Believing I Belong (in Boonville)

written by Karalyn Schubring
2018 GLFCAM Leslie and Anita Bassett Fellow, Cycle 7

When I first saw an email in my inbox from Gabriela Lena Frank, a composer whom I had only heard incredible things about, I was pleasantly shocked, to say the least. She informed me that my teacher Kristy Kuster had recommended me to apply for the second year of GLFCAM, and her recommendation letter must have packed a punch, because despite my being 3 years under the (then) required age limit, here I was being invited to apply!

Fast forward a few months, and minus the severe doubts I harbored about my sketches, I had high hopes for my first trip to Boonville. I was excited to meet the other composers and to soak in the love and warmth of Gabriela in real life (!!). But soon after arriving, I could feel myself shrinking back into a smaller, quieter version of myself for no apparent reason, and I wasn’t sure how I could stop it from happening. As I got to know my fellow Cycle 7 composers, I simultaneously fell in love with their work while growing increasingly intimidated by their brilliance. Negativity swirled around in my mind as I told myself that I wasn’t being friendly enough or insightful enough or funny enough or that my artistic voice would never be as clear and powerful as those of my colleagues...

It was confusing and aggravating to feel trapped in a negative headspace when everything about my surroundings was full of love, warmth, peace, and joy. As the week went on, slowly I welcomed myself into a sense of belonging. Rachel Epperly and I strengthened our friendship by watching The Bachelorette together after a long day. I gained a love for cooking stir fry. Gabriela invited me to perform one of my solo piano pieces at the community center concert, and to hear from her that I am a performer who belongs on the stage was tremendously empowering. I began to entertain the idea that Gabriela didn’t make a mistake in inviting me to her Academy: I go where I go for a reason, and the opportunities I receive can be opportunities to serve others.

I’m learning to peel away my doubts and uncertainties and replace them with a sense of trust that I am exactly where I need to be in each moment of my life. I do firmly believe that every person on this earth was created with a divine, God-given Purpose that can only accomplished with his/her/their unique talents and abilities. For me, I believe that I am a composer because God wanted me to share His love and joy with fellow creators, artists, and communities who encounter their work.

 Adopting this worldview has been incredibly freeing. When I first came to college, I struggled with a fluctuating sense of self-worth that was largely dependent on how well I played in my lessons and how much music I was writing. While I had a very productive first year, if my desire to please and impress my peers and my teachers was my sole motivator for much longer, I would have burnt out very quickly (and potentially suffered worse health effects). I’m thankful to my sister for challenging this view of myself when she did. When I started viewing the music I make as a means of connecting and serving others rather than serving myself, it lost its power to sap all of my energy. The stress or nerves I might experience before a performance or a due date melts away when I remember that music is merely my preferred medium for sharing my love with people. The moment I untied my sense of worth from my creative output was incredibly freeing indeed. I feel tapped into a valuable source of joy that I long to share with others through the music I write and the music I play. 

The piece I wrote for ZOFO, a San Francisco-based 4-hands piano duo, is called Wide Open. It’s funky and fun and joyful, and when I finished the piece I had the image of my siblings and I dancing around in the rain in our backyard as kids: heads tilted back, arms and mouths spread wide, spinning around, laughing, taking it all in (I’m from Arizona: rain is a big deal). For me the piece also serves as a personal snapshot of a time in my career where I’ve allowed myself to open my hands wide: I’m less concerned with seizing opportunities tightly and more interested in keeping my hands open to exchange gifts with whatever moment may come my way.

Staying focused on the right things, I believe, is a lifelong journey, and I have by no means reached the finish line. Nerves and worries still come around occasionally. Imposter syndrome, I am told, never leaves. But I know that as soon as I recognize that every moment has been gifted to me as an opportunity to give of myself to others, any fears I have become irrelevant. I’m working to see every moment as an opportunity to share of myself in a way that brings about a greater sense of belonging for anyone involved. Would you care to join me?


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Karalyn Schubring (b. 1999) is a dedicated composer, pianist, teacher, and improviser whose work centers around inspiring others to engage imaginatively with music. Learn more on Karalyn's bio page.

Gabriela Lena Frank