Mutual Mentorship for Musicians

building new paradigms of mentorship

Coordination and Production:
Sara Serpa & Jen Shyu

Editor for Fall Equinox 2022 Cohort:
Kyla Marshell

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Nancy & Joe Walker, mediaThe foundation, New Music USA, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, South Arts, CRS (Center for Remembering and Sharing), Christopher Pelham, Arlene and Larry Dunn, Emily Bookwalter, and all of our individual donors and supporters.

Contributors: Fall Equinox 2022 Cohort

Krissy Bergmark
Aline Frazão
Jessica Jones
Tara Kannangara
Gwen Laster
Rosángela Isabel Pérez Molero
Naomi Nakanishi
Dafna Naphtali
CC Sunchild
Zeynep Toraman
Ni Made Ayu Dwi Sattvitri
Kavita Shah


1. The Instrument by Aline Frazão
2. Benefits by Tara Kannangara
3. Is my Black still beautiful? Is my Black still proud? by Gwen Laster
4. Ilang Liang: Lost to find happiness / A Karawitan musical composition by Ni Made Ayu Dwi Sattvitri
5. Building a Musician: a Journey Through my Journals by Jessica Jones
6. The Jump by CC Sunchild (Colette Coward)
7. Instructions on how to oxygenate a tonal harmony routine by Rosángela Pérez 
8. Vocal Rituals for Healing by Kavita Shah
9. Indeterminacy as Method for Self-Determination by Zeynep Toraman
10. Shower Thoughts by Naomi Nakanishi 
11. on trees (and birds) by Dafna Naphtali
12. On Tenderness by Krissy Bergmark  

1. The Instrument by Aline Frazão

Photo by by Daryan Dornelles

She woke up in a bed ninety centimeters wide and saw the first shade of blue coloring the window, sprouting from a fire orange, a remnant of night under the horizon. It was the fifth floor of a building in a random town in France—she couldn’t even remember which one. All too soon, she got up and packed her things to leave the hotel. There was a train and then a plane that would take her to another destination. The night before, the small jazz club in town had sold out to hear her music. It was a glorious evening, full of pale faces opened in smiles that she secretly tried to read: condescension or fascination? Impossible to know. Irrelevant, maybe.

Following the usual script, she would soon meet her bandmates in the hotel lobby and hit the road. But as she was leaving the tiny hotel room and tried to pick up her instrument to carry it with her, she felt an unexpected weight. The instrument did not leave the floor. It did not move an inch. It seemed stuck to the wooden floor like a statue, so heavy, an absurd weight, impossible to carry even by the arms of the gods, let alone human ones, as if someone had filled that body with dozens of balls of lead.

She sat on the bed and looked at the instrument. It certainly looked like a regular black padded bag, with waterproof fabric, reinforced straps, and two external pockets, a top of the line gigbag she’d bought to protect her precious instrument from the elements. Her instrument: invisible companion on so many journeys and so many songs, miles of improvised solos, dozens of new compositions, studio sessions, train carriages and airplane cabins, dressing rooms and stages, dressing rooms and stages, dressing rooms. She stared at the mirror in the dim light of morning, and the black garbage bag full of toys that used to lay next to her childhood bed came to mind. It was the big plastic bag which by the daylight of her hometown was a magic trunk full of unexpected stories, overflowing with fun and joy and imagination, but in the depth of night, came to life and turned into the most terrible monsters that made her sneak into her parents’ room and only then be able to sleep. 
She looked at the clock and tried again. Impossible to carry this thing. The desperate yell of the phone broke the silence and impatient voices called out to her:  they couldn’t miss the train, what was going on, was she okay? My instrument is heavy as a sack of cement, I can’t lift it off the floor, I can’t go now. You have to go without me. She hung up abruptly and pulled the wire from the wall. She looked in the mirror once again, then very, very slowly lay her body down on the bed. The sky was now a slightly brighter blue and the birds had quieted their song. How will they do without a singer tonight? she asked, just before closing her eyes. That’s when she heard those little balls of lead falling down to the wooden floor like a gigantic wave curling up on itself, like two immense clouds colliding. Lying in that bed, her body, the instrument, was finally allowed to rest and stay silent.

2. Benefits by Tara Kannangara

Photo by Brittany Farhat

I dream of my dentist.
I see him most nights now. There are variables to this dream (location, era, attire) but it usually follows the same beat pattern. 

In my waking life my therapist had told me that my teeth grinding could be a symptom of institutional trauma. It circles me a few times a day so I’m able to describe all of its wretched dimensions. I observe it like an anthropologist with 3D glasses. It’ll lunge at me from the dark, a cartoon boogeyman, usually while I’m folding laundry. I take this Thing and turn it into a carefully crafted joke I tell to anyone who will listen; I become an amateur comedian. I usually laugh first, reassuring my audience that I’m cool with everything. 

About 15 minutes into my act, my therapist tossed this term “institutional trauma” into my body. It fell to the bottom of my belly like a heavy stone, squelching out the remainder of my set. She had successfully heckled me.

After we finished she gave me a series of CBT exercises to practice and mentioned that I should see a dentist – just in case. 

I had planned to practice mindfulness during my afternoon walk, but instead my mind wanders back to the dentist.

What if I wanted to be the only one? An exception. To be the exception would mean that I somehow found a way to break through unscathed. To be like everyone else meant that I was just another casualty, victimized and, in my therapist’s words, traumatized. 

