Monday, October 27, 2014

How I started in Utah and ended in Missouri: A spiritual journey

Those that know me know that I've had quite the journey these last few years.  As mentioned in my previous post, I've seen a lot of the world.  In the past five years alone I've been to Guatemala, Kosovo, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii (if you count that as a foreign country, which I do). Compared to my classmates from my high school, I've had probably one of the most diverse careers so far.  All these experiences have led to me being here in Missouri, pursuing a master's degree in percussion performance.  My master's recital will be this Wednesday at 8:30pm at Whitmore Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Missouri Campus, you should all come, it will be one of the best recitals you have ever seen :)
Enough advertising for my recital (seriously, though, you should all come).  Back to the topic of this post: how did I end up in Missouri?  To best answer that question, I will explain how I ended up in Hawaii, because how I ended up there leads to our journey to Missouri.
Most people know that I received my bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University- Hawaii.  What most people don't know, however, is that I studied for a year at Snow College, a tiny associates degree college in Ephraim, Utah.  You see, my high school marching band went there for band camp every year, and as I got to explore the campus and familiarize myself with the music program, I felt that it was the perfect school for me to attend to pursue music.  They had a state of the art music facility (it still rivals the other facilities that I have seen), and I had good experiences with the staff for the most part.  I auditioned and received a $500 scholarship from the school of music, in addition to my full tuition academic scholarship given from the school in general.  As I read the conditions for the $500 scholarship, I had to enroll in private lessons, take all the music classes, etc, etc.  Basically, the scholarship would pay for my private lessons and ensemble fees, and none of it would go to anything else.  "That doesn't seem like much," I thought.  If I accepted the scholarship, I would be giving myself entirely to the music program.  I wasn't quite comfortable with it.  As my first semester approached and as I got to know the staff more, I felt that they were quite indifferent towards me.  I didn't feel valued as a musician and as a student.  I was beginning to doubt my decision to pursue music at Snow College.
For those who don't know, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.  The church has an educational program that provides adult religious classes that can be taken as part of a college curriculum, called "Institute."  Because Utah is predominantly Mormon, most colleges there have a huge institute building near campus, and the majority of students are enrolled in classes there.
A few weeks before the first day of my freshman year, I entered the Ephraim Institute to enroll in religion classes.  Earlier in the day I had visited with my music professors, and I again felt uneasy.  As I walked the halls of the institute building, however, I felt peace.  One teacher saw me, came up to me, and the first words out of his mouth were, "You look like a singer!"  I was a little surprised and I think I said, "Maybe?"  He proceeded to tell me about a choir that was sponsored by the institute called the LDSingers.  As he showed me videos and told me about the program, I felt a huge peace in my heart.  I knew instantly that I needed to do it.  I had not had much choir experience, but I felt that my previous music experience would help me.  So I planned to audition.
The first day of school came.  I attended my music classes and felt out of place.  Everyone seemed to be getting along, but I felt very uncomfortable there.  I auditioned for a large ensemble (did I mention that I was a clarinet major at the time?  That's probably important and I should have said that before, sorry), but was very uncomfortable and played poorly.  I got second to last chair in the lowest ensemble, which soon turned to the last chair after the first last chair dropped out of school.  When I auditioned for the LDSingers, however, I felt calm and reassured.  I was accepted into the choir and felt joy in my heart.
The rehearsal schedule for LD's and concert band conflicted, so I went to the dean of the school of music and asked if I could do different ensembles to satisfy the requirements.  When he asked why I wanted to join other ensembles, I told him it was because I had joined LD's.
I'll never forget his reaction.  
He instantly got upset and angrily told me that I had to quit LD's immediately.  I was scared.  I had never seen someone get angry at me over a personal decision that I had made.  I felt that I was owned by the school of music and that I had to act in a way that would please them, and if I did anything wrong then I would be punished.
I had a decision to make.  Join LD's and be comfortable and happy at the risk of dropping my music major, or continue with my plans of studying music at Snow College, drop LD's, and be uncomfortable, yet have security in my plans.
