I Have a Dream

I have a dream.

I want a place where I can congregate with superhero wannabes.
I’d have a red phone encased in glass.
A place where we can learn from history and how we can make ourselves better because we learn from those examples and stories.
A place where we investigate how penguins communicate with giraffes – and we try to copy those methods, and develop our own communication systems.

I have a dream.

I dream of a time where dress-up goes back to being important, because it helps us figure out who we are – and who we want to be.
I want to explore what its like to be a dragon and a princess, I want to dance with a horse.

I have a dream.

I want stories to influence music, and music to influence culture (it already does – but i want more of it). And I want to participate in bringing those stories and songs forward.
I want bookshelves lined with stories – and ghosts of people reading.

I have a dream of letting children and adults do some musical exploring. I want everyone who walks in to learn an instrument of their choice, explore their own voice – and when I say so, I want them to put their choice away and pick up something different that is found 3 paces to their left. And explore a new world, so when they come back to what they know, they view it with brand new ears, and see colours they hadn’t noticed before.

I have a dream of owning a space where we can be free to make a mess.  Where life can be chaotic.  Because when life is chaotic we feel limited in how we can solve problems -but in reality this chaos frees us, and our solutions are unlimited – we just have to think a bit differently in order to unlock those possibilities. It all starts as chaos but it ends up as music.

This is my dream. And maybe one day this space will be mine.


*Photo taken through the window – in a dark room, which stood explain the weird reflections. This space used to be a Home Hardware – but I think it would be a great Studio de Chaos.  A place where games are played, camps are held, stories are told, experiments happen.  A place where I (and others like me) could be happy.

Being Mentally Strong


This post is based on Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
Let me preface this by saying, I have not read her book (yet), but I have read her summary post about it about 900 times in the past year – and I have some thoughts regarding my own journey  struggle to becoming mentally strong.

When I first came across this list, it was almost a year ago, and I had just re-injured my elbow so severely, that I couldn’t imagine playing guitar again. More than that, my doctors, and teachers/coaches didn’t think I would ever play guitar again.  If you know me at all, you know that there isn’t a whole lot in life that I love more than being a musician. It’s pretty much the reason for my existence.  So not only was I dealing with that stuff – but after years of teaching, I was unhappy with what had been happening in my studio, and had decided to take a break. I was in an unhappy place. I had isolated myself from a community that I loved, and I didn’t see a way to come back to it.

Of the 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do according to Amy Morin, I can tell you that I was doing all of them. These things are:

  1. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
  2. They don’t give away their power.
  3. They don’t shy away from change.
  4. They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.
  5. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
  6. They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
  7. They don’t dwell on the past.
  8. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
  9. They don’t resent other people’s success.
  10. They don’t give up after the first failure.
  11. They don’t fear alone time.
  12. They don’t feel the world owes them anything.
  13. They don’t expect immediate results.

When I first read these- my initial reaction was “Fuck you Amy Morin!”.  I didn’t think that any of my problems at the time had anything to do with me – or at least weren’t my fault. I wanted a quick fix, and I didn’t think I should have to do the work.  I was pretty much the most spoiled brat on the planet when it came to viewing my situation.  I viewed myself as a victim, in the worst way possible. While I have definitely grown this past year, and made some great strides in my guitar playing and the way I see the world (and myself in it), I am still struggling with some of these things. Continue reading

The First Performance


Today the students of Studio de Chaos are taking the stage to perform some selections they have been working on this term for their friends and families.  It will be a day filled with music, fun, and excitement. But for some, there will be a few hours of anxiety and nerves, and uncertainty.  I have a lot of first time performers this year -who have no idea what to expect.  And these kids are nervous.  Excited but nervous.  Walking into the unknown can be a bit scary.  Explaining what is going to happen can only prepare them for so much, because something different happens to us each time we walk on stage. Sometimes its magical, and sometimes it isn’t. But its always an adventure.  So we take a breath, and hold our heads confidently, and we walk on stage just like we practiced so many times before.

But there are things we can do the day of the performance to make ourselves feel a bit more calm and confident. Here is my to do list on performance day:

  • Eat a breakfast that has not a lot of refined sugar – oatmeal is a good choice.
  • Something warm to drink is always nice, though Im not sure how many six year olds drink tea. But for me, a cup of tea rather than coffee is helpful.
  • Do a short practice in the morning, I would rather you not play the songs you are going to perform this afternoon, but if you feel you need to play them one more time – then do that.  No more than 5 minutes on those songs though.
  • If you are feeling nervous, read a chapter of a fun book.  Or tell someone a few jokes.  Laughter is great for relaxing the nerves.
  • Go for a walk at some point this morning. Pay attention to what you see, smell, and hear.  I expect all of you to be doing this at some point – and I want a report.
  • Most importantly, I want all of you to come prepared with a prank for the reception afterwards – because this holiday will be about fun and pranking!

