when prom askings become engagements

4 years ago, we were all asking each other to winter formal and prom.

as of now, ~10% of my high school graduating class is engaged (some folks to each other, but most to the significant others they met in college)

while i’m happy for my classmates, it’s a distanced happiness, for three reasons:

first, i haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from my high school, and second, i certainly don’t even remotely understand what it’s like to be in a relationship in which engagement is the proper next step.

third, it further emphasizes to me just how different i was from most people from my high school. the fascinating and rare experience of stepping out of the world in which i grew up — a world full of 2nd-generation asian americans — catalyzed a discipline i only later understood to one called theoria (thank you, Susan McWilliams!). however, while i deem it worthwhile, it was undeniably challenging and isolating.

there’s an unique guilt that comes from disliking my private christian high school. there’s the vague religious guilt (“if you’re so christian why did you dislike your christian community and why do you feel uneasy about some of its religious teachings?”), and the biting guilt that comes with being the first child of chinese immigrants (“mom and dad are paying so much for me to go here i should try to like it more WHY DON’T I LIKE IT MORE”).

i’ll share a snippet of my Watson application essay:

My tiny, pudgy hands meticulously sorted the 500 puzzle pieces sprawled before me, until Lin ah yi’s voice broke my trance. “Look at Sophia’s focus — she’s only 4 but she could become an incredible scientist. I recently heard that Stanford admitted an international puzzle competition winner — that could be Sophia!” she gushed, framing something in which I had intrinsic interest in terms of its utility for the venerated college application process.

Lin ah yi had welcomed my family to the US when we immigrated from Singapore 3 months prior. Although my parents had always known the importance of academic achievements, their arrival into the immigrant population of Cupertino, California threw them into the frenzy of ensuring that every academic and extracurricular opportunity was given to me, so that I could eventually seize admission into globally-renowned universities.

The narrative of success touted by surrounding immigrant families focused intensely on measurable outcomes that are relevant in the college application process and directly feed into the most stable, prestigious careers in engineering or medicine. This narrative is unsurprising; after all, most immigrant parents endured and succeeded in hyper-competitive education systems, relied on their academic abilities to escape unimaginable poverty, and were permitted to immigrate to the US because they possessed serviceable technical skills. However, when I was in 8th grade, my parents noticed some unhealthy manifestations of the narrow narrative of success that was perpetuated by my peers from my church, public school, and musical communities. Thus, they transferred me to a private high school.

Although my parents intended to remove me from intense academic and extracurricular pressures, I experienced a growing, irreconcilable tension between the values of my former community of predominantly middle-class, 2nd-generation Chinese-American peers, and the values of my new community of wealthier, non-immigrant Caucasian classmates. Before transferring, I had always experienced a disconnect between myself and my childhood friends, most of whom, due to cultural and familial influences, perceived the value of an experience to be primarily derived from its utility in the college application process.

However, transferring schools provided me with the unique opportunity to view these deeply-ingrained values from a distance, and this unique opportunity further prompted me to explore my own educational values…

attending my private christian high school gave me the invaluable opportunity to think, for myself, about what my educational values are — values that reflect, more broadly, my perspectives on success and how one’s time (and life) should be spent. however, i think i ultimately felt too different from most people in my high school to really internalize aspects of many admirable values that i witnessed. i think i had a radically different hs experience than most of my peers, and my inner world developed very differently.

i wish all my friends well, and will always remain distantly admiring of and curious about them.

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when prom askings become engagements

The Software Engineer’s Job Hunt

As of two days ago, I have finally finished up my search for a full-time job by signing an offer for a software engineer role in NYC. I’m incredibly excited for this new chapter in a new city that will take place a little under a year from now, but the past three months were definitely not without their hardships, doubts, blows to esteem and confidence. But they also weren’t without a lot of support, encouragement, surprises, and gratitude.

As many people know, the tech industry recruits students in their last year of school at an obscenely early time. For many, once they’re back in school, they find themselves at a career fair by the second week. I’m not so sure why this is the case, but it doesn’t hurt to assume to start early in applying to jobs as they open up. For me, I had been interning at the same company for the past three summers, and I had generally been risk-averse in venturing to try other places for internships. As a result, knowing that the next job opportunity will be my first full-time job, I felt the need to try applying for other places and to consider opportunities elsewhere.

