From Musician to Journalist…and Then Back to Musician.

It’s typical to hear college students say, “I’m taking this class that I don’t even NEED.” “How is this relative to my degree?” “When will I ever use this again?”

I am one of those students. And one of those classes I took was reporting.

As a minor in public relations studies, reporting is the pre-requisite to upper level PR classes. Let me tell you, I was ticked. I enjoy writing, otherwise I wouldn’t have a blog, but reporting is a totally different animal. First, you must purchase and study the holy AP Style bible. You must, and I do mean MUST, write everything according to AP Style, or you will receive a 75 on work that probably would have gotten you a 90 in a basic English course.

It was a frustrating class, mostly because I wasn’t good at it. I would call my mom every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after class saying “I DO NOT WANT TO BE A REPORTER. I AM A MUSIC MAJOR.” I think by midterms, the whole fine arts side of campus got the idea.

As the semester went on, I put more and more effort into the class. My first investigative reporting topic, marijuana (thrilling), had me less than enthused. I knew nothing about it, I cared nothing for it, and my sources felt the same way, making for very awkward interviews. There’s that 75 I was talking about.

I had more enthusiasm for the second assignment- reporting on the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students (ACES) at UTA. Earlier that semester I considered entering ACES, took one look at the previous years’ presentation topics (some of which included words I couldn’t even pronounce), and said, “Nope!” I had the pleasure of interviewing a member of the steering committee and told her my concerns about fine arts majors being intimidated by the program. We had a great discussion about how to include more fine arts majors in the program, and I left the interview feeling GLAD that I had the opportunity to talk to her.

Okay… so maybe this class isn’t so useless. By the end of the semester, interviews were a breeze.

My final project of the course was a feature story, and I was able to choose any topic I wanted. Of course, I had to bring everything back in to the music department. I chose to do a personality profile, which is fairly difficult. You have to basically stalk your person of choice and interview 15-20 of his or her closest friends, family members, and colleagues. STRESS MUCH? Needless to say, I did a ton of research and read a lot of feature stories about Cybil Shepherd to get the gears grinding.

I chose to interview a fellow classmate of mine, Kristin Waymel. Before you read the story itself, I have to give my personal opinion of Kristin (bad journalism, sorry Professor J). Kristin and I were never exactly friends, but we did have quite a few classes together. She was always someone I admired from afar- clearly dedicated to her studies and violin. She was never afraid to ask questions, never seemed stuck up. She was always very sweet and humble, even as the concert master for the UTA Symphony Orchestra. She suffered an injury and was held back in performing, so, I figured she was the perfect person to study. Talented, motivated, and sweet concert master suffers injury- tragic! Let’s talk about it.

Kristin, being sweet as always, happily agreed to let me pick her brain. She was the first one I interviewed, and I did not walk away with the information I expected. I ended up with a beautiful story about overcoming what can be the worst obstacle in life- yourself.

Here is what an A looks like for a music major turned news reporter.

ARLINGTON – Rousing applause sweeps through the Dallas City Music Hall as Kristin Waymel, second chair for violin in the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra, takes a bow with her peers following their spring concert. Respighi’s militant and victorious “Pines of Rome” is more than the conclusion to a concert program. It is the musical synonym to the past year of her life.

Waymel, 21, is not the stereotypical college student. She prefers soothing hot teas in place of beer, prides herself on vegan cooking, and is fiercely dedicated to her academic career. As neatly put together as Waymel is on the exterior, she is constantly overcoming the nagging perfectionist in her head.

Diagnosed with an anxiety and panic disorder in 2012, Waymel now has answers for the unrelenting pressure she puts on herself to be a perfect student and violinist.

“Sophomore year was a bad year for me,” Waymel said. “I would come into orchestra rehearsals beating myself up the whole time and be so anxious about making a mistake that by the end of it, I would be in tears and would have to hide in a practice room.”

