Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Land of Enchantment


For approximately the last month I have been blogging about healing in a round-about fashion.  I haven’t mentioned specific incidents; however, some of you know about (a) what prompted the healing process, and (b) the events surrounding the need to heal.  This past week, a whole different process was taking place in my life, pushing the previous healing journey to the back of my mind (even if only momentarily).  For the last seven days, I have been hearing a near constant chatter about people who have died and/or people who have lost everything.

Most of you know that I’m from Joplin, Missouri.  If you didn’t know that, now you do!  Joplin, if you have somehow been living in a cave this past week and didn’t know this, is the city in Missouri that basically just got wiped off the map.  Something like 75% of the city is gone because of one of the ten largest tornadoes that the world has ever seen.  My family is fine (albeit without electricity, like the majority of the rest of the city), but I have gotten news that many people I know have died…and of these “many,” a fair percentage of them from the piano competition circuit, the extracurricular activity in which I grew up.  This is the incident that made me push off my previous healing process in order to grieve about something much larger than me.

Many people in Joplin are now without homes and living in relief shelters.  Many of them have no job left, due to the fact that their job location is now gone.  A large percentage of the city has just disappeared.  If you look at the pictures online, it looks like a bomb went off in a war zone.  Being 800 miles away, I have felt somewhat helpless when it comes to assisting with the devastation of my home town.

Enter New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.  In New Mexico, I love to be outside.  This would have never happened when I lived in the midwest, as the humidity made it absolutely miserable to exist outside of four walls, a roof, and an air conditioner.  On the lower humidity days, it was around 2000%.  Here, however, I absolutely love it outside.  This past Thursday evening I went out to have drinks with a couple people, and two of us were discussing an upcoming hiking trip that we have planned to Bandelier National Monument on Memorial Day.  The third person informed me that hiking and being outside were one of the best things to do through the healing process.  I can’t help but think about how funny it is that I have changed into this person who likes to hike…but for now, I’ll just go with it.

After our drinks that evening, I sat down and really thought about it.  The funny thing isn’t necessarily that I now like to hike; rather, the funny thing is how much the landscape has shaped my new life here in Santa Fe.  The weather, the mountains, the desert, the lack of people…all of these things have changed how I live.  If you haven’t experienced life in the high desert, it is hard to explain.  The best way I can think of is as follows:

It is a spiritual experience just to exist here.

So in just a few hours, we will be leaving Santa Fe and heading to the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos to hike Bandelier.  After the initial shock of last week’s tornado has died down, I think I am finally ready to go outside and begin to grieve.



Opus 31 Number 2 in D Minor


In addition to my attempts at composing, for the last week I have been relearning the Beethoven Op. 31 No. 2 that I played in undergrad.  Today I officially finished memorizing the first movement, so after my practice session, I came back to look in my handy dandy book about Beethoven and his sonatas, titled “Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas Explained” by Ernst von Elterlein.  In this book, Elterlein has taken an aesthetic as well as theoretical look at each of Beethoven’s sonatas.  Every time I learn another of the sonatas, I always come back to this book to look at what is “under the hood” of that particular piece.  The Op. 31 No. 2, nicknamed “The Tempest” (by a publisher, no doubt) has one of the longer descriptions in the book.  It reads as follows:

“The first movement of this Sonata, allegro, D minor, 4/4 time, is a dramatic presentation of a manly, earnest, passionate, and violent conflict, accompanied by inward struggles.  In the beginning of the movement, the master still betrays indecision; he pauses, reflection whether he shall take the decisive step of not.  Then, all at once, he makes up his mind and the storm bursts forth; at bar 21 the chief theme appears, as Marx says, sternly resolute and full of force, but soon joins itself to a gentler impulse of pain or of supplication; then the feeling becomes more and more restless, and the second theme has a very agitated character.  Now some hard blows resound, as if the struggling spirit were bracing itself for fresh effort.  Then the deep, angry, tumultuous mutterings and rollings recommence.  At the beginning of the second part we hear again the largo tones; ‘the largo question sounds solemnly three times;’ and the response is renewed, but more eager aspiration and passionate struggle.  A moment’s rest comes again, the largo is heard once more in a recitative full of expression, and of sorrowful submission to the inevitable.  Such I take to be the meaning of the recitative.  Then the struggling and striving dies away in low, gloomy mutterings.

