Friday, April 17, 2015

With Much Gratitude...

What can I say about someone I never knew? Tony Cantu, President of Fresno City College, an influential figure in Fresno just passed away this last Easter Sunday. I didn't know him, but I might have shook his hand a year ago, not realizing who's hand it was.

Why I am writing about someone I don't know? Because without my knowledge, he played in instrumental role in my success. Because of him, I can proudly call myself a full-time musician.

A few days ago, I was asked by Fresno City College to submit my current photo, a bio of what I've been doing, and a letter of how much receiving the Outstanding Musician Award meant to me. For the life of me, I couldn't remember receiving this award. 

At my high school graduation, I wasn't the student who got the baccalaureate recognition. I wasn't the student who earned any academic sashes or pins. Nor was I the student who got any kind of scholarships to any UC schools. In fact,  I didn't get into any prestigious schools like all my friends did. I was that student who got left behind. Therefore, I went to Fresno City College. 

I still remember my first day of piano class. As we went around the room to introduce ourselves and shared our hopes and dreams, I said to the whole room, "I'm going to be a Psychology Major. Because my parents didn't want me to a Music Major. But I want to work in the performance arts. I want to play, sing, dance, act, and do...everything!!!" I also remember the reaction from the other students. There were eye-rolls, there were head-tilts, there were "wows", and glances of skepticism.

In the three years I was there, I fully immersed myself into the music program. I joined the Concert Choir, and City Singers. I even got paid to accompany both groups.  I took all the required music classes to transfer, not knowing exactly where I was suppose to go. I also performed in every monthly recital I could. If I was lucky (worked hard), I got selected to perform at the Honors Recital at the end of each semester. I even got to participate in a master class with the former conductor of Fresno Philharmonic. 

All the professors had a "plan" for me. I didn't know this at the time. I learned hard lessons in not turning my work in on time. I also learned hard lessons in not practicing. I honestly can't count how many times all my music professors at some point said, "Get your act together. Stop partying. Stop hanging out with your friends outside the quad. Do your work. Practice. Go to class." 

At the end of my three years, it was time for me to make those college decisions. I had lingered around a community college long enough. I had to transfer somewhere. My options were limited. I didn't make grades to transfer to a UC school like my Chinese parents wanted me to. My next option was Fresno State. In my parents eyes, why not stay in Fresno if you got into Cal State Fullerton or Long Beach? All Cal States were the same, right? I knew for sure I wanted out of Fresno. I discovered a small college in Riverside. I would get a partial scholarship for being a pastor's kid. I also found out if I got into as many performance groups there, I would get partial scholarships for every group I was in. I had a ticket out of Fresno and I took it. 

My last year at Fresno City College, under my piano professor Olga Quercia's tutelage, I performed the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 25 with the Concert Band. The performance was a success, and one I will remember for the rest of my life. With that concerto, I auditioned for several scholarships that would help send me off to college. This was 16 years ago. I don't remember which awards and scholarships I received and which ones I didn't get. 

Fast forward to a few days ago when I was added to a group to help remember Tony Cantu. It was a group specifically for former students who had received the FCC Outstanding Musician Award. I voiced my concern that I don't remember getting such an award. Come to find out, I was the very first recipient. What does this have to do with Tony Cantu? He was the anonymous person who established this scholarship. In that moment, I took a pause from my day to think about the significance of this discovery. It left me speechless. 

Here I am, sitting in the Plaza Square of The Music Center in beautiful Los Angeles, after playing for company classes with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the week. I had just told the company teacher about what an honor it is to be the first recipient of an award from someone who chose to remain anonymous. I started to tear up. I was crying for someone I didn't know. I was overwhelmed with sadness that I didn't get a chance to thank him in person. Then he said to me, "This here, what you just told me, is exactly what you should write about." 

President Cantu, I never knew you. If I knew just last year, I would have thanked you in person. But, thank you for believing in me. I am living my dream working with the "crème de la crème" of the dance world. I have played, sung, danced, acted, and have done...everything I have ever dreamed of doing.

With much gratitude, 

Rebecca Wong Burdett

Never Forget the People Who Helped You Get to Where You Are

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

So...What DO you do?

Years ago, I use to get very defensive when it comes to how people react after I tell them what I do for a living.

The conversation goes something like this...

P: So...What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a Musician.
P: you in a band?
Me: Not THAT kind of musician.

Or this...