Waymel is all too familiar with psychological disorders. Her older brother has dealt with mental illness and anxiety since he was three years old. She never wallowed in self-pity. Instead, she nurtured her brother and knew what she needed to do to take care of herself.

“It’s been a long road for him, and for us,” Waymel said. “We try to find good doctors, those who care and aren’t jerks like ‘Are you good with your meds? Do you want more or less or the same?’”

In retrospect, Waymel said she has always lived with anxiety, her earliest panic episode occurring at her violin recital when she was 7 years old.

Waymel’s first performance terrified her to the point of having to be carried in to the performance hall by her mother, Becky Schafer.

“I had no idea she was stressed out about this first strings performance until after dinner,” said Schafer. “She broke down, crying and stubborn, and said, ‘I’m not going.’ I’m just as stubborn, and I said, ‘I’m sorry but you are going.’”

Following the performance, Schafer said her daughter ran to her, smiling ear to ear.

Music performance— Waymel’s strength, passion, and gateway to anxiety.

“She never wants to put anyone out or be the problem, so she just doesn’t bring it up when she’s struggling,” Schafer said. “I think she just managed to cope with it as best she could until she got to UTA.”

In 2011, she participated in the department-wide concerto competition, an honorable opportunity in which the winner performs as the soloist with the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra. During her audition, she had a memory slip and began sobbing on stage. Waymel composed herself long enough to finish the piece. She bowed politely and tripped down the stairs.

Waymel called her mother and was inconsolable. Schafer said she was completely taken aback by her daughter’s emotional state.

“She was just a wreck,” Schafer said. “Kristin would maybe shed a tear twice a year. It was so rare for her to cry. I had no idea what was going on.”

Up to this point in her life, Schafer said her daughter had been able to cope with the pressure of being a performance major and honors student. After the concerto competition, the flood gates had opened.

“I just thought I was crazy, and I’m sure everyone else did too like, ‘what is wrong with that girl,’” Waymel said, smiling.

The irony is that even with her public emotional outburst, “crazy” is not an adjective her peers or professors use to describe her. Waymel is admired department-wide as a focused, intelligent and exemplary student.

Associate musicology professor Dr. Graham Hunt has spent a lot of time mentoring Waymel since her freshman year. He saw her potential as a developing analytical musician and urged her to participate in honors studies.

“She’s meticulous in every sense of the word– almost to a fault,” Hunt said. “She gets so into things because she’s so dedicated. She maxes it out. Sometimes it can be a drawback.”

Even if her perfectionism could be a drawback, Hunt said Waymel’s work in his upper level sonata theory class was something he could brag about to other professors. Her graphs were crisp, lines perfectly straight, arguments solid. She would come to class with questions on how she could better improve her analytical skills.

As Waymel struggled to understand and cope with her anxiety, she drove herself further into performing. She became concertmaster for the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra in 2012.

“I would get to the music building at 6 a.m. to practice until I had class, but I would tense up while I was playing,” Waymel said. “I was sleep deprived.”

In a desperate attempt to overcome her self-doubt, she pushed herself to the point of injury in spring of 2013. Waymel suffered from muscle inflammation in her neck and shoulder, resulting in a lack of blood flow through her arm. She could not turn her neck, lift her arm, or move her wrist, and was forced to rest—a little bit.

Little did she know, this injury would lead her down a path to self-discovery, and ultimately the answer to harnessing her anxiety.

“I’ve been kind of rethinking, especially with this injury, the what-ifs,” Waymel said. “Do I want to spend all my time on practicing and injury prevention? Is that really the focus of my life?”

During spring break, Waymel brainstormed ideas with her mother. She needed a plan to discover her true calling. She wanted to somehow combine her love of music with her desire to help others.

Though she was unable to play, Waymel sought opportunities to stay involved in the symphony orchestra. She asked Dr. Clifton Evans, director of orchestras, how she could help. She wrote program notes for the semester and now serves as assistant concertmaster.

