But it was all a dream. I woke up and thought, “When’s the last time I felt that alive?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had countless ecstatic moments over the years. The last time I felt that particular way was June 2012. My high school jazz band performed our final concert of the school year; for me, my last performance as a high school musician. For background, my jazz band dealt with serious conflict that had me and several other members wondering if we’d make it to the end altogether. Looking back, our band drama could have been a prequel to the 2014 film Whiplash… except rated PG and without any band mate getting into a major car accident on the way to a competition.
For this final concert, one of our numbers was Charles Mingus’s “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” Since we performed this tune at festivals and concerts all year long, and on top of the drama, we were so done. As planned, I was one of the soloists for the song.
Unlike previous performances, we had an alum on the drums since our regular drummer had quit before the concert. Despite all the drama that went down during my last year of jazz band, I decided to let go all of the stress and enjoy playing the music for one last time.
As planned, I improvised within the usual 16 bars or so. Then, without prior rehearsing, I started trading fours with the drummer. Akin to a conversation between two people, we played off of each other, anticipating what sounds would come out of us in reaction to our improvisation, culminating in the most energetic moment…ever. And, like the aforementioned dream from last night, I felt alive. Adrenaline rushing through my body, through my fingers pressing down on the keys, through my breath vibrating within the bell of my horn. My friends and family in the audience felt me, too.
When my solo ended, I was breathless, I was euphoric. The drama no longer mattered, everyone let loose, and we made it to the end. Everything turned out okay 🙂
…So I bring up that anecdote from almost five years ago (oohmygoodness I’m old!!) because I woke up this morning with that exact feeling from my last high school concert. Riding on the dreamy wave of excitement, I fixed myself a small breakfast and sat myself down in front of my piano. I sight-read some tunes from a book filled with piano arrangements from Studio Ghibli films. Being a lot more literate with treble clef than bass clef, I saw the sheet music for the first time and played with my right hand. I even sang along to the Japanese lyrics written within the bars while my fingers pressed on the black and white keys.
Although I bicker about being in the suburbs, I am thankful and privileged to have plenty of time to play the piano, to train for the marathon. Experiment in my creative side without the pressure of weekly deadlines or having to mold my words in dry academic language. Let my body digest food and water well enough before I run or workout without rushing myself in between work, school, and studying.
I’m working towards reaching that point of euphoria, but who knows how that will manifests? Someday, I hope to find a healthy balance of all these things that fulfill me.