This took the form of the usual endless online job applications, but it also took the form of me deciding in April to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration in October, a conference geared towards women in tech. To put it simply, there are workshops and speakers just like any other conference, but it is also a massive 3-day career fair. It also took the form of me reaching out to recruiters that I had been in contact with previously, asking to start my interview process as early as possible. I found myself doing phone interviews in my workplace’s conference rooms.

As I kept putting myself out there, I kept inching ever so slowly towards my insecurities–insecurities that have been inside of me ever since I took my first computer systems class in college: not being technically competent enough. I remember spending day and night in a friend’s room, fixing bugs only to have created more. We would go to sleep at 5am with me crashing on his futon, just to wake up at 7am to continue this quest of trying until we felt like we had done all the work we could do to even pass the first starter tests, not even bothering to check our work even further. I have a distinct memory of one of these days where the fluorescent bedroom light kept us awake and alert, until one of our friends swung by asking “Do you all want to head out to lunch?” Not even knowing it was already noon, I walked out of the dorm only to be greeted by the warm California sun. This left me with feelings of frustration (frustration that I have been working for hours and I had just gotten past getting the code to compile), dread (dread knowing that 1000 bugs were waiting for me after lunch), and sadness (sadness that I wouldn’t feel fulfilled after even solving one bug, because there was much more to be done).

Rather than feeling motivated, this class ultimately crippled me. In subsequent classes, I put off opening the assignment until I had a full day free to work on it, which kept me from visiting office hours early on or to even get past the know-how of setting up the program. Bugs leave me pulling my hair out and tears coming down; looking back, it seems a bit ridiculous, but it is the feeling of running towards the finish line only to find that you’ve been running in place on a treadmill the entire time. When I did conquer those bugs and those assignments, a wave of relief washes over me. It’s the sort of fulfillment of reaching a destination, but not the fulfillment of the journey itself. The joy that accomplishments brought me were incredibly fleeting, and they left me questioning whether I was worthy.

Like I said before, I worked at the same company for three summers. My internal reasoning as to why I didn’t venture out to other companies is that this company has much more data on me from my internship performances, and it’s been very comfortable. It’s okay to be comfortable, but at the same time interviews reminded me all too much of those homework assignments I’ve consistently struggled with. Not being able to prove myself in 45 minutes a company allotted for me was a door shut in my face because of my abilities.

But if there’s anything I learned, in order to overcome these sorts of fears and insecurities, I have to face them head on.

These interviews–yes, they were brutal. There were many times I hated myself for not studying up on that one concept or not explaining myself enough to the interviewer. But I’m learning to take pride in the small things, and I’m proud that I put myself out there for failures and successes! Things looked really bleak for a few months, and I had turned into someone who couldn’t stop thinking or talking about jobs because of how stress-inducing it was. I had learned to love a company to only be pummeled by two phone interviews. I eventually learned to not really get my hopes up because… it wouldn’t pan out most likely. But the patience and work definitely paid off in the end. I did end up with offers for places that I knew I would be grateful to be working at, and I’m forever appreciative of these opportunities.

Now, some key things/tips I would tell myself for the future, especially when I get unmotivated/stuck in searching for a new career:

