I found a zither. I said hello. And then I said goodbye. It broke my heart.
The zither was in such a state, that my heart actually broke shattered. There was mold all over it, the strings were broken, and those that were still intact were rotting, the action was terrible (though not certain what appropriate action is for a zither), the fret board was warping, and some tuning pegs were broken. The only good thing was that the wood isn’t soft (yet). I wanted so much to take him home (yes, its a him), but I don’t know what I can do for him. I have never restored an instrument before – and I am unaware of any zither fixers in Vancouver.

His soul and his body are so broken. It kills me to see something so neglected. If I can figure out a way to restore him I might go and buy him anyway – because his life is just going to get worse, without me.

Can you even bring diseased instruments into Canada. Is mold considered to be a disease.  So many questions.  I don’t even know what this instrument is worth, since I couldn’t find a manufactures tag. It would be an interesting project.

*Photo Source (this is *not* the zither I saw in the store) – Thomas Quine via flickr

Who Needs Sleep? 15 Things You Can Do Instead


I have bouts of insomnia throughout the year – but January is when my insomnia game is the strongest.  I don’t know if its the pressure of starting a new year off right, or what. But when January comes around, my circadian rhythms decide to pack a bag and go on vacation.  Over the years I have come up with a way to deal.  It doesn’t involve tossing or turning, or laying in bed waiting for sleep to come, or even watching netflix documentaries.

Here is my list of 15 things you can do to stop stressing about your lack of sleep and have some fun.

  1. Get some crayons, paper, and maybe a colouring book or two. Go to town. Colouring is a great way to relax and destress – and it engages your brain just enough to help you forget the stuff that is actually keeping you up at night.
  2. If you aren’t a classical musician, I would suggest listening to some music written before the romantic period. If you are a musician – may I suggest listening to ambient music written by Brian Eno (or someone similar), Music for Airports is my go to work for nights when I can’t sleep.  And if I’m still awake, I listen to Keith Jarret’s The Koln Concert. Here is  a snippet of him talking about some of the problems that came before the recording. *Not so fun fact- Keith Jarrett has lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – and so he knows insomnia.  Why not commiserate together.
  3. Make art. Try to make art without using any electronics – the light that comes from that equipment is not your friend. Find other means.
  4. Clean. Get up and sweep floors, wash dishes, scrub your bathtub, make your bed.
  5. Write mantras in lipstick on all of your mirrors. Use sports quotes – In the past I have used quotes from Wayne Gretzky (but you will need a big mirror – he is wordy), words of wisdom from grandfathers work well, as do bon mots spewed by members of the Algonquin Round Table. This morning I wrote a bunch of hideous lipstick mantras about how failure makes you great – and that its healthy to fail – and then I cleaned my mirrors. Wiping out words about failure made me feel powerful – which is something we don’t often feel-when we can’t sleep. And fear of failure could also be the reason why you are still awake at 3am.  *side note – only use lipstick that is so hideous looking that you can’t believe you ever bought it.
  6. Resign yourself to the fact that sleep isn’t going to happen for you. Get up and start your day.
  7. My favourite insomnia activity (best done in the spring and summer) is to go outside with your camera every hour on the hour, and take photos of your street – notice how the light changes, if the cars have moved, wave to your neighbours, capture the trees blowing in the wind, or the crows digging for worms.
  8. Do some yoga. Im new to yoga – but am finding a lot of peace and enjoyment out of sun salutations. A couple of these will totally wake you up – and you will be ready for some coffee.
  9. Call a far away friend.  Just call someone that is several time zones ahead of you. Don’t interrupt someone else’s sleep – that’s a bit rude.
  10. Read a book. May I suggest opening an actual book made of paper – remember screens are bad.  I read 110 books last year, mostly during hours I should have been sleeping. You can find what I read here. Try reading the book backwards – read the last word first and make your way to the front of the book. This will help tire your brain – and you may find yourself back in bed sooner than you think. Hat Tip to Casper for this.
  11. For me, simple math is hard. And when you are in the throes of Chronic Fatigue – doctors will often ask you to start at 100 and count backwards by subtracting by 7.  Try doing these exercises – if you are anything like me, you will give up and fall asleep long before you get the final answer (its 2).  Its way better than counting sheep.
  12. If its safe to do so, go for a walk. A little bit of fresh air and exercise might be just what your body needs. I usually walk just before 5 am, head to Starbucks (because thats the closest place that is open) and walk for about an hour or so- but only if I am restless.  I won’t go earlier than that because when streets are too quiet, I find it a bit too scary to stray far from my home.
  13. Organize a closet. There is a strange clarity that comes at 2am that you don’t get during the rest of the day. Its an optimal time to do a clothing purge. Be quiet though, if there is someone else is sleeping in your bedroom.  Best practice would be to weed out a closet in a room where no one is sleeping.
  14. Make coffee, cinnamon rolls, and bacon. It’s a gentler way to wake up the other person/people in your house, if you are feeling a bit lonely and want someone to talk to. Chances are they would appreciate this method a lot more, than being pestered to wake up by being poked and nagged.
  15. Practice. Surely you have something going on that needs to be worked on. For me its guitar. But for you in might be a keynote you are preparing, or math problems, or getting ready for baseball season. Whatever you are passionate about find a way to work on your craft.  If you can practice full out – great! If you are sharing your space, find a way to practice quietly.