P: So...What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm an accompanist.
P: Oh...What's that?
Me: I play the piano and "accompany" anything from solos, ensembles, shows, and dance.
P: So...Are you a teacher?

Or this...

P: So...What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a Pianist.
P: Oh! So you're a piano teacher!!
Me: Just because I'm ASIAN doesn't automatically mean I'm a piano teacher!

Or this...

P: So...What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a Ballet Pianist.
P: So you're a dancer.
Me: I'm a pianist who WORKS with dancers.
P: does that work?
Me: I'm the music instead of the stereo.
P: ...But don't they have iPods for that?

And the GRAND finale follow-up questions to all of these conversations turns into: How do you make a living?

I'm doing it! 

I use to get so offended when people really don't "get" what I do. Along with my fellow colleagues, we have had to defend ourselves from the stereotypes of our occupations. Dancers turn into strippers. Artists are always starving. Costumers are "just" seamstresses but they are so much more! Being a musician, or an artist, or a dancer sound like "play-time" and people don't understand that you can still make a living doing these things. 

What is my point? I'm finally matured enough to know that it's okay when people don't understand what you do. Because in reality, I haven't a clue what my brother does. I just know that he's a talented artist who works for a company that rhymes with Biz-Knee. It pays his bills and he supports his family with it. So now...when people ask me that question, I respond with, "I get paid to play."

Remember: What you do does not define who you are as a person.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

No, I will not put on my big girl pants!

No one ever wants to get that text message. I received it last night. My mentor, my catapult, my beloved friend has gone to be with God. Marie was a pillar. Even in her 11-year battle with cancer, she continued to work, continued to inspire, and continue to cultivate young minds. Marie would not want us to weep for her. In fact, she would tell us to buck up and move forward. Marie would want us to laugh, and celebrate life one moment at a time. But in this moment, I simply cannot laugh nor celebrate, but weep for the lost of a bright light. 

I've tried to put on my big girl pants for the last two weeks in holding back tears. I tried to share a hilarious story in hopes that whoever reads it, will take a moment to laugh. I've met with friends who share the same sentiment I do. It helps a little, but the tears are still there. So right now, I simply will not put on my big-girl pants. I need a moment to cry for my friend.

I have lost quite a few people in my life. Some have passed of old age, and some were taken too soon. I no longer ask why God takes the good ones. Because in reality, the bad ones are taken too, we simply don't give a shit about them. But when the good ones are taken, it shakes us to our core. I can only come to this conclusion. God takes the good ones so we can be better people, by honoring their memory and live life as they would've lived it. Marie saw the potential in me. Therefore, I will pass this on to my students.

Marie is dancing with the good ones up there. I know this without a doubt. Her light will shine on in all the people she has touched. But for now, the world is darker without her here. My heart is shattered. I miss you, and I love you Marie! Please say hi to my PoPo, GungGung, YehYeh, MahMah, Nanna, Pop Pop, Matthew, Michelle, Eddie, and Lisa for me. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

My hilarious moment with Marie de la Palme

A little over two years ago, I wrote about the The 10 Things I learned for the 10 years I have been a Ballet Pianist. My final item was this:

Never Forget the People Who Helped You Get to Where You Are

Marie and I have worked together on and off since our days at Orange County School of the Arts. Once in a blue moon if my schedule allows me to, I would pop into one of her classes at IVC and take class. Every time I would walk in there, she would consult me about appropriate music for particular exercises if she got stuck. She would always ask for my help if the pianist is struggling. She would always introduced me with high praise, saying I've played for this person, and that person, and this company and that company. However, I don't think she actually REALIZED she was one of the people who got me there!

Back in 2005 when my husband and I relocated to Orange County, I called around a few studios and schools saying, "Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I am an accompanist and would love to play for ballet. Please give me a call if you are interested or in need of a musician." With only a couple of years of ballet accompaniment experience, not one place called me back except for Orange Coast College. I remember telling my former employers that I finally got one class at OCC, my friend Sofia said, "Oh wonderful! I hope you get to meet Marie de la Palme! She's a dear friend of mine." Of course the one class I got to play for wasn't for hers. It wasn't until I was called in for a special event for the school's high school preview day, I finally got to play for Marie. We chatted after class, I mentioned I use to work for Riverside Community College who gave me my start. She quickly jumped up and said, "Oh! My dear friend Sofia teaches there!" A professional friendship has started. She asked me for my contact info, and told me that she would drop my name for the Classical Contemporary Dance Conservatory at OCSA saying I would be a perfect fit.