I’m not sure I remember what happened. Not totally. I do, however, remember how people reacted on my behalf:

Was it so bad? A few uncivil barbs thrown at me, some raised voices and pugnacious body language. Typical, so typical, are the types of intimidation tactics deployed by men over 40, so embarrassing, out of style, out of step, equivalent to scaring away Grizzlies in the Pacific Northwest. In our various clashes, I had seemingly come out the victor. I would walk away from faculty meetings exhilarated, flush with excitement, reliving my victories on a loop in my brain, occupying me for hours. So lost in this loop, I couldn’t even recall what happened in the 10 minutes it took for me to get to the grocery store. Had I taken the streetcar? Had I walked? When I’d snap back to reality, I’d find myself at the checkout with pineapples or dragon fruits. Too exhausted to peel, I let them sit in the corner of my kitchen to rot over the coming weeks, while I lay in bed, devising arguments for the next Zoom meeting. Was it so bad?

My afternoon walks take about 30 minutes. This time I found myself walking slowly, counting the leaves that had fallen to the ground. I counted hundreds, all curled up, one not quite like the other, some more vivid, ablaze with shades of coral and apricot. Sometimes I think about rescuing one to take into my home, displaying it on the white granite countertop in my kitchen. I’d show it to my husband, who would probably also think it’s quite beautiful. I never do though. I always figure it’s where it needs to be.

3. Is my Black still beautiful? Is my Black still proud? by Gwen Laster

Photo by Russ Cusak

Is my Black still beautiful?
Is my Black still proud?

I found a dreamy, newly constructed artist loft with high ceilings, plenty of light and new appliances. Nobody’s body has ever lived here before. 

As I am packing, I think of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I pick up every item and ask myself, “Does this spark joy?” and listen to how my body responds. I am creating a “new world order” by positioning myself to have a creative work team in place while I explore my individual artistic urge. Any clothing, trinkets, even earrings reminding me of the lonely overdoing, overextending and hustle grinding must go. Kondo’s idea about “making your space clean and uncluttered so you examine your inner state” is a snapshot of my childhood where I grew up frequently dumping and washing dirty ashtrays and dishes after my mother and stepfather’s weekend drinking parties. 

I tell myself on the regular, “Let go of the ancestral baggage.” While I’m so proud I came from the fabric of an environment rooted in my grandparents’ migration from the South for auto factory jobs in Detroit and domestic work in the suburbs, I sometimes imagine tiny whispers murmuring, “Ain’t what you got good enough?

I feared the thought of being trapped at home and not getting accepted to a “go away” college because of my mother’s life as a heavy drinker, being depressed and severely underemployed, working jobs below her level of intellect and skillset. So I forged her signature on my college submission application to guarantee a start to an independent life. I recognized and respected my mother’s struggle as part of the ancestral baggage I wanted to release as my first experience of deserving better and best. Being raised in an upbringing of struggle took root in the form of low self-esteem, abusive boyfriends, and a piss poor attitude about money that  made me feel unworthy and undeserving of whatever nice things I could dream up. 

I’d like to think that my journey has brought me to a proud place similar to what my grandparents felt migrating from the South to the North and becoming one of the successful  Detroit working class Black families. I’d like to think that my experience of working a summer job on the Chrysler auto assembly line just after my Ma’s passing motivated me to find work-study jobs, without fail, every semester until completion of my degrees. I’d like to think that the beauty of that work ethic forged a path to creative freedom and weaved the balance between the celebration of my family struggles and deserving my best and beyond.

Yes, my Black is still beautiful.
Yes, my Black is still proud. 

4. Ilang Liang: Lost to find happiness / A Karawitan musical composition by Ni Made Ayu Dwi Sattvitri

Photo by Nur Sholeh

Everyone has their own way of remembering something in their life. The creation of my work Ilang Liang is one of my ways of remembering the journey that I have embarked upon and will continue to live.

I’m Sattvitri, a woman from Bali who doesn’t know what to do with her life.  At the age I started to reach adulthood, I was confused about where I should go and why. After much thought, I finally decided to pursue my studies in Surakarta. The distance between my home in Bali and the city of Surakarta is 636 kilometers–very close if you travel by plane. However, it feels very far via public transportation–a trip about 16 hours long. 

A fun fact that motivated me to move to Surakarta is that I wanted to escape from my community’s inquiries about my future such as, “Where will you work?” or “Who is your boyfriend?” and other strange questions. But escaping was not the only reason. There was also a desire to face new challenges like how to adapt to a new environment, new friends, new culture, and new foods; how to manage my finances, and how to solve problems alone. Separation from one’s family is an uncommon thing in my area. Most of the people I grew up with don’t go abroad if they intend to support their family’s economical situation. As a daughter, I am still monitored by my parents and am responsible for taking care of them.  

On Monday, September 12, 2022, my journey began. I went to Surakarta alone without knowing anyone there. “Go home, go home, go home,” the voice in my head kept telling me. No matter what the reason is, leaving home is an unavoidable experience and should be faced with courage. Home is a place where all my memories live, and leaving means leaving them all behind. On the other hand, leaving home also means an opportunity for me to start new things and to create new memories. 

If I wanted to leave home, why was I missing my house? Of course, I missed it. Leaving home and my habits filled me with regret. It felt like a room that was once filled with a crowd but suddenly became empty. When you leave, sometimes you may find things that were lost or neglected inside. And I chose to do this in my own way. I don’t know what I will discover on this trip, but at least I must clear the noise in my mind. Sad? Obviously, the sense of happiness I had at home suddenly disappeared from the moment I walked out of my house. All I had in mind at that time was sadness and longing. I miss my home. But, alone or not, my life goes on. I take responsibility for what I decided and will go through everything with the aim of “having fun” in the future. The saying goes, “Get sick first; have fun later.” 

