the things that get me through

This month, I’ve spent awhile writing about the darker sides of artistic activism and the toll they can take over time. As we leave 2019 behind us and look forward to a new decade, I want to take a minute to acknowledge some of the folks who have shaped not only my career but my life over the past few years. Some of these people are my teachers; some are my friends and family. Some of them inspire my work, and some of them keep me alive. Some aren’t named here but are just as important. These folks are imperfect, but they are my inspirations and among the many I aspire to be more like as I move through the world. This is my (admittedly small) tribute to them.

the things that get me through

Vince Thiefain’s hugs. I could get lost in these. (I don’t feel genuinely short very often.) Not just the hugs, either—the compassion in them, the genuine “I give a shit about your wellbeing” they convey.

Chaz Martineau’s concern. When the world is falling down, he’s the person I want to talk to, because I know how well he listens.

Pat Feher’s camaraderie. Even a semester in, Pat keeps me on my toes, but it never comes from a place of one-upmanship; he challenges me to dig deeper into the whys and hows of both my art and my activism. A cup of coffee goes a long way when the conversation’s this good.

Tim Feeney’s softness. I need more men in my life who just hug me when they’re happy to see me. Tim does. He also inspires everyone around him to push toward excellence, but he encourages us to find that at our own pace and on our own terms. That perspective is one I desperately needed during my masters.

Wendy Richman’s candor. How many badass women in your life are equally open about struggles and successes? Wendy reminds me I can be one of those people—just like her.

Jacob Eary’s quiet confidence. I love talking to Jacob because our conversations are frequently full of creative inspiration, but I extra-love talking to Jacob because no matter how ambitious my plans and ideas get, he’s certain I can accomplish them.

Kaili Otsuka’s companionship. From Target trips to makeup nights to shoulders to cry on to heavy stories told after dark, this woman’s a high point in my life.

Leila Jay’s snark. Sometimes, you need a friend with battlefield humor that’s a lot like yours. Leila knows when I need compassion and when I’d be better served by memes and dark jokes. Everyone on this list holds a special place in my heart, but her role is unique.

Rebecca Drapkin’s teaching. Not too many people realize how slowly I learn at times. Rebecca always comes armed with patience to spare and the clearest, friendliest answers to convoluted questions. I’ve grown immensely as a person because she’s in my life.

Lily Maase’s mentorship. Everyone who reads and even remotely enjoys my blog benefits from the things I’ve learned from Lily. We only spent one semester in school together, but she’s incredibly giving of her time and advice. When I’m chewing on a subject I can’t quite put into the words, she’s the one who simplifies it for me—because she’s been there.

John Pisaro’s love. (Need I say more?)

Keith Kelly’s reassurance. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have someone whose fire for change and inclusion matches my own. The fact that he is permitted to exist in all his We Have To Be Better glory gives me hope I’ll get there someday.

Josh Bennett’s enthusiasm. I met Josh in August, and maybe two weeks later he was offering me a solo set on a concert he was curating. That’s . . . just . . . I don’t run into that very often.

David Berry’s exuberance. Sometimes the jazz twentysomething community can get a little low-energy. David is frequently the delightful solution to that problem.

Connor Sample’s warmth. Connor is one of those people I was peripherally around for a long time and then suddenly was interacting with rather regularly. You’d never know, though; he’s been welcoming and encouraging from day one.

Max Beckman’s patience. I’ve been back for months, and I’ve only just started participating in jam sessions—in any capacity. Max has been the one quietly and kindly checking up on me, asking if I wanted to bring my horn sometime if I felt like it.

Matt Barbier’s bravery. In my experience, very few teachers will actively go out of their way to make sure you feel safe in your lessons. I came to Matt under strange circumstances, and we tackled some demons head-on in my last semester, but from beginning to end, he’s been a port in a turbulent storm. One of my favorite (though rarely-used) litmus tests for the important people in my life is whether I’d step between them and harm. I rarely ever consider if they’d do the same for me. Matt is one of the few who has, and that sort of thing leaves an imprint on your soul.

Nick Deyoe’s empathy. While the rest of my teachers were helping me save my body from itself, Nick was doing the same thing with my heart and mind. He’s the first person who pointed out that I’d need a strategy for keeping myself safe and healthy as I continue to work with dark subject matters in oppressive fields. He’s also the most compassionate ensemble director I’ve ever had—he gets mad when it’s appropriate, but then it all floats away. I aspire to be like him both as a composer and a human being.

Lisa Atkinson’s role modeling. Long before I had any real role models for myself in my field, Lisa was the person I looked up to. (She’s still one of them.) Her willingness to advocate for herself while doing amazing work created the beginnings of the template I use for myself today.

Cameron Robello’s competition. I spent a solid couple years referring to Cam as my work spouse, and in hindsight, he’s the only one I’ve ever truly had. He kept me on my toes artistically as I finished up my BM at ASU. I wouldn’t be (quite) as experimental today without that.