  1. It never hurts to start early. You’re never too early to apply or interview. If anything, they may tell you they’re not ready to accept your application, but at least then you know when they would be.
  2. Do it (as in the job hunt/interviewing) for the people. Do it to meet people who are seasoned and well into their careers. Do it to hear about their passions and why they believe in the company.
  3. Do it to learn more about the company. The company is rarely what is said about it in gossip magazines. You can almost think of a company as a celebrity; you would only know by seeking out the truth yourself. I had the opportunity to interview with a company that peers tended to avoid because of word around its culture. It turned out to be the company where I fell in love with the people, trumping all things I had heard about the company through the grapevine. In fact, 3 offers came from places I would’ve never thought I’d see myself at.
  4. Do it to negotiate. There are companies that may not negotiate your offer without a competing offer. Companies are not like college; your offer is not one dimensional like an acceptance letter. There are many conditions attached to your offer letter, and you should do all you can to leverage it to your advantage.
  5. It’s okay to leverage your connections. Ultimately, you do want as much data as you can find in this information-saturated world. If you know someone working at the company you’re interviewing at, don’t be afraid to reach out! Of course, express your gratitude/appreciation and don’t take them for granted!
  6. The interview is very much you interviewing the company as it is the company interviewing you. If there’s anything I learned from the few work experiences I’ve gotten, prestige and impact could mean nothing to you if you’re not excited and happy to come into work. Make sure wherever you go, you go knowing that you will be respected and welcomed with open arms unapologetically!
  7. Establish your own priorities. Maybe you want to stay close to family. Maybe you want to be in the middle of the tech scene. Maybe you want to try a new city. You don’t need to be influenced by other people’s choices if that’s not in your best interest.
  8. Don’t forget to be proud of yourself. You need to be your biggest cheerleader.

Amidst this experience, my greatest takeaway can be traced to an interview where he asked “Do you love to code?” And I said “yes.” Never, never, never in a million years would I have thought I could say that genuinely without any hesitation. This experience on top of the years taking CS classes and stumbling and picking myself back up half-heartedly have led me to not necessarily be confident in my skills, but rather to be excited what I can build and create in the next few years. I do truly now see computer science as a craft, allowing me to build something for my needs. In this past quarter for school, I built a web scraping program to grab nationalities of actors and I implemented an image analysis algorithm, and I’ve never felt more empowered in tech. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so relieved? happy? full of joy? to have arrived at this stage.

Again, I don’t want to forget the ton of support and love I’ve received throughout this journey. A job is a job, but this is my first opportunity and I so appreciate the sincerity people took to my ponderings and worries. To all the people who patiently listened, who gave their 2 cents, who talked to me about their work experience, who believed in me… I really can’t be where I am without you.

2018 is going to have a lot of changes, and I’m so ready.

I do recognize the ton of privilege I have from my track record of growing up in a well-educated household, having a robust high school education, as well as my college education and previous internship experience. To even have interview opportunities is a huge opportunity that many others don’t get. This post is meant to be a reflection of my personal experience the past few months to better inform my future endeavors and for anyone else who might find this even remotely useful.

The Software Engineer’s Job Hunt

A Rambling of Thoughts: GHC

I am a strong woman in tech

I am a strong woman in tech

I am a strong woman in tech

I kept telling myself that as I waded my way through the monstrosity called the career fair at the Grace Hopper Conference just last week.

I skirted around the fabulous booths of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, because well unlike many others who were throwing their resumes at recruiters and engineers, I had already gotten rejected. But I couldn’t stand the awkward air when one of those recruiters made eye contact with me multiple times as I walked past, and I couldn’t help but go talk to her. As she took photos of my resume and asked me logistical questions of when I would graduate and where else I’m interviewing, I couldn’t help but think “She’s gonna find out that the person she spent 10 minutes with has already been put in the throw away pile.”

I went to other company booths mainly to ask questions about their engineering culture, what’s been their favorite part of the company, etc. All those questions where you would hear the same words used over and over again.

“We have such an open culture!”

“We’re incredibly collaborative”

“Work-life balance here is amazing”

But I still asked these questions in hopes of finding somewhere where I could feel more at home. My previous experience in tech had pushed me and I have come out with the joys of feeling accomplished for finding bugs and fixing them, but that feeling wouldn’t last beyond that. I couldn’t bring myself to make an elevator pitch, the way many others would simply whip out their resume and start listing off their technical passions and their accomplishments. I feel incredibly indebted to the people I have gotten support from, and I still struggle to really believe that I am a strong woman in tech.

I am a strong woman in tech… right?

