GiveIt100: Let's just get this straight...

My students are brilliant.


and whether they decide to choose to stay with me for multiple years or just one year, I know they are capable of really fantastic stuff. Karen X Cheng is a former student and is no exception to that.

I look back on our lessons together as being a catalyst for both of us to embark upon deeply wonderful things. Even though I climbed 4 flights of stairs with a cello, I loved our lessons perched above Capitol Hill with a great view of the Space Needle. But only after I caught my breath.

Karen ended lessons with me when she realized she needed a pretty huge career change. There was something sucking the joy out of her life. She was feeling the pressure to make a change in her life and to make it NOW. Having been there many times myself I totally understood and sympathized with her predicament. 

Her resignation letter/song to Microsoft and Excel is below. ;-)

She moved to San Francisco, CA to work as a designer for a lovely company, Exec. While she was there she fell in love with dance.

And then she did something remarkable... 

she made a video of herself practicing dance every day. The end result was that she was now really good at dance and she had a her time-lapse video go viral on youtube with almost 4 million views. (Check it out below...)

Some of my favorites from

So now she's done something else unique. She's started which provides a platform for others to share their process of learning something new every day for 100 days.

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am for her and grateful I am to her.

My new online students and I are using the site as a way to keep them accountable to cello practice and getting better at ONE thing each day. 

I've even started on my own 100 Days of Artist Residency Prep by sharing some general thoughts and fears on what it's like to "step up and stand up as an artist" each new day.

And! I get to meet other wonderful folks from around the world that are really making great strides in their learning every day.

Many rounds of applause go to Karen for pioneering this facet of the learning process and community!

I can't wait to hear more from her in the near future! :-)

Don't Take the Second Step... Start with the First

A friend sent me a poem this week. It did not beat around the bush, nor coddle me. But it did pierce my artist fears and encourage me to keep walking. one step at a time.

And now, this is exactly what I encourage you to do too!

Start with the first step. Unpack your cello. Don't start with the 60 minute practice session or even the Minuet you're practicing. Start with the first step.

Start with the ground you know. Tighten your bow hair. Tune your cello. Play a low C. Don't let questions from the outside smother something simple and beautiful. Let yourself breathe. Answer your own questions. 

Listen to your own voice through the cello. What is it telling you today? Become an ear for yourself and your cello. Be humble and focused. Choose practice chunks that are specific and measurable and not too long. 

for you: an action to make

I encourage you to take a few moments this week to read the following poem aloud during one of your practice sessions. Make a note of how this action affected your practice time. Let's talk about it at your next lesson! 

Start Close In

a poem by David Whyte

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something

To find
another's voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a 
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's 
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don't take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home, with his family, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The author of seven books of poetry and three books of prose, David Whyte holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including living and working as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands and leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes the Amazon and the Himalaya. He brings this wealth of experience to his poetry, lectures and workshops.

His life as a poet has created a readership and listenership in three normally mutually exclusive areas: the literate world of readings that most poets inhabit, the psychological and theological worlds of philosophical enquiry and the world of vocation, work and organizational leadership.

An Associate Fellow at Templeton College and Said Business School at the University of Oxford, he is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, where he works with many European, American and international companies. In spring of 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Neumann College, Pennsylvania.

In organizational settings, using poetry and thoughtful commentary, he illustrates how we can foster qualities of courage and engagement; qualities needed if we are to respond to today’s call for increased creativity and adaptability in the workplace. He brings a unique and important contribution to our understanding of the nature of individual and organizational change particularly through his unique perspectives on Conversational Leadership.

Quote of the Week: Living in Process & Creativity

  "Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensively absorbed in the process and giving it form."

 "Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensively absorbed in the process and giving it form."

As students, we step into process by choice (wether we're aware of that or not at the beginning.) Regardless of what we want the product to be or when we want that product to come into fruition, we are in process.

To me, the juiciest part of process is curiosity. Curiosity has an element of care-free exploration and questioning that I have only learned to love from years of trying to learn things the hard way.

 Using an "open hand" to hold our process-encounters gives our learning room to breathe. While closing our hands with great expectations strangles the life from what we desire from the process. This doesn't mean we shouldn't have great expectations, but even those should have room to breathe to morph and change and grow to be larger than we initially imagined.

Metaphorically we can actually hear the difference between this tension-free mentality and vice grip mentality through our cello bow holds. I encourage you to experiment with this metaphor in your cello practicing this week or if you're not a cellist...

What else in your life needs room to breathe before it can grow?


