How and why I live my life through music

“Music is love in search of a word.”

“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”

Respectively, these were the words of French novelist and performer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and Russian pianist and composer, Sergei Rachmaninov. These two quotes summarize my feelings about music and its impact on my daily life.

Have you ever had the chance to lie down on the floor next to a person playing a concert grand piano to feel the vibrations as well as hear the sounds? Do you get this feeling of peace and zen, a sense of om when the oboe plays an “A” and everyone begins tuning in synchrony? Sat down during an orchestral rehearsal in the auditorium, closed your eyes and just let the music wash over and through you? Do you constantly have some sort of music coursing through your head at all times? Do you feel no shame whatsoever singing Journey as you’re walking down the street? These are just a few things I do on a regular basis, and a small example of how I feel while doing some of these activities.

Music is my panacea, my place of zen, my balm. It lives in my DNA, it runs in my veins, it resides in my soul. I believe that music holds the key to many of our problems – even diagnostic medicine is looking to frequencies and tones to pinpoint ailments now! Both the acts of listening and playing help me through life. A few years ago, when I found myself unable to cry over losing someone, going to a performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem unlocked something in me and allowed me to grieve. Even now, when I feel overwhelmed, angry, sad, or upset, turning to my violin, going to orchestra rehearsal, and/or playing with a friend or two causes me to focus completely and turn off all my troubles for a couple of hours, letting me channel everything into my playing. Also, ask anyone I know: I’m a nexus of music – many things that people say remind me of a song (that I’ll instantly start singing or humming in my head or out loud), or I’ll almost always be humming or singing a tune as I’m simply sitting or walking around. Music in every form holds some sort of association or poignant memory in my mind, and when I hear certain songs, it causes me to travel back in time and relive those moments as if they had just happened yesterday.

How did I get this way? I didn’t grow up in a musical household. Even until now, I’ve never heard my father attempt to sing anything, but my mother likes singing or humming once in a while; neither of them received musical training (as far as I know). My parents, however, did make sure that both my sister and myself started keyboard/piano lessons at around the age of four, and this was our entry into music.

My sister, for as long as I can remember, has always had a wonderful singing voice. What classical music is to me, jazz music is to her. She got into the very competitive singing program at Purchase, where she went to school with Regina Spektor(!!) and where Mariah Carey was an alumna. I still have memories of my sister just belting Whitney Houston’s I will always love you or Hero while we were out and about, perfectly in tune and with the appropriate amount of power and emotion for those songs…I digress momentarily, but if you have the privilege of knowing my sister, you should see if you can get her to sing for you sometime. Don’t let that stockbroker/entrepreneur visage fool you! 😀

Me and my sister, Pei (2013)

At any rate, I had to give up piano when I moved to the US (didn’t regret it at the time, regret it now) because there was no room for a piano in our apartment in Long Beach, New York, and my school had a string instrument requirement, and so I began violin at age 9. Since then, I’ve had forays into singing, conducting, and even a bit of dancing – ballroom, not any of that new-age club stuff. Living with my violin teacher and his pianist wife for two years (I’ll write about this some other time) has also played a part in my musical nurturing.

Hopefully, this background gives you a sort of understanding as to how much I love music. I was only required to take violin for four years, and so at the age of 13, I could have said good-bye to music performance and gone the way of boys my age, simply listening to bands like System of a Down, Slipknot, Linkin Park, etc., and staying blissfully ignorant of the classical and jazz world. Instead, I dove into youth orchestras, string quartets, county orchestras, and continued my lessons and such.

People ask me why I didn’t go professional all the time; here’s why:

    1. In my second year of university, I got tendonitis in my right hand, from the radial aspect of my wrist and upwards about six inches. This tendon is important for bowing, and so I can’t really play longer than 3 hours at once before it gets inflamed and I’m in pain for a while. The last PT I saw said it would probably not get better, but I’m going to try to see a hand therapist while I’m here in London.
    2. I didn’t want music to become my livelihood, because it might start feeling like a chore, and that’s the last thing in the world I want.
    3. Despite our best efforts and hours of practice, we don’t get paid enough to live on and support a family. I was thinking long-term, as well as about my other interests when I chose not to be a professional (see here for my thoughts on our money situation)


With all this being said, I still love (good) music more than anything in the world. I still sing obnoxiously on the streets with friends and strangers, I waltz down long halls while humming Strauss to myself, and make up my own words to French/Italians arias while singing in a falsetto. My (arguably useless) B.A. in music taught me so much more about how to appreciate music through analysis and more detailed listening; I live for the emotions elicited while playing or listening, the excitement of finding patterns within and between pieces, and watching the synergy between music and life grow stronger as we learn more about music and its effects on the human mind and body. I plan on being the bleeding edge of investigating that synergy and relationship for the rest of my life, and living the rest of my life through music until I draw my last breath.

6 thoughts on “How and why I live my life through music

  1. Hi! So it’s been forever but I saw this post via FB and wanted to respond. I’m glad you feel this way about music – I think humans and music are just hardwired for each other. There’s a reason music used to permeate human’s daily lives!

    I’m facing the challenge of being a professional musician and still trying to maintain the relationship that YOU seem to have with music in general. I think it’s wonderful that you have that, despite tendonitis history and everything. Please keep doing what you’re doing!!

    As far as potential healing powers of music I’ve been looking into that alot and thinking about it recently. If you’re interested, someone handed me a sheet of some notes and corresponding centers in the body… … and I don’t think there’s been enough research but I’m sure you’ve heard of music’s effects on patients with dementia etc. Music is a powerful tool, it’s not just entertainment, and it seems culture has place music into the “entertainment” category, rather than exploring its other potential.

    Anyways, hope you are well!

  2. I came across this entry after re-reading the entry about the many faces of depression. I have been going through the worst times of my life over the past few months, and especially the last couple of weeks. Sure, they’re peppered with good times (e.g. I love my small family, so the holidays were enjoyable), but due to an overlying cause, life is hell. Why am I putting this comment on -this- entry? Because monday, tuesday, and wednesday I had some of the worst mental breakdowns I’ve ever experienced, but wednesday night I went to a bellydance performance that a few of my friends and former/future teachers were part of. I’m okay at bellydance, still consider myself a beginner, and am afraid of improvisational bellydance. However, there were a few instances of improv drum circles. I didn’t have my own drum, so I asked to borrow someone’s. Out of… I think six drumming “sessions”, I played during five of them, and for the last I was the only drummer. I’ll admit for that “solo”, I was improv drumming along to music on the stereo, but I got a LOT of frustration and sadness out that night. And people were dancing to what I was playing! People were paying attention! It felt amazing! *I* felt amazing!

    Music is my life as well, and I need to remind myself of that several times a day.

    • Dear Claire,

      Thank you so much for sharing this story with me. It really made my day! I’m glad that music has helped you to express your feelings and that you share the same passion for music that I do.

      I sincerely hope that things begin to improve for you, and always remember that you are never alone in your struggles, and that music will always light your way forward.

      Please feel free to email me at any time.

      Sending you good thoughts and love,

      Guang Yi

  3. Pingback: Music is Love is Music (The power of music) « Classically Caffeinated Compositions

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