I find that my interests in college have varied significantly. My academics in computer science are not reflected in my leadership in the Asian American community, and then both are not reflected in my escape from reality with playing violin. I want to do all of them, but I’ve felt constrained to prioritize and only pick one for a career. I had now just accepted that if I stay in tech, I would be siloed to just code and not have any other sort of influence or part in other spheres of my life, because I’m not good at multi-tasking! I’m not good at letting my life be day and night, work and life.

But really, all I want is to be enthusiastic, to be excited for the work I end up doing. That has made me very impressionable because I want to reflect the enthusiasm that others show me at each and every booth I’ve gone to. So while I am hearing these same words over and over again from each recruiter, I find myself more and more enthusiastic…but when I go back to try to unpack what it is I liked about them, I turn up empty-handed.

But even before I delve into thinking about where I want to work, am I even qualified or worthy to work in these places? I’m afraid of overestimating my abilities and not being able to follow through with my claims. Maybe that’s why I air on the side of talking very little about myself and what I do. We all know there’s that thing called imposter syndrome and we all know that theoretically everyone experiences it. I’m glad to say it’s not crippling me as it used to…but it is still a huge presence in my life.

While I do have all of these thoughts running through my head, Grace Hopper is an incredible space. While I have these doubts, GHC works to dismantle them and to remind us that we are affected by the system that works against us, a system that is not in our favor. Hearing testimonials of women who have accomplished so many and overcome many hardships does remind me that we are our own biggest and harshest critics, and a lot of times we put limits on ourselves.

I can always change. I can always work harder, seek more advice and input. And while it is important that I do my own part to better myself, it’s okay and it’s actually important to find a community such as the one in GHC to remind myself: I am more than my resume and my interviews.

A Rambling of Thoughts: GHC

“Reading and writing are in themselves subversive acts. What they subvert is the notion that things have to be the way they are, that you are alone, that no one has ever felt the way you have…. Imagine that.”
― Mark Vonnegut

“Welcome home, President Starr!” — Ashley Pallie, Pomona College Associate Director of Admissions

Gabi

4 years ago, I was an eager prospective student whose favorite question to ask current Pomona students was this: “how do you think attending Pomona College has empowered you in a way that no other school could have?” I imagined attending a school where opportunities are not only available but truly accessible, where students nurtured each others’ intellectual curiosity, and where we are immersed in an endless array of ideas that cultivate the empathy and innovation needed to conquer society’s problems.

As a senior, I can confidently confirm, President Starr, that you have come into a community of the curious and a place full of potential. We were all invited into this community because someone identified our potential to contribute to Pomona and to the world, and we came because we believe in Pomona’s potential to empower us to achieve our dreams.

And since our arrival, we have continued to be curious about the implications of our learning by asking ourselves: “What kind of world do we want to build within and beyond Pomona?” When reflecting on my time at Pomona what impresses me most is how members of our community advocate for the potential in what this incredible institution can and should offer for students, regardless of their identities, and how members take ownership to empower the spaces they occupy once they depart.

Given my reflections, I have the highest hopes, moving forward, about what empowerment means within and beyond our community.

First, I hope that the intellectual, emotional, and physical labor of everyone in this community is sincerely and appropriately recognized.

Second, I hope that the next generation of leaders, scholars, artists and engaged members of society who are educated here exemplify the unique and necessary power of a liberal arts education.

Lastly, I hope our global community engages in enriching and difficult discussions while remembering what former student body President Christina Tong said about how few of us are insulated from the real implications of our discussions. After all, the term “global community” not only characterizes the diversity within our community, but also captures the global gaze that is upon us as we set a high standard regarding how principles of respect, inclusion, and intellectual freedom should be negotiated.

Dear President Starr, I cannot wait to see how you bring in your deep knowledge of imagination and creativity to animate ideas that help us build a Pomona that is, as you have said, “equitable, accessible and a truly free civic space that helps our community achieve every part of our potential.” Thank you.

