Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Now that's something nobody really likes to accept. The fact that we will fail more than once in life, over various things or even worse, the same thing numerous times.

Like my favourite footballer - the great Leo Messi found out on sunday, we all have to accept defeat at one time or another. No matter how badly we want something. I so wanted Argentina to win, for Messi to finally dispel all the talk about him not being as good as Maradona or Pele. I was born long after Pele retired and I was just a kid when Maradona won the world cup back in 1986. But I've watched Messi religiously the past three years and what astounding footwork he has. I've never seen anything like it. And yet he'll have to hope and wait another four years for a crack at the World Cup.

Failure is crippling. Failure and the fear of it can keep us trapped for what seems like an eternity.

I learned last week of my failed attempt at attaining my diploma from the Associate Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). I sat the exam in April. I prepared the ten pieces over two years, I struggled and laboured with my flawed technique. I had to drop two pieces because my right-hand ring finger kept jumping (it seems electric guitar playing is not the best thing for proper classical guitar technique). Funny enough this summer, I found a way to fix that said finger and have started playing both pieces better, albeit at a slower pace, but definitely more consistently (go figure).

For the exam I also prepared my program notes based on my recital, had my teacher look it over as we discussed at length what questions might  be asked.

But what I didn't really focus on was my sight-reading. Oh sure, I practiced it a day or two a week, but not everyday, and not for very long. I was so worried about getting the pieces correct in time that I neglected sight-reading. I was convinced that I had read enough with all the new pieces I had to learn. And that's what did me in. I had five minutes to look over the piece in the exam, seemed simple enough and I did try it through. But when it came to playing it, I was a wreck. I started and stopped a number of times. It was inconsistent and certainly incorrect. It was a mess really.

And so when my results came back, after waiting almost three months (the higher exams - Dip, LRSM, FRSM are reviewed by a committee in England), the results were a follows - I had a clear pass with my recital, my program notes and subsequent interview, but I failed my sight-reading and hence I failed diploma. All three sections must be passed.

I was so sure I was going to succeed. I was so wrong. What a shock.

I so wanted to pass, I had this whole trajectory in my head, DipABRSM by 2014, LRSM by 2016 and FRSM by 2018. Then I could properly apply to be a classical guitar lecturer at a University. That was my dream. And now, it's off-target. Now it's uncertain.

But I have no choice - it's either to remain stagnant, give up and accept the fact that I might never be great at sight-reading, or to forge on no matter how difficult it is for me, and try to at least get good at it.

If it's one thing this summer has taught me about my technique - it's only when every angle is tried, when every possibility is looked at, and when pieces are attempted very slowly such that the problem is identified and solved, only then is success possible. I never thought I'd solve my ring finger problem. And yet now, it's almost gone. And I wonder why didn't I think of this solution before.

Now, I just have to apply this same mind-set to sight-reading (yuck, but seriously). Sight-reading you will become my best friend very soon. Because you're the only thing that stands in my way now. And I'll be damned if I let a bunch of "swigglies" (what my students call written sheet music) on a page scare me to death.

I will re-sit my diploma exam in 2015 and I will do my utmost to pass, no matter what.

Messi, I hope you will be in the best shape of your life in four years time and that you will get to bring home the World cup to Argentina. You deserve it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We create and sometimes add to our own private hell

Unknowingly, we become our own worst nightmare. We manifest our problems. Subconsciously unaware of what's happening around us, we build a life based around problems and suffering.

And we justify our suffering as part of our existence. In fact, if there were no suffering in this life, if there was no stress, no unpaid bills, tragedies, sickness; then quite frankly we as humans wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.

Countless limitations that exist only in the mind serve well to keep us rooted in 'reality', a reality that we create to a great extent.

There's obvious facts that none can deny - we will all someday die. But the question is, how exactly will we live in the meantime?

Will our lives be a stressful or a peaceful one?

Will we succumb to a physical illness and just accept it as fate? Along the way will we load up our lives with so much material possessions, debt, eating disorders, unhealthy diets, substance abuse and reckless living that before we know it, we are sick and have to spend a fair bit of time and money trying to undo our own mess.

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball in the form of sickness, but it's how we deal with that very sickness, that's the key to ensuring our survival. How do we adapt to what's out of our control?

Life has a way of sending us warning signs when things aren't going right, and the question is - do we ignore the signs and live as if nothing is happening, or do we shift our focus, try to solve our illness, and rebuild our lives in light of everything?

When I keep quiet and mull over all the thoughts in my head, even the darkest ones and counter-argue those thoughts with new ones, then I see things differently. And I see how I contribute to my own hell.

I see how I have made my life miserable at times. It's very disturbing and liberating.

I know I've just begun but at least I've found my way out of my own mental hell.