The Innovative

I awoke this morning feeling in a state of anguish. Or perhaps a better term would be frustrated. In any case, I was late to my 8AM class and was surely missing something important. Sure enough, I walked in conveniently just after a quiz and a lengthy explanation of the week’s project and I was left to figure things out on my own (unsuccessfully). A friend asked where I was headed afterward. “I don’t know. Home I guess. Get ready for the day.”

I didn’t intend to get ready for the day. I just assumed some more sleep would console my lack of enthusiasm for my unexciting life. So I lay on my bed to rest, determining that the list of items on my to-do list would get done eventually, but I was too uncomfortable to get started on them.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend with whom I’ve been long out of touch. This dialogue led me to ponder on my attitude toward where I am now. I miss that free, adventurous life. Sure, life as a engineering student can be adventurous in some ways, but this creativity is bounded given a great many initial conditions. Abstraction is replaced with optimization. Clarity is replaced with precision. I don’t walk around humming new melodies in search of the most vibrant and sweet anymore. I don’t play them on my piano, reviving myself with their emotional sounds. That to me is a problem; that mode of mind is no longer my primary function. What is a free mind free to think if it does not conjure something stupendous in its daily activity? I’ve sat here, wondering how I could fill these pages with words, but no words flowed, because ideas were not constantly spewing from my mind.

My old place of safety was the HFAC, though in recent years through my lack of new connections in the School of Music, I have hardly run into any familiar faces in the times during which I entered. But today I walked in with no plan in mind, just to try to gain back an inkling of… faith, perhaps.

I want to say that something remarkable happened. Because it did. For the following six hours, I remained at the slab and was granted the continuous presence of my marvelous music major friends, one by one. Before one left, another would take their place. Even until the very end of the day, I was in the constant presence of friends, old and new. But I learned something from my conversations with each one of those people. I felt something exciting that I missed deeply – the opportunity for expression, not mere subjectivity, but that which isn’t tainted by the opinions of the masses. We are not laymen, lowly citizens whose voices are desperate to be heard. We do not even care for such an aspect, because we are already aware of the talents which we hold, and those are what we live and breathe. They are a way of life, a culture. The creativity of the mind which can bend the ordinary into the extraordinary is a magnificent feature of life.

During my stay at the slab, I watched a video on YouTube, randomly, concerning numbers in series. I’m not sure why, but the video was found in my recommendations, so I decided to view it. One of the topics which was explained in depth was an explanation of the series summation of all the natural numbers, that is, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + … + infinity. This series sums to -1/12. Yeah, a negative number. Every positive integer added from 1 to infinity is equal to this number. It was bizarre to learn at first, even with the assurance that many applications of this identity appear in the real world, for example in quantum physics and string theory. It was explained that I had learned correctly in elementary calculus that this series diverges (though even that isn’t always intuitive). However, it simply diverges due to our standardized definition of convergence. We could ingrain this principle and forget that math is a language that continues to add theorems and definitions, to build upon itself. We could forget that every series that we have discarded as divergent could belong to a family of differing kinds of non-traditional convergences. With other summation techniques which allow for more and more series which were thought before to be divergent to now have finite values, we can then apply these definitions in our favor. It isn’t cheating, it is simply real life. And I think that is the way that the creative mind must also work. I love mathematics, and though we may only take the parts which we need to punch the numbers of our tools and machines, it has within it a deep and spacious reservoir of understanding, one that can teach us about the concept of infinity and how truth, elegance, and beauty are not only extremely relevant to one another but also oftentimes seem to be the exact opposite of what they are.

Maybe sometime I will see the connection between the innovation of the artist with the engineer. Those Renaissance men seemed to have it down, but it seems there needs to be more than elementary knowledge to produce the works and notebooks of Leonardo and Petrarch. The creative world seems to be my calling, but I think I must be patient for this role to become fulfilled in my career. Today was a breath of divine air, and a good reminder to me that I still have something there. My world is not gone, and though it has lain dormant for a long while, I know that I am being looked out for. And there is definitely a need for one to go back and ensure that the good of the past is not forgotten, nor buried.

That Time I Auditioned for Vocal Point

I was visiting my sister one week ago when the topic of discussion moved to a mutual friend that we both had. It was a cool thing because I think this guy has met every member of my family independently. He had been a member of BYU’s popular male a cappella group Vocal Point and she was telling me how talented this guy was. I had recently found out that auditions for the group were this week. “You should audition!” she said. “Then we would have to go to concerts!”

Being familiar with the audition process from the dozens in which I had before participated, I knew that signing up for an audition three days before it actually happens is never a good idea unless you are already sufficiently prepared, which was certainly not the case with me. But the thought was appealing, if only for the reason that it’s good experience to have, even though I knew that the chances of admission were diminutive. So I signed up.