I fasted and prayed to God for guidance.  I explained my dilemma, and asked for a confirmation of my feelings.  As I asked whether I should stay with the LD's, I had an immense feeling of comfort and joy overwhelm me.  It was one of the most powerful feelings that I have ever had.  I knew that God's plan for me included me participating in LD's.  I could not deny it.  But this led to my next problem; dealing with the school of music.
I went to the registrar and changed my major to undeclared.  I enrolled in general classes and planned to graduate with an associates in general studies, and hoped that along the way I would figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  The registrar delivered some news that I had hoped I would never hear; I had to get the dean of the school of music to sign my drop from.
With a big lump in my throat, I entered the music building.  I was scared, but I knew I had to do it.  The first person that approached me was the clarinet professor.  She was upset that I had not shown up to rehearsal the night before, and told me that I was making a big mistake by joining LD's.  She told me that she thought I was upset about my audition and that I was doing this to spite the program.  I told her that it wasn't the audition, I knew that I could practice to get better, but I was quitting music because I genuinely wanted to do LD's, and I felt it was right.
Next came the dean of the school of music.  With fury in his voice, he told me that I had lost my scholarship (all $500, wooh!) and would be disciplined for even considering this decision, and that it was a terrible mistake to miss the previous nights rehearsal. With his voice raised he began to tell me of my immaturity and poor judgement.  Rather than argue, I handed him the drop form.  He sat down in a chair, sighed, and said, "Just tell me, why are you doing this?"
I said, "Well, to understand, are you Mormon?"
"Yes, I am in the bishopric of my ward."
"Then you can understand that I prayed, I fasted, and I KNOW that I have to do LD's."
He laughed at me.  "I don't think that God would tell you to sacrifice your education for a show choir."  This shocked me.  Here was a supposedly religious man, denying my personal revelations from my efforts at prayer.
I told him, "I never prayed about studying music here.  But God wants me to do LD's."
He laughed harder.  "Maybe so.  Maybe you're not meant to be a musician."  His laughter and scorn genuinely frightened me.  I needed to get out of there.
He signed the card and handed it to me.  The last words he said to me were, "Have a good life."
I responded, "Thanks, I will!"
(Side note:  Saying "Have a good life" to someone is one of the most hurtful things you can say.  Don't ever say it to anyone.  Please.)
This experience taught me some things that I will never forget.  One of these things is that when you are trying to follow the path that God sets for you, opposition will always follow, and it will come in ways that you least expect.  I can't judge this dean's life, but I know that in this instance he was acting as opposition to God's plan for me.  I felt persecuted by him, like the prophets of old were persecuted by the people they taught.
Another thing that I learned is to trust that God will deliver you.  If you have faith and follow God's plan for you, you will receive blessings.  LD's was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.  Although I was a pain for the directors and other choir members because of my emotional problems, it was what I needed to change my outlook on life and focus my goals towards better things.  Through LD's, I not only sang and participated in religious life daily, but I also made great friends and learned how to effectively cope with depression.  Had I not joined, I have no idea what would have happened.  What I do know, however, is that I wouldn't have learned that from the school of music.
I'm not saying that the music program at Snow College is bad.  Some very successful musicians have graduated from there.  It just wasn't right for me.
Although LD's was great for me, I still had to figure out what to do with my life.  I enjoyed my general classes, but none of them were intriguing enough to make a career out of.  I figured that I still had time to decide before my second year was up, which wouldn't actually happen for two extra years.
After my first year, I became a missionary for my church in Guatemala.  It was an amazing experience, made even richer from the experiences that I had with LD's.  I spent my time teaching and serving others.  I was lost in the work of the Lord, and it was one of the  most rewarding experiences I had ever done.
About a year in, I got an email from my cousin, who had done LD's with me, that told me that they had cut LD's from the institute program at Snow College.  When I read this, I decided that there was nothing for me at Snow College anymore, and that I would transfer schools after my mission.  So I talked to other missionaries, and I thought about studying at Brigham Young University- Idaho, where many of my friends were going.  But after the excitement of living with my friends died down, it didn't feel right.