 

“Welcome home, President Starr!” — Ashley Pallie, Pomona College Associate Director of Admissions

Tidbits of Summer 2017 (July-October)

“I can’t think of a better place to start the tour than SF. Dunno how else to say it in any way other than that this is a woke place hahaha, it’s great to start performing in a place that truly celebrates the message behind this musical and truly welcomes and embraces us for who we are just as we are. But…it’ll be interesting to see when we go to places that may not agree with us, and we at least get the opportunity to challenge their thinking”

 

“when I was auditioning for Hamilton, it was the first time I wasn’t thinking about my race. I know I look ambiguous and most of the time I’m worried at auditions whether I look white enough black enough for the role. But this was the first time those questions were not on my mind and I could focus less on whether I look like I fit the role and focus solely on the art”

 

What role would you wanna play if not your own?
“I used to think I wanted to be Aaron Burr. But I play Eliza and I realize that all the female roles I’ve ever seen and played…. They talk about the man. And Hamilton is the same way kinda, Hamilton wants a wife and Eliza pops up! And tbh while Burr isn’t a girl….. He does talk about Hamilton a lot almost like a love interest haha. So now I wish that I could have a role where I talk about my own thoughts interests desires! SO IF I EVER GOT THE CHANCE TO PLAY HAMILTON I WILL TAKE IT!”

 

“Create a world like no one has ever seen before”

 

“If you wanna be there, that’s already 50% there”

 

“Everything we do will have tech involved, and if we don’t have good people building these products, it can literally change the course of someone’s life”

“You are your only constraint”

Tidbits of Summer 2017 (July-October)

the intellectual, emotional, and social impact of pursuing classical music

1. How has classical music influenced you?

As a senior in college, I often reflect upon how various experiences — especially those that are typically undervalued or seen as tangential and frivolous — have impacted me intellectually, emotionally, and socially, and how the synergy of these experiences contributes to who I am today. 

I have been playing the piano for 16 years, and classical music has undoubtedly 1) helped me cultivate important and widely-transferrable skills, 2) empowered me with the ability to express myself and the confidence to engage in creative agency, and 3) filled my life with joy!

Playing the piano has taught me how to coach myself through many different types of “difficult performances.”

Whether it be a presenting a complicated deck or leading a long club meeting, there are so many situations during which I have had to complete a mentally (and potentially emotionally) difficult task in front of many different types of people.

Mistakes are inevitable during any kind of public performance — be it a presentation, speech, athletic game, recital, etc. Sometimes, the mistakes are huge and obviously humiliating, but at other times, the mistakes are small but still rattle you up. Regardless, in moments of panic, despair, and frustration, a performer has no one but themselves to turn to for the resilience to continue gracefully. In these moments, the performer is their own coach — what they say to themselves matters greatly and changes the course of the performance.

Performing classical piano from a young age taught me how to handle those moments — I learned to shift my focus away from the technical mishaps and towards the emotional arc of the piece, and learned to listen so intently to the overarching sound I envisioned that I could put the mistake behind me. I was able to make these quick mental shifts because my experiences performing taught me that what I find most rewarding about music is to take what a musical genius has written and to co-create different musical moments with this genius. In other words, performing frequently taught me to focus on what matters most to me — which, in the case of classical music, is to deliver an emotionally compelling performance. This focus enables me to focus away from technical stumbles, and motivated me to deliver an even more emotionally compelling performance to make up for technical imperfections. This ability has also helped me cope with mistakes during other types of “performances,” such as delivering a presentation: I learn to let go of small slips in a specific wording or gesture I had planned, and recalibrate my attention to focus on the overall message.

So how do I prepare for “coaching myself” in every moment of a piano performance? While practicing, I identify high-level concepts within my pieces. High-level concepts, such as how the musical momentum of the moment fits into the overall narrative structure of the piece, motivate and contextualize the technical details by providing a layer of abstraction above them. And throughout the piece, by focusing on the higher-level concepts, I can see beyond comparatively insignificant technical blunders and remain fixated on the bigger goals of the performing the piece.

Furthermore, focusing on these high-level concepts requires me to be untethered from worrying about technical details, so I usually always memorize pieces weeks before the performance so that no technical concerns crowd my mind in the moment of the performance. 

