Modulations

A modulation is a “change from one key to another in a piece of music.” Seems simple enough. Often they are, and, being a rather lazy songwriter, I’m a huge fan of a common-tone modulation, where a single note is sufficient to transpose one key into another, often in a single beat.

Right now, though, I am undergoing a much more dissonant modulation: Some notes are familiar, some brand new, many just sound different than before because the chords have been inverted or augmented. Just as in a creative modulation in a piece of music, I can anticipate where the piece is going and can predict the new key, but in the meantime am kept in suspense as I play on and wonder how the music will work itself out.

As a composer, my biggest weakness is modulating. I wrote a rather lovely nocturne a few months ago, but let it fade away when I realized that it was stagnating in a single key. When I was challenged to write a cadenza for a Mozart piano concerto, I came up with one that stayed comfortably in the dominant key, but had to scrap it because it didn’t feature enough movement.

Modulations, in life as in music, are strenuous, and I envy those to whom they come naturally.

This summer is a time of modulation. In May, I graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree and in August I’ll be moving to Scotland to pursue a Master’s in “Theology and the Arts.” Right now, though, I am bouncing between familiar and unfamiliar. A week ago I was home, but found home to be different…too small. Now I am back in Southern California, but am housesitting and working rather than studying and living in an apartment with my best friend. My car is here as a little refuge. A few of my friends are still around. My favorite coffee shops never change, thank goodness.

But it is not the same.

There is a tension between these old-familiars and the new life that I am exploring. All of this, too, is tinted with the knowledge that I am leaving soon for a completely new experience. Soon, I’ll have to find a new coffee shop…in Scotland. All of the familiar things are tinged with the sorrowful knowledge that they will pass away and all of the new things are jarring, mundane though they might actually be.

Accidentals and augmentations.

I am doing my best to hold fast to the small things that keep me together: reading scripture with my breakfast, practicing piano at church, carting my ukulele anywhere and everywhere I go, posting ramblings to my blog instead of shouting into the void.

As I cling to these small rituals, I realize that this time of modulation is a blessing. When I discovered how to modulate in a song I wrote recently, it gave the entire final verse an extra kick of energy. While some notes might be held in dissonance, they do eventually resolve and settle into the new key. In the same way, though I am displaced now, this time will make settling into a new season even sweeter.

Furthermore, without modulations there is little room for development. I am quick to develop strong attachments to place, but if there is one thing I’ve learned from my extensive travels it is that although moving from place to place can be bittersweet, it expands one’s horizons exponentially. Learning to make a home wherever we are is one of the greatest lessons of life, and especially of the Christian life.

I remember the president of my university describing the Christian life as “in-tents.” As a lover of puns, this stuck with me. We are to pitch our tents and minister and grow wherever we may be, as “intense” as this process is.

Perhaps this can be expanded to include my modulation idea. Redeemed but not yet called to our final home, the Christian life is one of in-between, something which terrifies me. I like to be fully one place or another and find the transitions and tensions exhausting.

I am, once again, reminded of this passage from Philippians 3:12-16:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold to what we have attained.”

Maturity, according to Paul, lies in knowing that our future is secure and holding fast to this hope in the uncertain in-between. To put it in musical terms: We have left the original key behind, so must continue onward through the modulation until we settle into the next key. 

As I dwell in this modulation period, I look ahead to the future, both in Scotland and beyond, and strive to think of the past only with gratitude instead of a futile yearning to return. Part of the maturity that Paul writes of in Philippians is also letting go of the past so that we might more freely move into the future. I will cling to the beautiful themes of loved-ones and old homes, but only insofar as they foster this future hope.

Listening to my own songs as I write this, I have to laugh. While they might lack modulation, the lyrics I penned a month ago possess wisdom that I did not realize I had:

“Babe, we’re in the in-between:
Young but grown, just wait and see—
And try as best we can,
Making our little plans,
As we grow and hope
And drive away down those winding roads.”

It’s a love song, of course, but the same hope I am singing to its recipient I am also conveying to myself and all those in my situation. We are in the “in-between,” caught in the craziness of being young adults. But ultimately, we must keep “running the race,” knowing there is a sure destination both in this world and the next. In the meantime, we can do no better than to learn what we can, hope as best we can, and move forward.

We can do no better than to find beauty and opportunity in the modulation, taking delight in surprising tonalities instead of shrinking in fear, and looking forward to the next verse of our life songs. Without modulation, there can be no great development and, while it will not be comfortable, it will be beautiful.  

So, the least I can do is to find a coffee shop that feels like home and pray for the best.

