classical music

Getting steamrolled by a musical train

My mother loved her classical music (exhibit A and B). For years, she tried to convince me to attend Montreal’s prestigious international music competition with her. It’s a pretty phenomenal concept: an annual competition, cycling through piano, violin and voice. There are several rounds, but the finals are 2 nights of full concertos for ridiculously cheap prices – with musicians that have the potential to be the next great soloists. I attended the piano competition with her in 2008, and the violin one in 2007. After that I grew too busy with work (exhibit C and D), and couldn’t make the time to maintain this activity with my mother. As with many things I shared with my mom, I’ve yet to face my shame and grief by attending this competition. Maybe next year.

I have trouble, usually, appreciating a new piece of music on the first listen. I need to listen to it over and over again, in order to be able to relax into it. Then one day, out of nowhere, usually when I am half listening while doing the dishes or folding laundry, it will suddenly slice through my brain and my heart and I will get it. I grew up listening to Brahm’s 2nd piano concerto in the car, all the time. I’ll never forget the day when I suddenly heard it for real, for the first time. We were patiently waiting to turn left at the red light intersection near our home. I remember the warmth of the sun through the car window on my arm, my mother driving in the front seat, how her sunglasses rested on her cheeks, the wind blowing through her rolled down window, the feel of car seat material against my thighs. A moment of wonderment, as I listened, truly listened, to that music for the first time. I was 9-10 years old, and it remains one of my most vivid memories, almost 25 years on.

At the 2007 violin competition, I discovered Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, which remains one of my favorite pieces ever: technically astounding, frothy and light, with an undercurrent of emotion to give you some feels. I was happily surprised at my ability to relax into the unknown and appreciate this new discovery. I patted myself on the back, chit-chatted with my Ma during intermission, listened an underwhelming Beethoven violin concerto, felt a little tired during the 2nd intermission and wondered how I’d survive a 3rd concerto, especially since it was another new discovery for me: Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

From the very first sequence of notes, I sat, stunned. I listened as my life and my reality, in musical form, were played to me by strangers, written by a man long deceased from a land I’ve never visited, living in circumstances I’ll never know (Stalin’s reign of terror). I felt completely understood, emotions I’d never been capable of naming, perfectly expressed. I was exposed, vulnerable and raw, my persona and defenses stripped away by the truth of the music. It felt like I got hit by a train. That hangover lasted for days.

I didn’t know, in 2007, that my shadow wasn’t an occasional visitor, but my lifelong companion and nemesis. So I was confused why I could relate so strongly to Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto, which is written from a place of pain, torment and anguish. I didn’t know, then.

10 years have lapsed, and I’ve yet to discover another musical piece that more completely gets all of me. It is me.


I wrote Rough Patch because writing is how I try work through things. Each post is true but cannot capture the whole truth: 750-1000 static words, a snap shot of a given moment in time. Family and friends reached out to me in a state of considerable alarm, which made me feel guilty – I voice my problems because voicing them helps me nullify my shadow’s attempt to foster corrosive shame, but in doing so I dim others’ happiness. Reassuring them about something that I cannot reassure myself about adds to the exhaustion of life.

I lost 4lbs from last week’s 6 hour cry fest. It took me 2.5 days to rehydrate adequately, and rebalance my electrolytes. No, I have not been spending every day crying, since. I even had a few moments of laughter this week. Am I still exhausted, and in that danger zone btn a funk and something much worse? Yes. Am I trying to take care of myself? Yes. I religiously go to the gym every Saturday, because seeing my #squaD is as good for the soul as the endorphins are for my brain. This week I treated myself to a bonus workout on Thursday, totally worth it, except now I have to catch up some stuff this weekend. I try eat fruits and veggies most days. My roommate took care of the fridge. I sleep a lot. I try answer most texts within 48hours so that I don’t feel a pit of guilt for being a bad friend.

This is depression. Some days it is really bad and messy. Some days I look mostly normal. All days feel like Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

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A question of perception

Lately, the question of perception has frequently been on my mind.

It is well documented on this blog that I am perceived as being vanilla by the non-accountants in my life. However, that is not the case amongst my accounting posse. Two stories stand out recently, in my mind.

Story 1: where a love for boxing is incompatible with an appreciation for classical music

This summer, as I was working alongside a few co-workers, someone noted that they could hear the music through my earbuds. I apologized, and shared my observation that classical music (especially trumpets & violins) seems to carry more than hip-hop, assuming constant volume settings, and from there, the conversation devolved into a comparison of various earphone brands, with several of my co-workers suggesting I switch to a less cheap brand, both for their sakes and mine.

A few minutes later, one of the coworkers messaged me, “YOU listen to classical music?! I would have never guessed.” Which is funny, since my ratio of classical music concerts to all other types of concerts is skewed heavily towards classical music. I only discovered Michael Jackson at the age of 17.

Apparently, membership at a real boxing gym precludes any interests other than hip-hop.

Story 2: where I discovered living in the same city does not imply similar experiences

Growing up in Montreal (West Island), I’ve always lived in multi-cultural world, except for a 2 year period in an elementary school in Ile Bizard, a purlaine Québécois community, where there were only 2 other (white) anglophone families in the entire school, and there was 1 (francophone) black kid. The morning after the 1995 referendum, and Jacques Parizeau’s infamous “money and ethnic vote” quote, I was met at my locker by a dozen boys from my grade who surrounded me, jostled me (despite me being on crutches), and yelled that it was my parents’ fault that “they“, the separatists, had lost. Luckily, these kids were making such a racket, that a teacher came out into the hallways and broke it up before it turned any scarier. I’ve never forgotten that moment: boys I’d played with and talked to every day before that referendum, almost overnight, strongly identified themselves with a cause that they weren’t of age to vote for.

The rest of my schooling was in very multi-cultural settings. I attended an all-girl French Catholic high school, run by nuns, where the running gag was that the French Catholic population of the school had the smallest representation: Armenians, Middle-Eastern, Asian, African immigrant families all sent their daughters to this school, and we all were fairly and kindly schooled by the nuns. This melting pot continued throughout college and university.

It is only when I started working in an accounting firm, that I found myself in an environment with minimal diversity. One of my accountant friends recently admitted to me that she “doesn’t encounter many black people, unlike you“. She was referring to my gym, as my source of exposure to other cultural backgrounds; whereas I consider the gym as the latest layer in my culturally rich experience. I’d always assumed that everyone living in Montreal has had a similar reality to mine. Naive!!

Story 2b: where I discovered that not everyone has dated someone from a different background

Amazed, I asked my accountant friend further details about her life in Montreal. One of the things that struck me the most was that she’d only ever dated Québécois boys, except for one dude who’d been American, and how that had been an (understandably) big culture shock.

My first serious boyfriend’s parents’ were Guyanese and Canadian. (Funny story: growing up in small-town Alberta, he and his brothers were the only black kids in any of the neighboring high schools. His football coach always put him on the starting line, because he knew the most of the kids on other team would be scared, never having seen a non-white boy, in the flesh.) Unlike my accountant friend, I’ve only ever dated one Québécois boy; the others have been from all kinds of backgrounds. I don’t seem to have a “type” other than a marked preference for tallish and funny.

Conclusion: the bar is set pretty low for accountants

It’s slightly damning if I brought an element of diversity to an accounting firm, through my unusual choice of hobbies. It is a ridiculous concept, and yet, that is the strong impression I have of my former co-workers’ perception of me. While I don’t buy into the accountant stereotype, I suspect many of them have lived sheltered lives. Seems a pity, given that we live in a city that is famous for its diversity.

I wonder if they would be as taken aback in my perception of them as I was in their perception of me?