“She’s a real leader,” Evans said. “She serves whatever role I ask her to and serves it well. She’s a great student in every way.”

Serving—that was the answer. Waymel and her mother agreed that she should pursue music therapy.

“I’m pretty emotionally intelligent,” Waymel said. “I’m always counseling my friends and my students. With my own experiences in the mental health field, it’s just really something I want to be a part of.”

Though still a perfectionist in most aspects of her academic career, Waymel has learned through counseling to focus more on her quality of life. She attended her first Texas Rangers baseball game since moving to Texas from Arizona seven years ago and loves taking care of her two cats, Huxley and Tobias.

Schafer said she is immensely proud of how far her daughter has come in the last year. She watched Waymel remove anything in her diet that could contribute to inflammation and anxiety. She takes minimal medication and pursues a healthy, positive outlook on life beyond the stage.

After finally overcoming the biggest struggle of her life, Waymel said she cannot wait to graduate and pursue music therapy in graduate school. Texas Women’s University in Denton is her first choice.

“Music is so high pressure,” Waymel said. “It’s interesting now that I’m going to use music as a way to help people deal with their problems when it really, definitely exacerbated mine.”

Waymel was given the 2014 Outstanding Music Student award by the UT Arlington music department faculty, a well-deserved honor to send her into her final year of undergraduate studies.

 

 

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People Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Dad

Five months of blog material seems to have passed me by as I push through the final stretch of school. What better time than the present than to write about the musician who inspired it all: my dad.

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Mom always loves to say she eloped with the drummer from a rock & roll band. From probably about kindergarten age, I was going to Dad’s Saturday night band rehearsals and would often end up falling asleep next to his drum set. (I can sleep through anything). I wanted to tag along with him everywhere and do everything he did. When you grow up with your dad behind a drum set, and a microphone next to that drum set, your perception of reality is forever altered. Must be why I love drummers so much (HAH!!!!!!!!). But really. As a wee babe, I thought musicians were the coolest ever.

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In first grade, I decided on my own that I wanted to be a musician and approached the elementary music teacher about private piano lessons. I studied classically with her for about 15 years but also took up playing keys for Dad’s band. You have no idea how awesome it was to be the chick (even as a 12 or 13 year old) in a band of old men, and to this day, I would prefer sitting around in a room full of old men with guitars and corny jokes than just about anyone else. Dad took me to almost every concert I ever attended, which was a LOT more than any of my friends ever went to (cause, let’s be honest, their parents were lame), and he was always ordering CDs for us off the Internet. I got to see Dream Theater, people. DREAM THEATER. My dad rules. So, to give you the baby without the whole nine months, Dad instilled the appreciation and passion for music of all mediums and varieties early on.

In 2010, I was encouraged by my private jazz piano teacher to transfer to UTA for music. While it was, at some point, my intention to be a music major, I was terrified. Aside from getting horrible performance anxiety, I had multiple teachers from my high school tell me I was foolish to choose music as a career. They encouraged me to pursue English or literature (cause where would that have gotten me?), while half of my graduating class went on to pursue business and politics and marriage at 20. I’m over here like, MUSIC MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND, Y’ALL!

So anyway, as I sat at the kitchen table sobbing the night before my audition, Dad told me he had always wished he went to music school. He had grown up playing drums and was in the Castleberry HS jazz band. He visited UNT, interested in pursuing music, but was horribly intimidated and chose a different major. (I have full faith that my dad would have kicked serious butt if he had gone through with it). He said to me, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Otherwise, you’ll end up sitting behind a desk doing something you don’t love for the rest of your life.

So, I did it. I auditioned, was accepted, bawled my eyes out on a weekly basis, threw up a few times before performances, and somehow made it through the music program three years later.

Now, take a moment to grab some tissues.

Let me restate how influential my dad has been in my life. Without him, I would probably be studying microbiology or something super nerdy that would make me a ton of money in the future. I wouldn’t see the world in color, I wouldn’t end up connected with hundreds of fellow musicians whom I love and adore. Music is my life because of my dad.