Dear High School Seniors… (an open letter from a graduate)

Dear High School Seniors, class of 2018,

I just had a weird dream. Maybe to you it will sound like a nightmare, though. I dreamt that I was back at my high school with a neatly-printed, seven-class schedule full of the AP classes and electives that I thought I had finally finished years ago. About to enter my third year of college, though, the dream was sort of comforting. It was so vivid. I saw my high school squad, my regular lunch table, my favorite teachers, the familiar hallways… And I knew that, at the end of the day, I would return home to my mom’s cooking, my brother and my dad shouting at sports on TV, my dog’s waggling tail…

Enjoy it.

That’s really my only reason for writing this letter, to tell you to enjoy every seemingly-eternal moment of your final year of high school. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now, thinking your senioritis is already bad and you’ll have no fun aside from prom this year.

You’re wrong.

I had senioritis like crazy; in fact, I think I caught it my sophomore year of high school. But that is no excuse for letting your senior year slide by without working hard and making memories.

Study hard. You’re going to hate it and pray for the end, but study hard. You’re teachers have likely already told you that college is worse, but you’ll find that college can be surprisingly manageable if you push yourself in high school. You don’t have to load yourself with AP classes like I did (I said “work hard” not “stress yourself out”) but show up, take notes, turn in every assignment, and prepare for tests in whatever classes you do take.

Connect with your teachers. Not only is this helpful for getting letters of recommendation/references for your resume, it can be fun! Strange as it sounds, with each graduating class, teachers get senioritis too. Laugh at it and enjoy getting to know your teachers as more than just lecturers with red pens. One of my favorites brought us peanut butter and bologna sandwiches, swearing she used to love them in college. They were terrible, but it was a fun memory and I’ll never forget that literature class.

Stay connected with your friends. I admit that most of my high school friends have become just Facebook friends. I still care for them and pray for them and love seeing what amazing things they are up to, but I have only a small circle of high school friends that I still talk to regularly. Hang onto your best friends for dear life, but don’t stop making new friends just because it’s almost the end. Three of my best friends I did not truly get to know until my senior year and two of them I barely spoke to until the last three months. Still, we ended up becoming a #Squad. 😉

Go to prom…or don’t. I didn’t want to go to prom and to be honest, I did not enjoy the dance. If a loud, sweaty room full of screaming peers appeals to you, go for it. But one of the best nights of my high school existence was eating ice cream and playing board games with my squad after spending only twenty minutes at the actual dance. Either way, make memories and be safe. I know, I sound like a mom, but I had to say it.

Keep volunteering. Sure, you’re leaving and probably wishing you could be up and gone already, but don’t stop giving back to your school and community. Volunteer for choir council, set up for events, go on outreach days, help at tutoring. Don’t just do it to fill up hours on your service record, do it to leave your school a better place. Love it or hate it, your high school has been your home now for almost four years; show it and its members some kindness.

As you count down the days until graduation, try not to just breeze by, zoning out and wishing the seconds would go faster. In three years, when you’re about to head back to your out-of-state college, you’ll find yourself (almost) missing the days when the farthest from home you had to drive was ten minutes to school, maybe fifteen if you went for snacks afterwards.

Maybe you read all the way to the end of this letter or maybe your senioritis kept you from skimming past the first paragraph. Better, maybe you’re saving brain power for essays. Either way, just know that this might end up being one of the best years of your life. I sincerely hope that it isn’t the best year, because there is a vast, exciting world out there beyond graduation. But, I promise that if you keep your head in the game (High School Musical becomes cool again in college…no lie), this year will zoom by and, before you know it, you’ll be walking off the football field with your diploma in hand and your future ahead of you.

Have an excellent year, class of 2018! Finish strong!

Sincerely (and a bit nostalgically),

A class of 2015 grad

 

On Senioritis (and also brownies)

Upon entering this year, I thought that I was prepared to face that dread combination of restlessness, fatigue, and frustration that has been plaguing high school seniors since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of secondary education). I was wrong and realize now, having forsaken productivity for a few hours to breathe for the first time since winter break, that senioritis is worse than I could ever have predicted.

Granted, I am not ditching school, I still do my homework, and remain relatively active. However, I cannot shake off that feeling of restless tension that I know everyone else in the class of 2015 is feeling. But there is hope! Not to sound like some radio-show therapist, but recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Pretty much.
Pretty much.

So what causes senioritis? In a word, EVERYTHING. We are caught in a hormonal limbo between adulthood and childhood. We are expected to go out and get jobs, apply for college, plan for a future, and yet also told to enjoy our teenage years as children before we have to enter the “real world” post-graduation. Is it any wonder that we are stressed? We are caught between two worlds: we look at the kids at our schools and wonder if we ever could have been that small, while at the same time we have no idea how to handle the world that we are about to be plunged into.