Ilang Liang is a karawitan music work that uses Gamelan Gender Wayang as a medium of expression and is played by four players. Ilang means “lost” while Liang means “happy.” Together, Ilang Liang means, “Disappearing for a moment to find happiness.” Disappearing, leaving home, parting with loved ones to see the house itself.  Gamelan Gender Wayang is a Balinese gamelan ensemble whose instrumentation consists of four instruments, namely two large instruments and two small instruments in a higher octave. The large instrument is called Gender Pemade, while the small instrument is called Gender Kantilan. The instrument spans two octaves with a pentatonic (five-tone) scale. The two basic gender wayang instruments are each constructed from a wooden frame and ten rectangular bronze keys suspended by string and composite hide and wood bridges over upright, tuned bamboo resonators.

Gender Pemade
Gender Kantilan

To play it we must use two panggul (mallet) in the right and left hands. These mallets are slender and radially symmetrical with wooden disc heads and conical bead-like horn rattles. Their shape allows players to fit mallets between the second and third fingers of loosely open hands and strike and dampen keys simultaneously with minute, rotating motions of the forearms. 

The tone in the Gamelan Gender Wayang consists of five tones as follows:

Ilang Liang has a simple technique and the same pattern between the beginning and end of the song. I find it analogous to my  journey, as I leave the house  and enter the house through  the same gate, starting with  simplicity and ending with  simplicity, starting with  a question, and ending with  more questions. Who’s waiting for me to come home? My house is simple but full of warmth. My home is a foothold in my journey.

The simple pattern of the beginning and end of Ilang Liang in the Balinese notation system is as follows: 


ndang nding ndung . ndang . ndeng . ndung . nding ndang
ndang nding ndung . ndang . ndeng . ndung . nding ndang
ndeng  nding ndang . ndeng . nding ndang . ndong nding
ndeng  nding ndang .ndeng . nding ndang . ndong nding
ndung ndang ndeng nding..
ndung. ndong. ndeng..

Creation Process

Ilang Liang is an impromptu work that was made during six rehearsals at the Palwaswari Art Center. The creation of this work was done a few days before I left for Surakarta. My goal of creating this work was to have a reminder of my new journey. The audio-visual recording of this work was made on September 11, 2022, at Purusadha Kapal Temple, Mengwi, Badung, Bali. We were surrounded by the sounds of people sweeping floors, clappers, birds, the sound of vehicle bells ringing “tan-tan tin-tin,” airplane engines, human screams, and other nature sounds. Of course, the recording process did not go easily. On the other hand, it makes me happy that the participating musicians still remember the pattern that was played. It took almost 10 repetitions to record the full composition because something always went wrong. I call it a piece mixed with natural music because there were so many environmental sounds that were recorded as well. I am not focused on a good recording quality, but rather on what happened at the time. 

In the end the recording went well. All the musicians were happy even though they were tired and hot. Considering that after we finished this process, I embarked on a new journey to a new place far from my friends, making us see each other less often, this work is also a farewell to us as a group. I parted with an unforgettable event that will certainly become a memory for the rest of our lives. 

How does this work cure my homesickness? When listening to this composition, I feel at home in Bali, because I still use traditional Balinese techniques. By watching the video of Ilang Liang, I recall the jokes that my fellow musicians made during our creative process, which are truly uplifting. 

Process videos can be seen at this link.
Ilang Liang
‘s music can be heard and seen at this link: 

5. Building a Musician: a Journey Through my Journals by Jessica Jones

Photo by by Chuck Gee

Berkeley, California
My Youth

1975, age 15
Anyway, so I didn’t get to sleep until about 1:00 and I was so nervous and I woke up at about 6:30am and the sunrise was beautiful and I have a special star that I can see from my bed. It’s like a friend of mine – I smile and it smiles back. Anyway, I asked it “please all I want out of life is to be in stage band”. 

I was really serious about that audition –  I mean, if I got in I would be happy forever or if I didn’t get in I might as well die then and there.

[I got in]

New York, NY
My Twenties

1982, age 22
And so I sit here in this filthy sticky center of my world, feigning mental health. I hate New York. I hate brown water, I hate roaches on the silverware, I hate candy wrappers in the gutter, I hate rush hour and all that goes with it. I hate soot on the window sills and having skin that sticks to everything it touches. I hate “check it out!” and “yours free with the purchase of”. I think I hear musicians down the street and it turns out to be the same old screeches and yelps of the city.

1984, age 24
I’ve spent my whole life thinking there’s some secret I don’t know yet. Some clue, some point, something that ties it all together. But I’m 24 years old now! I’m an adult, this is it! I mean it IS what you see right here. All the evidence is in your hot little hands. And, of course, always has been. I could be 70 years old, still waiting for someone to clue me in. Wasting time! Wasting what it IS. 

Here, it’s a clear un-humid summer day on an NYC rooftop. There are a few puffy kisses of clouds in the ocean of blue air, looking watchfully over the city. The church is gonging, the Mr. Softee ice cream truck is tinkling, the kids in the street are screaming jubilantly, cars are rumbling, and the breeze blows that low growling in your ear as it covers you gently like your mother tucking you in at night. 

And then the smell of skin warmed by the sun, it’s the holiest thing I know.

If this isn’t it, what is?