I wrote an email to my father, telling him that I was lost and didn't know what to do with my education.  I asked for some help as to where to go and what to study.  He responded and told me that my love was music, so I should study music.  I was scared to try it again, but it felt right this time.  My parents also suggested that I study in Brigham Young University- Hawaii, where my brother currently was.  I prayed about it, and it felt right.  So I applied and got accepted, as well as offered a scholarship in the music department.  It felt good to have some direction in my education.
I finished my mission with fire, and was immediately thrust into the real world and started college.  The first few months were very hard to adjust, and I had a hard time getting into a practice routine.  I even told my professor that I wasn't sure that music was for me.  But he was patient with me.
The difference between the faculty at BYUH and Snow was that they cared about me at BYUH.  When I expressed my insecurities about studying music at BYUH, they showed their support and offered their guidance.  I felt like I was a valued student.  It was amazing to see and feel.
I should mention that I started studying percussion as well.  I decided that I didn't like the clarinet and that I would rather hit things.  My only percussion experience had been drumline and percussion ensemble in high school.  I played the piano well, so reading keyboard music wasn't a problem for me.
The first few weeks were excruciatingly difficult to jump into collegiate percussion straight from two years of not touching a drum.  It was frustrating for both me and my professor, but he was patient with me.  I will always love him for that.  I spent hours in the practice room learning a bongo beat (I now play some killer bongos, you should hire me for your next gig).
I then started learning the marimba.
I fell in love.
As I learned the musser/stevens grip, I started to find my true passion.  After my first semester, I decided that I wanted to go into music therapy, so I kept with my music classes with the plan of transferring to Utah State University.  I now excelled in music, thanks to my teachers and my dedication in the practice room.  I even won a concerto competition.  This made me want to be a performance degree and stay in Hawaii.
I had to make the decision to continue studying performance in Hawaii or to transfer to Utah State for music therapy.  I loved performance more and more, and loved Hawaii more and more.  My mother supported me staying in Hawaii, and my friends encouraged me to stay.  The decision was made infinitely easier when I was rejected from the music therapy program at USU.  So with joy, I announced that I would stay in Hawaii.
Many of you know the story from here.  I toured with BYUH in New Zealand and Australia.  I did an internship in Kosovo.  I explored the islands and played the steel pan in Kauai.  I excelled in percussion, with my favorite instruments being the marimba and the steel pan.  I had very successful junior and senior recitals, along with playing a concerto movement with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.  I got many gigs playing percussion in a variety of settings.  Music was life.
Right before applying to graduate schools, I got married (you can read about that in my last post).  I had been accepted to the University of Missouri, but Sarah still had to finish her degree.  Due to a variety of circumstances, we had to decide whether to postpone her education for me, or whether I should put off graduate school to let her finish her degree.  So, as you can probably guess, we fasted and prayed.  We felt that we needed to go to Missouri.  With the support of my amazing wife, we made plans to move.
So here we are.  I am about to give my graduate recital (you should all come), I teach private lessons, I am pursuing certificates in jazz studies and music entrepreneurship, I have had many gigs and performance opportunities here in Columbia, and I have been an overall successful percussionist.  Sarah has taken control of her career and works as a very successful freelance accompanist, private piano teacher, and has performed in many situations, including with the Missouri Symphony.  We are both successful musicians.
So to the faculty at Snow who told me that I would be a failure: YOU WERE WRONG.  I am a success.  My life is full of successes and rich experiences.  I couldn't be happier.  I am playing music that I love, I am married to the girl of my dreams, and I am seeing the world.
There are two morals to this story.  The first is to not let anybody tell you what you can or cannot do.  You are the master of you life, you control it.  Do what you want and what you feel is right.  You know what will make you happy, so don't let anybody else get in the way of it.
The second moral is to trust God and have faith.  For much of my life I didn't know where I would go, but I always had the reassurance that I was being spiritually guided.  Faith is like walking a few steps into the darkness, and only after we take those steps will the path be lit for us.  If we trust God and have faith, He will lead us to where we need to go, even if we don't know where that is.

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