Musical Autobiography

This semester I’m taking a MEGA-RAD class called The History of Rock and R&B. It’s everything it sounds like, including weekly viewing sessions, a class Spotify account, and this first assignment! It was painful to realize how much I’d have to leave out if I wanted to write this in two pages or less, and as it’s ungraded, not try that hard so I could siphon my effort into other, more pressing tasks (like a real-life job interview, waddup.) However, I couldn’t help but make it snazzy. Here it is.

(Ok wait, a note: I’m rueful that I didn’t mention my family’s jukebox machine. Among thousands of other anecdotes… oh!)

Much of my confidence can be attributed to early exposure to The Queen of Soul, who encouraged me to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T around the same time I was learning to write in cursive. Listening to “Pet Sounds” during Sunday morning board game sessions primed me for a deep appreciation for revolutionary harmonies while innumerable listens to The White Album led me to impersonate John Lennon for a sixth grade biography project. Records were constantly spinning in my house growing up, and since coming to college, music has remained a large part of my life. Over time I’ve changed roles from classical clarinetist to a klezmer frelyekh fanatic, exchanged my Coldplay poster for one featuring Simon & Garfunkel, and moved from car radio DJ to avid harmonizer. However, I believe that the reasoning behind my high school superlative of “Most Musical” will be remaining solid for a long time to come.

I began exploring my infantile musical potential through Kindermusik. Learning to clap along with rudimentary rhythms and sway to the beat served me quite well in the decades following that formative experience. After graduating, the piano became my next challenge. Like many kids, I loathed the weekly lessons and oversized musical notation of the Alfred book series. In retrospect, it was valuable for learning the basics of how to read and play music. A brief third grade stint with the recorder led to the adoption of the viola for a year (too much arm strength required) and finally to my current instrumental sweetheart: the clarinet. We’ve been together for about 12 years, participating in everything from school bands to NYSSMA to Area All State festivals to pit orchestras to Veeblefetzer, Wesleyan’s premier klezmer band. I also enjoy eking out songs by ear, my favorites being those by CSNY, Disney, the Beatles, and even top 40 hits.

My ears have heard more than I could ever identify, let alone write about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a constant stream of 60’s and 70’s music illuminating the house. When I received my first iPod nano as a gift in sixth grade, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits were the first to be uploaded. The first song I ever bought on iTunes was Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. Middle school brought several sticky-sweet pop artists such as Mariah Carey and Katy Perry but they were tempered with fresh first tastes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Around this time, my interest in Broadway musicals was taking off, with my repertoire including shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and the Fantasticks. Later, Spring Awakening and In the Heights would be the productions that topped Sophie’s top ten albums list before years of post-high school showtune drought set in.

Just as I entered ninth grade, Coldplay became a huge new musical realm to explore. Ingrid Michaelson’s lyrics prevailed over geometry vocabulary in my memory after discovering her flawless catalogue. Although any mention of it now makes me groan, an intense interest in the then-mesmerizing television show “Glee” introduced me to hundreds of classic hits such as “Like a Prayer” and “Losing My Religion” through their a cappella covers. I began attending concerts near (at Saratoga’s wonderful outdoor amphitheater, SPAC) and far (journeying to Boston, New York, and beyond.) Listening to Regina Spektor delicately catapult her balm-like yet piercing songs of Russian childhood and modern love made a formidable impact. Reveling in the deliciously melancholy sounds of Of Monsters and Men in a mediocre Albany bar was also a milestone that capped senior year.

Since coming to Wesleyan, I’ve explored as much music as I had throughout the previous eighteen years of life. Just a few artists I’ve fallen in love with include James Taylor, CSNY, Bon Iver, The Staves, Van Morrison, and Paul Simon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended performances of the latter four in London within the last year. During sophomore year, I began an insurmountable project to listen to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, which has brought both great joy (finding Albert King, Manu Chao, and finally being able to relate to my parents’ undying devotion for The Boss) and a disappointing lack of understanding about the greatness of others (Steve Earle, Merle Haggard). Meeting a lovable, certified musicophile in September also greatly increased my passion for music. In addition to introducing me to a more holistic way of embracing music, from singers to record labels to producers, he’s helped train my ear to be more patient by experimenting with new genres and sounds. Now, as a student in the History of Rock and R&B, I’m thrilled to see what the next chapter in my musical autobiography will bring!

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i s r a e l : part two

This trip, in many ways, felt like sleepaway camp. As opposed to the simple “free trip to Israel” many of us imagined before landing halfway around the globe, this Birthright experience allowed me to develop several strong emotional bonds. I connected with my fellow travelers, who live across the US from New York to Laramie to Provo, in conversations spanning from introductory small talk to intense queries about the validity of relief when natural disasters reduce population size (Halley is a superb thinker.)

When traipsing around Israel, I felt a novel sensation of being intensely and barely Jewish at the same time.