And yet, we are longing for that plunge; we can’t wait to get out of high school because, as scary as the future may be, it is better than this awkward limbo. That said, the only definite cure for senioritis is a high school diploma.

This cure will be administered soon enough, but we have a hectic two months ahead of us first and must find temporary remedies to keep us sane until that glorious day: graduation.

So, here are five ways to ease your symptoms of senioritis while you count down the days until May 21st.

1. Be a Kid

Like I said, we are caught in a limbo between childhood and adulthood, but the good thing about this limbo is that it is okay to be a kid still! Sometimes you need to just forget your future planning for a little while and play tag at a park, break out some coloring books, or rewatch old Disney movies. I know that even five minutes of swinging on the swings at the park by my house made me feel much better!

My friends and I went for a picnic and threw water balloons at each other. You are never too old to play at the park!
My friends and I went for a picnic and threw water balloons at each other. You are never too old to play at the park!

2. Make Something

Creativity has a way of refocusing our minds and also has the added benefit of being productive without being stressful. I personally enjoy painting and composing and although I rarely finish anything, it calms me to put my mind to a single task rather than the bazillion obligations of senior year. Even just singing a song at the top of your voice or typing up a rambling blog post (guilty…) can do wonders.

Pinterest fails are still creative...maybe...
Pinterest fails are still creative…maybe…

3. Treat Yourself!

If ever there was a time for chocolate, this is it. Emotions are at a constant high and stress is at a dangerous level, so allow yourself to enjoy a favorite treat or, even better, try a new one! I have been living off of Starbucks (Grande coconut milk latte: thank you Chris the Latte Boy!) and froyo, but today decided to mix it up and throw together an original brownie recipe. To put it simply, it is HEAVENLY and took only about 15 minutes to throw together, plus the awesome fact that it include tons of antioxidants due to the coconut oil! I will include the recipe at the bottom of this post. 🙂

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4. Spend Time with Friends

This seems like an obvious one, but in the business of this time of year, it is easy to forget to include socializing in your packed schedule, and waving at your friend from across the classroom during second hour does not count as socializing. So whether it means getting together to study, going out to cry over ice cream together, or even just talking on the phone for a bit, make time to reach out to your pals. And (I know this will sound blasphemous) sometimes an afternoon at the mall with your best friend is worth more in the long run than a day of cramming. (Disclaimer: a day of studying with your best friend might be better than both…#nerdlife)

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5. Keep this in Perspective

Yes, senioritis stinks. It is no fun for anyone. Goodness, even my teachers seem ready to collapse! (My AP Lit. teacher made us cookies today to cheer us, and herself, up…thanks Mrs. Plunk!) However, as difficult as this is, it too shall pass. In a few months, you probably won’t even remember all of the frustrations of this year. Maybe you’ll even look back on high school with- dare I say it?- fondness. A friend of mine recently shared a Bible verse with me that has been extremely encouraging as I face each day:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us

an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  

-2 Corinthians 4:17

Soon you will no longer be a senior. You will hold your diploma in your hand and once more be a freshman, a newbie to the world of college and adulthood. Your senioritis will be cured and your future stretched out before you. In the meantime, play, laugh, eat, and most of all, enjoy these next two months.

Senioritis Salvation Brownies: “It’s like graduation in your mouth!” 

Update: I just tried one (or four...) and they are the best from-scratch brownies I have ever had!
Update: I just tried one (or four…) and they are the best from-scratch brownies I have ever had!

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup coconut oil (Full of healthy fats and antioxidants, so clearly this is health food!)

2/3 cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips (any kind, but I used milk chocolate)

 Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (For all of you studying for AP Chemistry, this is degrees Fahrenheit, not Kelvin or Celsius.)

2. Mix coconut oil, eggs, flour, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Coconut oil may be clumpy, but will become liquid quickly with heat. I put the bowl in the oven for about two minutes to soften it and that seemed to work just fine.

3. Add salt, baking powder, cocoa, vanilla and chocolate chips. Mix well and pour into an 8×8 inch pan. Optional: keep half of the batter to eat. If you do, be warned that your brownies may be thinner than you expected, but I assure you that (risk of salmonella aside), this is worth it; the batter was downright delectable!

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes. I recommend checking on them at 30 minutes and letting them continue to bake for additional time if the top is still super squishy. (I’ve been watching a lot of Cupcake Wars lately, so I can verify that this is the proper baking technique…)

5. Let sit until they can be cleanly cut.

6. Sneak a bite of the edges every time you walk by the kitchen and maybe share some actual brownies with your fellow seniors.

Bon appetit! And good luck on the rest of your year!