Piano As Therapy- Interview With Tyler Wilson

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How long have you been playing piano, and what is your preferred genre to play?

I’ve been playing piano now for about 18 years, ever since I was 6. After a few too many times banging on the keys of my grandma’s old upright, she sat me down and began teaching me classically, initially. This built a good technical foundation, but as I got older, I started getting into playing pop music. Eventually, I found my passion in jazz, specifically the old standards and swing!

I find sometimes it can be difficult to follow your artistic passion as an adult, especially with certain societal or cultural pressures to pursue something more “practical.”  Did you find those around you encouraging your music pursuits?

Luckily, the stigma against following the arts as a career path doesn’t seem as prominent in my generation. The rise of the entrepreneur/side gigs among millennials has made for a relatively accepting environment for people that are pursing their own path. But I would definitely agree that culture, upbringing, and environment have a heavy impact on people actually pursuing music and the arts as a sole source of income.

You mentioned your grandma playing piano. Would you say you came from a musical family? Were there other musical role models in your family as well?

My Grandmother was really the main reason I ended up choosing piano initially. She lived about five hours away in Wyoming, and we’d go up there every summer break. She played for her church, and I always thought it was one of the coolest things seeing her up there.  That was what really first sparked my interest in the instrument. It wasn’t until years later that it became more of a passion, as I saw the little joy it would bring to people’s faces to hear a familiar tune or resonate with a bluesy chord.

I was really very fortunate that I grew up in a home and with parents that really instilled confidence in me and my siblings. While my mom had played piano as a child and my dad had dabbled in saxophone in high school, I can’t say my family was musically geared, by any means. I think the biggest factor that allowed me to pursue music and have a continued passion was not exposure to the arts as much as it was the support and mindset of believing in and valuing my self. That really taught me to pursue anything that I wanted, and as long as I would try my best, I would be supported in any endeavor.  I’m really grateful for that.

Beautifully put. All children should grow up with that kind of mindset and support.

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I find one of the hardest parts of pursuing a passion, especially an artistic one, is being able to confidently call yourself an artist, whatever it may be. Saying I am a writer, or painter, or singer, or musician or dancer I think can be challenging. We compare ourselves to others and are not sure when it is “okay” for us to really deem ourselves worthy of the title.

When did you first consider yourself a musician? Do you have any words of wisdom about this to others wanting to pursue an artistic field?

My grandmother would play for churches and nursing homes.  So virtually from my first weeks of playing,  she would put me up in front of these very gracious, sweet, and, luckily for them, mostly deaf older people to play songs. So really, from the start, my grandma had helped build my confidence to play in front of others. This meant I never really saw playing piano or “pianist” as some great title to be earned. In reality, it just kind of became another part of who I was: I could catch grasshoppers, name any plane in the sky, eat fifteen cookies in a sitting, and play piano… it’s just who I was.

Haha! I love that.  

For me personally, I still don’t really call myself by my professions/hobbies/passions.  Instead, I’ve always viewed myself as simply, Tyler. Piano, volleyball, business banking, etc. are all things that I do. But no one of them “is” me. I don’t know that I have, or ever will, consider myself a musician. But it’s certainly something that I enjoy and do for my own pleasure and passion, which is more important, I think.

I agree. I often try to avoid asking people what they do for a living, and prefer to say, “What do you LIKE to do?” Then you learn what drives the person. What they get excited about. What makes them feel alive, without labeling them as just being that one title.

Probably the best way I’ve found to identify myself has been to see how the people that know me introduce me to others and the stories they tell about me. It is important to understand how those who matter to you perceive you. So, if you don’t like be introduced as “Gary, the guy who always passes out at parties,” then you know that you need to lay off the tequila a bit next time.

Haha! You’re hilarious. 

(smiles)You should control your actions to match the image you want to have internally and externally.  Don’t let others decide it for you, but you can use them to gauge where you’re at.

For me, I think what has helped me in my own confidence in playing as not a benchmark of skill, but instead, being absolutely fascinated and appreciative of those who have even more passion or skill than myself. I would say, whether in an artistic field or not, humility and willingness to get around people who have succeeded in areas you would like to, is the best way to grow in your own endeavors.