So relax. BE sad. Feel so sad. Feel love, feel for others’ feelings, feel extremely. Don’t fight it. The sun will be setting soon, and you will be tired and go to sleep. The only thing that happens between sunrise and sunset is feelings. It looks so, so busy but that’s just the noise of things bumping into each other. To shut your eyes and close your ears is the most wasteful death. To be living is to be singing (energy in, energy out).  There is no disappointment in not singing, it’s in not LIVING.

Berkeley, California
My Early Thirties

1991, age 31 
Oh, I love the saxophone! I love jazz, I love the scholarliness and intelligence and humility and the clothes and the music that pours over me, a womb-like blanket of the before-times and the forever-times: a welcome home blessing inviting me to be swallowed up in it.I didn’t sound so good tonight, that’s okay. My fingers were relaxed, and my horn – I could feel it vibrating my hands. I love the saxophone. 

1993, age 33, (One one year old son)
I resent that women’s energy goes to raising healthy sons who go out and put their personal original stamp on the world. And it’s not even the lack of recognition for the mothers (and girlfriends and wives). It’s that if one had to choose between breastfeeding and gigging – and ultimately I’ve had to – the right choice is breastfeeding. This isn’t fair, I have a stamp too. A big one. My emotions are right up by my skin. I love the music I want to play. I feel blessed and honored to have this family. Tears stream down my face. My pockets are beyond empty.

New York, NY
My Forties and Beyond

2008, age 48 
I have strayed far from my ambitious disciplined musician self. It’s understandable, and it’s forgiven, given that I’m raising a person or two, but it’s still true. School Marm has World Adventurer in a double Nelson headlock pin on the mat. Lucky I’m still breathing musically at all. Great gig at Iridium last week, though. Musically luscious, nothing detracts from that.

2021, age 61 Upstate NY, empty nest
I consistently feel a deeper connection to… melody, I guess, and a patience for hearing the sounds together for what they mean to me, in my System of Think, instead of a catch up feeling of not knowing what they mean in the Language of Everybody. I’m pursuing that calm pretty ardently. We recorded last week.  We prepared more than usual and that really paid off.

These are not new lessons, but this is the first time in my life I’ve really had the actual consistent time to work on the music ahead of time, with relaxed focus and without sacrificing great swaths of my life. 

 [I dig it.]

6. The Jump by CC Sunchild (Colette Coward)

Self portrait

On October 4, 3015, I jumped. I jumped through what is seen as haloed sunbeams into the body of a version of me in 2023. We had been planning this for All Eternity. And across all timelines and dimensions, We chose Me…the perfect One to come to my Self and rescue She…the Beautiful BEing. 

She was having some trouble remembering. She didn’t remember much of anything. She didn’t remember Us, or the Great Grand Council of WE, or even who she was, or what she was supposed to be doing. She was just sitting. Simulating motion but not really moving. She was stuck…in a corner that no one else could see. A mental cage of darkness and suffering. Just waiting. Hoping. Dreaming. Barely living. She had been holding her breath. Barely breathing. Using all of her energy thinking and trying and crying out for help. But to those on the outside looking in, She seemed to be thriving and succeeding. “This is your time,” they would say. But they didn’t really understand the depth of their meaning. This really was her time. Time to wake up from her sleeping and ascend beyond her current system of beliefs and thinking. But neither She, nor they, could really perceive it. 

To her, it felt like she was just going through the motions. Ghosting. Empty. Robotic. Like a shell. No feelings. And even though she didn’t understand it, all of this was necessary for her to be in a posture of surrender, to prepare her for The Coming…The wonderful day that She would leave herself to come to her Self. BE Coming. The day that she would die to the version that she once knew and return to be reborn into her Truth. 

We had All agreed, including She, over the centuries, that I Am the One who would BE Coming. But no one knew exactly when this would happen except for the Great Grand Council of We.  

One day, I was on the top of a mountain, extreme BASE jumping from a planet called Citrine in the galaxy of IC 1613. Everything was serene and pristine. Snowy red caps glistening in the Suns. This was my 15th jump. So I knew what I was doing. I checked all the internal flying equipment one final time.Then I opened my eyes, opened my arms wide…and I leaped. I leaped straight into the Sun streams/Sun’s dreams. But I didn’t know where they were taking me. The next thing I saw was the merging of a new scene right in front of me. Looked like two dimensions colliding slowly, one into the other. I was descending. Emerging and BEcoming one with a new body. I smiled as I came down because I knew that Now is the moment of Truth. I Am Here. I could feel my energy as light, melting into the cells and fibers of this new Space. Beaming, tingling, vibrations ringing, singing throughout the body. 

I can feel myself shining like the Sun. I Am one with this Sun and I Am one with this new Being as I’m entering. I am feeling my Self as She. I am Being as She Be. She is realizing that something beautiful is happening. So She picks up her cell phone to capture this glow that is radiating from her soul. Click of the thumb, one photo after another, she knows…something new is here and something old has returned to the Source. 

7. Instructions on how to oxygenate a tonal harmony routine by Rosángela Pérez 

Photo by Melina Hidalgo Llovera

8. Vocal Rituals for Healing by Kavita Shah

Photo by Joe Wuerfel

My voice is my greatest gift and my greatest burden.

What would my voice sound like if it were free? 

Free from expectation, from lack of expectation, from judgment, from criticism, from commoditization, from neo-colonialism, from prejudice, from racial trauma, from physical trauma, from pain, from grief. 

What if my voice already is free? 

If only I could locate it, find out where it lives, grasp it and ask how it could possibly be free when my body and my mind are bound to this earth. 

What would it feel like to sing from a place of pure freedom? 