I had done choir in high school, and on one occasion one of the soloists of a Rent medley we were singing became drunk on the day of a concert. He wasn’t permitted to come and perform, so I was asked to learn the part quickly to fill in (it was only one verse). It wasn’t very much, but when it came time to perform, I was nervous enough to switch some of the words around, but hey I’d only learned them that day. If I could do that, maybe I could be a little more optimistic about this opportunity. I was fully aware that forgetting lines shows less than minimal preparation for an audition.

Apart from only ever having sung solo that one time for one short verse, I also don’t listen to pop music. I recognize a few tunes, but I certainly never listen to any of them enough times to learn any of the lyrics. I have been listening to Chinese pop music actually, but the auditioners didn’t want songs they weren’t familiar with. Broadway was also ruled out, as well as vibrato (basically my art song and opera music), so I had to look for something to sing. The other recommendation was that the song show off my range. The only pop songs I ever heard wouldn’t show off anyone’s range (I’m certain that’s not true, there’s just none I could think of). I don’t know how I found it, but I stumbled randomly upon “Not a Bad Thing” by Justin Timberlake. His voice hits a pretty wide range in it, plus it’s by a super famous popstar so it’s along the lines a group like Vocal Point could sing. So I decided to learn the first verse and chorus, simple enough.

I felt pretty confident going in on Wednesday that I could remember the words and hit all of the notes. At the same time I kept asking myself Why am I doing this? and then, not having a real answer, reminding myself it was just for the experience. Because I’m not a very experienced singer, I wasn’t accustomed to any techniques or warm-up I could do. I was nervous, knowing that I had not prepared sufficiently (but I had known that from the beginning…) so I talked with people sitting outside the audition room, trying to put off thinking about the outcome. We typed up answers to some questions about ourselves, such as “Why do you want to join Vocal Point” and “What are your top three favorite artists/bands?” My answers were similar to “Because honestly it would be fun, and a lot of hard work” and “Beyoncé, Jamie Cullum, and Steely Dan”. I honestly don’t know too much Beyoncé but I couldn’t put down Marc-André Hamelin. I am actually a big fan of Jamie Cullum, but I was afraid that not everyone would recognize songs sung by him.

When we were called in, we began with sight singing. I am actually quite good at sight singing, but we were asked to sing “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” straight from the LDS hymnal, probably the most popular hymn of early morning seminary for its shortness. So there wasn’t really a chance to stand out there. Then, I was asked to perform my song first.

First, darn it. I wasn’t preparing right before, like I would be cramming for a test (which I don’t recommend), so I kind of wished I could take a few seconds to pull myself together right then. But I didn’t have that, so I started singing.

I remembered the first line. Subsequent lines became less and less clear, and I made sure to pause at the end of each phrase because I couldn’t think of how the following line went. I saw the members of Vocal Point dancing along to the beat which I kept interrupting because I couldn’t keep remembering the words in time. I was cut short, then the group leader asked me to sing the chorus, starting at his desired pitch. Two lines in, I stopped, saying “I don’t remember how it goes.” One member sang the next line for me and I sang it back until I was stopped again, and they moved onto the guy next to me.

“I’m going to sing Hallelujah,” he said.

“That’s a good one,” said one member.

Hey, I knew that song. Maybe I could have performed that.

The following guy said next, “I’m going to be singing Let it Be by the Beatles.”

“Great song!” they responded.

Hey, I’m really familiar with that song too! Maybe I could have sung that one.

I don’t remember what the fourth guy sang, but he was powerful. We left after that and congratulated him. He got called back, of course.

Well, I thought as I left, that was it. Haha. It actually went worse than I anticipated. But I wasn’t hurt, I knew I had asked for that.

The next day I attended a concert by another a cappella group, Beyond Measure. As I came in, one guy stopped me. “Josh, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks for coming in yesterday. It went well!”

“I know, but I’m aware that it was actually pretty bad,” I said with a smile.

“You’ve got something there though. I just want to tell you not to give up. We definitely want to see you back next year.”

I told him that I didn’t have much singing experience and that this was just for fun. I had only started preparing for it the week of. He told me it would be a good idea to prepare throughout the year.

I’m mostly just impressed that, in spite of my audition being objectively bad (like I said, you don’t forget lines for an audition), he still stopped to talk to me. I mean, if I were in the group and had witnessed such a disaster from just one of dozens of fabulously talented auditions, there’s a good chance I would have just ignored me. It’s always good to remember names, but this one crappy kid? That’s pretty impressive. But maybe this is the attitude I should adopt with everyone as well. I hope that when I am in that position (any kind of position where I search for somebody) that I don’t just shrug off the people who don’t even show promise. But it’s a good thing to start being aware of.

The second thing I take from this is that I’m glad to have tried out for something I didn’t really expect to be a part of. For example, I find it hard to be motivated to write up applications for jobs and programs or audition for groups without actually believing that I’ll make it. It just makes everything less convincing. I feel like I really did try my hardest with the minimal time and resources I was given here, but I also was fully aware of a realistic outcome. It really is a strange principle, but it applies to much more than this experience. At one point, we are probably going to break that reality, and by doing out best, we will achieve unexpected things.