That is great advice! Definitely something I admire in others- that idea of learning from others rather than making it only about competition. Making sure the sharing and enjoyment of what you are pursuing is never lost.

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I thought your singing was awesome, and it was interesting when you said that though you don’t sing a lot, you have a good ear because of your training as a musician. 

Thank you! I’m glad that the Michael Bublé impression didn’t fall on deaf ears (Pun absolutely intended)!

Haha! Well, your comment was a good reminder of how each little skill that we build from one art to another can help influence and further develop another skill, or even other aspects of our lives, without us knowing it.

I completely agree, and several studies have shown the correlations between excelling in “practical” skill sets when individuals also pursue art in one form or another.

I find that really interesting.  So how has music training impacted other areas of your life, or how have other areas of your life impacted your music playing? 

For me, playing piano and music is therapeutic. Personally, I tend to be very extroverted and spend little time alone as I thrive in more social environments.  But piano is one way that really helps me reflect and be in an almost meditative state. When I need to relax or search for a moment of clarity, I have found no better remedy than sitting down on an old woodmen bench and just beginning to play.

The profound impact piano has had just from a personally restorative place for me is beyond measure. It’s built dexterity in sports, coordination, and posture. It’s led to numerous social interactions and wonderful relationships that have blossomed far beyond the sonata or ballad that started them.

Aww… that is lovely.  I am going to be reading and rereading that last line especially many times.  You captured the beauty of music in a nutshell there. 

If you had to describe yourself as a musical instrument, which instrument would you be and why?

I would be a tenor sax in the hands of a bluesy New Orleans style jazz band! Maybe it’s just because the last week has had me listening to a lot of upbeat jazz, mixed with rainy rhythms from Coltrane.  But the versatility of a saxophone is something I strive to personify.

Seems very fitting. I can totally picture it.

Thank you so much for your witty and thoughtful responses.

 

 

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“…But those unheard are sweeter”

Heard melodies are sweet,

but those unheard are sweeter.”

~John Keats

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Recently, I saw this quote from Ode to a Grecian Urn tattooed on a girl’s back shoulder.  I am glad there was a huge treble clef attached to it, which drew my attention to the words.

So many memories of English Literature class, and falling in love with Romantic poets were brought back to me in that moment. And Professor Lee Johnson, my favorite professor, who instilled such a passion for poetry and words in me, even though I was actually in sciences at that time.

Those words meant something in particular to me at that time, according to what was going on in my life then. I wasn’t dancing, and I definitely wasn’t singing when I first read those poets and Keats’ ode.  But I understood and got a taste of those “unheard melodies” in the form of pauses and breaths in the middle of certain sentences or poetry lines.  Writing and reading took on this whole other sensation for me because of this.   So did fine art, as I would notice not just the strokes and colours on the canvases I painted or drew on, but also the negative space within those creations.  I could see the beauty of the “unheard” melodies in the artwork I studied in art history classes as well. To me, they were the spots that the artist chose to purposely leave blank.   The blank spaces often said as much, if not more, than the ones full of swirling brushstrokes.

It’s amazing how now, the words take on another layer because of these newer passions of mine, especially dance.

Because it is the breaths and pauses in dancing and singing that I live for the most in these disciplines.  Very often, we concentrate on the hits, the strong beats, the parts in the music where your feet want to step the loudest or strongest.  But when someone breathes with me at the beginning of a dance, or when suddenly, there is a pause in the music, and we stop together to take in that moment, that’s what makes the hits and sharper, quicker movements so memorable.

It’s also what gives me goosebumps- those “unheard” melodies in between the musical notes, in between the dips and spins and waves.  I can name particular dancers over the course of my dancing experience who have made me feel those moments, those pauses, between the pulses and traveling sequences.  It is the leaders who have stopped me in my tracks to be so present in those moments, to experience the sweetness of what is not heard but felt so deeply, that remain in my memory forever.  Although those moments can never be replicated again exactly as they were, that is also what is beautiful about them.  They linger within us, long after they happen, because of their magic to bring us into that very instance.