These are the burning questions that keep me up at night. For some years now, I have found myself increasingly resistant to engaging the Western vocal techniques that have served as the foundation of my practice for 30 years, and instead craving more primordial forms of vocal knowledge, seeking out the ways in which the voice has been used across cultures and time as a marker of human rituals and a modality of healing. 

My voice has been my main vehicle of expression since birth, one that allows me to stake my claim, engage in community, and bring people together. Singing is the best way I know how to give love to others. As a performer, improviser, and composer, I am guided by the corporal knowledge that comes from being a singer; I would not create the same art if it were not for the way I feel music passing through my body from some unknown place, the way words feel as they roll off my tongue, the sacred symbiosis of sound and language that intertwine deep in my soul. These are the things you cannot learn in a conservatory: they are intuitive, they are ineffable, they are human. And since the voice is the oldest instrument in the world, I believe vocal music is the most powerful way to connect with our common humanity. Indeed, my voice is capable of carrying me to the sublime.

But I—the person who encases this voice—am flawed, and when my voice is not being used for its greatest good (because I berate it, because I internalize the opinions of others, because at times I hate it and my body and myself, because my jazz education programmed me to be ashamed of singing and instead prove how I am a real musician who writes music in 17/8, because that same jazz world told me that as a real musician I earned the title of vocali-ist and I could leave singer behind, because I sometimes use my voice to impress people rather than to move them, because my self-worth in our capitalist society gets conflated with the money I earn from what my voice can yield, because some days I am so overwhelmed by grief that my voice stays stuck beneath an anvil sitting atop my chest, spreading out on all sides but unable to escape, burning the base of my clavicles, my neck, my jaw), this knowledge haunts me, it gnaws at me, it taunts me. Singing from here feels cumbersome, contrived, and wholly unnatural.

So here I am, on a quest to reclaim my voice as my own, to embrace it as it sounds on any given day, to trust it and listen to it and allow it to guide me, to offer myself the same love I give others through my singing, and to encourage those on the path alongside me. As part of this journey, I would like to offer here some vocal rituals for healing.

May we all continue to seek freedom through sound, through our bodies, and through our voices.


Illustrations by Lisk Feng 


Sit cross-legged on the floor. Place your hands on your lap and close your eyes. 
Take an inventory of all the sounds present in your environment. (Silence is also a sound.) Spend about five minutes doing this.
Listen for the sounds of your childhood. Take an inventory of all that you hear.
Can you remember the first sound you ever heard? 


Do nothing* for six hours.
Avoid electronic devices during this time. 
At the end of these six hours, sing. Take note of what sounds come up for you.

 *(“Do nothing” here means refraining from partaking in any activity in which you are intentionally “doing.” For example, you may go for a walk, but try to avoid a particular exercise goal or predetermined route. For this period of time, embrace being passive rather than active.)


Scan your body for emotional or physical tension. 
Ask each tense part of your body what sound it needs at this very moment. 
Vocalize that sound out loud, no matter how bizarre it might seem.
Repeat as desired.


Make an L shape using your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
Cover your ears (your tragus) with your thumb, and your eyes with your index and middle fingers.

Compose a series of any five notes by humming each note through to its completion.  Immerse yourself in the reverberation of sound along your sinus cavities, face, head, and neck. 

Try to improvise your choice of notes, rather than singing a predetermined sequence, listening simultaneously for where your intuition is leading you. Pay attention to the story your chosen notes tell when put together. 


Chant the Sanskrit bija mantras “LAM RAM VAM YAM HAM OM OM” in succession on a G note. Start slowly and speed up as desired. As you utter each syllable, focus mentally on the corresponding chakra in your body. 

a – Chant while simultaneously playing a singing bowl, concentrating on the resonance between your voice and the bowl.
b – Chant each syllable three times while imagining the corresponding color of that chakra.
c – Chant while sitting in front of a mirror and actively send each bija mantra to its corresponding body part. Embrace the duality of your human nature. Imagine that the person you see before you is the highest version of yourself, and that you are singing with the intention of gently inviting their presence to rise within you.


Create your own personal mantra composed of any ten syllables that are meaningful to you.
Speak your mantra 20 times over a glass of water.
Drink the glass of water.

9. Indeterminacy as Method for Self-Determination by Zeynep Toraman

Photo by Mona Osterkamp

Here I present a short account of how I stopped thinking of myself as a stable entity and instead decided to embrace the endless makings and re-makings of the self. My own experience of the world, which is always simultaneously infinitely broad and painfully specific, contradicts my constant quest to figure out the true version of things. As I kept on reading, writing, reflecting, re-writing words and music, I found myself asking the same question over and over. Where does the work really exist? Does it reside in its temporal unfolding, encrypted in the text, or in the faint memory that lingers weeks after? And ultimately my honest answer to that was–still is–that I do not know. And perhaps this is the reason why I find it absolutely necessary to create things in multiple forms–as a way to reconstruct the same question in different ways. It is a never-ending quest to build up and tear down, all while acknowledging my deepest belief that there will never be a clear message. I densely pack myself into the work.

The following texts were all part of my recent quest to dive deeper into the inner workings of my own artistic practice and the necessity of storytelling. These books do not simply serve as sources of inspiration, but they allow for a specific type of self-actualization through my experience of reading them. The texts themselves revolve around the very human urge to make sense of the world and the practices associated with it. My methodology for this has been to constantly make and update a list of books that have influenced me, at least in that moment. The power of thinking together, thinking through the words of others, is evident as I use gleaned fragments from these texts to shape my identity, without feeling pressured to commit to any particular convergences that occur along the way. Below are notes, disguised as book reviews, on my personal encounter with these texts and how each of them has influenced a facet of my artistic practice, contributing to knowledge production.