“The second movement, adagio, B flat major, 3/4 time, depicts the deepest inward peace and serene happiness.  A religious feeling pervades the chief theme of this movement.  But amid all this repose come occasional outbursts of passion; indescribable emotions rise and swell in the heart; an ardent yearning after higher happiness takes possession of the soul; the agitation is gently soothed, but the yearnings begin again, to be, however, hushed at least.  The whole is a beautiful and richly colored piece of soul-painting.

“The third movement, allegretto, D minor, 3/8 time, consists properly of only two principal subjects; the first quite at the beginning of the movement of four notes only, A, F, E, D; the second of six notes at the interval of a second (F, E, F, E, F, E).  This gives a stamp of originality to the piece, especially to the second tuneless motive, and something of a bizarre tinge is imparted by the almost obstinate repetition of the theme in every key.  What does this movement mean?  A deep agitation through it; a striving after something, as there was in the first movement, but a less active striving, one might say a more resigned effort, accompanied, however, by a bitter, almost gnawing grief.  Over the whole, which Marx speaks of as ‘perfumed with longing,’ there hovers a spirit of fantasy; a humorous feature runs though it, by which the former restless, and even gloomy, character of the movement is essentially modified.  After careful consideration, we feel convinced that this rondo is no mere caprice, and that there is, although we may not be able to explain how, a subtle connection between it and the first movement.  And the sonata on this account gives the impression of a work uniformly carried out.  It may also be noted that, according to tradition, Beethoven had a special preference for this Sonata, and frequently played it in public” (Elterlein, 1903, pp 77-79).

So, overlook Elterlein’s poor writing style and if you aren’t familiar with music, overlook the technical jargon.  My journey seems very similar to this Sonata at the moment.  In the first movement, there is one spot in particular that I can point out to you where up until this point, it is clouds and thunder.  In this particular spot, the clouds have clearly parted to make room for the sun, however temporarily the sun’s appearance is (and in this case, it is only a few bars).  I believe I have gotten to that sunny point, even if it’s only temporarily this time.  That being said, it’s toward the end of the first movement, so if my life is going to mimic the music, I don’t have long until we have an entire movement in a major key (and my favorite major key at that…B-flat).  I guess all there is left to do at this point is ride it out and see if B-flat comes next!

Neopolitan Dorian


As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’ve decided to try my hand at composing…and I’ve found that I don’t suck at it.  I mean, I’m not Bach or anything, but I definitely don’t suck.

I’ve been working on one piece for a little less than a week now.  I got bored after practicing one day, and a musical friend suggested finding my way through the key of D Dorian.  It started with just a melody that had a few chords in it–specifically Neapolitan sixth chords.  The left hand didn’t come as easily as the melody, so I had to get the same friend to help show me what to do.  The whole process of working on this piece, one VERY small part at a time, has been somewhat cathartic for me.  Because I don’t have lyrics for this piece (nor does it require lyrics to complete it), all of my emotion goes into the musical aspects.  Would I like to be able to compose faster?  Yes.  However, since this is composition for healing’s sake, I’m not forcing or rushing the process.  It’s not going to turn out to be the next Rach 3 or anything, but that’s not my aim either.  The point of this exercise is to actually exist compassionately through the process.

Throughout the course of last night and today, I have listened to a specific song about a million times (okay, that number might be slightly exaggerated).  This particular song includes the following words:

I am drowning in your sea

I can’t breathe without you anymore

I can’t breathe without you

Can you hear me?

This whole healing process for me was instigated by the arts.  After participating in a program, there were many facets of past traumas that I started reliving.  These traumas left a hole that hasn’t yet been filled.  Unfortunately, that makes me feel like I actually lost a part of myself.  So I got to the point where I literally embodied these lyrics as if I was singing them to myself.  That piece of me that is missing…it has gone noticed, and it either needs to be filled or healed through so I can breathe again (both literally and figuratively…though less on the literal side, as I’m still very much taking in oxygen).  Call it part of my spirit, soul, or whatever you want, but that is the point of this whole process.  And to get through the process, I’ve had to (and need to even more) give up a lot of control.  Negativity of any kind has been purged…and I just keep going.


Eric Whitachords



Do you have it?  Do I?  At least for me, I can say that for other people, I have compassion.  But do I have it for myself?  Not always.  And I think that it is hardest for us to have compassion for ourselves.

I have been blogging recently about trauma and healing, and the ways that I approach my own healing process.  I’ve been writing in my journal, playing piano, and once again, have tried my hand at composition.  The first time, as I noted in my last blog, produced a noise that I don’t ever care to repeat (though I’ve been told that it was in line with my particular emotional line that day).  A couple of days ago, I decided to give it another go…but this time I came prepared.