Time hop to June of 2012.

Truly, I don’t remember what we did for Father’s Day. If I had to guess, based on normal routine, we probably sat around the kitchen table smoking cigars and drinking wine. I had just lost my job at Bailey’s Prime Plus due to its closing, which made me crazy, and decided to take some time off to relax. Dad hadn’t been feeling well, and I remember just feeling so bad for him because he was hardly ever sick. He missed going out for Mom’s birthday, which is a big deal because he adores my mom. Doctors said it was just a sinus infection.

Wednesday after Father’s Day, I had been out doing a photo shoot. I sat down on the couch in the front room to edit. Mom and Dad were posted at their usual spots at the kitchen table. Dad got up to feed the dogs, and I heard the sound of the metal bowl drop. And drop again. I didn’t pay much attention until I heard Mom say, “Alan, are you okay??”

The sight I saw when I ran into the kitchen isn’t one I would ever wish on anyone- ever.

Dad couldn’t stand. Mom was holding him up, and he struggled to get to the counter. He knocked over a glass of tea, and it shattered all over the floor. I had no clue what was happening and just burst into tears. Mom managed to lay Dad down on the sofa, and in an almost eerily calm tone of voice told me, “Call 9-1-1. I think Daddy’s had a stroke.”

I was on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator trying to get Dad to repeat tongue twisters. He couldn’t say anything. He didn’t know what was happening. He kept mouthing he was fine. When the paramedics showed up, they told me to stand around the corner outside the house so I didn’t scare him. I was in absolute hysterics.

Insert long, horrible night in the E.R. with our Sweet Valley High doctor-know-it-all. But, he was looking better. He was sitting up, managed to flip me off with his bad arm, which was awesome. I had never been happier to get the bird before.

The next morning was a complete shock. He was in ICU, couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. Was in a horrible amount of pain. He cried a lot, which was almost worse than seeing the actual stroke itself. We all thought he was going to die, and even the doctors seemed a bit hopeless. And in the moment that I held my dad’s head to me, both of us crying, my mom and my brother outside crying, I screamed at God inside my head. I think I can speak for the whole family when I say this was the worst time of our lives. I wanted NOTHING to do with anyone. I wanted my dad back. Nothing anyone could say or do would fix this.

Several days after Dad had been in the hospital, a nurse said to me, “Don’t worry. He’ll be driving again in three weeks.” Well, it’s two years later and Dad has just started driving by himself to work again, thanks to equipment that allows him to operate his truck one-handed. We had a recumbent bicycle built for him, also with the ability to shift gears one-handed, and we’re signed up to do 25 miles at the Hotter Than Hell in August. Words can’t describe how proud I am for the progress he has made since that awful day. You think your dad is a hard worker? No. You do not understand hard work until you see what my dad has done just to be able to even lift his arm to flip the light off in the bathroom.

But, I don’t know if Dad will ever play drums again.

When I look back at old pictures of my dad in his rock & roll days, I think about my life now- how it is to be young and in love with music. It’s not about the money you make but the quality of life you give yourself by pursuing your passions. Driving with the windows down listening to Yes. Sitting in coffee shops talking about music for hours. Watching a dad watch his son perform on stage, full attention, pride in his eyes. Stepping out from backstage after your last recital and seeing your dad, who you thought several months before was going to die, sitting in the audience. Those are things I would never trade to sit behind a desk at $15/hr. And you shouldn’t either. I’m not scared to say “I don’t know” when people ask me what I plan on doing with my life after music school because Dad is the truest testament to rolling with the punches. The best thing I can do is just… do it. Whatever it is.

Happy Father’s Day, most sincerely. It will forever be an emotional time of year for me, for us, but also a reminder as to why I am pursuing music. I truly believe my dad is the best dad. The most hardworking dad. The most awesome dad. Because he is.