What Was I Thinking? by Jalal Toufic

Jalal Toufic’s own laconic practice became a starting point for me to examine how I relate various texts to one another, even when they initially appear unrelated. The indeterminacy that Toufic introduces into the (Western) canon by fabulating connections among seemingly fixed texts enabled me to free myself from predetermined interpretations. It is impossible to determine the exact subject matter of this book other than Toufic’s unique approach to engaging with this array of texts.

House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk

I read this book almost three years ago, and I distinctly recall being immediately captivated by its structure—a patchwork of memories, anecdotes, histories, and essays, all seamlessly woven together, akin to a gathered convergence. The geo-location serves as a determining factor in shaping one’s experiences, as exemplified in this case by a Polish village on the Czech border. It explores the concept of limits and presents a unique mode of knowing.

The Endless Summer: A Requiem by Madame Nielsen

This novel self-identifies as a “Bildungsroman,” but I only discovered this after reading it. What I liked about this story is that it is extremely difficult to determine where and how it is unfolding, as it is written in an endless parentheses format. Its scope feels both incredibly narrow and incredibly expansive at the same time. The characters maintain an awareness of something greater than themselves, which in its essence relates to the tragic—a universal tragedy experienced by all of us in the unfolding of our own personal histories. In the end, this story fulfilled the strong urge I have to allow myself to be hurt through words, through someone else’s writing. I cannot fully articulate how or why, but perhaps that is the only way this type of hurting could truly occur in the first place.

10. Shower Thoughts by Naomi Nakanishi 

Photo by Lauren Desberg

Shower Thoughts
샤워 중 생각

I love a good fucking shower. 

One of the worst sounds in the world is the unanimous bird chirping, signaling the break of dawn after a long, restless night of attempted sleep. It’s another reminder that I’ve failed to take care of myself and wonder if now’s a good time to get diagnosed for insomnia. 


There’s something extremely cathartic about “washing away all your sins” under the scalding heat of the pressurized stream. To me, a shower is a form of self care. I think I have always felt this ever since I was a little kid. I love baths as well. Bathing in general. I could have a really shitty day, but once I hop in the shower the rejection email or the $8 latte I spilled earlier in the day doesn’t even matter anymore. Just kidding, it still matters. And the ironic thing is that the latte was supposed to help. 

When I was younger, a shower also washed away any bad feelings I harbored from the day–whether it was the mean white girls who bullied me about my kimbap lunch or the teacher’s pet calling me a “chink” while pushing up the corners of his eyes. It washed away the nagging feeling of inadequacy as I longed for the body of a tall, petite blonde on the cover of Teen Vogue’s March 2013 issue, or to don a cobalt Sherri Hill, strapless, sweetheart cut at the eighth grade dance. Every other girl in my grade was going to be in Sherri Hill–how could they afford those? I scored a $15 orange, strapless dupe at Forever 21 and my mom, from her ballroom dancing days, had leftover gems she could glue on to the fabric. Basically Sherri Hill, right? Even with the new middle school boyfriend, these feelings of inadequacy never went away. 

I am a plus-sized Asian American. I don’t know too many, personally. I’ve had body image issues since I could remember. I would say it’s because I grew up with a Korean “almond mom” and a dad who shut down most career aspirations I had involving physical appearances (model, actor, ballerina, etc). Though now looking back, I realize I was not actually fat in middle school, high school, or even college. (Body dysmorphia is a bitch.) 


When I was in middle school, I never questioned why I was the only Asian girl in the jazz band. High school was a blur, and I knew there were other women in the jazz department, so it didn’t seem pressing (I went to an arts high school with different arts majors and jazz was one of them). Some comments were made that I “couldn’t swing” or that my groove felt “funky” because I was Asian. I don’t even think the people who told me that even remember saying it. Because of stereotypes, I was always assumed to be a classical musician or rather, they were stunned that I played “jazz,” as if it were such a weird anomaly.

As I started to somewhat “excel” in music, the excitement of feeling “accepted” kept me motivated. Still, every academic excellence award, acceptance email into that year’s Honor Band and All-State band, 4.0 GPA, and compliments from my teachers were not enough. 

I thought these feelings would disappear in college, by entering new spaces and communities–a fresh start. They did not and I was still a minority. Here I started to really think about the intersection of gender, race, and class. I was immediately labeled as the “not chill” or “weird” classmate or what’s it called? “Crazy feminist” (this one was fun to hear).

Was it because I did a recital with all the women in the department at the time? Or another recital where all my compositions and poems tackled social justice issues? (Too performative?) Or maybe it’s because I helped start an organization called “Women Mean Business.” 

When I was named one of “22 Outstanding Women for 2020” on International Women’s Day as part of my school’s initiative to recognize women, it felt like a respite from all the sadness and feelings of isolation from being one of five women in a department of over 60 students. 

I guess it was natural for us “women” to gravitate towards each other as we all aired our grievances over the same things: “Why won’t any of the guys call us to play?”  “I wish we had a woman on faculty. It’s such a boys club.”  “I wish there were more of us in the program.”  “They keep telling me to play more aggressively.”  When confronted with our grievances, the department claimed that women had been accepted into the program but just “chose not to accept” the invitation. Up until recently it was an all-white male faculty for a jazz program. Pretty jarring if you’re on the outside looking in. 


