Thank you, Los Angeles.
I arrived in town two years ago as a twenty-one-year-old tornado of a human being. I was enraged, confused, and searching for something I hadn’t yet learned to name. I’d spent four years honing one craft after being told I didn’t have the work ethic for the other. I’d realized it mattered to me what my art said to the world, and I was looking for people to help me articulate and realize it.
It’s a little more than that, though, too. When I arrived, I just wanted not to be the girl everyone looked at and brushed aside; as I leave, I know I’ve become a force that’s much more difficult to ignore.
Two years later, I’m leaving—I know, I know, not what I would’ve expected either—without all the answers I was looking for, but with new ideas of how to approach my creative life. Some of the lessons I learned are maybe a little backward; for instance, the city where saying no to the wrong gig can mean no calls for six months taught me it’s okay to pick and choose so you put most of your energy toward the projects you value most. The town I came into with the intention of putting jazz (mostly) behind me gave me the tools to re-approach the genre on my own terms.
Some of the things I take with me, though, are necessary things learned early on. The most important, I think, is among the simplest: my voice, creative and otherwise, should be valued just as much as my peers’. I came to a school where no two people have the same story of how they got into music or how they got to CalArts. There is no standardized journey. And that’s unifying, in a way—Orchestra School alums stand side-by-side with ExPop or MAP or Music Tech or ESP kids who might not have had access to or interest in the same opportunities, and we can all find amazing ways to make music together. Sometimes that means we’re reading words or playing games or looking at images or following instructions instead of reading and understanding notation in a traditional sense, but it’s those challenges and efforts to understand each other’s work that allow for truly radical growth.
And that’s what I was looking for, Los Angeles—an opportunity to take a couple years for myself and more carefully articulate who I am as a person and artist. I was met with people who were committed not only to improving my craft but helping me understand the boundaries and extensions of a creative practice that enriches me rather than hurting me. My teachers and peers reminded me that my credibility and respectability as a musician are not dependent on my ability or willingness to shred myself into bits for the entertainment of those around me. They still remind me, as I transition from student to artist and citizen and everything else that matters, that it’s better to develop slowly but healthily than to burn the candle at both ends until it costs me my career.
Thank you, Los Angeles. Because I met you, I understand that it’s not necessary (or even important, sometimes) to separate performances and performers by genre, or to even bother labeling what kind of music’s playing. I know that I can program fearlessly and pick my lineups based on performers’ skill sets and storytelling capabilities instead of the music they usually play. I’ve realized that a compelling project will bring the right creators to me, regardless of how I’m putting the work together.
Thank you, Los Angeles. Thank you for being the kind of place where I can meet Matt and Weston and Luke and Ashley and Nick and Stephanie and Tim and Laura and Vinny and Michael and Sara and Rebecca and Leila and Gillian and John and Richard and Wells and Echo and Tal and Marta and Fahad and Socks and Evan and Will and Ari and Lily and Charles and Ethan and Sofia and Emilee and Kezia and Alicia and Indigo and Tanner and so many more peers and faculty who toe the line between friends and family. I don’t know how else to describe the sheer depth of the LA community except to say that every one of these folks has a practice and an art that’s all their own and somehow they all found their way into these small, overlapping circles that frequently meet at CalArts.
Thank you, Los Angeles. Thank you for giving me the skills and the validation to make good work, even when it’s at an intersection of practices and disciplines that might take some convincing. Thank you for giving me the language to bring my work to communities beyond the scene and beyond the state in a way that facilitates learning, understanding, enjoyment, empathy, and growth—in an era that sorely needs all of these things.
I will be back. Maybe not forever, maybe not as soon as I’d like. Because Phoenix has an uncanny, confusing sense of home, but Los Angeles, you have my heart.
(Except for your sports teams. #BeatLA.)