The Power of Rhythm and Hollywood

Our ideas come from really strange places.

Lord knows some of my students regularly think: "Here she goes again with her weird left-field metaphor!" But sometimes those left-field connections actually turn into magic...

Watch the idea of this teacher (referencing a Hollywood movie) transform this kiddo's life permanently in the video below. What I loved most about this is watching Musharaf ride the wave of rhythm. It was as if it caught him and carried him with his words. 

Music is magical. 

Get your tissues ready... 

British School Boy Musharaf has had a stammer from a very young age. With the help of his teachers, he is eventually able to over come it in time for an English speaking exam. Copyright: Channel 4's "Educating Yorkshire." This video is not monetized.

Quote of the Week: "I did it myself."

Sometimes we get bogged down in the "can'ts" and "shouldn'ts" of art & music.

There are days it feels like such a luxury to learn and create. and there are days that the mountain of things to create and learn is so overwhelming.

But then there are days of necessity. Necessity that causes every bone in your body to ache for that learning and creating. 

Pushing through the "no's" and the overwhelming feelings we encounter in our artistic process makes the learning and creating that much more meaningful...

because in the end? You did it yourself.

  "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

 "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

[note: whether Albert Einstein actually said the quote above is often debated.]

Quote of the Week

When you're learning something new, remember to be tender (brave) and loving (daring). Not only do we need more of these qualities in the world, but those are the qualities of really effective learning. How? They require that you listen. Listen really closely... 

  "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

 "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

Quote of the Week: Taisen Deshimaru


Ira Glass on Storytelling & Doing the Work

Sometimes I hate facebook. As an artist, I know that I need  it, especially as my industry is constantly  in flux. It's a love-hate relationship.  But that's another post for another time.

Anyways, I woke up this morning, logged on to the Book of Faces for my daily devotional of social media overwhelm and found this gem of a video below... 

[Source audio is from this very seminal video by]

I seem to remember having this exact conversation with a couple of my students last week.  When you're a beginning adult cellist, your ears have decades  of experience while your fingers and muscles have weeks  of experience. Doing the work to make that difference even out, even just a little bit, is sooooooooo hard.  

But do it. It's possible to give up on yourself. But it's also possible to successfully push through this. Both can be done. It is  possible to be a success, if it weren't then I wouldn't be teaching, at all.

So don't give up on yourself. Okay? Good. I'm glad we had this talk. ;-)


Tacoma, WA: How Arts Education Supports a Community

Tacoma, WA is a city that I have adopted as a home. A real live(ly) home with people and ideas that are really  creative and inspiring. One thing Tacoma does pretty stinkin' well is supporting the Arts. (and it's growing too! Yay!)

I'm honored to be a witness to the love that Tacoma shares and in how the community supports each other. Because I'm a musician I've seen this act of supporting the Tacoma community up close and personal. Yes, I'm biased and reporting this from the trenches, but the fact remains true. Supporting your community by supporting the Arts is worth it.  

I don't care from where you're reading these words today. If you have the chance to support the Arts in your area, DO IT.   And on behalf of those who work with those who benefit from your support. Thank you. The world is truly a better place for it. Truly.

Below you'll get a few more comments and points of view on this topic in a mini-documentary funded by the Laird Norton Family Foundation. and shh... You might  even see a brief cameo of yours truly! ;-)

Your Practice Room, The Guest House

Our practice sessions invite us to examine ourselves. This is usually a pretty bossy invitation, as it's not always a choice to attend this self-examination.  

That being said, when we do make the choice to observe ourselves during a practice session, the experience allows us to deeply learn from ourselves. This self-observation has long-term results, but only if we're asking the right questions and holding ourselves open (and literally relaxed!) to allow whatever emotions and obstacles that arrive to continue on their way.   

The things that present themselves in a practice session are merely guests. If we are hospitable and provide boundaries to ourselves and our practice session guests, they will move on when they are no longer our guide.  who knows perhaps they will become good friends too.

The poem by Rumi seen below, is a beautiful picture of this...



A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi 

translation by Coleman Barks

Ella sings Elvis...

Here's a quick video to further prove how powerful listening and repetition is to the learning process...

I dare you to find another method of teaching a 20mo old toddler how to have impeccable musical timing like this.   (I'm specifically referring to 4'20 in the video...)

Also, notice that after the song is over, she wants to hear it again! Listening & repetition folks! They work!

"That's just the power of zee Arts!"

There are so many hilarious things about this PSA. Please do yourself a favor, go ahead and spend 30 seconds laughing with me at the video below. :-)