Obligatory 2014 Grammy Post

The Grammys (as defined by an undergraduate music student): An awards ceremony that proves you don’t know nearly as much about music as you think you do.

I turned 24 years old last December. I feel like I am still in my prime when it comes down to being “in the know” and “hip” to current pop culture, but let me tell you, my iPhone was doing some serious work last night during the Grammys as I vigorously typed “Who is. . .” every two seconds into Google. Here are some things I learned:

  1. Lorde is a 17 year old girl. Holy cow. She signed on with Universal Studios when she was only 13 years old and is now a Grammy award-winning artist. Young people, pursue music. If that’s your passion, then seek it out. When I was 17 years old and told my senior English teacher that I wanted to pursue music as an adult, he told me that I should major in English or literary analysis. Music would get me nowhere. Yeah, English is gonna make me the big bucks (cause I care about the big bucks, obviously).
  2. There are still masterful songwriters in the world. Guy Clark’s album “My Favorite Picture of You” won Best Folk Album of 2013. I feel like a failure for loving folk music and not knowing of Guy Clark- serious failure. This is such a raw, beautiful album. If you’re a sap, get your tissues out when “Heroes” comes on. I always complain about artists who oversaturate their songs with harmonies, but Clark’s got it down. Listen to it right this second.
  3. IT’S OK THAT TWO ROBOTS WON ALBUM OF THE YEAR. Look, music majors, I know that your inner Dvořák is telling you this is wrong. This isn’t “real” music. This isn’t original. #omgsh do you even hear how auto-tuned this is? I did some research on these Daft Punk fellas, listened to the album, and I have to admit that I have a pretty high level of respect for them. I watched a couple of videos on their website from collaborators on the album (http://www.randomaccessmemories.com) and loved what Paul Williams had to say about them in Episode 8- “As somebody who became very much addicted to the attention, I became better at showing off than showing up. I did 48 Tonight Shows, I remember six. I don’t think there’s anything more pathetic than a little old man going ‘Please sir, may I have some more fame.’ On that level, I love that they choose to be anonymous. I am deeply respectful of somebody who expresses their craft and their art without the hunger for the public attention. They disconnect who they are to allow you to experience what they create.” Paul Williams wrote the lyrics to “Touch,” which is…awesome. It’s innovative, it’s unpredictable, it stretches the bounds between genres. If you don’t listen to any other song off this album, at least give “Touch” a shot.
  4. The Recording Academy continues to push the bar for professionals by encouraging collaboration from artists of varying genres. Classical pianist Lang Lang performed with Metallica (by far my FAVORITE performance probably…ever), rap artist Kendrick Lamar performed with Imagine Dragons, “taking the stage by storm” according to the Huffington Post. All of the performances were stellar. Haters, there is so much talent in LA. I know people like to think pop musicians are not talented, but they are. Beyond the music and logistics of recording an album, there is talent in being an entertainer. Trust me, nobody wants to see me trying to play piano with Metallica (except my mom). I would get horrible stage fright, probably throw up, maybe cry a little bit, and then make a really cute face every time I made a mistake- and by really cute face, I mean…
  5. The music industry is not dying. It’s changing, as everything does. I have heard so many people talk about the struggle of being a full time musician, which is true. I have heard of several remarkable symphony orchestras going bankrupt, which is true. I have heard that it is difficult to get a job as a music teacher, which is also true. However, the Recording Academy does more for the music industry and music education than I think a lot of people realize. NPR published an article about their non-profit work, which gives a little more insight to what the Grammys are all about- http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/01/24/265744023/how-the-organization-behind-the-grammys-spends-the-other-364-days .

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the Grammys this year. (Side note: I totally teared up when Lang Lang performed in honor of Van Cliburn). This show is not just about pop music and giving awards to artists who need to crank up the auto-tune. This is about showcasing serious talent, rewarding dedication and passion, recognizing the legends, and encouraging the underdogs to step into the limelight. And you know, I can not wait to get people there.

