Some of you know I have been a musician my entire life, but I don't often share the origin story. When my dad adopted me I was in 5th grade. I remember, because Mrs.Fernandez, my 5th grade teacher, gave me a dictionary and thesaurus set with a beautiful message in her custom calligraphy as a congratulations gift. I wore a sunflower print dress with a yellow scarf around my waist and we went out for Chinese food after court. This was the beginning of the first chapter.
Things were turbulent at home. In the beginning, I slept on a mattress on the floor next to my now sister sleeping in her Barbie canopy bed with purple drapes. My new step-brothers were in and out of the house and jail, engaging in their passionate relationship with trouble and drugs. I kept my closest companion, my flute, next to me while I slept. I picked her out during an instrument petting zoo they had at school the year before. It had become an extension of myself. Not only because it was a wind instrument and you literally had to blow across the mouth hole to create sound, but because it was the only thing that seemed to understand me at the time.
I quickly figured out that music was my love language, and that it brought me opportunities to get out of the house. I joined band in junior high school, where we had weekly rehearsals until 5:00. That gave me an extra two hours at school. Both of my parents worked 16-hour days, so my new sister and I were in charge of the chores and warming up dinner before bed. My flute was my savior, because by the time I got home after rehearsal, I only had to deal with my "sister" for a couple more hours. In the meantime, I took on the role of "band geek", complete with glasses, a tall lanky figure, straight A's (because if I spent more time studying, that was less time at home), and the school bully with her eye on me (I wonder what she's up to these days). I didn't care. It was the perfect cover.
In high school, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot! I joined marching band, concert band, concert choir, jazz choir, a cappella ensemble, and was student conductor of the string orchestra. During all of this, things went from bad to worse at home, and my after school hours went from two to four hours on weeknights AND 8 hours on Saturdays. There was a very significant moment that hit me during community band rehearsal one day. I was sitting in the front row next to my private teacher (so cool!). The conductor raised his arms, and we lifted our instruments into ready position. Instead of taking a breath and playing the notes on the page, I took a breath and fell apart into tears. At 14 years old, I was living two lives: the adopted outcast at home, and the straight A's musician at school. The weight was heavier than when you try to make it up the stairs with all of the groceries in one trip. I wanted to disappear, I wanted it all to go away, and I wanted that breath to be my last.
"Breath it in, breathe it out, and try again."
My music teacher must have known something was going on deep inside me (we have a knack for that), because she put her hand on my back and said, "Breath it in, breathe it out, and try again." I thought she was nuts. Try AGAIN!? The thing was, I trusted her, so I took another breath. The conductor lifted his arms once more, and this time the sound of the ensemble came ALIVE. The music grew and filled the room, changed colors, moved through my body... I could feel it, touch, it, taste it, and see it in ways that I didn't before. From that point on, music was all I cared about. It drowned out anything that made me feel less than. It drowned out all pain, all worry, and all stress. In that moment music became my love language. I could use it to tell the world anything, and it used me to help me heal.
From that point on, I knew I would make music my career. More importantly, I knew music had some crazy healing powers. I graduated from high school and earned both a Bachelors and Masters degree in music. I focused on helping others find themselves and their own language through music both in the studio and in performance. I am now a year away from earning my board certification in music therapy. In my work I meet people in the various phases of their relationship with music: those wanting to be famous, those not wanting to practice, those who have a deep respect for the healing power of sound, and those who think their talent supersedes any need to push themselves. It is all a dance. All I know is, part of my life's work is to help others find their way, whether music has a permanent part in their life, or is just an ally in their current chapter. As for me, music saved my life.