Doing gigs is another thing. There’s one in particular I will always remember. It was a wedding reception, so the tunes were pretty classic in terms of style–not too hard to learn, but there were a lot of them. I felt I did a pretty good job learning the grooves and melodies and making sure I used the right sound patches. I showed up to the gig and was immediately mistaken as “someone’s girlfriend,” which seemed pretty odd considering I was in gig attire (all black) and carrying my keyboard. The bandleader then proceeded to ignore me the entire set. Didn’t say a single word to me. I played the entire gig without having even ONE interaction with the bandleader. But he did acknowledge everyone else in the band of all white men. I swear I am not exaggerating. This really happened. 

During my second year of undergraduate I went through a pretty traumatic incident. It’s pretty standard to see a flurry of recital posters being hung up in a music school on the cardboard bulletin boards posted around campus. I posted flyers announcing my first recital of original music and even wrote some poetry to go along with it. I spent countless hours composing, editing the charts, coordinating rehearsals. It was a really special event to me, something I was really proud of as a budding bandleader. Not long after, I found that one of my posters had been vandalized with inappropriate comments and phallic drawings. That act of ignorance was really hurtful. I felt I wasn’t taken seriously as a musician. My hard work didn’t matter to them. My musicianship didn’t matter.

I did not matter. 

The situation was “remedied” after an individual meeting with the department chair and a  heartfelt announcement in our weekly forum class on how disrespectful it was. Of course no one came forward. Cowards.

bottom left photo taken by mom


There is a deep, racial history of stereotyping within the Asian community. We are often grouped as a monolith, oozing with exoticism, flat-faced, fair-skinned, super tiny, and skinny. Eastern Asia, especially Korea, is still bound by a strong patriarchal culture that values diet culture and the need to look “perfect” hence their plastic surgery empire. Kendall Mastumoto from Stanford University talks about the “reductive and damaging stereotypes of hypersexualization and objectification” specifically with Asian women in mainstream media (“Orientalism and the Legacy of Racialized Sexism”) as well as racial erasure. 

I’m tired of it. 

The loneliness that raged and still rages from this era is a leech I’ve tried so hard to eliminate. Now I’ve just labeled it differently…solitude I guess. It’s taken me 24 years, but I finally figured it out. Somewhat. I’ve learned to enjoy my own company and revel in the new pottery/candle/single-origin coffee/locally-sourced grocery stores in and around the lovely neighborhood of Bed-Stuy (although I wonder about its pre-gentrified community). So many new skin-care routines, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome-friendly recipes, low-intensity workouts, walks, self-help books, meditation apps, water bottles, and supplements to keep track of. All to maintain a somewhat “healthy” lifestyle where mental health precedes all others. No more “look good, feel good” mottos because “fat” does not necessarily equate to “unhealthy.” I was also recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

Plus-sized Asian folk should be represented without the “plus-sized” description slapped onto their work. The Asian community should be represented without needing to do Asian American – Pacific Islander (AAPI) festivals or specially curated events during AAPI month. AAPI month is year round! I recognize these are necessary to create more visibility and provide a platform to those that wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise. 

I want to be liked. Not in the superficial way where liking someone comes from a mutual desire of wanting the next gig or the follow back on Instagram. I want to be appreciated. I want to be respected. I want to exist knowing I’m making some sort of an impact in my community. I want to share in exploring/workshopping other people’s music. I want people to ask me out for coffee to get to know me better.

We should simply be able to exist in creative spaces. 13-year-old me shouldn’t have had to experience such extreme body dysmorphia at such a young age and yearn for whiteness due to idolized beauty standards. It matters because we deserve to take up space without apologizing, free from a constant state of hypervigilance. 

I think it’s too much. But how much is too much? Aren’t I allowed to take this space and ask for this much? Is it too selfish? I want this gratification even though I know in the end it doesn’t really matter. Too nihilistic? Gratification that comes served on a silver platter for a lot of my white peers. Assimilation without the added layer of race and culture. 


One of the best sounds in the world is the unanimous chirping of birds signaling a fresh start of a new day after a long, restful night of intentional sleep. It’s a subtle reminder that I’ve succeeded in taking care of myself–I wonder if now’s a good time to invest in that espresso machine?

11. on trees (and birds) by Dafna Naphtali

Photo by Hans Tammen

Since childhood, I’ve loved to listen to nature, especially birds. I like to get up early to listen to their songs, then go back to sleep, sound-nourished. I make field recordings of their songs in conflict with their urban surroundings. My work is riddled with themes related to bird song, listening to nature, and these aural contradictions. My interest in birds led to my fascination with trees… 

I take photos of trees–many photos, anywhere I go and especially where I live, in Greenpoint Brooklyn. I’m not sure why I do this. But searching for the why has helped me understand who I am as an artist, musician, activist, and a human. 

Trees have so much personality. They are mysterious. They hold histories in their bodies. They communicate in intriguingly alien ways, as slow as the churning of soil. Spatially they are so much more than what the eyes can see. I am inspired by the patterns of their branches, their leaves, and their hidden roots.

We benefit from trees in many ways: They clean the air. They give us shade, privacy, and buffers from noise, and can act as storm barriers. I love that trees give shelter and food to birds but I also believe that trees have intrinsic value in what we can learn from their creativity and resilience in the face of change.  

Over 700 trees were lost in our neighborhood 25 years ago to a pest. When we moved here, in 2002, the fast growing trees that were planted as replacements were still quite small.  The neighborhood park was very sunny, too sunny and hot. 

But I found shade and solace among the surviving older trees At the small park by the river, in our corner of Greenpoint, ten old hardwoods still stood. Each morning and evening, birds would joyously congregate in these majestic older trees. Our street too, was a canyon echoing with birds, chattering and singing, making still-industrial Greenpoint, even with two nearby superfund sites, somehow beautiful.