Now that I am in my 10th year there, the school has connected me to work with local studios (the same ones I called months before!), master classes for big names in the ballet community, and major ballet companies from all over the world. I'm completely immersed in the world of OCSA, muscially directing musicals for the Integrated Arts, and Music and Theater Conservatories. Marie was my catapult, and I am forever grateful for seeing the potential in me. 

Therefore, I am going to tell a story of one of my favorite moments working with Marie.

Years after meeting Marie, we got to work together on IVC's dance concert called Perspectives. She asked if I can play the ever so famous piece sung by the gorgeous Cecilia Bartoli, "Sposa son Disprezzata" from Vivaldi's Bajazet. The rehearsals were a blast. I got to work alongside Marie for an actual performance instead of a ballet class, and I also formed some amazing friendships with some of the dancers from the piece. There were a lot of laughter in rehearsals, and moments of seriousness to get it together. Then there's my favorite, Marie telling one of the dancers to stop playing Angry Birds on my iPad and actually give the iPad back to me so I can start from the top. 

Tech week came, and I remember this tech week very clearly. We had quite an interesting lighting designer. If she's reading this, well...I'm not sorry for what I'm about to say. She was rude to the crew, to the dancers, to Marie, to the stage manager, and to whoever crossed her path. I always know to stay away from the line of fire if I can help it, and I steered clear of her. When it was our turn, I crawled down into the pit, and waited as they went cue to cue. Not once did she set a light on me. I had to ask for a light so I can see the keys on my piano. If there was no light, it was pitch dark other than my iPad. That's not an unreasonable request now, is it? Assuming they set it, we went on to the rest of tech. 

Sitting in the pit during tech...with my dog's yawning face on my iPad set on a piano. can't see the piano.

At the final run, Marie came up to me and asked, "Why is your hair down?" 

Sidebar: At the time, I had this short mohawky little pixie haircut, and I always styled it up and all over the place. 

I said, "Well, I didn't want my hair sticking out of the top of the pit."

To which Marie replied, "No! Style it up! I like it that way!"

Okay. The boss has spoken!

The first performance came. It was a noon show, mainly with an audience of high school kids, college students, a few teachers and parents. The chair of the department was there along with a few professors who had the hour off. It was finally our turn. I flipped the iPad on, my hands on the piano, and my dancers are in their places. 

Lights on them. 

No lights on me. 

I waited. 

I waited. 

Then I waited some more, and no light come on. Instinctively, I started playing assuming the light will come on AFTER the music started. 

I started on the first rain-drop arpeggio. The dancers move. No light. 

I proceeded to the second rain-drop arpeggio. The dancers move. Again. NO LIGHT. 

I proceeded to the third rain-drop arpeggio and I landed on the wrong note. WRONG NOTE! A Pianist's worst nightmare.


At that very moment, I stopped playing, I turned around, stood on my piano bench, and my little mohawked pixie head comes straight out at the top of the pit and I yelled to the back of the light booth, "I'M SORRY!!! I CAN'T SEE A DAMN THING!!!!" 

In that split second, it's that moment of regret. That feeling of, once you've said something, you can't UN-say it. I couldn't catch my words and stuff it back in my mouth. That is the most unprofessional thing I have ever done in my 20 year career as an accompanist. Marie was probably infuriated with me. That was so inappropriate. I can't believe I said that in the middle of the performance. I turned around and sank down into my bench. Then I hear the audience chuckle. (Why are they laughing? Perhaps it's because it's the excitement of the theater? That anything can happen?) I looked up on stage, and my poor dancers are still in their starting position, and I see their shoulders jiggling up and down. Oh, then comes the Intelligent Light (ironic, no?) moving downwards towards the pit, passed me to the other side, then shoots back to upstage, then downstage, then to the right, and left, right again, left again, back to upstage, and downstage before landing it directly on me. I raised my right arm with the thumbs up and I hear another audience-chuckle followed by an applause. I started the piece from the beginning again. 

When the piece was over, I ducked down and slipped out of the pit and ran upstairs to backstage. I opened the door to see my dancers on the other side waiting for me. They all ran up and hugged me, laughing their asses off saying it was the most hilarious moment, ever. I was still freaking out. I said, "WTF was that? What happened?! OMG! That was so bad! How can she not find me with the light? I don't go anywhere. Marie is going to be so mad at me!" They all said my outburst was well deserved, that the lighting designer has been quite difficult to work with all week. But still, I should not have said that. Marie came trotting backstage after the performance, and starts guffawing the moment she sees me. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, "I'm so sorry!" 

