Sidelines and Sessions


Just me and the horn

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 6:14 am

“And she’ll promise you more/Than the Garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you/And laugh while you’re bleedin’
But she’ll bring out the best/And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself/Cause she’s always a woman to me.”

-Billy Joel

I used that stanza as a metaphor for my relationship with music on college applications. It’s funny – none of the schools I used that essay for let me in, except Loyola New Orleans (and I had just met one of their admissions officers the year before, so maybe they just felt sorry for me.)

It wasn’t my best piece of writing – which is probably why I didn’t get in to any of my Common App schools. Truth can be masked by inept craftsmanship, though.

My musical life was a pretty stormy one – if it were a two-person kind of thing, my friends would hate her because of our on-again, off-again thing. I turned my back on church for competitions, then decided not to audition for any music schools. I refused to play solos for friends, but I played other people’s parts in class when I was bored. My family dropped thousands on my “habit” – until I got to college and picked up new ones.

Rapture City Philharmonic reminded me how much I miss saxophone. The ease I had, the control, the simple pleasure of hearing it and knowing it was an extension of what I heard in my head, the feeling that everything just fell together in this sound that I made with others around me.

Not that I regret my choices at all – for once. (Bitching about the past is a nasty habit I can fall into sometimes.) I read Mozart in the Jungle and cringed – classical or not, I don’t think I could earn a living in an occupation that is less satisfying that guarding prisons. I looked at the collegiate and adult professional musicians where I grew up and I didn’t want that life for myself. I didn’t like teaching, wasn’t sure about gigging, and didn’t think I was good enough for studio work, on the side or not – I’m no John Legend.

But with all that, I’m glad I’ve had eleven years with saxophone. It’s shaped my preferences, my prejudices, and my behavior.

Music stripped me of my illusions about the creative class, and left me with appreciation.

Music, most importantly, trained me to be a working artist. Music taught me that art isn’t waiting for inspiration, or “for the right moment” – it’s preparing for the right moment and making it come to you. Too many writers I know don’t spend time practicing their craft and building a repertoire – they don’t read – and consequently their writing is unreadable or powerless when they do write. Music’s the same – technique drills, scales, and practice to perfect form, listening and playing constantly to perfect content. Art’s working day in and day out, training your craft diligently and carefully – so when the day comes and you have to perform, your mind can hold the reins of your skill lightly, whether it’s a pen, a horn, a voice, or an ice skate.

Music taught me how to deal with people. If it wasn’t for band, all my friends would have been college-driven would-be professionals and scholars. I’d have missed out on most of the world. Band didn’t care about grades or tracks – but about ability and work ethic. And when it didn’t, it taught me how to brush off discouragement and swollen egos – useful at UCLA, and probably later.

And band took me a lot of places a typical Berdoo kid wouldn’t go – nicer schools, nicer parts of the county, the Rose Parade. Even around the insanely brilliant, insanely diverse people I’ve met at UCLA, there’s something about that commitment and its fruits that lingers a little, even when I’m taking a year or two off from playing. By Southern Californian standards, I’m a small-town and small-time type, but band (and books) helped me get out and on my way.

All it took was an hour with my old tenor to bring all that back into perspective.

I suppose, Spring Sing or not, I should start practicing again. Just for the joy of it, now that there’s nothing forcing me to do it and hate it.

No classes.

No band.

No ambitions no neuroses, no grudges.

Just me and the horn.



Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 7:11 am

A man I respect once preached me a one-sentence on idolatry – and he didn’t even know it. In fact, he’s not even a pastor. Well, he’s trained as one, but he works as a history professor.

He said that “idolatry is the mistaking of the relative for the absolute.” A little abstract, but it makes a lot of sense.

Idolatry isn’t about statues or bizarre sexual practices. It’s about priorities. Do you peg your self-identity on something that peaks at 19? Or 30? Or 65? Do you live your life for something that dies? Or, more simply (and more verbosely)

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
– David Foster Wallace

So, what’s your idol?


Reflect, Resolve, Restart

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 12:31 am

I’ve never been too hyped-up about New Year’s. It’s generally been an excuse drink cider, wake up the neighborhood with a saxophone version of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight and watch the Rose Parade – or be in it, if I’m particularly lucky.

I’m not too big on resolutions, since I tend to forget them by my cousin’s birthday (January 30th) and out of the 10 I wrote last year, I only kept two. I’m proud of those two, though. I now drink 5 glasses of water for every glass of soda and I’ve finally declared my history major.

It’s better to write resolutions, at least – there’s something to hope for. And my mom’s writing some serious ones (this is the year she wants to quit smoking) so I think I should step up. I’m not going to be cute like last year (no “10 for ’09);  rather, I’m going to write out a few things I’ve been wanting to do for years and get them done.


4.0 until I graduate. No more excuses.

Go to every class this year – on time.

Pick up a minor by winter 2011.

Back to my old fluency in Spanish by Fall 2010. I should be able to read La Opinion by this time next year.


Do at least 15 hours a week for Arvli.

Get to work at or before 10 am, every day.

Get an internship with the Santa Monica Daily Press for spring and summer (contingent on the bicycle.)

Personal – Physical

Get a bike – and learn to ride it.

Run at least one mile a day, three days a week.

Weights with Andy, at least once a week.

Visit doctors, dentists, optometrists and psychologists more. I’m too cavalier about my health, and I have USHIP, so I should use it.

Personal – Mental

Read 400 pages a month outside of school. I can do that, right?

Personal – Religious

Do a baptismal study @ Hollywood or Santa Monica.

Find a group on campus.

Read through my Bible in a year.

Stop being so mean.

Pay my tithe.

Personal – Other

Write 2000 words a week outside of school – and preferably, outside this blog. And Facebook doesn’t count!

Bring a saxophone to LA. Practice 150 minutes a week.

Look for piano lessons.

Get my driver’s license.

Audition for Company.

Save 10 percent of every paycheck, tithe 10, use 50, hold 30.

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