Thus, during the weeks leading up to a competition or concert, I’m no longer practicing the technical aspects of the piece — instead, I’m practicing the messages I have to tell myself (“imagine the plume of a peacock fanning out gloriously under the sun,” “visualize a thin plastic bag being swept around by the wind swirling between towering NYC skyscrapers”)  at different points of the piece in order to fully convey the color and energy of the monument, and to maintain the musical message I want to convey.

Tackling new piano pieces has taught me how to learn different types of information in novel settings. 

This past summer, even though I worked as a PM for a large tech company, I’ve clearly seen how my training as a classical musician contributes to my ability to approach ambiguity and to problem solve in the workplace. Additionally, my experiences as the Music Director (MD) of my college a cappella group showed me the important ways that my classical music training has enabled me to confront a huge task, break it down into smaller pieces, and to efficiently master those small pieces so that I can lead a group to achieve a significant task.

So what are the parallels between learning piano pieces and learning on the PM job or leading a cappella rehearsals? Let me explain how I think the process of learning piano pieces (and more specifically, preparing for piano lessons) has cultivated a broader capacity for learning.

Even though I meet with my piano teacher every week, we mostly go over important musical concepts to practice, and general technical goals to achieve for the following week. That means it’s mostly up to me to figure out how to get myself from my current state to my goal state. It’s up to me to motivate myself, to plan out different drills / methods of practicing that build on each other, every day, until my next lesson. The process of planning and “coaching” myself involves the important skills of  1) understanding the overall goal, 2) breaking it down into actionable smaller goals, 3) creating a weekly plan, 4) observing your progress, 5) synthesizing patterns among what is and isn’t working, 6) making necessary changes, and 7) holding myself accountable to that plan.

So how do these skills apply to being a PM and a MD?

An important part of being a PM is creating structure out of ambiguity, but more generally, there’s a huge difference between learning in any workplace environment and in any industry role versus learning at school. In college, professors 1) provide a curated curriculum of carefully scaffolded topics and 2) provide assignments that help you practice the topic in preparation for a specific form of assessment. However, at work, I’m often confronted with a question to which there is no one answer, and as an intern, I’m likely the only one who understands close to nothing about the topic. Although my manager sets out goals for me to accomplish, I often lack so much of the necessary knowledge and have to create my own structures for figuring out and learning what I need to know. Thus, it becomes very important to 1) articulate what I DO know, 2) explain, based on what I already know, what I need to know to take the next logical step in my understanding of a topic, 3) connect with the relevant resources to create next steps for understanding the topic, and 4) review and possibly revise my plan for progressing towards my goal.

When I began serving as the Music Director of my a cappella group, I soon realized that while everyone in the group has an amazing voice, there is a lot of variation in the musical training / background among different members of the group. For example, I, personally, have been singing for 12 years and have also played piano for a long time, so many aspects of musicality come naturally to me. However, that was probably the case for only half of the members of my a cappella group. Even though everyone has an outstanding voice, the variation in the knowledge about blending, musical notation, dynamics, and the variation in sightreading ability made it so that I couldn’t just make a comment and expect everyone to know what to do with it.

Being Music Director requires a lot of multitasking, because you have to listen to a run through of the song, pick up on things to improve (balance, tone, pitch, dynamics, articulation, phrasing…), prioritize what to work on and when to work on it, and think of an efficient and interesting way to drill that section, all while the group continues to sing. And you can’t wait too long after the group stops singing before asking everyone to turn to a section to work on something, because if people wait for too long, they start to chat and wander off. Furthermore, the variation in musical training poses an additional challenge: ensuring that rehearsals are productive, accessible, and interesting for everyone, regardless of their musical background. 

I believe that my experiences in learning how to most efficiently practice piano have helped me to be a more effective music director, by informing my decisions about how to break down my vision of the piece into smaller parts, to practice those parts. For example, these are some things that I actively do to keep rehearsals interesting, fun, and productive for everyone, regardless of musical background:

  • I make sure that when I explain something for the first time, I explain it clearly, so rehearsal doesn’t erupt in a confused mess that people remember every time I revisit that section to sing or drill.
  • If I revisit that section and realize that people had forgotten what the group had worked on before, don’t rehearse the section in the same way. That gets tedious. Try to drill it in a different way!

