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3 Influential People(s)

October 2001 | More than anyone else, my parents shaped my core values and instilled my intense work ethic. In 1975, Amon and Agnes, my dad and mom, emigrated from the Philippines to the US. Though they never denied their personal Filipino history, my parents have always been very enthusiastic about the US and its opportunities. They consequently raised my two siblings and I to be independent, hardworking, stubborn optimists. However, very little Filipino heritage was passed on to my siblings or me. We do not speak Binisayah, we have never been on a family trip beyond the US East Coast, and we rarely see our relatives. I feel regret and guilt about the loss of heritage, but I also see the assets of being raised as an American. As a child, I never had to deal with negative racial or ethnic issues. I never had to worry about antiquated practices like "marrying a rich Asian man" or "honoring the family name."

Though my family engaged in very little travel and cultural exploration, we were computer-savvy many years before it became a societal phenomenon. Ever since I was little, I was fascinated with both computers and the arts. When I mentioned to my parents at the age of nine that I wanted to be a musician or artist, I was practically forbidden from thinking about it any further. As a result, I closeted my ambitions, though I refused to closet my interest in art. I knew I would have to bide my time until I left home for college, but in the meantime, I tried to overcompensate by putting my energy into practically anything remotely academic or artistic. I was the president of as many clubs as I could possibly make time for. All of this frantic compulsion has calmed down since I "came out of the closet" and openly focused on the arts. However, perhaps it is best that my parents made me focus on subjects other than art, since I learned useful skills that are not generally associated with artists!

I like to think that I have two biological parents and one "soul parent." I have called Kathy Pierson the "mentor of my life," and "my favorite grown-up," and she's all of these and more. I first met her when I was seventeen and looking to take music composition lessons at the Towson University Preparatory. I took lessons with Kathy for two years and maintained a close friendship with her even as I entered college and she moved away. I regard on her as the one who first gave me direction as an artist and who first taught me how to think critically. When I started to study with Kathy, she first asked me to bring in recordings of music that I liked. I brought "New Moon Daughter," the latest album from Cassandra Wilson, my favorite singer. Kathy asked me, "Why do you like this music?" A simple question, but one I had never been thoughtfully asked. I came to realize that while most people love some kind of art-- everyone has a favorite song or a favorite movie-- very few people view art as challenging. Consequently, few feel the need to defend their artistic tastes. I always wanted to write music that was challenging, but before I started studying with Kathy, the only challenging things I could think of were to cram many musical ideas into one piece, or perhaps make the piece so difficult that it was impractical to perform. Kathy taught me that before I could compose interesting, challenging music, I had to identify what it was in music that interested and challenged me.

Under Kathy's guidance, I came to identify and develop my interest in narrative, musical gesture, and the human voice. In the world of academic music, Kathy and I are both misfits who are not quite satisfied with the narrow society or artistry of academic composers-- this is the main reason I am not pursuing traditional music composition at the graduate level. Nevertheless, I want music composition to always play some role in my life, and I take comfort in knowing that I can look to Kathy as one who is broadly informed and enthusiastic about all kinds music.

Shannon Darrow, my closest friend, taught me how to look at my life in a cultural context. Soon after we became friends our freshman year of college, we would spend almost every weekend escaping the podunk town of College Park and taking the train into DC. Once we were in the city, we would walk for miles, searching each neighborhood for unusual places to eat and study. This activity really has made an impact on how Shannon and I travel. For instance, when we made an extended trip to New York City with a few friends, I noticed that while our other friends sought out museums and large shops, Shannon and I approached the city by visiting one neighborhood at a time. I think we both believe that this approach leads to more of an understanding of a city's inhabitants and cultural roots.

As an American Studies student, Shannon's research involves fieldwork in several socially, economically, and ethnically marginalized communities-- places that are sometimes regarded as "ghettos." But she refuses to let societal fears about safety hinder her research. While she keeps aware of her surroundings, she realizes that unrealistic fear is the core obstruction to greater cross-cultural understanding.

This refusal to give in to fear at the cost of learning is one of the reasons why I consider myself so lucky to have Shannon as a friend. Sometimes I suspect that if I didn't have someone like Shannon in my life, I would be very much in danger of letting my interest in high art lock me into some elitist intellectual tower. I tell Shannon that out of all my friends, she's the one who's shown me how to "keep it real," and it is this "realness" that I hope to keep with me wherever I go.

KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD