My New Baby Grand Piano

Life is full of glorious surprises. I never imagined that I would ever own a grand piano of any kind. I have been content to play them at music venues and showrooms. They are notoriously expensive and justifiably so. Depending on the brand and condition, one would typically pay the same amount of money that you would for a brand new car. They are not cheap and certainly qualify as a long-term investment.

Well, rewind my life to almost two months ago, a friend of ours who works at the arts center in a nearby town called and told us that a local woman was offering to donate a grand piano to them. Perhaps they did not need one (!!!!!!!) because they declined her generous offer. Our friend was calling because he wanted to know if I MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN HAVING IT (!!!!!!).

I was bewildered while standing in our kitchen as I heard this.

A grand piano? Me? Whaaaaaaat?

I obtained the woman’s contact information, and we arranged a meeting a few days later. I arrived at her house, which sat high up on a hill. It had a view of gently rolling hills that people would pay thousands of dollars to see every day as part of their home. They rolled gracefully into a beckoning horizon. I had to pause and stare at it before I got out of my car.

She was incredibly charming when she first greeted me and ushered me into a house that was tailor-made for her and her husband. It was less of a house and more of a rustic cabin castle. It was somebody’s dream home. I walked into a living room that had a wall of windows that looked out into their stunning hilltop view.

There was so much to take in, but my eyes hunted for the object of my desire. I did not need to look far because it stood in the far corner of the room that stood opposite from the entryway. Prior to this, I had no idea what it looked like or even sounded like outside of knowing that it was a grand piano. To my surprise, it was a baby grand. A gorgeous and finely built baby grand piano.

I sat down at the piano bench and carried out my usual introduction whenever I meet a new piano. It is my equivalent of a friendly, gentle, and warm handshake. I slowly press down on one key on the treble side, usually an A or an E, and then something on the bass clef (whichever key calls to me I guess). The sound I receive from each key almost always tells me everything I need to know about the piano. My ears hear its timbre and tonal quality immediately. I have played enough pianos in my life to discern its character through this simple interaction. Pianos do not need to say much to tell you all that you need to know. You just have to listen.

From there, I might play a simple mid-tempo number or two just to get acquainted. This is not an exchange for showing off with a bombastic piece. To be overbearing is to be rude. Pianos are shy creatures.

What I heard when I met this piano was a rich tone buried deep underneath years of neglect. I knew instantly that it was not a lost cause, as many neglected pianos tend to become. With a little bit of work, I knew that this could be a fine instrument.

The offer for me to have the piano free of charge was made upon my conversation with the owner. I accepted the offer, and I walked out of that rustic castle as the new owner of a baby grand piano.

A month later and with some logistical maneuvering, I enlisted the help of seven strong friends (one of whom was experienced in moving pianos). On a cold and rainy fall afternoon, we managed to transport the piano on a big, hefty truck a few miles away to my home. It had a damaged leg that was repaired the next day, and after giving it a few weeks to settle into its new environment (and to finish out a hectic semester at university), it had its first official tuning by our neighborhood piano tuner this last week.

I have played it a lot ever since. It still needs some work, but at this point, it makes a big and full sound across the board. This piano is coming back to life. It will not be neglected again, certainly not by me.

I love this piano. I love it very much.

-Roqué

Previous Post:  I Am Not White, and I Have Less Power

I Am Not White, and I Have Less Power.

The heading for this post is a grim reality that I face.  Here in America, white people are the dominant political and cultural forces in society.

You can look at any magazine rack at any supermarket and drug store.  The vast majority of magazine covers has beautiful white people on them.  Every major film release and television show predominantly features white people in leading roles and  explores the stories and experiences of white people.

Of the forty-five Presidents of the United States of America, 44 of them have been white.  The members of congress, the senate, and the supreme court have been primarily white people across this country’s history.  This counts for all three of branches of our federal government.

It’s clear to see who has the power and who has control of our media, popular culture, and government.

If none of this is directly intentional, then isn’t it at least eerily pervasive?  In the most ethnically diverse country in the world, why is it that one specific skin color is so dominant in virtually every facet of life?

White people are the standard of beauty in this country.  I have often been passed over in favor of the pretty white boy and have been told that I suit more “exotic” tastes.

I have performed at countless open mics as a musician in Nashville and been treated like some sort of novelty because of how foreign I look.  I am more than just a novelty.  I am more than just a token.

White people have won the vast majority of Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys.  They are well represented among talk-show hosts, newscasters, successful pop stars, and CEO’s of multi-national corporations.

I am a person of color from a family of immigrants from the Philippines.  I am currently a straight-A honors student in college.  When I graduate with my well-earned diploma someday, I go out into the world knowing that I am not part of the privileged elite.  I look different no matter how qualified I am.

I am not white, and I have less power.

I say all of this not because I want sympathy or a handout.  Everything I have in my life I have earned through my own blood, sweat, and tears.  My modus operandi is to work hard, and I would not have it any other way.

I say all of this because it bothers me.

In my lifetime, I want society to evolve out of this paradigm.  I want equal opportunity for EVERYONE and not just the white people.  I want representation for all people and not just the white people.  America is vast and rich with cultural diversity.  You would not know it if you watched the Oscars or sat in on a congressional meeting.

Surely this is not the best we can do?  Is this as good as it gets?

I sincerely hope not.

So, where do we begin?  We can start by acknowledging how our privileges affect others.  The place you hold at the table is a place that has been denied to someone else, and there is only so much room at the table.  There are only so many voices that can be heard.  There are people, perspectives, stories, and experiences that are all but invisible in places where important decisions are made.

We need to constantly ask ourselves whose voices are we not hearing?  Whose faces are we not seeing?  Whose lives and experiences are we dismissing in favor of an all-encompassing status quo?

I am not white, and I have less power.

This is the truth that I face, but I will take what little power I have and use it.  If I have to work ten or twenty times harder than a white person just to be noticed or valued in some substantive and meaningful way, then so be it.  It’s what I have always done.

I am a person of color, and I will use my power.

-Roqué

 

 

#metoo

Yup, #metoo.

I was 19-years-old then, too young to have the wherewithal to stand up for myself against someone who took liberties over my body.  It was a part-time job at a small sandwich shop.  Our lunch rush required us to have the ability to make up to twelve sandwiches wrapped and ready to go in under five minutes within a team of three people.  It was during this lunch rush that she groped my crotch as I was carrying a basket of bread over to a counter.  The look of shock and disgust on my face did not faze her.  I was speechless and completely caught off guard.  She laughed it off and went back to work. This would be one of three instances in which she did this, and one of several in which she would humiliate me in front of others.

She was not a manager, but she had the benefit of having worked there longer than any other employee.  She was bossy and demanding, and quite honestly, she was a monster.

The owners of the business liked her a lot since she seemed to get a lot done, and in hindsight, I should have spoken up.  I also should have left.

Now, years later, I wonder why I’ve never spoken openly about this experience.  It truly was humiliating and dehumanizing.  At the time, I was embarrassed and ashamed and couldn’t get myself to talk about it to anyone.

I filed it away under memories that were isolated incidents that I would rather forget.

I never forgot.  I never forgot how she made me feel.

Fast forward to the last couple of months when many courageous women are standing up for themselves and holding people accountable for their bad behavior.  This took me back to my own experiences.  All things being relative, what happened to me feels small compared to what others have gone through, and I am thankful that I have not been in a similar situation ever since.

I truly hope that this time of reckoning in our culture creates deep and substantive change in our society.  I hope we can take this further and figure out ways to talk to our children about how to stand up to people who abuse their power by abusing others.  Maybe it can be discussed in schools.  I wish someone had taught me about how these dynamics play out.  I did not have that awareness back then, but I do now.

I wish someone had told me that no one has a right to treat me and my body that way without my consent.

To some extent, even though it accounts for a short period of my life, I wonder how it affected me in the long-term.  Anybody who knows me knows how extremely modest I am.  Someone would have to pay me very well to take my shirt off in public.  I often default to being passive when dealing with difficult people (I’m working on this one), and I avoid terrible people at all costs.

So, maybe there’s good and bad in the end.

If I ever see her again, I would tell her how she made me feel and that she had no right to treat me or anyone else that way.  I would tell her to rot in hell, because I still feel a little angry about it all, as long as I’m being honest.

Whether it’s a film production company, NBC, CBS, a factory in the midwest, or a sandwich shop in the south, I hope women and all people can feel safer where they work.

We all deserve safety, respect, and to be treated with dignity.

-Roqué

Befriending on the Outskirts

Have you ever gone to a party knowing that you would not know any other person there except the person who invited you? After you arrived, did you wind up in a corner with no one to talk to for most of the night wondering why you even bothered to show up?  Well, I have, and these kinds of instances in my life have altered my thinking when it comes to befriending new people.

These days, I put a little more intention behind who I choose to befriend in a social or group situation.

No, I do not seek out the beautiful people or the ones who seem really popular and outgoing.  I have no beef with them, and they can be as gorgeous and engaging as they want.

What I look for is the person who seems shy, out of place, or who could use at least a friendly acknowledgement.   Imagine if you will a low-key soiree at a friend’s house.  There are about 30 people milling about and carrying on some mild chit-chat.  There are small groups of three to five people separately congregated at different points around a large living room.  Invariably, there might be one or two people just looking around or staring at their cell phone.

What I like to do in this scenario is to seek out those people on the outskirts who haven’t connected with anyone yet, and at least, say hello to them.  Usually, I would walk up and say hi and then ask if he/she needed a drink.  This harmless question helps me figure out if she/he would rather just be by themselves.  That’s okay too, but if not, I go in for at least a quick conversation.

Here are some questions I ask if they seem willing to engage:

  • So how do you know so-and-so?  (Insert name of person who is hosting the party)
  • Where did you get those ________?  I really like them. (Insert any object of clothing or accessory that you genuinely like.  Compliments can tear down the biggest walls.  Go for the hair if it looks great.  That disarms just about anything.)
  • Do you happen to know who sings this song? I really like it.  (Assuming of course that music is playing at the party, which is usually the case.)
  • Do you happen to know where the bathroom is?  (Use this if nothing else is an option.  It gives you a small window of time to chit chat before you actually should go to the bathroom. Definitely go to the loo at some point even if you don’t have to. It would seem creepy if you didn’t.)

Be friendly and smile.  The goal is not necessarily to make the most amazing friendship for life, though I am never opposed to that.  It is to acknowledge a fellow human being who might be feeling alone or dejected. I can remember times in my life when other people have made me feel welcomed and supported.  It is a warm, fuzzy, and supremely life-affirming experience.

Befriending someone on the outskirts can happen anywhere.  Look for the last kid picked to be on a team in P.E. class.  At your job, make a point to say hello and introduce yourself to a new co-worker or someone who is often sitting alone in the break room.  At a business meeting, find the person no one else is talking to.  Whomever you find in any of these scenarios might be someone who is worth knowing and deserving of some warmth and kindness.

-Roqué

 

 

 

Creativity and Identity: To Be is To Do

Roque in Bloom blog, creativity

I have learned to redefine what I believe a creative person is.  It is not solely about the label of being a “performer”, “musician”, “inventor”, or “sculptor”.  As one’s identity relates to creativity, it has less to do with an actual title and more to do with an active state of doing creative work.

A creative person performs music every day.  She works on developing a new invention on a regular basis.  She has designated times to work on a current sculpture or 3-dimentional concept.  He is constantly tweaking a new business plan or marketing strategy.

A creative person is actively engaged in the work and craftsmanship of creating.

To settle on a label such as “artist”, “singer”, or “strategist” is to be passive.  We are all more than what any one word could encapsulate. This is why I think of creativity as a constant state of movement and innovation.

I make this distinction because I get asked all of the time what I like to do.  For the most part, I tell people that I create art through music and visual media every day.  I stay away from using labels, and I choose not to limit who I am and what I can or cannot do.

I know that labels help everyone else understand, relate to, and conceptualize what I do, but first of all, it is not my responsibility to help everyone do that.  Secondly, I can be intentional about describing the work I do instead of just giving a label.

Creativity is a way of life.  A fluid mindset.  A flow of movement.

This perspective and small pivot in how I perceive myself keeps me more open to limitless possibilities as a creative person.

Creativity is in the doing.  The being will always be secondary.

If any deeper explanations are needed, your creative output that you actively work on every day will speak for itself.

-Roqué

 

Intention: Rest

There are some truths in life that are worth knowing deeply.

One of these truths is the value of rest.

Yup.  Rest.

I am sharing my thoughts about this because weariness and burnout are mightily formidable. They wreak havoc upon your body and your spirit steadily, and over a long time (or even a lifetime), they can erode all of the parts of your life that were intended to give you  joy and fulfillment.

First, let’s clarify what I mean by “rest”.

I am not talking only about sleeping at night.  I am referring to an intention to shut out all of the pressure, noise, expectations, and anxieties you face every day.

I am talking about the kind of rest that is restorative and relaxing.  A state of being in which your mind, heart, and body are quietly at ease.

I will be the first to say that entering into this state is not easy, particularly if your are not used to doing it.

We can say we are taking the day off, but are we really?

In my experience, I can be sitting on a chair and look like I am doing nothing.  What is actually happening is that my mind is moving at the speed of light thinking about all of my responsibilities and disappointments.

For others, taking a day off might mean spending hours on a cell phone pouring over Instagram or Facebook.

Both of these instances certainly address some aspects of rest, but they also fall too short of what it means to rest deeply.

Deep rest means actively decluttering your mind and body of the pressures of life.  There’s a reason why vacations are so fun and restorative.  They physically take you away from what you have to face head on every day.  They take you away from your burdens, at least temporarily.  As such, they feel liberating.

If I could take a vacation every week, I totally would, but since I am not independently wealthy and care about my personal responsibilities,  it is not possible.

Or is it?

To me, true deep rest has to feel like a vacation.  There has to be some level of joy, and you have to create a sense of separateness from your every day life. It also has to be ridiculously easy so that it does not become its own chore or burden.

This is what deep rest looks like for me .  .  .

Sleeping in and staying in bed at least one day a week.  I can read a book and fall back to sleep any time.  I’ll have snacks by my bedside. Cuddle with my cat Steinway.  I might watch a movie on my laptop or just stare out of my window.  In my head during these moments,  I am just enjoying myself and intentionally not thinking about anything stressful.

A quiet, warm bath also works well.

A massage from someone you trust works wonders.

Rest means physically allowing your body and mind to quietly settle into itself.  For this to actually work, you have to give yourself permission to let go of life’s physical and emotional demands just for a little while.

Think of it as your own mini and super easy vacation.  Find what works for you.

Do it every week.

Do it often.

Know that you deserve it.

As for all of those exponential gifts that this lesson will give.  I’ll leave those for you to discover.   Just trust that the rest of your hours and the busy-ness of your life will be better for it.

-Roqué

 

Intention: The Value of a Slow Lifestyle

bloom blog roque

I grew up on a remote island in the South Pacific.  I vividly remember what life was like over there.  The speed limit was no more than 25 miles per hour on the roads.  Everything.  EVERYTHING moved at its own seemingly glacial pace.

Nonetheless, things still got done.  People worked, cooked food, had gatherings with friends and family, built homes, and lived full and rich lives.

On a clear summer night, I left that island with my tear-stained face on a plane headed for America.  Now, I live in a land in which someone else is always driving faster than you on the freeway, regardless of your own breakneck speed.  People hurry along in droves trying to get so much accomplished in so little time.  They are pulled in multiple directions raising kids, posting on instagram/facebook/twitter/etc, taking selfies, building a career, staying healthy, partying, traveling, creating, doing, doing, and more doing.

They all move SO FAST.

But why?

Seriously, why?

At what point did we learn that faster is always better?

What if we took on the intention to slow down in life?  Instead of taking on so many things so quickly, what if we did the opposite?

Could we do one thing at a time?  Do it at a slower and more comfortable pace?

Why not?

What if we regularly stepped back to press on the brakes and proceeded slowly?

For myself, what I gain from doing this is more space to breath and gather perspective.  So what could this look like for you?

Instead of a tackling a to-do list of 20 items, take on one important item with the trust that either everything else will get done in their own time or that some things just actually do not need doing.

When you eat food, chew slowly and savor every morsel of flavor.

Walk a little more slowly along your way.

Have multiple moments for yourself to take a long, deep breadth.

Take a drive through the countryside and do it slowly.  Feel the wind in your hair.  Drive slow enough that you can take in the view.

Pause before the next time you pick up your cell phone and acknowledge what is going on around you.  Is there someone you can talk to instead?  Maybe you can just do nothing for a few minutes.  Why rush?

Ultimately, living a life that is paced at a rhythm that is comfortable and sustainable means living a life of deeper contemplation.  You can trust that everything will get done and will happen as they need to.  You can still live a rich and full life.

Slowness allows us to actively live in our own richness.

-Roqué

 

Intention: Incremental Learning for Life

Bloom Blog Roque

One of the primary ideas I want to explore here at BLOOM is the concept of intention.  This is the first of an ongoing series of posts that expound upon the notion of living a life of intention.

First of all, what is intention?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, intention is defined as ” a determination to act in a certain way.”

It is synonymous with the words .  .  .

purpose
resolve
aim
conviction
hope

It’s a big word with a lot of depth.  So, the next question is “How does one live a life of intention?”

I suppose it means living with an active awareness of and acting on one’s preferences, desires, goals, and dreams?

I suppose?

All of that sounds hunky-dory, but is it really that simple?  I will not pretend that I know the fullest and best answer, but I want to take the time to find out.

One way that I have explored intentional living is through what I like to call incremental learning.  It is the kind of learning that is diametrically opposed to crash courses or any kind of fast learning.  Basically, you take a skill that  you want to learning and pick it apart to its most simple and fundamental components.  Then, you SLOWLY explore each of these components one at a time in a gradual, organic, and consistent way that has no deadline.

Back in 2012, I bought a cello.  I started taking lessons and have loved it ever since.  The challenge was that I am not a cellist by trade.  I am a piano player.  The way I learned to play and understand music is almost completely different than the way a cellist does.