I understand that sometimes we don’t feel up to playing in front of an audience, and that’s fine. If you feel like you cant do it this time, then stay and watch and learn from some of the other students. And if you feel like going up afterwards – we can arrange that too.  The recital is supposed to be fun.  It doesn’t always have to be serious.  And when the time comes, and you don’t feel like playing the song that we rehearsed, but want to tell a story or a joke, or a dance routine -then that’s fine too.  Anything goes!

The reward will be great today!

*Photo Source – David Vidmar via flickr






The Practice


Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me these days. Almost all aspects of playing have become challenging – even areas where I once excelled at have become foreign and a bit enigmatic.  Which is why a daily practice has become more important than ever, to me.  I’m slowly adding my old pieces back into my repertoire, but am cautiously adding new to me composers as well.  For someone who has invested almost her entire life to the playing of classical guitar, there are some huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar music. For instance, almost the entire baroque repertoire, with the exception of the Bach cello suites.  So I have added this Weiss Fantasie into my practice.  And surprisingly, I am beginning to love it.

For those of you who are interested – this is what my rehab practice looks like.  I try to get in an hour a day. Sometimes I am unable to play that long – and sometimes I want to play more, but I know that if I push it too much, the pain that will occur will be too much for me to handle, and I will have to take several days off – and I cant afford that.

  • Arpeggio exercises – 10 minutes.  I do this instead of scales, because its easier on my hands, and it gives my brain a workout, when I progress past the standard PIMAMI
  • Sarabande by Francis Poulenc – its a simple piece, but its quite difficult to master.  Its meditative and somber.  It was my dog Charles favourite piece, and when I play it, I can feel him next to me, keeping time with his tail.  Its a great warm up. Usually I play this for 10 minutes.  Trying to get the tone as even as possible.
  • Suite no. 1 – Richard Rodney Bennett – A suite of Pieces for the early intermediate student. Structurally there isn’t much happening, but the soprano and bass voices are written in different keys, which makes playing a bit challenging.  But mostly its brain work. Usually by this point my fingers are warm and about as agile as Im going to get in the practice session.  So the set of pieces usually flows fairly well at this point. – 2 complete tun throughs- plus any extra practice where its needed.
  • I am now halfway through my practice session. At this point I choose a couple of pieces I have had in my repertoire for years, and I choose a passage or 2 in each to deconstruct and re-learn.  I usually do about 10-15 minutes on this.  Usually this is an older contemporary piece, it might go back as far as Mauel de Falla’s Homenaje, or some thing from the Four Pieces by Frank Martin, or probably one of the many pieces I have learned and loved by Leo Brouwer.  The only requirement here, is that it had to be something that was at one time, performance ready – and had to have been played in front of an audience.
  • The remainder of the hour is devoted to new work(s).  I have several in rotation.  Weiss, Bach, Stephen Dodgson, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Scarlatti.  I usually work on a phrase or 2.  Because I usually have between 15-20 minutes left in the session – learning new works is a slow business for me.

This time of regimen is new for me.  I used to be the type of musician who would skip warmups.  I hated scales and other technical exercises (I still do). I didn’t think technique was necessary.  Ah youth – so stubborn, so wrong!  In the past, I was the master mistress of thoughtless practice. I’d just play whatever was sitting on the music stand. I was a really good sight reader, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing – I just did it, and I could get away with minimal amounts of practice.

Im in a very different situation now, I actually have to think about alternating my fingers. They don’t do it on their own anymore.  When you have to put that much thought into movement, playing becomes laboured, heavy, and clumsy. There really isn’t any way to make it sound good. So you have to look at your practice in a new way.  Instead of reclaiming a new skill. I have chosen to look at is as an adventure through history. Which is why I am trying to close the gaps. It’s going to take me a long time – since I am lucky if I can master 1 single measure of a new piece in one practice.  But if you aren’t aiming to get better, you are getting worse.

So I deem it to be worthwhile.


Studio De Chaos

IMG_1432Studio de Chaos is open for business starting in September. Its been a long year plagued with uncertainty and injury and lessons. Many many lessons.  Here is what I have learned:

1. I am not me if I am not playing guitar let alone teaching music.

2. This injury I have has basically put me at level zero of playing.  I do not sound like how I should. However, its given me a gift – I now know and understand the frustrations of the beginner.  The callouses, the awkward hand positions, the inconsistencies, the triumph of getting that measure perfect 4 times in a row, just to blow it on times 5-19 to get it almost right again on attempt #20.  Empathy is a good thing, and will get me back to where I need to be – at least on the teaching end of it.  Im still working on the patience side (for myself).

3. My imagination hasn’t gone anywhere. My imagination has always been the strongest asset to my guitar career.  I spent an entire year reading books just so I could at least keep one part of guitar game going.  And if my practice session this morning is any indication, its going to be a really fun year of telling stories while we learn some classical music.