Getting Started: Goals for 2014

I have set several business-related goals for myself to accomplish before graduation in December. As ready as I feel to just hit the ground running, I’m going to do my best to take everything one step at a time, soaking in as much knowledge as I can translate to skill. Deep breaths. 

I’ve scared myself into thinking that I’m not prepared for a career in the music industry. I don’t feel like I’ve learned enough about “the biz” in college to be successful post-graduation. I’ve been thinking about grad school, looking into degree plans, freaking myself out over the idea of loans. Anyone who knows me in real life knows what a chatterbox I am. I thrive on advice and approval from others, so, I’ve asked for a lot of advice on this dilemma. The general consensus is: do your research, get an internship, gain experience, make a name for yourself. 

Okay, cool. I can do that. 8 a.m. business classes are super overrated anyway. 

Goal #1: Do research and build references. 

I know my skill set. I know what I enjoy doing and what I do not enjoy doing. I know my weaknesses and am ready to make them my strengths. If I can pass college Statistics, I can do ANYTHING. That being said, I know where to start my research: the basics.

 

My first reference point is the good ol’ Texas Music Office of Governor Rick Perry (I know, I know, government… everyone shudder and move on). I don’t know how I have never been to the TMO website before, but it has a handy guide that ANYONE pursuing a career in music should bookmark. (http://www.governor.state.tx.us/music/guides). So do it, right this second before you forget! 

I skim the links about copyright law, licensing, publicizing an event, creating press kits, everything I want to be involved with and more, and choose to start with “Getting Started in the Music Business.” Fine. I’ve already taken a very basic music business class at UTA, but I probably need a refresher (I’ve had a baseball-related concussion since then). 

So far, I’m already liking what I read.

“Introductory words of advice from Casey Monahan, Director

  • Read as many books as you can about how the music industry works…
  • Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions of the managers, booking agents, publishers, promoters and others you contact, or who contact you…
  • Go out to hear live music as much as your time and budget permits…”

I can do all of those things. 

The most important thing about pursuing any career is being willing to dive in. One can not be timid about his or her passion, especially when trying to make a living out of it. Do the research, buy/rent/borrow the books, take notes, have 8 different tabs open on your browser even though you know you can’t read that many articles at once (not gonna lie, one of mine is dictionary.com for legal jargon), be assertive and seek advice from professionals. 

All that being said, it’s a rare Friday night that I am not working. I think it’s time to find that live music Mr. Monahan suggests I hear. 

2014 say what?!

Friends, it is 2014.

Seeing a “4” after those three little numbers we have all grown accustomed to isn’t appealing to the eye. Saying “2014” out loud is uncomfortable. I’m not ready for it. In fact, it will take me (and probably you, as well) a large chunk of the next 12 months to get used to it. I will have to type or write “2014” or “’14” on all of my school assignments. I will see “2014” on all of my emails and bank statements. My calendar will be screaming 2014 at me, assuming I actually look at it. And, by the end of May, I might be confident that it is, in fact, 2014.

It takes time and a lot of repetition for something so simple as a date to be instilled in my brain. I’m willing to do it though, because I want to remember this year. 2014 is it’s own unique year- it’s the year that I graduate from college. It’s the year I truly embark on adulthood. It’s the year I get to evolve my passion for people and music. It’s the year I get to learn how to use my creativity in a business driven world. And, who knows, maybe it’s the year I land my dream job. I don’t know precisely what that is yet, but I’m working on it. 

My goal is for this blog to serve as a guide to those seeking insight to the entertainment, arts, and music industry and inspiration to pursue a passion in any given field. I can’t guarantee that every post will be a thrill, but I will share as much knowledge as I acquire along the way. I’m sure my rabbit will make an appearance every now and then, for those of you who enjoy stinkin’ adorable animals.

Thus ends my first blog post of 2014. Let’s make this year a good’un!