A decade later, as our neighborhood started to change, the trees that survived the 1990s were imperiled once again, as some were cut down to make way for the new luxury towers going up. We worried for the birds, so we planted trees in our backyard. I started taking photos of trees, and found a deeper appreciation for those that had endured both beetles and Greenpoint’s  industrial environment. I worried they would not survive the coming gentrification. 

We wanted the birds to have somewhere to go. At my 7-year old daughter’s insistence, we planted several trees in our yard, through a city program.

Many of my photos are of trees that survived in unusual ways, trees that, like shapeshifters, grew around their obstacles, right through fences and gates, absorbing and incorporating them right into their bark. The scarring and improbable survival of a tree can be beautiful. Observing them, I am challenged to embrace flaws and imperfections, to be creative with my plans, and change course if needed.

Like the trees I love, in my creative work, my music and life, I hope to grow around my obstacles, making space for beauty (and birds!), being firmly rooted, and always bending toward light and nourishment. I choose to embrace unexpected outcomes not as second best but as a serendipitous opportunity to explore a different path, a way through the fence.

12. On Tenderness by Krissy Bergmark

Photo by Jessica Wittman

I wake up after an early evening nap, a little dazed and wishing, always, for more time. It feels so late, at 7pm. Too late to be waking again. I push my body up off the bed to go for a walk. As I walk, I feel the ground unmoving against my feet, my muscles rigid against gravity’s constancy. Instead of recharging myself with the earth, the walk makes the malaise of the sleep settle deeper into my body. I return to my bed, with my very small and fragile, black-furred, live-in magical creature (a cat! just a cat) gingerly climbing onto my side. His gentle warmth eases me. I close my eyes in the sleepy fog of my mind and think,


Let me tell you about my tenderness. Mine is a soft white, glowing bulb. An ethereal, ghostly onion that starts in my belly, and lifts up to a point in the center of my chest, where it reaches points that gently nudge me from the inside sometimes. It continues on and diverges into little offshoots, little branches and rivers, reaching my face. When it’s strong it shows up in involuntary smiles in my cheeks and illuminates my eyes.

This is my darkest month, my birth month. Every year, it rolls into my life with a deep sadness that catches me off-guard. It slows me down into a stew, and my spirit matches the everlasting grey of the sky in March. There are still ways the current version of me is learning her richness, her peaks and valleys, and getting more deeply acquainted with the darkness that swims in her. 

I call my mother (a gift, complex and foundational), only a few minutes from her house. My eyes gleam with tears, threatening rain, and I tell her I feel like a dead plant, like a half-life, like grief. I roll in like a storm, and she shows me. 

“Come here. Lay on the couch. Get the soft blanket. I’m gonna rub cream on your feet.”

I obey and lie, tightly wound, on the couch, feeling a little too vulnerable, a little too seen, a little too childish. I am humbled by the biblical nature, the human nature, the ritual nature, of this insistent compassion of foot rubbing. We sit near the fire all night, and sometimes I even sit close enough to sweat, thinking if I can just steal a few licks of the fire to store somewhere in my body, I could ease out of this. The heat works up my spine, glistening on my forehead.

Let me tell you about my spine. It’s usually at least warm to the touch, but in this month of March, it cools and becomes rigid. The metals align and it gets heavier, resisting my muscles in a way that makes it immovable, impenetrable. When it’s hot outside, when it’s summer, when I can feel the earth growing under my hands and smell each new in-season flower as it blooms, my spine is  always glowing a deep orange, like hot iron. It moves and arches like blown glass, it moves like an earthworm, it moves in ways like watching a vine climb.

It is the last month of winter; it’s still too cold and I haven’t seen the sun in months. When the sun does come, the air gets extra icy, burning the exposed skin. I went for a walk today, everything still brown and grey and dirty from the winter. But if I look closely, there are tiny, stubborn buds, still coated in brown and a grey-ish green skin, barely noticeable. I walked in the icy air (the sun was out, and every day it appears, I try to collect it on my own thirsty skin), and took photos of the buds. They are secret, living tendernesses, caught naked and inconspicuous on the corners of every brown, skeletal tree. Everything in this time makes me cry, the slowness of depression, the weight of my sadness, and these little buds. Hope and promise and tender, tender, tender joy. 

Let me tell you about my skin. It is a dense net, made up of billions of tiny mirrors, allowing and preventing at its own discretion. Culpable, capable, twisting. In this season, I slide into a night ocean, and at the same time as it catches moonlight, it also catches everything dark under the surface. The mirrors are cold, and accumulate rough salt crystals on their edges from the sea water. But when it’s hot out, when I wake up to bird calls and smell the breeze, when eating watermelon feels like visiting my mouth’s oldest friend, the mirrors of my skin refract light, blazing out sunshine and collecting condensation. And you can see them bend just a little bit, bending what people see in them, bending realities.

Let me tell you about my vulnerability. When I show up, ribs and sternum spread aside, with my heart open in my chest for all to see, pumping and blazing away, I am my most vulnerable. But I am also the ground, I am the earth, I am a soft and impossibly hot molten core. It’s why I am here, to exist as a vulnerable being, to smell dirt, to move through the world while eating it and being eaten, my tectonic plates shifting as I age and age. I am my favorite version of myself when I am my most vulnerable. I am aching and imagining, aging and growing, igniting and lilting. Open, for everyone to see my tenderness, and inviting them to feel theirs, deep in their chest. 

I am here to let my red, fiery, shining cardiac muscle glisten and pump in the plain air.