She pulled me in, hugged me, and still laughing,  "Why are you sorry? That was hilarious! Okay, let's go talk to the lighting designer so it doesn't happen again." 

Well, like all things, one you make a mistake, you try not to make it again. Here is the video from the SECOND performance: (Courtesy of David Sukonik) my dear friend Marie. Thank you for being my catapult. Without you, I would've never gotten the opportunity to work with The Greats. You included. I am where I am today, because of you. I will cherish that for the rest of my life. I love you to pieces!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cinema at the Edge

I am so overwhelmed by the response of STILL.

To date, the film has been screened at:

Festival Fiver  (Spain)
16th MECAL International Short Film and Animation Festival of Barcelona  (Spain)
Asians on Film (USAs)
CINEDANS (The Nederlands)
International Speechless Film Festival (USA)
Busan International Film Festival (Korea)
American Online Film Awards (USA)
Salon Internacional De La Luz (Colombia)

This weekend, I am honored to attend the Cinema at The Edge Film Festival in Santa Monica on behalf of William Lü, and also participate in the Post Screening Q&A afterwards.

Words can't describe how I feel right now. A serendipitous moment on Facebook lead me to explore a part of Music for Dance I had never done before. The process from beginning to end was tedious, yet so much fun, being able to collaborate on a project Intercontinentally from The Nederlands to the States. The film world is a world completely foreign to me, and yet they have embraced this film.

Stay tuned or "like" STILL on Facebook for news and future screenings!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Leaving it at the door

As I wrapped up my 9th year at the local arts high school, I realized I had to deal with an unnecessary amount teenage angst like NEVER BEFORE.

I had to stop a class because the seniors decided that was the day they all hated each other.

One took off in tears
One ran off after the girl in tears
One curled into fetal position in the back of the class
One is circling around chasing an invisible tail because she didn't know what to do
One is calming the teacher down
The only boy in the class decided that he was done with all the estrogen in the room and walked out.

They decided to lay it all out on the table in the middle of a dance class because they felt that it was necessary to talk it out. I had to stop the whole thing to remind them:
1) They are seniors, therefore, they are almost adults. Act like it.
2) At this school, we teach them to be professionals before they are professionals. So when they are out in the professional world, they are prepared far beyond anybody else.
3) The problems you are dealing with has nothing to do with the class, so leave it at the door.

I also had a group of 10th graders who made the teacher cry. Not just a little tear down the face. No. Ugly cry.

I also had a student who confided in me and told me how some kids are mean to him. One girl in particular was bullying him. The awkward Asian kid who grew up in a culturally-ignorant town in me felt for the kid. I consulted with my colleagues and addressed the issue with my superiors. Through a series of events, I ended up being the one accused of bullying Said Bully by her mother. I thank the LORD above that my superiors had my back, and the problem was immediately resolved without any further action.

When someone accuses you of bullying, it really shakes you to your core even though you know you did nothing wrong. It makes you question whether or not you should be working in the position you are in.  The one thing that I did do was address Said Bully every time she was on her phone, missing 80% of rehearsals, making excuses, rolling her eyes, and leaving early because she was "sick." Apparently, that wasn't okay with her mother. Long story short, when that production was over, I cried some ugly tears. I was happy it was over, but I was also sad that I wouldn't be able to see the rest of the cast on an every day basis.

It got me thinking:

One time, a good friend who happens to be a professional dancer for a major dance company asked me:

"When you come in to play for company classes, not just for us, but for everybody else who comes through town...Do you see the conflicts the members have with each other? Or the inter-personal problems or tension that they are currently dealing with?"


I actually had to think about it. The short answer is "No."

Unless I am purposely looking for trouble, I don't see trouble. The professionals do a good job in "leaving it at the door" when there are guests in the room. Luckily, I am that guest.

Going into the next year, that will be my motto especially with teenagers. Please leave it at the door. Thank you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Presenting: STILL - the movie

I will be quick. Remember this?

Project Schubert

I am proud to give you some awesome news. STILL - the movie as been selected to be screened at 6 festivals so far. William's Brain-Child will make its World Premiere this weekend at the Asian On Film Festival and I get to see the premiere!!  So exciting, and terrifying at the same time.

And look, my name is in the credits!