Standing atop Mount Masada at dawn to witness the sunrise, looking out to the Dead Sea, surrounded by a mixed, mixed assortment of fellow Jews was astounding. Then, to hike over that mountain and imagine the thousands of years’ worth of events that had transpired atop the fortress, ranging from daily dove-tending to heart-rending massacres of Jews against Jews… this was so much more than a free trip. It required you up at dawn the first morning after a two-ish day day of travelling across the globe to get on your hiking boots and walk up a mountain. You were allowed the gift of meeting Bedouin nomads, drinking their coffee, and meditating on more stars than you’d ever seen while cloaked in the darkness of the Negev desert evening. Seven young Israelis ranging from soldiers to students to engineers accompanied you for five days. At first you were doubtful about their value, but after just a few days, you found yourself making silly faces with them and sincerely sorry when they left.

Even now, I’m not sure how Jewish I feel, or how to sort out the web of politics, history, and sorrow that the Jewish state has both endured and waged. However, I do know that because of this trip, I see Israel in a new light that’s framed with more understanding, support, and pride. I’ve strengthened my Jewish identity by holding onto the aspects of the religion I truly cherish such as universal respect, love, and the belief in education.

For the first time since high school, this trip gave me a huge community of young Jews to befriend. (I tried to enter the Wes group but it never felt right.) One of my favorite parts of going to Temple has been and will always be the multi-aged, family-filled community I can’t help but grow to love. Even though I’m far from most of my tripmates here in Connecticut, the idea that they’re all over the country is comforting, leading me to the thought that, when I do find a job and live somewhere, I can find another Jewish community to integrate myself into. Another home. To a lesser extent, I also now feel that Israel is another home for me if I wish it. That’s another incredible takeaway from ten days in a place steeped in meaning.

Second Semester Senior Year Realization #1

I wasn’t invited a get-together yesterday and my first reaction was feeling left out. Which, technically, I was. But then I realized that, had I been invited, I probably would’ve been kicking myself for going. I don’t like having to fangirl about Harry Potter all the time, or hyperbolize my homework load, or complain with the rest of my peers as they do so often. I feel a closer kinship with my professors, my home friends, my boyfriend and his older friends, and even my parents and family. Wes has been unspeakably wonderful for me in several regards, but after studying abroad, my lack of patience for being someone I’m not has proven fatal for several friendships. Although it’s an exercise in honesty I’m proud of, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I have a readily available second friend group to turn to.

At the beginning of last semester, I was invited to a nearly identical gathering. When I arrived, I was excited to see the friends I hadn’t talked to since pre-London. But after being offered a G&T and settling onto a couch with a quasi-friend who almost made it but was decidedly too busy and cool for me, everyone started talking about what seemed like trivial topics. I became frustrated that I was wasting my time listening to my peers try to one-up each other with prideful stories that lacked substance. So I left, disappointed, visibly bored, and distraught.

I’m grateful for these moments where I internalize reluctance to stay in college. They act as boosters to get out into the real world and thrive. But it’s tough love.

i s r a e l : part one

How do I begin writing about a ten-day trip across a country with as much history, conflict, beauty, scents, and sights as Israel? Well, I’ve gotta start somewhere. How about

Before landing in Tel Aviv, I was so wrong about many aspects of this trip.

I prepared myself to fight the various types of Judaism-related brainwashing they’d attempt on us all. On the right (0) to wrong (10) scale, I was wrong by 8.

I imagined the Israelis who’d accompany us for five days would be difficult to interact with and mostly sent by the organization to make us fall in love and settle in Israel with them. I was wrong by 9.

As someone not intimately involved with current events, I imagined Israel would feel something like a war zone: safety not guaranteed. However, with our two personable medics/security guards and itinerary that took us mainly to rural parts of the country, I hardly felt unsafe. While we were hiking close to the Syrian border (still many miles away), we heard four distant booms akin to those from the Hunger Games. A bit unsettling but barely. We later learned from UN peacekeepers that those sounds were from Israeli military exercises. So in the end, I don’t think I was ever very close to danger. Wrongness level: 9.25.

In terms of company, I didn’t think much about the others joining Elior and I on our trip through the holy land. I purposefully chose to join the 22-26 group over the college-aged groups because I thought they’d be more mature and better partners to explore the controversial, highly complex land that is the birthplace of humanity. Turns out I was right- this was a CRITICAL choice in elevating my experience. However, I didn’t foresee how much I’d bond with them on a level approaching that of sleepaway camp.

One aspect of the trip that I wish I hadn’t been wrong about was the food. I didn’t anticipate the daily buffets of plentiful cabbage and schnitzel, but had been hoping for more colorful and place-relevant dishes. True, we were offered roasted eggplant, various forms of sub-par shakshuka, and some okay hummus at these buffets, but it was at the markets and stands where the flavors really burst forth. Dare I admit that the hummus I tasted in London was better than the vast majority of the Israeli varieties I sampled? Reality check: I went with a group of 39 other young adults, on a practically FREE trip, for ten days. There’s no way I could’ve asked for higher quality food on the regular. Ultimately, I did expose my little tongue to some wonderful Middle Eastern flavors and for that I’m grateful.

At this point I’m still overwhelmed with the amount of information I wish to write and explore, so I’ll ease it by providing some pictures.