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Do you have an insomnia regime?  I know that the usual form is to do something to get you back to sleep. That rarely works for me – so I find ways to distract myself. But I would love to hear your tricks. Please share.

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 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.

The Power of Believing (or lack thereof)


This is me. I don’t always look like I this, but I pretty much always feel like how I look in this photo. Scared, exhausted, and like I have just gotten my ass kicked. Also I pretty much always feel like I am six years old.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a great deal of change in the way I see myself. I have had a great deal of help from both professionals and friends- and I have come along way. But there is one area that needs a great deal of work still. I don’t actually believe that I am deserving of a good life. Professionally I mean. I have made great strides in my personal life – but I kind of forgot that there is a whole other part of my life that needs attention. And so recently I started thinking about this area.

I am a classical musician – but due to injuries I am unable to play music. I have had a teaching practice -that I have set aside for awhile, since it wasn’t working out the way I had planned, and I am was a member of a quartet, that has just started to do a lot of performing. Since I am  unable to play (until at least July 1) I had to find a replacement.  I have a lot of practice ahead of me, if I am to come back to where I was as a musician  -and we don’t quite know yet if I will get there, even with all that work.  My musical life is the only place I feel validated.  When I play music I feel like I am contributing. I feel valued and respected. This is all on hold now, while I heal. And all of these feelings have gone away.

I also have a day job. And this is where my problem lies. I have dreams. Professional dreams. I want a job that is creative. I want a job that makes me happy. I want a job that challenges me. I want to be able to feel good about what I do. And I want to enjoy going to work everyday. I have none of these things. Why? Because I don’t actually believe that I should be allowed to have them.

I had great role models growing up. I grew up in a house, where not only did my mother work, and work hard, but she was incredibly successful. She made sure that I knew that I could do anything I wanted. She instilled a sense of independence in me. That stuck  -I am incredibly independent. I don’t need help from anyone. I can take care of myself. And I do. But I am unhappy.

A long time ago, someone treated me like a garbage can (actually worse-but its too painful to talk about). And that feeling stuck. I have never been able to shake it off. I don’t believe people unless they say terrible things about me.  I just don’t think they are truthful unless they are telling me I am useless. Probably why I can’t actually count on anyone to be sincere, unless they are angry at me. I feel better when I have goaded someone into telling me that they don’t like me. I have done this to my own family, more times than I can count. I know this is self destructive behaviour. And I have worked so hard in order to move past it. I have successfully culled toxic relationships, and built healthy supportive ones. For the first time in my life, I have a support system in place. And yet I am still broken.

I work hard.  But I am unable to ask for simple things like a raise. Or for a job that I would be better suited at. I can’t even quit a job that I don’t enjoy, or one that I am not good at. I am not afraid of rejection – I have had plenty of rejection in my life.  But I can’t even bring myself to be put in a position of rejection. I am unable to do anything – because I am terrified. Paralyzed. Afraid of being happy.

Because I am a garbage can. Suited only for containing trash.



The Fortune Cookie


Do you pay attention to advice that comes out of nowhere.  Do you read your horoscope  -take fortune cookies seriously. Do you say out loud to yourself “if I only had a sign” – and then 200 black crows fly over your head.  What do you choose to listen to and why?  Why the crows and not the fortune cookie? I personally am not one for horoscopes, I used to have a friend who would write me a daily horoscope, but that was based more on who I am and not how the stars were aligned that day.

But back to the fortune cookie. A few weeks ago, my fortune in a Valentine’s Day dinner was “Investigate the new opportunity that will soon become an option”. I could have read that as a romantic opportunity, but I chose to think of it in a business sense. You see, I have had this idea for quite some time now, and that was to expand my teaching practice into something a bit more entrepreneurial. To open up a shop that focused on music, art, and storytelling mixed with some other mediums. We would hold workshops, and camps, and afternoon or morning special events (birthday parties etc). Its a really good idea – and its based off of the camps I held with Studio de Chaos (if you don’t know what that is – trust me, it was awesome). Somewhere along the line I got frightened.  Probably because my studio closed last year, due to rising operating costs and me feeling stressed and unsettled about the direction the studio was headed. So I shelved the idea.

But last night, I found myself in front of Small Business BC (in front of a huge sign that said “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” Exactly!  What the hell am I waiting for. If I want to start something, the time to do it is now.  The office happened to be closed when I got there, but I spent a good 15 minutes looking inside, to see if inspiration would hit. And it did. I could totally see myself doing what I had originally planned. And the excitement returned.  I made a mental note of their hours, and promised myself that I would return next week, to talk to someone.

In the light of day, and a not so solid sleep -I woke to discover that I really don’t want to work with children anymore (children being the target audience who would most likely use my services).  And so I am back to where I started. I have a great idea, but I am not so sure its a good fit for me anymore, and I need someone to bounce some ideas off of, in order to figure out what I actually should be doing.

Fortune cookies are wise, and confusing.