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It’s like nothing else exists in those moments except for that feeling. And that is the part of dance that makes me crave more of it.  These captured moments of ‘stillness’ that we often don’t take the time for in our daily lives, these instances of total surrender to our senses- the feel of our partner’s hands or arms around us, the touch of our feet pushing through the floor, or the floor pushing back up into us to ground us and keep the motion flowing, or the deep breaths taken at the same time as the pause in the music.

It is this that draws me to the dance floor again and again, no matter how tired I might feel beforehand, no matter how many other life issues are on my mind.  Dance takes me out of this and into the moment.  It feels like something otherworldly, orchestrated not by us but by something divine. Or to remind us of our connection to Spirit and the Divine. We just have to be open to it, to allow ourselves to listen and believe in the “unheard” melodies that capture our hearts and let our souls soar. It is the pauses and the breaths in the dances that enliven me and convince me that we are connected to something so much greater than ourselves. We just have to let that connection flow to and from us.

Dance allows us to hear the unheard, to experience something out of this world while still remaining in it.

Dance is divine.

12 Lessons Learned From House Class

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Most people know me as a partner dancer. But from time to time, I’ve been sneaking away from the partner dance world to attend classes that I would have to do on my own.  I wanted a class in which I wouldn’t be able to cheat by relying on my partner for balance, energy or to just initiate the movements.  I wanted to improve my ability to find the feeling in my own body first, and to develop myself as an individual dancer. This was not to get away from the partner dancing world, but to help strengthen myself as a dancer, and bring this back into the dances I was already doing.  I was thrilled to be able to find all this, plus a great cardio workout, through House Dance classes!  And I wanted to share with you the lessons I have learned from them.

Of course, the concepts below can and should be learned throughout other dance styles, including the ones I was already doing. However, there was something about my taking myself out of the style and space I was used to that helped ingrain these lessons in me on a deeper and more conscious level.  The House Dance classes made the concepts I should already “know” clearer.  And this awareness has given me more confidence to understand them and apply them more intentionally to my other dances.  Thank you, to my instructor Kyle Vicente and iDance Vancouver Studios, for these great lessons!  Continue reading

Awakening to Your Dreams

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For the past few nights, I have fallen asleep with my guitar.

“Wait, you play the guitar?” those of you who know me might be asking.  Others of you might be thinking, “I think she needs a man.”  Yeah, that’s a topic for a whole other blog post.

But yes, I actually own three guitars now.   But I rarely play them. I thought I just couldn’t figure out HOW to. I would try every once in awhile, take a couple of lessons, but nothing would stick. If any of you have tried playing the guitar, especially as an adult, you know it’s not that easy.  Getting your fingers to coordinate and stretch enough but also be delicate enough to get right into the exact spots on the frets is pretty tricky stuff.

Each time I would pick up the guitar again, I would get frustrated and think that this whole guitar thing is so far from… well, who I am.  So I would give up.

But the universe has this way of bringing you back to something that you might need to give another chance to. Plus, there are guitars all around me- from the guitar paintings I did years ago, still hanging on my wall, to the guitar piggy bank I have in my kitchen, to the little guitar decoration on my bookshelf. Oh, and what about that guitar keychain I owned for a few years? Not to mention that one of the most inspiring and life changing movies I have ever seen is also, quite frankly, called The Guitar.

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Watch and Learn

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You can learn a lot from someone just by watching, especially if you learn HOW to observe.

On some nights, when I am out at a dance social or even at a practica, I might not have the energy to dance every song.  Sometimes, I am not even sure I have the energy to dance at all.  But I try to remind myself that the learning doesn’t just come from what you do, it also comes from what you see.

My initial fascination with dance definitely came from seeing people dancing, seeing the movement, the expression, witnessing the joy and energy that came from dancers who were feeling the music. Yes, their inspiration stemmed from the feeling that came from within them. Something I couldn’t see in a tangible sense.  But, it poured out from them through their connection to the floor, to their partner, to their smiles, to their gritty, passionate style and flavor. And THAT- what I saw, was what drew me into wanting to dance. The desire to do what those dancers were doing came out in me because I saw that desire in them.

