A SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR ADULT STUDENTS
I didn't know that I was going to be a professional musician when I was a kid. I had a lot of interests, and music was just one more thing I did. By the time I got to college, my experience and technique were lagging behind the rest of my peers, many of whom had attended preparatory programs at places like Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music.
I attended the University of Rochester as a music major, across town from the prestigious Eastman School of Music, and although I was able to take classes and lessons at Eastman, I constantly felt like an underdog. When I won the U of R concerto competition and performed the Grieg concerto with the U of R Symphony Orchestra, it was my first big validation that I was on the right path. Another pivotal moment for me was during my junior year, when Marc Sullivan took it upon himself to begin rebuilding my piano technique from the ground up over a mere 4-week summer program. This allowed me to successfully audition for the Masters in Piano Performance program at the University of Southern California, one of the top piano schools in the country, despite not having majored in performance as an undergraduate.
At USC I was fortunate to study with Bernadene Blaha and Kevin Fitz-gerald, who gave me comprehensive training in virtuoso technique, interpretation, and life. However, I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and suffered from performance anxiety. Performance psychology in music wasn't as established back then, and I read books like "The Inner Game of Tennis" to help me through it. Mostly I just practiced rote repetition obsessively until my fingers couldn't forget anymore.
This was enough to allow me to once again place in the school concerto competition, and I got to perform the Liszt first concerto with the USC symphony. Following my studies at USC, I was accepted to the long-term Artist Residency program at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, and performed both solo and in ensembles up to three times a week for live audiences over the next two years.
But now that my performing career was under way, a new kind of anxiety set in. Just when I was finally reaching the height of my pianistic powers, I was losing my will to play. It was no longer enough to express myself through the music of other composers anymore. A deep depression set in; I had very little experience composing, unlike, for example, my singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist brother, who had been writing and improvising since the age of four. I was almost 30 and it seemed too late to start.
I dragged my feet, wandering aimlessly for a couple of years. I ended up back in New York, because where better to be a musician? But I had trouble making that initial jump to composition, until it finally became so painful I couldn’t stand it anymore. On the advice of my friend and colleague Josh Massicot, I enrolled in a Dalcroze program and began to learn to improvise. This led to my first halting attempts at composing for myself - literally just edited transcriptions of my recordings of my improvisations. I studied “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and slowly learned to stop beating myself up and become comfortable with the process of creating. I also took up orchestration and digital scoring, learning how to use modern technology to my advantage. With time, I built up a portfolio that proved that impulse to create wasn’t coming from nowhere.
Today, I have a healthy piano studio in the heart of Manhattan and have scored award-winning animations seen by millions. I have worked with Madeline Bruser of the Art of Practicing Institute, Dr. Jon Skidmore, author of “Conquer Anxiety,” and the Stanford Center for Compassion Cultivation, which I consider instrumental in my recovery.
If you are a pianist struggling with your technique or with performance anxiety, I can help you.
If you are a blocked creative that wants to write but can’t get started, I can help you.
If you just want to learn and broaden your skillset as a pianist or creative, I can help you too.
If you read something in all of this that resonated with you, I want to hear from you.
Let’s get you living the life you were meant for.