This picture reveals the reason I am a composer today. This was taken 10 years ago and I am just now ready to talk about it. I took that picture a couple weeks after having lip surgery in order to document the healing process. If that cut looks bad, you should see the scar it left on my heart. I was way over-worked during my undergrad time in terms of how many ensembles I had to play in on top of maintaining a rigorous practice schedule. That led to a severe lip injury during my 4th year of study. I had already been accepted to the University of Michigan to work on a masters degree in performance and decided to attend in hopes of figuring out what was wrong and then moving past it. The day I heard I got accepted to my first choice school was one of the happiest I've ever had. I just had no idea how severe the injury was until I got there. While I was at U of M I also got accepted in to Michael Daugherty's composition studio, but turned it down because I wanted to focus *entirely* on solving the mystery of my playing problems. The semester there was humiliating. None of the other students knew what I sounded like pre-injury. Everyone was very kind, but I so badly wanted to "prove myself" and wished they could have just heard what I used to sound like. All they heard was a masters student who sounded like she was just learning to play the instrument. My range was gone and I had a severe double buzz on every note I played. I went to see a doctor in Toronto one weekend during the semester and he told me I likely have a lip muscle tear. After one semester I decided to leave school to have surgery with this doctor in Toronto. That surgery happened just over 10 years ago. The doctor told me the hole in my muscle was even bigger than he expected and he was surprised I was able to play through it at all.
After 5 months of recovery, I began the process of re-learning to play thinking I could return to school and still pursue a career as a performer and teacher. I don’t let go of dreams easily. I truly am a fighter. I was willing to suffer for it. Willing to go after it with everything I had. And I did. But, it was also during this time that I started writing music again. I had written during high school and also during my time in undergrad, but I only viewed it as a hobby. In 2008 I took a piece I was writing to David Gillingham to get a lesson with him with zero intention of going to school for composition. I just wanted this piece to be the best it could possibly be. At the end of the lesson he asked if I’d be interested in attending school at CMU to study with him. I told him I’d think about it but that I definitely still see myself as a trumpet player. I thought about that offer the whole drive home (5.5 hour drive). Comments that the wonderful David Ludwig told me during my time studying with him at a music festival I used to attend echoed through my mind (a story best told in person). When I arrived home from the drive I sensed composition was the route I was supposed to go even though I didn’t understand why. I found a teacher to study with for the remainder of the year and then I left for Central Michigan in 2009. I tell people I went kicking and screaming, because it wasn’t the route I planned for myself. “I had such a great career ahead of me as a trumpet player” was the lament of my heart the entire time I was there. But the competing thought was that I knew I was supposed to compose. That conviction kept me going. It wasn’t that I didn’t like composition. After all, I had been writing and enjoying it many years prior to this. The problem was that it wasn’t the specific thing I planned for my life. I had many writing sessions with tear-stained eyes during my time at CMU.
This continued into my time at Michigan State while working on my DMA in composition and a second MM degree in theory. I was more able to accept the reality that performing was no longer my focus, but I still struggled with believing composition was important enough to pursue. I’d wake up everyday and force myself to sit down and write music. I didn’t like the process of writing, but I did like the feeling of “having written”. Again, it wasn’t that I didn’t like composition. It was now the fear that I was wasting my life pursuing something that wasn’t as important as other careers. Over these three years and even the year after graduating I thought deeply about why music is important. I developed a philosophy for why I write and why music matters. That is when I truly began to let go of my past life and accept this new path. There is a lot I can say about the past 7 years, but much of this is more easily spoken than written. I can say that since committing to this career path years ago I have found new joys I didn’t know existed. I now not only enjoy “having written”, but also enjoy the actual writing process. I know some people hate the word “passion”, but I don’t. It means “suffer”. If you love something, you should be willing to suffer for it. That’s how you know you love it. I love writing music. I love being a composer. It has not been an easy path to commit to it, but I am fully committed and am willing to suffer for it. I have been for years.
I have had absolutely fantastic performers play my music and the joy that brings me cannot even be put into words. And I plan on many more playing my music in the future. Though I've known it for many years, I am now ready to say it: The worst thing that ever happened to me has turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to me.