Natalie Gallatin’s humor. Having someone close by to laugh with over the ridiculous little things is vital. Natalie’s always got a funny story and an infectious laugh wherever she goes.

Ashley Walters’ brilliance. I could fangirl over Ashley for years (and I fully intend to). If I could point to someone as the definition of Doing The Thing Well, she’d be it. Ashley, can I be you when I grow up?

Stephanie Aston’s perspective. I frequently back myself into a corner of “oh, I shouldn’t look for that opportunity because it won’t pan out.” Stephanie’s reminded me that my gender isn’t the only reason people would want to program me and that organizations and ensembles might find places for my music just on the basis of it being good.

Luke Storm’s safe harbor. When my TMJ got bad, Luke was there with swift advice and a promise: that it was possible to work my way back from the brink of a forever habit that left me injury-prone. And he was willing to back that up with an independent study contract to help me figure out how.

My mom’s experience. She knew the crappiest parts of being a woman in a male-dominant field, but for as long as I can remember she’s been one of my biggest advocates for running straight into the burning building that is a music career. She knows the struggles, but she also knows how rewarding it can be to succeed at something important to you despite the system setting you up to fail.

My dad’s listening. When nothing is going right, he’s there to hear me out in all my messy, upset, words-in-the-wrong-order glory while I figure out what I’m doing with my life. (This is increasingly necessary the older I get.)

My brother’s protectiveness. I rarely need defending, but Eric was the one offering me a sword very early in life, and that’s allowed me to grow my confidence without worrying about being cut down with no backup.

Laura and Michael’s support. My aunt and uncle have watched and quietly checked in on me as I’ve braved the transitions into adulthood and the working world. They’re also the first people to offer a compassionate ear and spontaneous window-shopping therapy. They continually give me space to be me in all my messy glory, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Grandad’s sharp mind. A not-insignificant part of how I’ve learned to argue well and ask good questions has been through my family. Grandad’s got the savviest business sense out of all of us (so far), and even though we might not always agree on how something should be done, he’s always willing to offer his thoughts if I need them.

Guin’s zest for life. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone so enthusiastic about doing everything, and I absolutely love that.

Gram’s strong will. I would not be who I am today without it.

Grandma’s laugh when I’ve done something stupid. It’s a promise that I too will get to the point where I can a) laugh at myself and b) see far enough ahead to avoid doing stupid things.

Grandpa’s stubbornness. It’s a generational gift. I’m proud to have it.

Brandon and Kyle’s willingness to (still) be the little cousins. Even though that means putting up with far more of my nonsense than they probably should have to.

Tanner Pfeiffer’s leadership. Tanner runs a tight ship in any rehearsal room he walks into, but he’s one of those lovely people who meets everyone where they are and understands that sometimes there are more important things in life that can take us away from the music temporarily. He’s also an excellent example in every way, since he keeps up more musical disciplines than anyone I know.

McLean Macionis’ dance partnering. Sometimes I forget what it means to really feel comfortable near someone. McLean reminds me.

Christi Jay Wells’ openness. They were the mentor and endless source of knowledge and context I needed before I realized how badly I needed someone like that. Their continuing insight helps light my way forward even still.

Brianne Borden’s calm. And her willingness to share it with me, even when both of our lives are hectic AF.

Kim Hankins’ encyclopedic knowledge. I’m pretty sure Kim knows everything. Thankfully, she’s willing to share the best of her with the rest of us. (Especially her body-mapping wizardry—that’s some powerful stuff.)

Jody Rockmaker’s perpetual faith in me. He’s been in my corner since I was an enthusiastic junior in high school, tripping over my own feet and unsure who my favorite composer was (answer: at the time, it was Brian Balmages, but I said Holst in my interview because I thought that’s what the faculty wanted to hear).

Michael Pisaro’s welcome. Dating a guy whose dad is your teacher (or, at least, was at the time the relationship was new) is a little daunting. Mike made it super easy and really friendly, and now he mostly just laughs at my jokes when no one else will, which is also a valued skill set.

Echo Rose’s pushing back. Echo possesses a strength of character and a sense of conviction unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Her ability to be unapologetic when demanding fair and equitable treatment is one of my favorite things about her, and it inspires my work and self-advocacy even when I’m away from Los Angeles. ♦

[I’m looking back at this piece in 2021 and grappling with how many of these people are no longer in my life, in many cases because they decided me transitioning and expecting to be treated with respect was a bridge too far. A good chunk of folks on here are still amazing, but . . . it’s funny how easy it is to think people will keep being around when you share more of your identity with them. Do I regret the love and care I put out? Not a bit. Am I learning to stop bending over backward for people who wouldn’t put in the same effort for me? Yes. One hundred percent.]

Thanks so much for reading, this week and all year. I’ll see you again every Saturday at 8pm MST for more on music, gender, and violence. To follow my ramblings and creative process in real time, or to support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @ordinarilymeg on Instagram.