Playing the piano has enabled me to build and pursue relationships forged through shared passions.

I’ve made my very closest friends (including DaEun!!) through music. Classical piano was one of the first extracurriculars I pursued (in tandem with choral singing and art), and it has provided me with opportunities to serve as an accompanist and to be served in creating and expressing myself.  

There’s nothing as thrilling, emotionally engaging, and deeply satisfying as sitting in an ensemble with fellow musicians, confident that each person is bringing their talents and musicianship to rehearsal, smiling at each other during beautiful moments of the piece, finishing off a successful run through, and wrapping up and grabbing food together afterwards. ❤

Playing the piano for 16 years has taught me how to develop close, 1-on-1 relationships with adults.

My piano teachers throughout elementary and middle school were the first adults with whom I learned to develop a relationship. Our lessons would often diverge from piano pieces to conversations about school and friends. I learned to speak up with questions and to accept direct feedback in stride, and have become more comfortable approaching and building relationships with adults in any sphere of life.

Playing the piano has been instrumental in helping me to cultivate the skills involved in close social and artistic observation.

Ever since middle school, I’ve also had the opportunity serve as an accompanist for various vocal and instrumental ensembles. Being an accompanist has helped me cultivate the ability to constantly be observant and aware of what others express, to infer their intent, and to respond in a way that affirms and supports that intent.

From the perspective of the untrained audience, the accompanist appears to just “play the background music,” but I believe that a good accompanist plays a much more active role. Although the accompanist frequently rehearses with the soloist, during the performance, the accompanist must still pay close attention to every change in the soloist’s movement and sound, inferring the intended pacing, texture, momentum, and dynamic arc of the upcoming passage, and calibrate her own playing to best support the soloist. For example, questions such as Where is the soloist taking the momentum of this moment? How, dynamically and timing-wise will the soloist ease out of this explosive climax? are always in the back of my mind.

The accompanist often just fades into the background because in many ways, if the accompanist is seamlessly supporting the soloist, the accompanist amplifies the soloist’s playing and draws all the attention to the soloist. These skills — observing closely, inferring future actions, and calibrating oneself to adjust to others — are extremely important in navigating any kind of social interaction.

I’ll again use the example of being a MD.

As the MD, I’m in charge of the pace and atmosphere of every rehearsal, and I definitely feel the pressure to keep every moment efficient and fun. Through this leadership position, I realized the importance of constantly gauging everyone’s energy level and responding appropriately, while keeping long-term goals in mind. I also had to constantly model positivity, think fast, and respond diplomatically when there were disagreements during rehearsal.

Furthermore, as someone who is very familiar with music theory, is fortunate to have perfect pitch, and has cultivated “artistic observation” through many different media, I am also able to enjoy arranging and composing both instrumental ensemble and  a cappella music. I always feel an impulse to CREATE and RECREATE and CO-CREATE, and possessing the necessarily musical knowledge and ability has helped me develop an overall courage to experiment with and express myself in different ways.

 

 

2. What do you think is a misconception people have around classical music? What is something you wish people knew about classical music?

I think many people believe that classical music is outdated,  antiquated, and inaccessible. However, I think anyone can come to appreciate the timeless delight, angst, ebullience, and grief, expressible through classical music.

I wish people knew that anyone, at any age, can learn how to listen to and understand classical music. The ability to understand any form of human expression — be it through literature, visual art, film, music — arises from a basic understanding of the vocabulary and syntax of  the art form’s constituent elements. We more deeply literature after we understand the words used, the literary strategies employed, and how common themes are followed or flouted, etc. Furthermore, while one can understand the basic emotion of a piece of classical music by passively listening to it, the music holds more meaning if one learns to, for example, 1) identify a theme, 2) understand why its use at certain parts of the piece makes sense given the traditional structure of the piece, and 3) why a harmonic alteration to the theme is surprising and thus evokes emotion and furthers the composer’s message through the piece. And I believe that these are things anyone can learn through reading, listening to lectures available on the internet, and attending concerts! 

 

the intellectual, emotional, and social impact of pursuing classical music