Why music education matters

One of the greatest joys of being an educator is to experience these special moments when my students’ hard work pays off.

Today, two of my awesome students, Blanca and Esther, performed music with the likes of Gustavo Dudamel, Coldplay, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars, in possibly the biggest stage of all, the Super Bowl Halftime Show!

I feel like a proud father, having seen them work so hard to balance music and education throughout the years I have known them. You could say that they were very lucky to have had this opportunity, but none of this would have happened if it weren’t for their hard work. Like the saying goes, “luck favors the prepared,” and these two definitely deserved it.

Esther and Blanca were introduced to music through Harmony Project. In a city where most of these students would otherwise have no access to music education, students in Harmony Project get an instrument to take home, music lessons, and an opportunity to play in an orchestra. The orchestra you see in the video is YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles), a culminating performance group founded by the Harmony Project and L.A. Phil.. But there are so many students in Los Angeles, and the program is not even close to meeting the demands of the number of students who want to learn music. Music has given my life purpose, and I wish that one day, every kid will have the same opportunity that I had growing up, no matter where they’re from.

This is such an important issue because music teaches you life’s fundamental lessons. By pursuing music, I learned that nobody is born with talent, and that there is no replacement for hard work. I learned about the power of art that brings people together and helps heal wounded souls. I learned about the joys of overcoming challenges, and the importance of saying “I can’t do it yet” instead of “I can’t do it.” And most importantly, I learned to seek happiness in the work that I do, instead of the things that I own. (I wrote more on this topic here. Also check out my brother’s hand-lettering piece here)

If you care about the future of these students, I urge you to consider making a donation to a local organization that provides music education for the youth, such as The Harmony Project and San Jose Jazz. After all, supporting music education is not even about music. It is about helping these students discover some of the most important lessons they will ever learn in life.

On Minimalism

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I love this piece by Katsumi. You can see more of her work here, and the Zen Pencils feature here. Reading about her journey was such an inspiration for me. Most of her work are in Portuguese, but she has a good number of pieces translated to English as well. There is something special about this piece that reminds me of where I stand in life.

There was a two-year period during my mid-20s when I rented and lived inside a garage. As a self-identified minimalist, living in a garage was the perfect way to stay consistent with my core values. Naturally due to space limitations, accumulating stuff was not an option. I lived a very simple life, as my daily routine consisted of the following, and not much more:
-Simple meals
-Teaching
-Music
-Sleep

I don’t live in a garage anymore, but I maintain a very simple lifestyle to this day. Other than my musical instruments, I do not have much possessions. Because I love music so much, I doubt that any material possession will make me as happy as simply having the time to play music.

It is ironic that society ingrains in us the idea that we need to make more money and buy more things, while psychological research reveals the exact opposite truth; the more materialistic the person, the less happy they are.

The holiday season is a good time to reflect on the values by which we live. While the media tells us to go hit up those mega sales in stores everywhere, I can’t help but wonder how much of our values are tragically shaped by this consumer society driven by profit-seeking corporations. Keep in mind that these advertisements were specifically designed for the sole purpose of putting more money in the pockets of the corporations and their investors, with absolutely no regard to the well-being of the consumer. It angers me because they do it so cleverly, showing people who appear so happy consuming the products that they don’t actually need. Why should anyone expect to be better off by following their advice?

Whether we like it or not, life is short; it’s a mere instance of time in the scheme of the universe. Pretty soon, we will all approach the end of it. When that day comes, would we have any regrets, and if so, about what? I doubt that any of us will regret that we did not buy enough nice things. We might, however, regret that we did not spend enough time with our loved ones, nor express often enough just how important they are to us. Or maybe we’ll regret that we did not follow our dreams to make a positive impact in this world beyond ourselves, because after all, isn’t that the sole purpose of life? We didn’t come into this world simply to exist, pay bills, and die.

If you woke up this morning happy about what you are about to do today, chances are that your life is well-aligned to your values. If not, you’re not alone. We’ve all experienced those periods in our lives. Life certainly isn’t always great, and everybody struggles through the tough times during which we grapple with the idea of reevaluating and readjusting our course.

Change is actually not as scary as it seems. Rather, it is exciting. The country’s founding forefathers thought that it’d be important for us to have the right to the “pursuit of happiness”, but life is actually about the “happiness of pursuit”. When we stop pursuing and growing, we start to lose track of the meaning behind everything that we do.

May your 2016 be filled with growth,
Shin