And by prepared I mean that I had a friend suggest a key for me, so that I had a bit of ammunition going into my practice session.

I started with my regular practice agenda: scales, velocity exercises, and then a handful of pieces.  In all actuality, I was stretching out the practice session to avoid the composition portion.  That being said, I finished the practice and started the composing.  For between 30 minutes and an hour I wrestled with the notes in the key of D Dorian, started through the musical maze, and eventually, emerged victorious.  Here is where compassion comes in: instead of lending myself to the emotional process, I spent the whole time thinking about whether or not my piece sounded good, despite the fact that it is only 16 bars long and only had a right hand melody.

Tonight, however, that same friend sat down with my melody and in less than ten minutes, came out with a left hand for it.  The funny thing was, when she played it, it actually had the emotional dynamics in it that I wanted.  When I played it, it sounded clinical, must like the subject of a fugue.  Even though I’ve played piano for 25 years, it never occurred to me to explore certain dynamic options…or any, at that.  I was too preoccupied  with how the individual notes sounded together and in succession.

What can I take from this?  Instead of looking at the healing process as a bunch of single events in succession, I need to step back and look at the larger picture.




This is a big word with more meaning than most people realize.  It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s an adjective, and it describes so many facets of life.  It needs to happen at certain times in our lives, but it doesn’t…and then it begins to happen at times when we don’t expect it.  We go through trauma and then many times suppress it with outside influences…which are really just crutches.  Alcohol, drugs, coffee, smoking, these are all things that have the possibility of numbing the trauma; however, it always comes back to haunt us at some point.

The more we suppress the trauma, the more that will come out when the floodgates finally open.


Another big word.  Emotional structures that hold back feelings, and then when they break, a bunch of crap comes out.  Like a flood, parts of our emotions are pure like water, and other parts are refuse that has settled at the bottom or has been picked up along the way.  All that crap has to be filtered out before the water can become pure again.  And sometimes, parts of that water will never be clean…but the filtration process takes place nonetheless.  Obviously if we want the cleanliness back, we can’t filter quickly.  Sometimes though, that’s the part that hurts the most.  We want to heal, and we want it to happen now…but it never happens that way.

So I think I should treat it like a plant instead of something that I can control.  Like a plant, there are certain aspects that I can control: preparing the area, planting the seeds, and watering and feeding the plant.  But the real growth…

That’s all on the plant’s terms.

And I don’t like to give up control…but I’ll do it.

Omnia Causa Fiunt


I believe that everyone and everything that comes into our lives, does so for a reason.  Do I usually understand that reason?  No, not until many years later.  Occasionally, however, the reason is immediately clear.

In my life, there is a lot of healing that needs to take place.  Whether it be through writing, playing piano, or attempting to compose, it needs to happen.  Recently there was an event in which I participated that opened a flood gate of sorts for me.  I can’t tell you that it was comfortable, but it was opened nonetheless.  It made me realize that certain processes didn’t occur when past events happened in my life.  Honestly, I really don’t like the fact that I need to go back and rehash all the pain; however, I will do it, if for the only reason that it’ll make me a stronger person.

So which avenue will I take?  Writing?  Playing?  Composing?  Probably a combination of all three (with maybe the exception of composing, because my recent attempt was just plain bad).  I guess I could elaborate on that…  While playing the other day, I started going through one of my past events, mostly emotionally, but also somewhat physically.  While this was happening, I started playing, not an already composed piece, but just playing.  When I really started to hear what I was playing, it sounded like the musical equivalent of torture (many of you may think that George Crumb, but this was MUCH different).  Though I can’t remember the exact notes I was playing, I do remember that it was incredibly dissonant and frequently jumped from one asymmetric meter to another.  It almost sounded like someone being dragged behind a two-flat-tired car with no muffler.  Now, I don’t think that means I’ll never be able to compose, but that particular sound is not one I’d like to repeat on purpose.

I guess I can just agree to it being the musical equivalent of my then-current emotional state: guttural, angry, scared, and 100% visceral.  The more the music came out, the more it felt like someone was pulling it out…along with my guts.  After 20 minutes of basically watching my fingers and listening, the sound just stopped.  My physical reaction was to cross my arms in front of my belly and squeeze as hard as I could.  After that, I could no longer focus.  I sat on the bench for another 10 minutes, staring at the piano, and then collected my things and left.

And then there was silence.