4. My mental game may be strong – but my physical one is not – so I need to add more exercise to my daily practice. Strength training – along with a whole lot more physiotherapy here we come!

Im getting excited about the coming year – I have lots of ideas, and I am super excited to share them with new students.  And for everything that I have lost, I have gained so much more.

So if you are interested in an unusual approach to studying classical guitar, and live in Vancouver, BC – I may be the solution you are looking for.  Call 604-679-1731 to schedule a lesson. Ask for Laura.

I’m Back, Babies!


There are very few photos of me where I am smiling or resemble anything that identifies as happiness. And there have been even fewer smiling photos than usual this year.

But today I was given some wonderful news, I saw my orthopaedic surgeon – who gave me the go ahead to play guitar *regularly*. Some of you may know that I am a classical guitarist, who has for the last several months (which felt like 10 years) has not been able to play due to a bone fragment from my elbow wrecking havoc with the ulnar nerve.

I got the swelling down to an almost manageable amount (its decreased in size by half), and my movement is good. Although, I am still struggling with rotation of my arm, in both directions.  There is not a whole lot of feeling in my fingertips -but that should come back in time.

I probably should mention that I am playing because of twice weekly physio and acupuncture sessions, and once a week lesson in Alexander Technique. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am celebrating this milestone. I have worked hard. HARD!

Anyway, today is a really special day  – I am excited and happy.  I sound absolutely terrible, but I must tell you – its the most glorious sound in the world.

I practiced for 28 minutes. 17 of those minutes were actually spent playing.  I aim to be playing an hour a day, by the end of September.

Im so happy.

Rainy Days and Mentors


I have a mentor. Or I had a mentor when I had a business. I guess now you could call him a friend who is much wiser than most of the people I know. He is kinda sage like. He also understands the way my brain works, which makes him unusual. Basically he is around to bounce ideas off of. And then helps me focus the ideas into something real or at least something a bit more focused (after a couple hours of chaotic brainstorming). Sometimes he puts ideas into my head. But usually the conversation between us starts off like 2 bouncing balls – they start out manageable – but with each bounce they get more and more excited and out of control.

Its been exactly a year since I decided to shut down my studio (which I closed in July of 2016), and I have spent this past year walking around in a daze. I have been so lost. I have ideas, but they don’t stick. I want to move to Spain – but I don’t have the money – because Im paying off studio debt and trying to save during this time, has proven impossible. I have wanted to relaunch the studio into something a bit different, something a bit entrepreneurial – but every time I seriously start thinking about it, I talk myself out of it.  And honestly, I really don’t want to work with children anymore- so its probably best that I just lay it to rest.

So to mark the one year anniversary of me making a decision – the mentor/sage/friend comes over to have a chat. Or give a tough love talk. The tough love talks take place during a walk in the rain. This is how it plays out (in actual fact, having tough talks and walking in the rain is a lesson he learned from me):

Mentor (him)- Lets go for a walk. Leave the umbrella inside.
Laura (me)- Im not up for it.
Mentor – Im not asking you.
Laura – …. sigh fine.
M  – You are not 14 and I am not your mother.  Lets go!

M-(starts singing a song about an oyster whose greatest dream is to be a part of a gourmet meal to be eaten).
L- smiles a little.  joins in but I don’t know the words so I just make them up. I suspect he has written the song -but the tune is too good to be his.
M- Stops singing.  Ready to talk?
L. I guess. But I don’t have anything to say. I wasted the year, and I still don’t know what to do.
M. Ready to listen?
L- …..
M- Do something. Anything. If you don’t want to teach, don’t teach. Build skyscrapers out of lego if you want. Do anything but stop sulking. Tired of kids – thats ok. Kids are tiring and sometimes boring.
L-I just cant figure out what comes next, nothing feels right.

M- The universe is telling you to let go of this dream for awhile. You are injured- you cant even play guitar.You want to continue on this path? Because Im telling you – you have been here before.You either do something different, or you will stay in this place forever, and I know that isn’t what you want.The last time this happened – you changed the way you taught music – and it was completely unique. Change it again. Either musically or non-musically. Just change it.
M-What are you going to do?
L-Stops walking and stares at a puddle. I am completely soaked by this point. I shake off some of the water, wipe off my glasses – look at the mentor and say – what do you think I should do?

M.  I think you should write a book. What do you think you should do?
This isn’t the first time this has come up. Well, its the first time this has come up with him. But the suggestion isn’t a new one. I could probably be a fairly ok children’s book author. But his suggestion was to write a book about my method of teaching. A sort of manual – but in a reflective style.

I don’t know how to write a book. Other than starting with an outline, I know next to nothing about writing. But I’ve been thinking about this for several hours now, and I haven’t talked myself out of anything. I haven’t talked myself into anything either, but that’s neither here nor there.

The mentor strikes again.

*Photo Source – somersetman via flickr