I must have been crazy to take it on.

But I have always loved the instrument.  (Also when I grow up, I want to be like Yo-Yo Ma.)  At first, I dove in.  I found a wonderful teacher who taught me a lot that first year.  I was ambitious and focused.  I tackled as much as I could as fast as I could.

Then, I started to feel pain.  I felt pain in my thumbs and in my hands. I never felt pain when I played the piano, which feels as smooth as water cascading down a mountainside.

I had to stop and reassess.  I stopped taking lessons and took a long break.  I mulled over the viable option of quitting the instrument altogether.

What I eventually decided to do was to stick with it and do it more methodically and slowly.  This is where I have come to practice incremental learning.  I play no more than 15 minutes a day to reduce strain.  In those minutes I focus on just one element at a time.  For the longest time now, I have been working on strengthening my bow hold in a way that does not create pain or strain.  I have made good progress, but there is more work to do.  Other times, I might focus on creating a good tone that is pleasing to the ear.  Another time, I may just work on memorizing a piece.

Incremental learning means slowing down and taking the time to understand something one small element at a time.  There is no pressure.  No deadline.

This has been my intention, and I have reduced the pain while managing to learn something I love.  Even though this particular learning process takes forever, I am still getting out of it what I  wanted.

If there is something new that you want to learn that feels impossible or overwhelming, consider learning it incrementally.  Go with that intention and see where it leads you.  It will not be long until you find your own way.

-Roqué

What I Have to Give

I wanted to take some time to go a little more in depth about the intentions behind my new website.  It is, in fact, more than just a forum for me to promote my music and performances.  I am not in this for constant self-promotion or to make any money.

At this point, the truth is twofold:

    1.  I want to practice my skills.  In addition to being a musician, I am, for better or worse, a multi-hyphenate.  I am a singer-pianist-cellist-ukulele player-visual artist-photographer-storyteller-web designer-graphic designer-poet-writer-budding filmmaker-catlady-etc.  I wanted to create a virtual space in which I can explore all of my interests from any and all vantage points.  This website is my artist’s studio.  It is my personal garden in which I cultivate my ideas, imagination, and creativity.  It just so happens that all of you get to watch in real time as everything unfolds.
    2. I want to share what I know and have learned.  There is a layer underneath all of my multi-hyphenate skills/interests that informs all of these things.  This layer is a personal dedication towards self-reflection and learning.  I have taken a lot of time to think, ask questions, explore, define, and understand why events happen, how I behave, and how I can be a strong and good human being.  In some way, I hope that my writing and my work on this site will give my visitors insights into their own lives or some kind of inspiration to cultivate something that they love.  If all this sounds a little vague, you will see (or read) what I mean soon enough.

With all of this said, I would be remiss by saying there will not be some kind of promotion for my music, art, and performances because there certainly will be.

A friend of mine recently told me not to be afraid to toot my own horn.  I am growing into the idea that part of being an artist is being unapologetic and audacious.  I will inhabit these characteristics in my own dorky, brazen, and fantastically Asian ways as well.

Hopefully, with all of my most sincere  and heartfelt intentions, you will all somehow enjoy what I grow in this carefully loved, sacred space.

-Roqué

 

Welcome To My Brand New Website!

Today is August 1st! It is the official launch date of my brand new website roqueinbloom(dot)com.  This overhaul has been one of my big projects over the summer.  I decided that along with my name change to Roqué, I wanted to cultivate and present a broader view of my creative output. As such, this new website will not only be a place to access my music and information about upcoming shows, but it will also be an online forum for my visual art and writing.

As of this launch, you can now view galleries of my drawings, digital art, and photography as well as listen to my music.  There will be a dedicated poetry space in which I will showcase one new poem every month, links on how to find me all over social media, and “Bloom”, my new blog.

The blog will have a weekly posting exploring one of the following topics:

Piano and Music Performance
New Music and Videos
Visual Art
Intention
Personal Growth

All that I have mentioned is just the first tier of features this website will have.  I am adding an archive of my Where Pianos Roam photography project in the coming months. There will be an online store through which you will be able to purchase music and limited-edition prints of my art. Lastly, I will have a page dedicated to larger works-in-progress so that I can share my creative process with anyone who would be interested.

This site is intended to convey my artistic and creative journey through my life.  I am more than just my music, my writing, or my visual art individually.  I have many facets to my creativity that all coalesce and flow together.

This is where you can watch me grow and where you will see me bloom.

Thank you for visiting and please come back as often as you like.  I hope that in some way, I can inspire you to bloom too.

-Roqué