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A Fine Balance

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I don’t dance salsa as much anymore.  My body doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with it as much. Maybe because the movements are often sharper or faster than the zouk and kizomba I’ve been turning to more over the past few years.  And those spins. Man those spins. Haha.

But the other night, I was at an event where the kizomba and bachata rooms upstairs hadn’t picked up yet.  So I stayed downstairs, giving my first dance- salsa-  a shot again. Let’s see how my body takes this after so many years of not doing this.

It’s funny how some things do just come back, because of muscle memory, because of the years of practise in the past. Sure, I stumbled on a few moves, and maybe my reflexes and spins weren’t as quick. But my body kind of found its way through the dance for me, without my having to think about it too much.

And while this was happening, little tips and tricks from all those years of lessons long ago started popping up in my head as well. Spotting, thighs together in spins and turns, safe arm styling  choices, pushing off the floor, and even just how to be more efficient overall in the dancing.  Continue reading

Dance Connects Cultures- Interview with Masanori Fujita

Masa8Where did you learn to dance? And which style of dance did you start with?

I started breakdancing nine years ago in Osaka, Japan.  From the first time that I saw the amazing technique put in the dance, I was totally hooked.  So, the next day, I went to a dance school to learn and I also practised on the street.

After I came to Canada, I just practised breakdancing first.  I didn’t know Hustle at that time. But at some of the events, some of the dancers were doing hustle. I saw it and thought I really wanted to learn to dance it. Everyone looked like they were really enjoying it. So that’s what made me start dancing Hustle. Continue reading

Faith, Freedom and Truth- Interview With Andra Carmina

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Which styles of dance are you into?  Do you have a favorite?

​I started dancing in 2009 after taking some salsa and bachata lessons at McGill. My dancing journey eventually followed me to Toronto, where I got introduced to zouk, and from there on, no other dance has had my heart quite like zouk does. I’ve dabbled into other dances like bellyDancing, kizomba, and dancehall.  While they do bring out certain parts of me, zouk allows me to express myself in ways I almost can’t explain. Continue reading

Following Your Heart- An Interview with Madan Kumar

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Where do you live and what styles of dance do you dance?

I live in Mumbai and I dance Salsa, Bachata & Kizomba

What got you into dance?

Dancing was my hobby since childhood, but I never knew I would end up as a full time dancer, teacher and performer.

I remember being asked why, if I’m Indian, I dance Latin dances instead of Indian dance. I I love Indian dance, but it just wasn’t what I gravitated to. And I thought it was a bit of an ignorant question at the time. Haha. But now, here I am, asking you the same question (laughs). Since you are in India and Indian, what made you choose Latin dances instead of Indian dances?  Continue reading

Interview with Kyryl Dudchenko: Paying Attention to the Details

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You started dance at a young age. Was dance something you chose yourself?

It was definitely not my choice.  It was my parents’ decision, but at that time already, lots of kids were ballroom dancing. Since then, I think the interest of kids participating in ballroom dancing has grown even more so. I think the number of kids participating in ballroom dancing in the Ukraine, where I am from, is booming now.

Do you have a favorite dance?

I love Rumba- to teach, to dance, to live it.

Beautiful.

I love it when I see male dancers who are great role models for young boys.  It’s sad that there seems to still be somewhat of a stigma around boys dancing.  Did you ever have to deal with any friends or family having any sort of negative attitudes towards you dancing because you are a guy?

Not at all.  I cannot recall even one instance when somebody showed a negative attitude towards me dancing. Even though most of my non-dancing male friends are very macho, they still have always respected and appreciated my dancing career. I do believe though, that in our life we attract people that would match us. Those that do not match us do not stay for too long. However, over the years that I’ve been dancing and teaching, I have seen numerous cases in which the idea of boys dancing has been regarded as being sissy or just not taken seriously.  Continue reading